A hard-to-see cult film, made famous by the provocative still of a silver-bikini'd Ursula Andress
symbolically cutting a necktie from her prey amid applauding nightclub patrons,
The Tenth Victim is now a DVD from Anchor Bay. This may be the first time the film
has been shown in its original Italian language, a factor which elevates its clever script a
few notches in the science fiction genre of satirical, dysfunctional futures.
It's the 21st century, and the dominant worldwide cultural interest is The Big Game, an organized
murder system with hunters, victims and prizes. The rules are strict, and killing the wrong
person will get you 30 years in prison, but the promoters of the game insist that by channeling
mankind's violent tendencies into a regulated sport, wars will be avoided. After successful
kills, a pair of ace hunters, Italian Marcello Polletti (Marcello Mastroianni), and American
Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress) square off in a battle of wits. She's a cold-blooded
pro who felled her last opponent with a double-barrelled brassiere; he's in the throes of
an annullment while fending off marriage demands from his longtime amante, Olga
(Elsa Martinelli). Each contestant is approached by advertisers wanting to make their
next 'kill' the centerpiece of an ad campaign: Caroline tries to trick Marcello into a trap
set just outside the Coliseum, while Marcello plots to get Caroline into a pool so cameras can
record her being eaten by a crocodile, while he recites his advertiser's product slogan.
The farcical future in The Tenth Victim is very amusing. Police congratulate a killer
over the body of his victim, and then give
him a parking ticket. Roads are named after Fellini and Rota. A public announcment at
the Big Hunt headquarters repeats, "A killing a day keeps the doctor away." Caroline executes her
latest victim in the Masoch Club - just off Wall Street in NYC. Comic books are great
literature, and a player complains that killings aren't allowed in nursery schools anymore (gee,
come to America, man).
The tone would be as sardonic as Ed Neumeier's RoboCop, if not for some softening
touches. The killings aren't gory or traumatic, as everyone dies neatly, without blood
that would spoil the party atmosphere. Pains are taken to establish that the Vatican is
still in full operation and doesn't condone 'the Hunt.' The absence of divorce in Italy
is carefully preserved as well. Marcello secretly takes care of his parents, when society
demands the elderly be put into homes or euthanized. Caroline doesn't have that problem,
she was born in the "Hoboken Fertilization Center!' Marcello's day job is as the leader
of a sun-worshipping cult ("I get 20%") that isn't paying well lately. With the entry
of advertising money into the Hunt, straight murder for fame and cash is raised to a much
higher level of deception.
The fast-paced script for The Tenth Victim is from a Robert Sheckley short story that
originally must have been an extrapolation of The Most Dangerous Game. But Victim
has clearly inspired dozens of cheap 'murder game' movies all on its own. After an excellent
buildup, the story does lose steam in the second act. There isn't much surprise in the
various double-crosses intended by the two killers. After establishing such a cynical
world, it's hard to accept Marcello and Caroline's romantic sincerity, even when they
are played by top stars Mastroianni and Andress. Worse, when they fall in love, the essential
sexual chemistry just isn't there. As if to compensate, comedy elements eventually take
over, as the story gives up on sci fi satire, and settles for "Homicide, Italian Style", but
without Sophia Loren.
There are other drawbacks. The movie is somewhat underproduced, with good costumes and
locations, but indifferent camerawork. The intention is clearly to create comic-book
atmospherics, but the sparse music and harsh daylit lighting defeat the sometimes creative set
design. This is the 21st century, but the cars are vintage 1965. It's no
Diabolik, a film which makes the viewer think he's in a comic book.
And it doesn't even have the lush look or the great music of Modesty Blaise.
But excellent individual setpieces, such as Caroline's dance in the Masoch Club, and the
assassination that springs out of the middle of a television commercial for tea, amid a brace of
mod-attired dancers, linger in the memory. Director Elio Petri had better luck later, with
the stylish horror film A Quiet Place in the Country, and his best picture, Investigation
of a Citizen Under Suspicion.
Anchor Bay's DVD of The Tenth Victim comes as a big surprise. Savant didn't know when
to expect this
title and thought it was tied up with legal problems. The 16:9 image looks good, if not
great, but it's due more to the lackadasical original photography than any transfer flaw (lots of
ugly shots in direct sunlight, with dark faces). The film comes with both Italian and English
tracks, and English subtitles. Andress doesn't appear to do her voice in either version, so
the Italian is preferable. It makes the film come off as a classier show when Mastroianni
doesn't speak with a voice from a Saturday morning cartoon. I actually miss Andress'
husky monotone in pictures like Casino Royale (MGM; due out next year, I suspect) and the
Hammer She (Warner-Turner: due out When Pigs Fly). The only real extra is an original
American trailer, which creatively mixes critical quotes with flashes of exotic moments from the film.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Tenth Victim rates:
Packaging: Alpha Pak
Reviewed: May 19, 2001