American reporter Gregory Moore (Sorel) has a mystery to solve. A few days ago, Gregory's beautiful girlfriend Mira Svoboda (Barbara Bach) arrived in Prague to see him, much to the chagrin of his previous girlfriend, fellow journalist Jessica (Ingrid Thulin). Then, following a few days of bliss and happiness, Mira mysteriously disappeared without a word, leaving behind not just her suitcase, her passport, and her cash, but also all of her clothing and shoes as well. Gregory has the help of his friend and co-worker Jacques (Mario Adorf), as well as a reluctant Jessica, but they run into problems with the local police. Yet, that's not even the worst part: Gregory has just woken up to discover that he is dead, a prisoner trapped in his own lifeless body, where he has to try and remember and unravel what happened to him before the local doctors decide to bury him...or worse.
Short Night of Glass Dolls is an unusually elegant mystery-thriller that starts out with horror as a backdrop and slowly ratchets up the unease over the course of 97 minutes. The film segues back and forth between the present-day scenes where Gregory exists in voiceover, frantically trying to deduce a way to communicate to the outside world, and his actions over the previous few days trying to deduce what happened to Mira. Throughout the film, director Aldo Lado peppers the movie with incredibly striking imagery. At a party that seems to hold the key to the mystery, wealthy elites silently surround Mira, staring, while Gregory talks to someone else. A corpse's body lies on the cobblestones, covered in newspaper, as if to underline the way her life has been thrown away. Gregory's corpse lies motionless under a sheet in a freezer, yet feels alive and trapped thanks to the urgency of his thoughts. Lado also does great things with light: in one of the film's most incredible visuals, Gregory retreats into the shadows of an all-black room where only a chandelier, a table with a flower, and a doorway with a man in it are lit. Later, there is the potent emptiness of the interior of a phone booth with a light in it on a dark street corner.
Sorel is an interesting leading man, falling somewhere on a spectrum that includes Robert Redford, Franco Nero, and Robert Goulet. In the flashback sequences, there is a calm about him even as his concern for Mira grows, a sturdiness that helps to underline the panic he manages to convey even though he cannot move or make a sound. Although Gregory is not a particularly charismatic character (he's a bit of a bore sometimes), Sorel has a certain magnetism that serves the film well, even as some of the investigative sections of the movie drag. The supporting cast playing friends of Gregory also make an impression: Adorf is memorably gregarious as Gregory's hard-drinking but surprisingly dependable co-worker, and Relja Basic plays Ivan, a doctor and old acquaintance of Gregory's who can't help but have some nagging questions as to why his corpse hasn't dropped in temperature and still shows some nascent signs of life.
As the film starts to bring its threads together, the horror aspects of the film ramp up, subtly at first. In one scene, Gregory stumbles upon a piano recital, and while he never notices, the audience will no doubt key into the pallid faces and eerie stares of the audience listening to the music. Although there is a sense that present-day Gregory will be safe up to a certain point, the ticking of that clock starts to sound a little louder, even with Ivan's curiosity. The climax of the movie is a fascinating one: although the movie doesn't necessarily state any specific political positions, there are aspects to the movie's story that feel very timely, which only adds to the film's effectiveness. Short Night of Glass Dolls may not be a traditional giallo, but it's definitely unsettling, a haunting nightmare that slowly but surely closes in on the viewer.
The Video and Audio
Two original theatrical trailers, one in Italian and the other in English, are also included.