Sunday, May 01, 2011

GIALLO SUNDAY: A Quiet Place to Kill

Apologies for the minimal visual content in today’s Giallo Sunday offering; the streaming copy I watched froze just before the end credits and I’d only seen fit to take one screengrab. Nonetheless, it features a bottle of J&B, so at least there’s one giallo trope present and correct.

Umberto Lenzi’s output is prodigious and entirely genre-based: polizia, gialli, war movies, horrors. His string of gialli from the late 60s to the mid-70s are of a uniform standard – glossy, sexy, cynical – and provide something of a headache for the film historian.

For example: Lenzi’s 1969 giallo ‘Orgasmo’ (not to be confused with his later ‘Spasmo’) starring Carroll Baker as an American heiress who gets involved with a European couple only for sexual tension and murderous passions to come to the surface was retitled ‘Paranoia’ for the American market. A year and three films later (told you his output was prodigious) Lenzi made a giallo called ‘Paranoia’, which again starred Carroll Baker again as an American heiress again becoming embroiled in sexual tension and murderous passions after again getting involved with a European couple, which – to avoid (or maybe generate) confusion – was retitled ‘A Quiet Place to Kill’ for the American market. Lenzi’s next film, starring Ray Lovelock and a jailbait Ornella Muti, was called ‘An Ideal Place to Kill’, and therefore retitled for the English speaking market ‘Oasis of Fear’ a.k.a. ‘Dirty Pictures’.

For the purposes of this review, I’ll go with ‘A Quiet Place to Kill’ as a title. That or, ‘The One Where Carroll Baker Plays a Racing Driver’. Or maybe not; that makes it sound too much like an episode of ‘Friends’.

Anyway, Carroll Baker plays Helen, a racing driver who, recuperating after a crash, is invited to spend some time at the coastal villa of her ex-husband Maurice (Jean Sorel). Arriving, she discovers the invitation came from Maurice’s new wife Constanze (Anna Proclemer). Constanze has twigged to something that Helen also found out the hard way – to whit, Maurice is a good-looking, smooth-talking love rat who leeches off rich women – and is looking for a partner in crime to help her dispose of Maurice and make it look like an accident.

The film plays out against a sunny backdrop of louche, amoral privilege, where characters wander around in elegant fashions, yachting, diving, playing tennis, drinking champagne or cocktails or (hey, let’s not forget who the sponsor is!) J&B, lounging by the pool, shooting each other baleful looks, and engaging in the odd bit of hate-fucking.

So: glamorous people, glamorous locations, copious amounts of nudity and a general air of moneyed cynicism. Oh yeah, and a murder plot. Let’s not forget the murder plot. Do I need to tell you that it doesn’t entirely go to plan? Do I need to mention that a rogue element enters the proceedings – in the shape of Constanze’s headstrong teenage daughter Susan (Marina Coffa). Or that there are possible witnesses to a certain, compromised event? Or that an authority figure – in this case public prosecutor Albert Duchamps (Luis Davila) – is sniffing around, convinced that there are inconsistencies.

The second half of ‘A Quiet Place to Kill’ inhabits the kind of territory best described in Patricia Highsmith’s ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’: you know what’s happened, why it happened, who did it and how they potentially screwed up, and the tension is generated by watching them scurry around like rats trying to lie, obfuscate and side-step their way free of the consequences. Lenzi throws in a final act curveball that explodes the character dynamics and steers things in an even more reprehensibly cynical direction.

There may not be any likeable characters here, but there’s plenty to enjoy: Baker is luminously gorgeous and spends much of the film in various states of undress; Sorel plays the good-looking bastard to a tee; Guglielmo Mancori’s widescreen cinematography is eye-catching; the lounge jazz soundtrack is, as ever in this genre, hilariously inappropriate; and the twists of the last few minutes are as serpentine as the hair-pin bends one of the characters makes a tyre-squealing escape attempt along in the tense finale.

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