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

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