Saturday, 28 March 2015

Ursula and Marcello make a killing… The 10th Victim (1965)

This film was reputedly one of Andy Warhol’s favourite films – and soundtracks – and, in the under-over-thinking world of the pop art trickster… that may even be a compliment! The 10th Victim is indeed a hipster delight, a dystopian murder-World which is relentless in its lampooning of contemporary Italian mores, commercialism and a culture intent on amusing itself to death.

Fifty years on the world it portrays feels a lot closer to now than the world of Italian silent pre-neo-realist dramas such as 1915's Assunta Spina may have felt to the new wave of Italian auteurs, Fellini, Antonioni and Elio Petri this film’s director.

Amused to death?
Here we see reality television out of control, a world of moral bankruptcy delighting in the suffering of others and whose only imperative is profitability. Marriage is as long-lasting as a summer holiday whilst motoring violations are taken more seriously than murder.

But murder has to be by arrangement… in a world exhausted by endless global conflict, the solution has been found to man’s inherent violence: professional murder games run for profit and fun in which contestants compete to survive ten rounds as either hunter or hunted. Everything is state sponsored and run within the law and the World is fully absorbed in the reality TV ritual to the extent to which violence between nations has ended.

Why worry about over population and controlling the birth rate when you can ramp up the death rate and entertain at the same time. It’s not a new idea and, as an American film crew pass over the Coliseum in Rome it’s a clear tip of the hat to barbarism past… but this is something new and all played for ironic laughs in a mood of detached, swinging sophistication with a smart wise-cracking script that doesn’t take itself too seriously and which still works – even in translation.

Preaching to the converted...
The film opens in New York as a Chinese man (George Wang) shoots after a girl in go-go boots, mini skirt and a black wig. She taunts him as she easily evades his shots and runs past a cop who stops the man and asks for his licence after which he calmly waves him on… Something is severely different in NYC.

On the run in New York
The chase continues until the girl enters a club in which a wide-eyed figure (Jacques Herlin) has been explaining the rules of the new game hunting. Her hunter runs in wide-eyed but cannot find her and then he is distracted as the evening’s first act is due to start. Out comes a blonde in spiked silver bikini, who proceeds to entrance the males with slow and slinky dance. She is masked but the slim hips and lithe movements give away the presence of Ursula Andress.

Her assailant drops his gun and stares at the pelvic thrusts on show before with the snap of her hips she unleashes two killing gun shots from weapons concealed in her bikini top… yes, *that’s* where Austin Powers got the idea from.

Bang bang
The man lies dead and the crowd burst into applause for Caroline Meredith who has now achieved her ninth kill – just one away from the rarely achieved ten that will reward her with a lifetime’s riches.

Meanwhile over in Europe, a heavily armed German show-jumper (Wolfgang Hillinger) nervously prepares for his round. He is handed his boots by a smart-looking Italian man (Marcello Mastroianni) who smiles benignly… The German clicks his heels in his militaristic manner and ignites an explosive in the boots… Marcello Polletti has his sixth kill!

Marcello Mastroianni
A computer in Switzerland (where-else?) selects the next couples for the contest and Caroline must pursue Marcello. She heads over to Italy with film crew in tow, flying over Rome trying to select the best location for the hunt… there are lots of humorous lines about how the Italians have let the Roman city fall into ruin – even the Coliseum is unfit to house a slaughter. They decide on the Temple of Venus in the Forum and the event will be sponsored by the Ming Tea Company.

The baliff arrives to interrupt Marcello's TV programme
Meanwhile Marcello’s domestic arrangements are falling apart as his not-quite-ex-wife Lidia (Luce Bonifassy) refuses to annul their marriage and the bailiffs arrive to reposes even the TV he is intently watching. The bailiffs are a friendly lot and this has clearly happened before and is no doubt expected to happen again.

Elsa Martinelli
Marcello’s mistress Olga (Elsa Martinelli) is more disturbed about the removal of his classic comic books (The Phantom is his favourite) than the inconvenience of the disappearing furniture. She wants to marry Marcello or maybe just get his attention… she’s clearly piqued by his almost total ambivalence…

Marcello’s ennui is in stark contrast to his instinct for survival. Caroline engineers a meeting and tries to persuade him that she is making a documentary about Italian sexual habits and that she wants to interview him at the Temple of Venus. But he’s not so bored that he can’t spot a threat a mile off but as Caroline says, it’s the lazy ones you have to watch: you never know what they’re going to do next…

Caroline finds Marcello reading The Phantom
Gradually the two become attracted and we begin to discover more about this strange future world, one in which Marcello has a job as a sun-worshiping “priest” who calls out across the sand to hundreds of the faithful to watch the Sun disappear over the death of another day… They are pelted with eggs by some dis-believers but continue all the same.

Sunset worshipers
These strange episodes build up a picture of dislocation that more than resembles the strange cinema of Frederico Fellini (who gets a name check). Marcello hides his parents behind a secret wall in his wife’s house, sheep graze on the lawn amongst modern art including plaster of Paris statues that echoes the tormented shapes of the Pompeii dead.

Another contemporary, Michelangelo Antonioni declared that Eros was sick, but in Elio Petri everyone is sick… and tired.

Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress
The story continues its commentary of materialism, commercialism and the disintegrating quality of mass entertainment but also morphs into a meditation on romance and commitment. Marcello and Caroline are now involved in a context of conquest, trying to kill each other whilst at the same time trying to overcome their contract to find love.

But… no spoilers…

Lovers or killers?
Dusty Verdict: The 10th Victim is a stylish film which makes its point with wit and verve. The cast is a strong one with Mastroianni and Andress both excellent. They are magnetic presences on screen with his nuanced intensity matched by her sensuality and a comic energy used to far better affect here than in say Dr No or What’s New Pussycat. Ursula’s no Monica Vitti or Jeanne Moreau but she has tremendous presence with an unpredictable look that matches Mastroianni’s more controlled expression.

The 10th Victim has lasted well and carries its message well in this century of screen to screen reality TV for which ritual humiliation is a staple. The sport is cruel and commercialized to death whilst actual death has been made a televisual art form by atrocities from all corners of the World.

Now we see so much of war: is it any more calculating, ruthless and pointless than the contests of this film?

Sponsored slaughter
The 10th Victim is available from Amazon on DVD or Blu-Ray, well worth catching it before someone catches you!

E-Type Ursula

Saturday, 7 March 2015

"You finally really did it. You maniacs!" The Omega Man (1971)

What is it about Charlton Heston and the end of the World? He’s almost always there…

The Omega Man could be viewed as the second of his doomsday “trilogy” sandwiched between Planet of the Apes (plus Beneath…) and Solent Green and he’s the perfect man for the last man, fiercely determined, a hyper-agitated intelligently competitive survivor who always carries the sadness of his species’ ultimate failure and the thought that he should have done more…

In this way perhaps his famously total support for the right to bear arms connects to the essentially liberal concepts underlying these films: if we don’t clean up our act we’re all doomed and, if we are doomed only men like Charlton will make it through. But Heston was a complex man who supported the Democrats and civil rights in the sixties but later became a Republican claiming that he hadn’t changed the Democrats had… you can never say he wasn’t a man looking for principal.

Mr Heston and Rosalind Cash
In this film he caused a storm with one of the first inter-racial kisses in mainstream Hollywood between Heston and Rosalind Cash and I love the tale of when quizzed about by Whoopie Goldberg in her TV talk show about why such actions were still controversial even in the 1990s he leaned over and kissed her.

Scenes were filmed on early Sunday mornings - trying to catch the city quiet
Directed by Boris Sagal, The Omega Man was loosely based on the 1954 novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (later filmed with Will Smith) and swapped vampires for plague-infected ghouls who cannot stand the light and live only in the shadows coming out only at night to scavenge and set fire to their old neighbourhood.

It is of course 1975, the near future, and biological warfare between China and Russia has decimated mankind. In Los Angeles U.S. Army Col. Robert Neville, M.D (Heston) seems to be the last man standing having injected himself with an experimental antidote in desperation after his helicopter crashed.

The last man?
But the film starts many months after this as Neville roams free across a city devoid of almost all life. His car journey is sound-tracked by 8 track modern jazz and, when one car breaks he simply goes and gets another… talking to himself and exchanging snappy chat with the long deceased used car dealer “How much? You cheating bastard!?” He catches sight of a girly calendar and pulls it quickly off the wall – a painful reminder of what has been lost.

He goes to the movies and screens Woodstock for himself, reveling in the appearance of the multitudes and mouthing every line along with the new age optimists of the festival… how soon the people disappeared.

Watching Country Joe and the Fish
Lost in the film he walks out to street in sudden panic as dusk approaches: it’s almost dark and “they” will soon be out. He dives into his new car and drives as fast as he can to his home and sanctuary. But, he’s a little late and his vehicle is set upon by cloaked figures… he shoots most of the attackers but a few make it through into his garage and are swiftly dispatched.

This is a man at war with what remains of the world, holed up under the tightest of security with powerful spotlights trained down from a house locked down from cellar to chimney.

Charlton and gun
The cloaked figures gather outside – they are The Family, led by the charismatic figure of Matthias (Anthony Zerbe) who views the last vestige of humanity as a reminder of man’s folly, one that led to his groups mutation and doomed the world. In a flashback we see that Matthias was once a broadcaster reporting on the breaking apocalypse, now he uses his communication skills to unite his group and to lead them against the last man.

Anthony Zerbe and friend
Holed up in his fortress,  Neville has – almost – everything he needs from fuel, guns and ammunition to a chess set and a bust to play it with. He talks to himself and his immobile friend missing company but with his only hope his daytime routine of mapping out the city as he tries to find and destroy the group’s lair…

On one of these expeditions he spots a life-like showroom dummy in the form of Lisa (Rosalind Cash) – there is someone else after all… but she bolts and he runs after her only to lose her in the empty spaces.

Good luck is followed by bad as Neville is soon ambushed in a department store by The Family and taken for a fateful interview with Matthias. This sequence is probably the film’s central message, Matthias convinced that a new order has arisen in response to Man’s greed and carelessness whilst Neville fights on for the old order.

It looks bad for Neville...
Matthias is self-aware and knows that Neville has to die to help bind his group together… and to balance the books: one scientist to atone for the crimes of all the rest. Neville is tied to a funeral pyre in the centre of a football stadium and all looks bleak until the flood lights are flicked on and the ghouls shrink back allowing a motorcyclist to rush in a rescue Neville…

Dutch on his bike
There is a vestige of mankind still worth saving and Neville soon discovers his rescuer is medical student Dutch (Paul Koslo) along with Lisa and several children. They all have the plague but are more immune than others… unless a cure can be found they will all succumb sooner or later. Lisa’s brother Richie (Eric Laneuville) is on the verge of changing but Neville take shijm in in the hope that he can create a serum from his own blood… Meanwhile he and Lisa demonstrate what can happen when the only boy in the World gets to meet the only girl…
Out on the town
Dusty verdict: No spoilers for the film’s ending… will this be one of those seventies “dark” resolutions or is there hope: do you feel lucky punk?

In truth the scene setting outweighs the rest of the film – the idea of being the last man standing in an empty city is  a frightening and compelling one… the freedom more than outweighed by the loneliness. Sagal  directs his excellent cats well and mention should also be made of the suitably moody score from Ron Grainer.

Rosalind Cash is excellent
The Omega Man is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Amazon. It’s one of Tim Burton’s favourite films and you can see why… a quirky near classic of period paranoia and like all good sci-fi a story that says more about the times we live in than the time to come addressing the ultimate question of whether to kill or cure?