Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Iguana With The Tongue of Fire

Fiery Tongue In Cheek

The Iguana With The Tongue of Fire 
aka Lizard With A Tongue Of Fire 
aka L'iguana Dalla Lingua Di Fuoco 
Italy/France/West Germany 1971
Directed by Riccardo Freda
New Entertainment World Region 0

Wow. The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire, eh?

People who know me or know my reviews should know by now that I adore the form of, predominantly Italian, cinema known as the ‘giallo’. I’ve mentioned my passion for the beautiful camerawork, overwrought shot design and fantastic music at the expense of bad acting and scripting on numerous occasions but, if you want to familiarise yourself with my summation of the giallo as a worthwhile, collective cinematic achievement, then please see my article on just that subject here. So what I want you to realise is that it’s quite a rare thing for me to say, or type, the statement that follows...

The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire has got to be the most unintentionally, hilariously bad giallo movies I have ever seen.

Like most gialli, I wanted to see this one because of the gorgeous score to the movie, courtesy here of the wonderful, popular Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani. However, it has to be said that this is pretty much the only really decent thing going for it.

The film stars Anton Diffring (everybody and their pet iguana's first choice of multi-national, intimidating German), giallo favourite Dagmar Lassander and, as the main protagonist (although he doesn’t turn up for about 20 minutes or so into the flick), the one and only Luigi Pistilli. Pistilli is seen here in a rare portrayal of a hero figure, rather than a villain of some description. I’d have to say that, although he turns up in tonnes of stuff before his tragic real life suicide, this film really shows that he had what it takes to be a major star of a movie, rather than just the lead villain or a supporting role.

Now then, it has to be said that the version of this movie I was watching wasn’t, from the outset, being screened in the best conditions. Although not a bootleg copy, the official German release of this movie I was watching had one of the worst and faded prints I’d seen of an official release. Honestly, some of the establishing location shots at the start of the movie, and near the end, looked almost as yellow as the word this genre takes it’s terminology from... literally a yellow giallo! I can’t really comment on the transfer of the print because I just can’t tell how much of the picture is the transfer and how much is the print.  After having seen the film though... I would have to say I can understand why nobody has bothered to pay out for a new print from the negative as yet.

Dealing with a set of murders in, of all places, Dublin... the story involves a German diplomat (yeah, that’d be Diffring then) who gets involved in some acid in the face/throat slash murders while staying in Dublin with his family in the German embassy.

Did I just say acid in the face and throat slash murders?

Yes I did. Starting off with a sequence where a woman has her throat cut after acid has been splashed on her, making her face all red... just to make doubly sure. One has to assume that the motives of the murderer on this one are “better dead than red.” Now this all sounds quite ghastly, I’m sure, but I have to tell you that the special effects on this, and other sequences like it, are absolutely awful. Remember that taylors dummy which scrapes down the side of the cliff edge taking off its face at the start of Lucio Fulci’s Seven Notes In Black? Well this same kind of terrible dummy is used for close ups of the acid in the face in this one. Fortunate for me because, lets face it, I really don’t want to be subjected to a woman getting acid thrown in her face but, simultaneously, unfortunate for the film because the lameness of the technical effects makes you laugh out loud at the silliness of the problem solving going on here.

So there’s that.

Then there’s some other crazy and mostly laughable stuff going on. Like the killer wearing sunglasses at the start of the movie means that every time during the movie that any of the characters decide to pull out a pair of sunglasses, and they do, frequently, whether you are expecting them to or not, there is this highly charged and ever so over dramatic musical sting to accompany a close-up shot of said sunglasses. Honestly, this is so funny you’ll be wishing every character in the movie has a pair of sunglasses to pull out so the sound guys can whack you over the ears with another musical sting.

And there’s the accents. Most gialli are shot in several languages with the predominate language usually being English to help lip synch any of the UK or US actors in the film. The sound, is then, very badly dubbed with no regard to lip synch in any language you happen to watch it in. You will never, I would guess, see an Italian giallo where the spoken word matches up to what you are seeing. This particular film is dubbed into English for the print I was watching, which would be the correct way to view it but... it’s a terrible and highly comical Irish accent that everyone in the movie, apart from Anton Diffring, has been dubbed with. Seriously. Even Luigi Pistilli is talking in this highly fruity Irish accent all the way through and I’m sorry but I was not always able to contain my mirth at this viewing.

And little details that the production design slipped in didn’t help matters either. When questioned if the chauffer of the German family was going to get some laundry done, he is asked to confirm the receipts when shown them by the investigating police. Noticing, in the top right hand corner that the washing was done by a company called “Swastika Laundry Ltd” did nothing to relinquish the sense of accidental comedy on display in this one.

To be fair to it, the story was actually quite a good one for a giallo and it even had Luigi Pistilli living with his mother and his daughter, with the mother referencing both Agatha Christie and Miss Marple as she gives her son pointers as to who the killer is. It also takes a quite nasty turn near the end when the killer is revealed, with Pistilli’s mother being severely battered (possibly to death) and his young daughter having acid thrown in her face. This is quite sobering in the face of the unintentional comedy on display throughout the movie, but utterly wasted as, days or a week after this scene in terms of movie time passing, Pistilli doesn’t see fit to reference or comment on this turn of events, not rushing back to hospital by his daughters bed but instead going off with his boss for a cheery pint down the pub... presumably a nice, clichéd pint of Guinness.

If the film had been in the hands of a better director, is my guess, then this would have seriously been a giallo to contend with. But it’s just limply and half heartedly put together... although the acting in this one is mostly pretty good. Pistilli really was a great actor and this should be better recognised, I feel.

I looked at the director’s biography on the IMDB and it was very revealing. I noticed two of his films were I Vampiri and Caltiki - Il Mostro Immortale... two films I know Mario Bava had to unofficially finish off directing due to problems with the director on the set. Similarly, his last entry on the IMDB is for La Fille De D'Artagnan, a film I really love, from which it says he was “fired” and “uncredited”. I’m guessing this particular director may have been a little highly strung to say the least. I notice that one of the gialli I have in my “to watch” pile, Murder Obsession, is also directed by this guy... so I’m not really looking forward to watching that one so much now.

The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire is a well plotted and well acted (for once) giallo that is in every way terrible to watch... in all but the musical score, which is excellent, as you’d expect from composer Cipriani. The score is free on a separate feature on the German DVD release although I’d personally recommend getting the limited edition Digitmovies CD release if you like the music as it has more of the score on there (plus, you know, it’s a CD).

Cipriani and Pistilli fans will definitely get something out of this movie and some people will also, like myself, get a good laugh. But to most people I would say... “stay away from this one”. There are much better gialli out there and very few that are as badly put together as this one.

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