Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Designated Victim (1971)

The Designated Victim (La vittima designata) is a 1971 giallo remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Strangers on a Train. While ordinarily I’d be horrified at the idea of remaking Hitchcock, the style of this film is sufficiently different that they just about get away with it.

Of course it goes without saying that it’s not as good as Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but it stands on its own as a fairly competent thriller. It’s not what I’d call “high style” giallo - it lack the spectacular visual brilliance of the best movies of this genre. But it’s well-made, it looks pretty good, and it benefits from what is after all one of the classic suspense plots (originally based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith).

Stefano Argenti is unhappily married. He runs a successful advertising agency, but it’s owned lock-stock-and-barrel by his wife. Stefano would dearly love to be able to sell the company, pocket the money, and take off to Venezulea with his glamorous model mistress. He’s tempted by the idea of practising a fraud, by forging his wife’s signature on the sale documents for the company. The idea of murdering his wife has briefly crossed his mind, but he’s not really that sort of guy. He doesn’t have the stomach for it. He doesn’t really have the stomach even for fraud.

One day he encounters a mysterious stranger, Count Matteo Tiepolo. Matteo is very anxious to befriend Stefano. He explains that they have a lot in common, although what this might be isn’t at all clear to Stefano. Finally Matteo tells him that he has a brother, a brother who hates him, who wants him dead. This brother has made his life a nightmare, but the nightmare would end if only his brother would meet with an accident. Perhaps even a deliberately engineered accident. Or even murder. And Stefano’s life would be enormously simplified if only something similar would happen to his wife. Matteo has given this some thought. He has no connection with Stefano’s wife; Stefano has no connection with Matteo’s brother. If he murdered Stefano’s wife no-one would suspect, and no-one would suspect Stefano if he killed Matteo’s brother. It would be two perfect crimes in one.

Stefano assumes Matteo is a trifle mad, but probably harmless, and gives the matter very little thought. Until Stefano’s wife is found dead, strangled with a silk stocking. It doesn’t take Stefano long to figure out that Matteo was actually serious about his crazy plan. The good news is that Stefano, the obvious suspect, has an alibi for the murderer. He had spent the night with a German woman named Cristina. The bad news, which Stefano takes a while to discover, is that this alibi was arranged by Matteo, and Cristina has now disappeared. But Matteo will take him to Cristina, as soon as Stefano carries out his part of the bargain.

The tension slowly builds as Stefano finds himself more and more implicated in his wife’s murder, with Matteo being the only one who can clear his name. But he will have to become a murderer himself.

Director Maurizio Lucidi handles proceedings with a good deal of competence. Tomas Milian is good as Stefano, and Pierre Clémenti is superbly creepy and unbalanced as Matteo. The homoerotic elements, which were very obvious in the Hitchcock version, aren’t quite as obvious in this one but they’re definitely there. It has more of an all-pervasive atmosphere of perversity.

The movie opens with a fairly erotic nude scene but that’s the only nudity in the entire film, and there’s a distinct lack of sex, which is a little unusual for a giallo. The Designated Victim makes up for this with its atmosphere of jealousy, thwarted lust, love-turned-to-hate and general sexual and emotional unhealthiness.

The Shameless DVD release is quite impressive. It includes material from several sources, including some brief footage obviously taken from a slightly iffy VHS source. These scenes are integrated into the movie. While it’s slightly disconcerting when the picture quality and the aspect ratio suddenly changes in a few brief scenes, I think this is a much better method than including these sequences as additional scenes in the extras menu. I always think it’s pointless having such scenes in the extras menu since it’s silly watching them after you’ve already watched the movie.

There’s also a commentary track, although unusually it’s in text form (as sub-titles) rather than spoken. It’s also very sparse, so it’s not really worth the effort. Overall though it’s another very impressive release from Shameless. And remarkably inexpensive.


Nigel M said...

if I were writing this up I would mention strangers on a train too :)

- after all that is impossible to avoid. But as much as we can put hitchcock from the mind the more enjoyable this one is- maybe think of it as a re-imagining of strangers on a train type themes or something- taken as a stand alone feature and trying to forget comparisons and we get a neat thriller.

I love the interplay between the 2 male leads- homo-erotic? probably a big yes it is.

love the ending, love the eurocult vibe but strangely this is probably one of the least played of my giallo- this is not a criticism, just an oversight on my part so for this prompting I will make this my sunday night viewing. Another cool shameless screen release.

dfordoom said...

It's interesting because the interplay between the two male leads in Strangers on a Train has a homo-erotic vibe as well, but in a subtly different way.

The temptation in 1971 would have been to make that element more overt, but I think The Designated Victim works because they didn't do that. It would have been too obvious, and leaving it as just a suggestion makes the film more intriguing.

CiNEZiLLA said...

Excellent. I have this one in the pile of stuff to watch, and I think it's just got closer to being one of the discs going in this weekend.

Good stuff!