Monday 9 June 2014

La Decima Vittima (The 10th Victim)

State Of Andress

La Decima Vittima 
(The 10th Victim)
1965 Italy
Directed by Elio Petri
DVD Region 0/BluRay Region B

Warning: Slight spoilers because some 
of the scenes are just so damned fun!

It was about thirteen years ago that I first became properly aware of The 10th Victim. I know this because it was the same year that one of my best friends moved away from his ancestral home and had a house warming party. A listing in the National Film Theatre for the movie caught my eye. I realised that this would be on the afternoon, at the same time, as my friend’s party.

Now, how can I put this? Social gatherings really aren’t my thing. If I am absolutely forced to attend one of these wretched events I’ll hug a single, solitary drink, stand against a wall and attempt to understand what kind of small talk I should attempt to engage in should anyone actually bother to come and talk to me... which always proves a great waste of my speculative brain power because, after about two to three minutes, nobody ever does come and talk to me.

So, since my friends knew me and I figured they’d much rather be deprived of my less than sparkling company under such a set of circumstances, I decided to go along to Screen One of the NFT instead, just to see if the glossy, confection of a film they were purporting to be showing in any way lived up to the promise of its title and promotional paragraph.

The Tenth Victim is a science fiction film produced by Carlo Ponti and based on legendary sci-fi writer Robert Sheckley’s short story The Seventh Victim (he also wrote the novelisation of the movie version and a few sequel novels). The film is set in a world of the near future, where wars and the psychological tendencies in people that lead to them are averted by a national game where you can sign up to be, alternatively, hunter and hunted throughout your daily routine, to kill or be killed for prize money. If you make it through ten hunts, you become an international hero and win a massive money prize and all kinds of benefits. If you fail to survive ten hunts, as most people do, well... you know... you just end up dead.

The film starts with Ursula Andress playing her ninth hunt as a “hunted”, as she playfully dodges bullets and lures her hunter into a club, The Masoch Club. Piero Piccioni’s amazing and infectious score, with vocal noodlings by the singer Mina, starts right away and, though there are a lot of other melodies throughout the movie, this one keeps going through many repeat variations and plays on your subconscious at key moments. Ursula, playing American Caroline Meredith, disguisess herself as a dancer and takes out her hunter with one of several elements of this film which were used decades later in Austin Powers, International Man Of Mystery. That is to say... she blasts the hell out of her hunter with her bikini guns.

We then scoot to Italy to meet her victim, who will be her tenth, if she can kill him. This is  Marcello Mastroianni playing, um, Marcello Poletti. We are first introduced to him when his victim in the hunt is demanding his riding boots to be brought to him at a horse show. Knowing the German’s vanity, Marcello has wired the heels of his boots to explode so, when the German looks at himself in a full length mirror and clicks his heels together... BOOM!

It’s all quite delightful and the film then becomes a romp as Ursula stalks her victim to learn more of him (the rules are such that the person hunting knows everything about the victim but the hunted has to work out who is after him/her) and starts finding this poor man, who has just had his marriage annulled and doesn’t want to marry his latest lover, an interesting candidate... perhaps even for romance. However, romance comes second to becoming a “decathlete” and the film becomes a fun game of cat and mouse as Caroline attempts to lure Marcello to The Temple Of Venus in Rome in order to kill him live on television for some high paying sponsors... the makers of the popular beverage Ming Tea (and there’s another element that made it into Austin Powers, which the hero of that later film takes as the name of his pop group).

The film is spectacular. The shot compositions are very clean and show a future which is a far cry from the dust and grime of such science fiction classics as Blade Runner (reviewed here). The colours are amazing... being shot at that time when Italian films were noted for using lighting effects such as purples pitched against greens and bright yellows. It’s a truly beautiful film to look at and the mise en scene is very much like those found in the better gialli which would start to catch on before the end of the decade.

There’s also a certain sense of surrealism found within the parameters of the film as the budgets would not allow for full fledged futuristic sets. Instead, we have short cuts and metaphors which gel with the science fiction setting and these, as much as anything, truly make the film a time piece. There’s no way a premise like this would be tackled in this way now but the times then were playful enough that when one character says they survived their death because they were wearing a bullet proof skin of their own design, they can just about get away with it. It’s all very sixties... and all very entertaining. And downright stunning, as it happens.

And that score. Absolutely fantastic. A disc to take away on a desert island, for sure.

The first two things I did when I got out of the screening all those years ago were a) track down and purchase the old soundtrack album and b) add the old Anchor Bay US Region 1 DVD of this to my Christmas list pronto. I love that old Anchor Bay DVD but, it has to be said, with the film’s inaugural release in the UK from Shameless, in a dual format edition comprising both DVD and Blu Ray, the film shines now like it never has before. The transfer is absolutely stunning and the image crisp, clear and something which I suspect will get a lot of plays and, possibly, a lot of lends over the years.

Such a stunning movie and still an instant recommendation from me for anyone who is into Italian film and just drop dead gorgeous cinema in general. If you like movies, you owe it to yourself to give The 10th Victim a spin or two.

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