Riccardo Freda’s IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE won’t be forming part of my Forgotten Gialli series over at The Daily Notebook — because we’ve got to preserve some standards — but I couldn’t let it pass my retinas without comment.
Set and shot in Dublin, the story follows the odd goings-on at the embassy of an unnamed country, where Anton Diffring is the ambassador so it’s Germany, OK? Flick begins with dull tourist views, and then a woman is splashed with acid and has her throat hacked through in graphic close-up, a brief but shockingly nasty slaying without much of the traditional giallo panache. The ECU effects are unconvincing but nonetheless horrid.
Then we get a thick broth of plot, blending sinister homosexuals, adultery (Anton Diffring is shagging half of Ireland — the wrong half, I’d have said), more murders, unconventional police tactics, and granny-bashing.
Freda, ” a true intellectual” according to his associates, has a genius for concealing his brains and directing like an idiot, which perhaps reflects more on his opinion of his audience than his own capabilities. His vulgar zooms, blatant titty shots and willingness to linger on appalling dialogue distinguish him from his colleague Mario Bava, who endeavored to turn even the lamest scene into chromatic poetry. Freda follows Sidney Pollack’s dictum: “Let the boring crap BE boring crap.”
The cast is a mixture of faded, disdainful Euro-trash glamour and lumpen Irish depressives, with Arthur O’Sullivan (Feeny the highwayman from BARRY LYNDON) the most interesting presence, not so much for his way with dialogue as for his general manner: cold, guarded, a beady-eyed toad.
Luigi Pistilli, a Leone fave (Tuco’s brother in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY), with a dubbed Irish accent, makes an interesting hero, with a Hank Quinlan backstory and a dotty would-be Miss Marple mum. The moment where mum, son, and grand-daughter discover their cat decapitated in the fridge, dripping onto a perfectly good cake, is the film’s strongest moment of horror for me (I love cats and I love cakes).
Valentina Cortese exudes her particular form of high fashion elegance, which at this point consists of dressing like a madwoman with cancer from the nineteen twenties.
Diffring is above it all (and his arse at no point bursts into flames, so that we can’t call the film ANTON WITH A BUM OF FIRE, so just don’t go there) and at one point delivers the Line He Was Born To Say.
“How did you get in here?” asks bonnie colleen Dominique Boschero.
“It doesn’t take much imagination to use a back entrance,” he explains, keeping a totally straight face.
But the most gob-smacking moment (apart from the savage murder of a beautiful woman taking place ENTIRELY OFFSCREEN, surely a first for this genre) is the interrogation of the German chauffeur, who claims he was in a hurry to get to the cleaners.
“Is this the cleaners?” asks O’Sullivan’s associate detective ~
SWASTIKA LAUNDRY LTD. Did Dublin really have such an establishment? I know Ireland maintained her neutrality in WWII, so maybe they felt duty-bound to have matching laundries for balance: perhaps the Swastika was opposite Field Marshall Montgomery’s Wash ‘n’ Go? Or maybe this was an exclusive establishment catering solely to the staff of the German embassy, in a misguided attempt to make them feel at home? It certainly raises many questions more intriguing than the plot of IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE, waiting to beguile you when you get tired of wondering what the title means.
Stop Press: It’s real. Or it was, up until 1980.