Sodom & Begorrah

Riccardo Freda’s IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE won’t be forming part of my Forgotten Gialli series over at The Daily Notebook — because we’ve got to preserve some standards — but I couldn’t let it pass my retinas without comment.

Set and shot in Dublin, the story follows the odd goings-on at the embassy of an unnamed country, where Anton Diffring is the ambassador so it’s Germany, OK? Flick begins with dull tourist views, and then a woman is splashed with acid and has her throat hacked through in graphic close-up, a brief but shockingly nasty slaying without much of the traditional giallo panache. The ECU effects are unconvincing but nonetheless horrid.

Then we get a thick broth of plot, blending sinister homosexuals, adultery (Anton Diffring is shagging half of Ireland — the wrong half, I’d have said), more murders, unconventional police tactics, and granny-bashing.

Freda, ” a true intellectual” according to his associates, has a genius for concealing his brains and directing like an idiot, which perhaps reflects more on his opinion of his audience than his own capabilities. His vulgar zooms, blatant titty shots and willingness to linger on appalling dialogue distinguish him from his colleague Mario Bava, who endeavored to turn even the lamest scene into chromatic poetry. Freda follows Sidney Pollack’s dictum: “Let the boring crap BE boring crap.”

The cast is a mixture of faded, disdainful Euro-trash glamour and lumpen Irish depressives, with Arthur O’Sullivan (Feeny the highwayman from BARRY LYNDON) the most interesting presence, not so much for his way with dialogue as for his general manner: cold, guarded, a beady-eyed toad.

Luigi Pistilli, a Leone fave (Tuco’s brother in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY), with a dubbed Irish accent, makes an interesting hero, with a Hank Quinlan backstory and a dotty would-be Miss Marple mum. The moment where mum, son, and grand-daughter discover their cat decapitated in the fridge, dripping onto a perfectly good cake, is the film’s strongest moment of horror for me (I love cats and I love cakes).

Valentina Cortese exudes her particular form of high fashion elegance, which at this point consists of dressing like a madwoman with cancer from the nineteen twenties.

Diffring is above it all (and his arse at no point bursts into flames, so that we can’t call the film ANTON WITH A BUM OF FIRE, so just don’t go there) and at one point delivers the Line He Was Born To Say.

“How did you get in here?” asks bonnie colleen Dominique Boschero.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to use a back entrance,” he explains, keeping a totally straight face.

But the most gob-smacking moment (apart from the savage murder of a beautiful woman taking place ENTIRELY OFFSCREEN, surely a first for this genre) is the interrogation of the German chauffeur, who claims he was in a hurry to get to the cleaners.

“Is this the cleaners?” asks O’Sullivan’s associate detective ~

SWASTIKA LAUNDRY LTD. Did Dublin really have such an establishment? I know Ireland maintained her neutrality in WWII, so maybe they felt duty-bound to have matching laundries for balance: perhaps the Swastika was opposite Field Marshall Montgomery’s Wash ‘n’ Go? Or maybe this was an exclusive establishment catering solely to the staff of the German embassy, in a misguided attempt to make them feel at home? It certainly raises many questions more intriguing than the plot of IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE, waiting to beguile you when you get tired of wondering what the title means.

Stop Press: It’s real. Or it was, up until 1980.

11 Responses to “Sodom & Begorrah”

  1. WOW!

    I adore anything with Valentina Cortees and Anton Diffring — though not necessarily together.

    A friend of mine who lives in Italy has gotten to know La Cortese who, even though elderly and far from abulatory, still exudes the style and chic that made her a star.

  2. Valentina is literally the only good thing in or about this movie – which is easily Freda’s worst, in my opinion. Never mind that I’m a huge giallo fan and am inclined to like anything shot in Dublin, as I used to live there.

    But have you seen Valentina as the devil-worshipping Countess Blixen in Mario Lanfranchi’s IL BACIO? Not only does she host a sumptuous black mass, she also has a lesbian love scene with Martine Beswicke. Now that’s what I call a movie!

  3. Though disappointing for Freda, this was by no means the worst giallo I’ve seen. The sheer wrongness of the setting and cast, and much of the dialogue (the swearing is hysterical) create a slightly spacey quality.

    Cortese is fascinating. She seems very natural and human in her early roles, but by the 70s everything seems as wild and stylised as her dotty drunken actress in Day for Night. She’s wonderfully terrifying in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Shades of Mercouri.

  4. The location is around the corner from my parents’ place, not that this has much to do with anything.

    I wonder did good old Alois Hitler plant the seed for the logo during his run of Dublin troublemaking in the 1900s — he met his wife at the Horse Show, a venue much frequented by the owner of Swastika laundry. Spooky!

  5. The owners did, to their credit, add a date to the name of the establishment during WWII, in an effort to reclaim the swastika from its Hitlerian associations. But I think wholesale renaming would have shown better faith. I guess when you have a well-known local business, that must be an awful wrench, but the idea of it still existing in the 70s is gobsmacking!

  6. The laundry disappeared just before I moved to Dublin in the late 1980s, but it certainly wasn’t forgotten by residents of the area. There was mention of the business in an RTE TV series a few years back and I think there was an awful lot of competition in the sector so that may be why they stuck with the name, notwithstanding the connotations… Makes you wonder whether other laundries had even worse names!

  7. Iguana good time!! Clearly not Freda’s best (Barbara Steele isn’t in it) but sleazy, nonsensical fun from start to finish.

  8. jiminholland Says:

    From Wiki:

    “Following the closure of the laundry, at least until the early 1987 the laundry chimney was emblazoned with a large white swastika that could be seen from many places in the surrounding area…”

    This makes the RIP on the mortuary rooftop in Cavalcanti’s “They Made Me A Fugitive” appear significantly less surrealist/heavy-handed than I’d previously thought….

  9. If this is Irish, doe it make it a buí film instead of giallo? I have hunt this down.

  10. I always assumed that undertakers DID have giant rooftop signs in the 40s. If they didn’t, they ought to have. It pays to advertise!

    Somehow Dublin doesn’t quite provide the Eurotrash glamour a giallo needs: some aspect of the setting keeps dragging it down to earth. But the contrast, and the intrusion of bouts of aggressive swearing, make for amusing viewing.

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