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At one time a cult film difficult to see, The 10th Victim was made famous by a provocative still of Ursula Andress in a spiky silver bikini symbolically cutting a necktie from her prey amid applauding nightclub patrons. The show is actually a clever and insightful satire on modern morality and Western culture's fascination for violence. American patrons in 1965 saw the film only in its English language re-dub; the ability to hear it in the original Italian elevates a clever script a few notches upward in the science fiction genre of dysfunctional futures.
Ennio Flaiano (Nights of Cabiria, Otto e mezzo) and Tonino Guerra (L'Avventura, Blow-Up) contributed to the fanciful screenplay, based on a prophetic story by Sci-fi scribe Robert Sheckley. In the 21st century the dominant worldwide 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, Italian ace Marcello Polletti (Marcello Mastroianni) squares off in a battle of wits with American Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress). She's a cold-blooded pro who felled her last opponent with a double-barreled brassiere; he's in the throes of an annulment while fending off marriage demands from his longtime lover Olga (Elsa Martinelli). Each contestant is approached by advertisers wanting to co-opt their next kill as the centerpiece for an ad campaign: Caroline tries to trick Marcello into an elaborate trap just outside the Coliseum, while Marcello plots to get Caroline into a pool so cameras can record her being eaten by a crocodile. To get paid, he mustn't forget to recite the advertiser's product slogan.
The farcical future in The 10th Victim allows for some amusing moments. 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 announcement 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 revered as great literature. A player complains that killings are no longer allowed in nursery schools (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 a neat bloodless death. The party atmosphere is not spoiled. Pains are taken to establish that the Vatican is still in full operation and does not condone 'the Hunt.' The absence of divorce in Italy has been carefully preserved. Marcello must secretly take care of his parents because society demands that the elderly be put into homes or euthanized. Caroline doesn't have that problem as she was born in the "Hoboken Fertilization Center!' For a day job, Marcello leads a sun-worshipping cult ("I get 20%") that hasn't been paying well lately. With the entry of advertising money into the Hunt, straight murder for fame and cash has been raised to a much higher level of deception.
Robert Sheckley's short story must originally have been an extrapolation of The Most Dangerous Game. But Victim has clearly inspired dozens of cheap 'murder game' movies all on its own. Once the novel situation is established, the story loses some forward momentum. What with the gruesome double-crosses planned by the two killers, the cynical world pictured doesn't leave much room for us to believe in Marcello and Caroline's romantic sincerity. Worse, there's not all that much sexual chemistry between the top stars Mastroianni and Andress. Cool cat Marcello usually relies on a highly sexed female star like Sophia Loren to get into gear, and Ms. Andress's appeal is mostly visual. As if to compensate, the comedy elements eventually subside almost into slapstick. The story gives up on meaningful Sci-fi satire and instead settles for "Homicide, Italian Style". Andress indeed looks capable of cold-blooded murder, so perhaps she's a good casting choice after all.
The movie features intriguing mod costumes, including a brief look at some rubber space suits repurposed from Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires. The locations are sunny but the camerawork is sometimes indifferent. The trappings indicate a desire for comic-book atmospherics, but the harsh day-lit lighting defeats the frequently stunning set design. This is the 21st century, but the cars are vintage 1965. It's no Danger: Diabolik, a film that makes the viewer think he's in a comic book. Only individual set pieces, such as Caroline's dance in the Masoch Club, are standouts. The assassination that springs from within a television commercial for tea, amid a brace of mod-attired dancers, lingers in the memory as well. Director Elio Petri had better luck later, with his stylish horror film A Quiet Place in the Country, and his best picture, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion.
Blue Underground's Blu-ray of The 10th Victim is a quantum improvement over the old Anchor Bay disc, released back in 2001. The brighter, sharper image has an excellent contrast range that allows us to see more detail in faces, especially when photographed in harsh sunlight. The wonderful jazzy Euro-lounge music by Sergio Bardotti and Piero Piccioni really perks up the soundtrack: it's bright percussive and feather-light.
The film comes with both Italian and English tracks, and English subtitles. Andress's actual voice isn't heard in either version, so the Italian is preferable. The film comes off much classier when Mastroianni is not burdened with a voice from a Saturday morning cartoon.
The extras also far outclass what was provided on the old disc. Mastroianni fans will be pleased by Marcello: A Sweet Life, a feature length (85 minutes) docu packed with interview testimonials by famous actors and other personnel. The show goes deep into his personal life and contains sections of a documentary where the actor talks frankly to the camera: "Money isn't important to me, but I do spend a lot of it."
Also present are American and Italian trailers, galleries of poster and stills and a still gallery of Mastroanni photos. Blue Underground's trippy menu graphics are a welcome extra touch.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The 10th Victim Blu-ray rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.