Sunday, July 25, 2010

Short Night of Glass Dolls

Posted as part of Operation 101010
giallo / In category: 6 of 10 / Overall: 47 of 100

Aldo Lado’s ‘Short Night of Glass Dolls’ is a superb, darkly compelling and unexpectedly political giallo lumbered with a nonsensical title. In the all-too-short (11 minute) interview with the director which appears as a special feature on the Blue Underground DVD, the amiable Lado explains that he’d originally titled it ‘Malastrana’, after the district of Prague the film is set in. When his producer voiced concerns that the reference would be lost on the audience, it was changed to ‘Short Night of the Butterflies’, echoing a scene in which doomed heroine Mira (Barbara Bach) likens herself to one of the butterflies pinned in a glass display case owned as an objet d’ art by her journalist boyfriend Gregory Moore (Jean Sorel). With Duccio Tessari’s ‘The Bloodstained Butterfly’ released at the same time, Lado’s title underwent another change at the last minute.

As with ‘Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion’ it’s atypical for a giallo in terms of low body count; also, the murders are played fast and sudden rather than elaborate and suspenseful. The set-up and aesthetic of the movie, at least for its first half, is more in keeping with film noir, in particular bringing to mind the dead/dying man as protagonist of Rudolph Maté’s ‘D.O.A.’ or Billy Wilder’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’.

Gregory is the found in the grounds of a stately home in the opening sequence. An ambulance rushes him through the streets of Prague. The medics think he’s dead. Gregory’s voiceover desperately assures the audience he isn’t – he’s drugged, unable to move a muscle or speak a word. Rolled off a gurney and onto a mortuary slab, Gregory’s story unfolds in flashback as he waits for his autopsy. As the DVD back cover blurb has it, “Can a reporter with no visible signs off life solve this perverse puzzle before he meets his ultimate deadline?”

See what they did there?

The “perverse puzzle”, by the way, centres around the disappearance of Mira. As Gregory, against the advice of the local police, commences his own investigation – warily aided by his colleagues Jessica (Ingrid Thulin) and Jack (Mario Adorf), he comes to realise that there’s a connection between Mira’s disappearance and that of several local girls. His questions meet with silence. The families who lost their daughters seem too scared to talk to him. A cabal of influential high society and political types close ranks against him. The few leads he uncovers are terminated. Threats from the authorities are stepped up.

‘Short Night of Glass Dolls’ was Aldo Lado’s first film and he did a bang up job. An excellent cast give commendable performances (only Barbara Bach comes off as wooden, but she hardly features prominently), while DoP Giuseppe Ruzzolini (who lensed Pasolini’s ‘Teorama’) gives the whole thing a moody and atmospheric look. After a relatively slow start, Lado kicks the narrative into high gear with Mira’s disappearance. The more desperate and agitated Gregory’s pursuit of the truth, the more out of his depth he gets. Things move inexorably towards a denouement that brings to mind the grotesque, quasi-satanic goings on of ‘All the Colours of the Dark’, but acts as a perfect metaphor for the social and political injustice that Lado’s persuasively cynical script kicks against.

Definitely not your average giallo but arguably one of the best, ‘Short Night of Glass Dolls’ is highly recommended.


Samuel Wilson said...

Neil, this was one of the first giallos I saw after getting my DVD player and it's a good one. The hero's predicament reminded me of an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode in which a paralyzed man was presumed dead. As I recall, things turned out better for that person. The way Glass Dolls turns out, meanwhile, is very characteristic of the Seventies everywhere. And aren't most giallo titles ridiculous as a matter of custom?

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks for commenting, Sam. You're right: most giallo titles are deliriously over the top, but even the likes of 'Four Flies on Grey Velvet', 'The Black Belly of the Tarantula' and 'The House with the Laughing Windows' contain something, no matter how tenuous, that codifies the title.

I love that Lado's film was changed from a meaningful to a completely meaningless title to avoid confusion with another production - somehow the randomness of 'Short Night of Glass Dolls' is almost enigmatic.

Shaun Anderson said...

I reviewed this myself last month on The Celluloid Highway and concluded that this is a major gialli. Lado hit the ground running here and his next film 'Who Saw Her Die?' is an excellent companion piece. The film benefits tremendously I think from the shadowy spectre of soviet communism, which gives it a feel and atmosphere quite unique to the form. Its up there with 'Don't Torture a Duckling' and 'House with Laughing Windows' in my opinion....great review by the way Neil.

Neil Fulwood said...

No arguments there, Shaun. 'Don't Torture a Duckling' and 'House of the Laughing Windows' both rank highly in my list of favourite gialli; likewise Lado's impressive follow-up. 'Short Night of Glass Dolls' is worthy of inclusion among the best of them.

Thanks for commenting on my giallo double bill.