Lipstick on your Killer

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.

24 Responses to “Lipstick on your Killer”

  1. Tony Williams Says:

    Certainly, like Petri, Damiani does have his outside models. Yet, like the majority of Italian directors in the field of genre, the added cultural components are important which make the films distinctive in nuance as opposed to the slavish borrowings of Tarantino. In his book on Petri, Roberto Curti relates THE ASSASSIN to an historical moment in Italian culture and the same is true of LIPSTICK. The future Winnetou is a young man on the make a dysfunctional product of the Italian post-war boom like Marcello in Petri’s film. Whereas, Petri is more nuanced in the question of guilt, Damiani sees the explicit picture probably due to his collaboration with Zavattini

  2. Yes, both films benefit from a sharp sense of their sociopolitical environment (and physical environment: Damian’s film occurs in a concrete wasteland) which helps align the stories into fresh and interesting directions. But it’s interesting that they both seem to have looked to British films for inspiration: I find it heartening.

  3. Tony Williams Says:

    Many good directors are aware of international cinema. When I once suggested THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? could be one of the influences on BATTLE ROYALE, Tom Mes took me to task. However, I read later that Kinji Fukasasku was interested in this area. Significantly, John Woo’s MANHUNT (2017) is not only a remake of a 1966 Takakura Ken film that was the first Japanese film released in China after the Cultural Revolution but deals with the question of influence in its prologue which the directors develops in many intriguing aspects by taking sources and creatively developing them.

  4. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Gotta see Damiani, thanks! Sounds very interesting. Have you seen I KNEW HER WELL (Pietrangeli)? I attacked the Truly Great Tarantino for ages, primarily his co-opting of blaxploitation. But I began to see that he’s a metaphysician, and a very gentle, sensitive one.

  5. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    I do think that the attacks on Tarantino are instantly recognizable for what they are (risibly transparent classism) when one considers his detractors’ love for Woody Allen and Martin (spits) Scorsese. I never liked Sandra Milo until I saw her in Adua and Her Friends. Maybe the Canon’s to blame for touting the worst directors (Fellini) over many far greater, and far less well-known, talents.

  6. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Cairns: Have you seen the films of Cecilia Mangini? BEING WOMEN is a short and PERFECT documentary that makes Fellini look like an asshole simply by exposing Italy’s “BOOM”. One of the most harrowing exposes of “Contintental Moderne-ism” EVER! Varda loved Mangini’s films. I commissioned an English translation of BEING WOMEN. Maybe I sent it to you.

  7. I haven’t seen Mangini… I’ll check her out. But trashing Fellini is no way to get me to be impressed.

    Tarantino is starting a podcast, watching films on VHS with Roger Avary.

  8. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    I’m not attracted to Tarantino outside of his films. He’s an arrogant douchebag, As for Fellini, I’m not “trashing” anyone to impress you, just acknowledging the facts as I see them — his stated ideology (check the Bluestone interview) is directly opposed to Mangini’s entire existence as a filmmaker. She wants to tell the truth about Southern Italians being enslaved to create Italy’s “Boom”. Fellini celebrated said Boom. Hence “asshole”. You are free to admire cinema as the art of exploitation, an instrument to harm working-class and poor people.

  9. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Auteurism = Classism

  10. The idea of Fellini celebrating Il Boom is an absurdity — you think the title La Dolce Vita is intended for a literal and uncomplicated reading? How do you read Il Bidone?

  11. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    I’m trying to provoke you into chiseling. But I will say that Fellini’s appeal to middle-class viewers speaks volumes. Glamor? “C’mon, man!” — to quote our Great American Leader.

  12. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    “Some neo-realists seem to think that they cannot make a film unless they have a man in old clothes in front of the camera.” -The Asshole

  13. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    On the flip-side… to quote myself…

    Careening from one via to another at harrowing, white-knuckle speeds, Fellini was heard to lamented that “Some of the neo-realists seem to think that they cannot make a film unless they have a man in old clothes in front of the camera.” George Bluestone, recording these words in 1957 for the pages of Film Culture, was sittings in the literal passenger seat of the ideal metaphor of post-war ebullience in action: that famous Black Chevy skirting the Italian Scylla (the Vatican) and its equally dogmatic Charybdis (the Party); expert, 20th century precision guiding them through Roman streets with graffiti-scrawled churches proudly bearing the hammer and sickle. At those velocities, anything could make sense.

    “What for you is the greatest human quality?”, Bluestone asks. Fellini responds, “Love of one’s fellows,” a period-appropriate oath that rings true to his brand of ecumenical solidarity.

    “The greatest fault?”

    “Egoism.”

  14. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Pardon typos.

  15. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    So let’s call him a non-sectarian egoist, devoted solely to himself.

  16. But remember, Fellini was also a colossal liar. Buck Henry came to read his interviews as performance art, “full of statements he can’t possibly believe.”

  17. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    And this makes you respect him… more? CALL ME!

  18. John Seal Says:

    Ah, Pierre Brice. Sadly I cannot watch him without thinking of him in redface and wig, playing Winnetou opposite Stewart Granger’s Old Shatterhand in all those Karl May sauerkraut westerns.

  19. Still to watch any of those, but Siodmak did two (without Brice but with the vile Lex Barker) so I might have to.

  20. Tony Williams Says:

    Why “vile Lex Barker”? While you’re pondering this question I have something to add to the Felini debate from my reading of the late Peter Bondanella’s A HISTORY OF ITALIAN CINEMA (2009). In his third chapter on Neo Realism, he argues comvincingly that it is a diffuse concept. “Directors we label today as neorealist were a crucial part of a much larger general postwar cultural revolution characterized by a number of aesthetic and philosophical perspectives, all united only by the common aspiration to view Italy without preconceptions and to develop a more honest, ethical, but no less poetic cinematic language.” (65)

    Fellini declared simply that `neorealism is a way of seeing reality without prejudice, without conventions coming between it and myself -facing it without preconceptions, looking at it in an honest way -whatever reality is, not just social reality, but all that there is wiithn a man.”‘ (62 ) Bondanella quotes from FELLINI ON FELLINI, p. 152). The value of his book is that it strees diffuse elements as opposed to rigid stratification.

    Hope you are all keeping cool, especially Momo!

  21. “Lex Barker tried to rape my mother!” an American expat friend declared to me in Bologna. And I’d already read about Lana Turner’s daughter saying he sexually abused her, which seemed credible enough.

    It’s obvious by the time of La Strada that Fellini was not any kind of conventional realist, but seeing neo-realism as a broad church is sensible. If it can encompass Miracle in Milan and early Visconti, it has to be broad.

    Momo seems immune to the heat. We’re doing as little as possible, as if he were in Chinatown.

  22. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, fluid ,as well as incorporating other elements such as professional actors in the Rossellini Trilogy, and some remarkable editing that goes against Bazin’s conceptions Curti notes fluidity in his examination of NAPLES,THE CAMORRA DEFIES, THE CITY REPLIES (1979) that contains two musical numbers, Neopolitan melodrama, and a Gothic climax that would not look out of place in Hammer horror. (I must look up some more of director Alfonso Brescia who appears to be the Chu Yen Ping of genre, low-budget cinema) He mentions also, in terms of cross-fertilization, the later 1987 “abysmal” CROSS OF THE 7 JEWELS” (1987) that he also describes elsewhere as “the worst Italiian movie ever made” combining a werewolf with the Camorra, and Gordon Mitchell as a fiendish warlock!i

    Just been watching Melanie on THE TOBY GRIBBEN SHOW (2021), fantastic, a fellow Scot, who let her speak for herself without interruption..

  23. Tony Williams Says:

    Pierre Brice as Zorro in SAMSON AND THE SLAVE QUEEN (1963) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djjPxmtcQFE

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