Puzzle Pieces

A moderately good example of stealing (to contrast with CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT, where the crimes would seem to be blatant plagiarism) — in PUZZLE (L’UOMO SENZA MEMORIA, 1974) , an unconventional amnesia-centred quasi-giallo, ginger villain Bruno Corazzari menaces the lovely Senta Berger, who’s laid up with a leg in plaster, by striking matches and dropping them on her. Just as we’re remembering that this is a swipe from CHARADE and that it happened to Audrey Hepburn first, Bruno admits that he saw the trick in a movie. This kind of takes the curse off it, ties in with the modest strain of self-reflective postmodernity in the giallo genre, and allows us to reflect that the gag actually works better with a disabled character and the figure of menace standing over her so she can’t simply huff the matches out before they’re dropped. In CHARADE, Audrey does seem a wee bit pathetic to be so terrified for so little reason.

PUZZLE is not bad — Duccio Tessari serves up some nice visuals and some stupid ones. He zooms like mad and racks focus like he was afflicted with the compulsive bolt-tightening movements of Chaplin in MODERN TIMES.

The plot suffers from a central silliness — murderous heroin-smuggler Luc Merenda has lost his memory and somehow become a nice guy. Regaining his memory by the end, he retains his niceness. How and why? It’s a little like TOTAL RECALL, only there a handy plot mechanism has been provided by the scenarists: the nice Ahnoltd is a construct, who manages to avoid being converted back to his authentic, horrid personality. An amusing conceit — most movies value free will and have heroes embarking on a voyage of self-discovery, but when Schwartzenegger’s Doug Quaid learns who he truly is, he decides to stick with his bogus nice-guy overlay.

I thought of a really stupid plot twist for PUZZLE which would have explained all this, but maybe I should keep it to myself — it might make for a whole other screenplay.

Meanwhile. PUZZLE isn’t completely satisfactory but does end with a brutal chase/fight involving the three leads, a straight razor, a chainsaw and some heroin-filled sausages in a toy train. The chic white interiors get sprayed red. People in gialli just can’t have nice things.

Fiona was very taken with Senta’s diving helmet lamp. And, by a coincidence so implausible you wouldn’t accept it in a giallo, the very next day I found an actual deep-sea diving helmet for sale in Georgian Antiques, where I was scouting props for an  upcoming shoot. Unfortunately, the figure on the price tag was not only more money than I’ve ever seen in my life, it was more money than you could get if you sold every object I’ve ever seen in my life. Still, these coincidences happen for a reason, and this time no doubt the reason was to remind me that it would be nice to be rich. I’ll see what I can do.

The whole thing is was on YouTube.

9 Responses to “Puzzle Pieces”

  1. “PUZZLE isn’t completely satisfactory but does end with a brutal chase/fight involving the three leads, a straight razor, a chainsaw and some heroin-filled sausages in a toy train. ”

    Now THAT sounds like a must-see.

  2. It sounds like a Wallace And Gromit slapstick climax, doesn’t it?

  3. Authentic diving helmets are indeed extremely expensive which is why, when my partner (lifelong involvement in things underwater) bought one about 30 years ago from a London antique shop, it was a replica, albeit full size and made of copper. If you’re really interested in one as a prop, even if only a replica, we could retrieve it this week from its current location at a dive centre on the west coast. Just say the word.

  4. Thanks, Judy! No, I was scouting for unrelated props and the helmet was just something I saw and liked. No practical need would be served! Although it would allow me to reenact scenes from Keaton’s The Navigator. I’ll have to settle for the “failing to boil an egg” scene instead.

  5. An urge to re-enact the underwater scenes from The Navigator? Join the queue!

  6. Oh, I wouldn’t go near the water. I’d just wear it around the house and pretend.

  7. This is about 8 years late to the party, but I’ve had the fortune to watch two Duccio Tessari gialli this year (DEATH OCCURRED LAST NIGHT and THE BLOOSTAINED BUTTERFLY), which only leaves me with PUZZLE. I don’t know if you’ve seen the previous two but I’ve absolutely loved them and they really show something special about Tessari: alone amongst giallo directors, Tessari seems to have acutally been concerned with people, and all of his characters have real psychologies and problems. He actually keeps most of his violence offscreen (especially in the almost bloodless BUTTERFLY), but we feel the very real aftermath in the behaviour of his characters, which hits harder than conventional violence does. His killers all have reasons and the horrific is always placed in the context of of a community (Milan in DEATH, the more affluent Bergamo in BUTTERFLY), and he has a consistent approach to certain themes (like the spiritual wreck of revenge, the perversity of the uppr classes, the sins of parents on children, etc.) which gives a coherence and thematic depth you don’t always see in Italo horror (Bava’s obsession with the family unit being the one exception – Argento’s themes always seemed very trite). If you haven’t seen these two, I urge you to check them out. At the very least, you’ll get great performances by Raf Vallone, Frank Wolff and Helmut Berger.

  8. Thanks for the tip! I may also seek out Tessari’s Safari Express, after I’ve seen Michele Lupo’s big hit Africa Express, to which it’s a sequel.

  9. Awesome! I’ve been on a “humanist giallo” kick, and have also checked on Lado’s WHO SAW HER DIE? and Bazzoni’s THE POSSESSED (actually from a great Forgotten article by you) in this vein

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