Archive for Crimes of the Black Cat

Puzzle Pieces

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2012 by dcairns

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.

Blind Tuesday: Seeing-Eye Cat

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2012 by dcairns

Somebody is killing fashion models in Amsterdam — ever wondered why models are paid so highly? Because they’re always getting murdered.

Rejected from Forgotten Gialli, CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT winds up in Blind Tuesday (our occasional feature on blind-person-in-jeopardy thrillers), just because it’s made me rather cross. At the core of the film is a rather darling conceit, a killer using a black cat as assassin, its claws coated with deadly curare. The delightful absurdity of this idea — ever tried getting a cat to do anything? what happens when kitty washes her paws? and also, just WHY? — is rather stifled by the wrapping around of the entire plot and all the set-pieces from 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET.

Stealing is inevitable, and largely to be encouraged, in the arts, but there are times when it is to be condemned. The shot-for-shot lifting of the love scene from DON’T LOOK NOW in ABOUT LAST NIGHT… is one of them (why remind the audience, so forcibly, that Demi Moore is not Julie Christie and Rob Lowe is not Donald Sutherland [or vice versa] or that Edward Zwick does not even share a species with Nic Roeg?). This is another.

The rule is that stealing is good when it makes things better, but that holds it to a high standard — the artwork must be better than it would have been without the theft, but also better than it would have been with something original of an adequate standard. Ideally, the theft should be the kind whereby, if the viewer recognizes the source, pleasure is increased (“How clever!”) rather than spoiled (“What a blatant swipe!”)…

In the case of CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT, it’s to be condemned because it’s lazy and unimaginative, and because it doesn’t help the film, it actually constrains it. The effect is to break the thing in two, so that Anthony Steffen (rather good and sepulchral as the sightless hero) and his investigations seem to occupy a whole other movie from the bout of silly killings.

The big adaptation is to make the hero not a playwright who uses a tape recorder to practice his dialogue, but a film composer (who can’t see the film — how does THAT work?). This allows for a giallo-within-the-giallo, which is par for the course in this compulsively self-reflective genre. Graphic close-ups of breast-slicing in this embedded movie are far more horrible than anything in the main body of the narrative, until the ending, when director Sergio Pastore goes all vicious again, and we can guess that the killer is a woman. You see, whenever the killer does something truly nasty and misogynistic, you can be fairly sure he’ll turn out to be a woman (dishonorable exception: IGUANA WITH A TONGUE OF FIRE, where he’s gay) . It’s a kind of alibi instinct, to deflect the filmmaker’s own guilt.*

This is, on the whole, the kind of giallo that makes me not like the genre. It’s a field which triumphs when it unlocks its imagination, and there’s something deeply tedious about all these black-gloved killers. I think that’s the true explanation for the decline of Dario Argento: he’s become bored by his own tropes, and God forbid that he should ever examine them critically for signs and meaning. Mario Bava, God love him, wasn’t inclined to introspection either, but he felt compelled to explore every genre on offer, even those like the sexy-type-film which he instinctively disliked. It’s because he didn’t view himself as an artist that he experimented so much, making him kind of (but only kind of) the Keaton to Argento’s Chaplin.

Hey, another strange thing. The woman with the killer cat operates out of a pet shop called, according to its sign, UNDULATER. Why would a pet shop be called UNDULATER? And if you ran a pet shop called UNDULATER, wouldn’t that cause a fair bit of confusion (especially in Amsterdam)?**

*The other bit of giallo cowardice: if the killer is a priest, he will soon be unmasked or unfrocked as a bogus priest. Most of these movies are deeply conservative at heart.

**Stop press: W Krikken suggests,via Twitter, that the setting is Copenhagen. I think that is correct. Still, makes the possibilities for misconstruing UNDULATOR even richer, if anything.

In other news: Limerwreckage — Carradine rhymes again!