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Savant PREview Review:

The Tenth Victim

The Tenth Victim
Anchor Bay
1965 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 92m. / La decima vittima
Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress, Elsa Martinelli, Salvo Randone, Massimo Serato
Cinematography Gianni Di Venanzo
Production Designer Piero Poletto
Costume Designer Giulio Coltellacci
Film Editor Ruggero Mastroianni
Original Music Sergio Bardotti, Piero Piccioni
Writing credits Ennio Flaiano, Tonino Guerra, Giorgio Salvioni and Elio Petri from the short story byRobert Sheckley
Produced by Carlo Ponti
Directed by Elio Petri

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

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:
Movie: Good
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailer
Packaging: Alpha Pak
Reviewed: May 19, 2001

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