Archive for January 2, 2020

Big Ben

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2020 by dcairns

Michele Lupo’s films are woven together with quips and names and odd little details — much as you might expect with a more important artist. Seven was obviously his lucky number — he made SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST ROME, SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS and SEVEN TIMES SEVEN. Big Ben is the name of a character in the last-named, and it’s the name of a computerized security system in his next caper movie, THE MASTER TOUCH. The title of that film echoes the earlier MASTER STROKE. As in SEVEN TIMES SEVEN it features a character using prison as an alibi, and a heist conducted during a football match.

Lupo is extremely ill-served by home video, and THE MASTER TOUCH has only been released on DVD in Australia, where the job was done poorly — so we only have a soft, muddy and colourless version to look at, a particular shame for a film shot by the great Tonino Delli Colli. Still, it’s set in Hamburg and all the exterior locations look drizzly, overcast and horrid. I might as well go outside.

Indoors, there are sleek, futuristic security systems, which Lupo seems to love — a long sequence of Kirk Douglas pulling off a hi-tech heist amid a 2001-esque insurance company seems to particularly excite the director, going by the huge rack focuses (focii?) and Dutch tilts.

Kirk’s partner in crime is Giuliano Gemma, seemingly Lupo’s favourite actor (though he also worked a lot with Bud Spencer and Lionel Stander, pretty much opposites to the handsome GG). There’s something perverse about the way Douglas’s character welcomes this “thieving gypsy” stereotype into the marital home, and there’s a proud, fatherly look in Kirk’s eye whenever he beholds GG and his wife, Florinda Balkan in one another’s company. We can either read her as a beard for the unstated homosexual relationship, or as some kind of hotwife Kirk is urging to cuckold him. (Or kirkold?). Most strange.

The crafty plot involves simultaneous robberies, one of which is designed to go wrong and provide an alibi. It all goes very badly tits-up, but whose tits will be up when the chips are down?

Even though the plotting is loose and somewhat silly, with improbable solutions to burglary problems and a tendency to throw in irrelevant (but well-staged)punch-ups and car chases to pad out the story, things build nicely and then there’s a spectacular gut-punch of a plot twist that sends the story spiraling towards tragedy. It’d be unfair to spoil, spoiler or spoilerize this, but I can tell you in private.

An aspect of Lipo’s cinema I haven’t yet celebrated is his delight in peculiar physiognomy, more Fellini than Leone, and the primary mush here is that of centenarian Kirk Douglas, his extraordinary Belarussian rock-face, craggy, lipless and scowling, tipping into middle age without losing any of its intimidating majesty. Nice to see that he’s kept the classical record collection from A LETTER TO THREE WIVES all this time.

Really quite grim, with a great, unexpectedly bluesy score from Morricone, built around a kind of funereal wail from a solo fluegelhorn, that never develops, merely mourns. Still, despite the tone being totally different from the previous two Lupos I’ve enjoyed, the sense of hubristic failure, the tricksy visuals (think Leone plus Lester plus Sid Furie) and the total commitment to the ludic possibilities of straight genre filmmaking make it fit in quite neatly.

Michele Lupo is a major minor filmmaker!

THE MASTER TOUCH stars Spartacus; Lola Montes; and Dr. Mabuse. With Scott Mary and Baron Konstantin Von Essenbeck.