Archive for July 15, 2022

Lipstick on your Killer

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2022 by dcairns

IL ROSSETTO (THE LIPSTICK, 1960) is Damiano Damiani’s first film as director. While Elio Petri’s debut, L’ASSASSINO, seems like a near-remake of Joseph Losey’s BLIND DATE, DD seems to have chosen as his model another British picture, J. Lee Thompson’s TIGER BAY. But he’s changed things more.

His lead is teenager Laura Vivaldi, who has a precocious crush on handsome Pierre Brice. He’s much older and only shows an interest in her when it turns out she can put him at the scene of a recent murder. Now he starts doting on her, while working out what he has to do to keep her quiet…

Vivaldi is great — maybe not the thespian genius Hayley Mills was as a kid, but very affecting and credible. Her mom is played by Bella Darvi, so we know there’s going to be trouble there. Brice’s REAL girlfriend is Georgia Moll, miscast by Mankiewicz as a Vietnamese character in THE QUIET AMERICAN (why didn’t somebody point JLM to Dany Carrel?). And the police inspector who starts honing in on Brice, using young Vivaldi as a wedge to crack him, is Pietro Germi, who did quite a bit of acting alongside his celebrated directing career.

Germi is one of the film’s most interesting creations — structurally, he’s Columbo-like (enter late, slowly take over), but less sympathetic. Damiani is not, I think, enamoured of the cops. Germi has a picture of his own daughter on his desk. He’s very kindly toward Vivaldi and he believes her story. It turns out she’s just the age his own daughter would have been.

When a more cynical cop undermines Germi’s faith in his star witness — and the thing that does it is the fact that she’s known to have experimented with lipstick — the hussy! — he turns against her. Things get very dark indeed, and social critique almost takes over from detective drama. It’s a perfect balance, actually.

Two possible criticisms — the movie could make a great advertisment for suicide attempting as a means to resolve adolescent troubles, which could seem irresponsible — and the resolution of the mother-daughter plot is not too satisfying since Darvi plays the mom’s bad qualities much more convincingly than the good ones — she’s been wrapped up in her own soap opera affairs as a married man’s mistress, and doesn’t seem to earn her happy ending. But really these issues don’t seem as troublesome as they ought to be.

Damiani’s direction is assured and simple, sustaining his beautifully crafted melodrama.

I also took a look at GODDESS OF LOVE (1958), in the wonder of Ferraniacolor and Totalscope — an unusual peplum-thing scripted by Damiani. He did a bunch of these for veteran director Victor Tourjansky, but this one departs from the usual playbook. There are no bulging biceps, and despite some marching armies in the second act, the film is mostly intimate, and genuinely interested in its love story, structured around the sculpting of the Aphrodite of Knidos.

You learn absolutely nothing important or accurate about this significant work of art except that it was chiselled by a bloke called Praxiteles (Massimo Girotti), but Damiani’s feminist side is apparent — Belinda Lee, a voluptuous lass from Devon, is tyrannized from all sides because of her beauty — it’s like THE RED SHOES, only clunky on every level. Praxiteles wants her as model (but secretly is smitten), a wounded Macedonian he shelters (Lithuanian sideboard Jacques Sernas, Il Divo in LA DOLCE VITA) is in simply manly love with her, and the entire Greek army lusts after her for the way she knocks the shape out of a tunic.

Damiani is guilty of some bad radio writing — “Let’s run away from here through this door!” but his story is actually compelling. Tourjansky, once a wild stylist in France in the 20s, has settled into his “mature” period — asleep at the wheel. You don’t need to watch it. But it’s interesting to see DD already mastering story and making something a little more interesting than it needs to be.