onsdag 11. juni 2008

A Game of Crime/Crimine a due

Italy, 1964

Directed by Romano Ferrara

John Drew Barrymore, Luisa Rivelli, Umberto D’Orsi, Lisa Gastoni, Jean Claudio, Peter Dane, Ombretta Colli, Piero Gerlini, Michel Francis, Elisa Mainardi, Aldo Bonamano, Peter Martell, Nini Rosso and his orchestra

Another one of the rare, early black and white gialli made before the genre had really established itself. A Game of Crime was released not long after the superlative Death on the Fourposter (1964) and even re-uses John Drew Barrymore and Luisa Rivelli, two of the stars from that film. But the similarities end there as A Game of Crime turns out to be a rather different sort of thriller altogether.

John Drew Barrymore stars in the role of Paul Morand, a somewhat shady character who’s gotten himself into trouble and gambling debts. As the film opens, Paul is being chased through the dark streets by two beefy thugs who eventually catch up with him and give him a good beating to warn him of what will happen if he doesn’t pay his debts.

Paul gets a warning

Paul ends up stealing the money he needs from his workplace. But it doesn’t take long before his boss, the rich and successful David Lugani (Jean Claudio), discovers what he has done and flies into a fit of rage. David has never liked Paul and only gave him a job due to the insistence of his wife Anna (Luisa Rivelli), who is an old friend of Paul (and apparently his former lover as well).

David and Anna, whose marriage is rather strained, live together in a huge villa along with David’s brother, who is paralyzed, blind, mute and horribly disfigured from a car accident. A beautiful nurse named Elisabeth (Lisa Gastoni) also lives with the Luganis in order to care for the poor brother, who Anna is terrified of and only refers to as “the monster”. But David is sick himself; suffering from a serious heart condition and, as such, is not allowed to get too worked up. But Paul’s stealing and Anna’s continued defense of him is the last straw for David, who furiously insists on calling the police to report Paul’s theft – in spite of Anna’s vehement objections. David picks up the phone and gets the commissioner on the line but falls together in chest pains before he is able to say much.

David is struck by a heart attack at a convenient moment

Anna and Elisabeth get David into bed and call for their physician Dr. Bowen (Peter Dane). Paul also shows up and is greatly worried when Anna takes him aside and tells him David will be going to the police as soon as he recovers. But, alas, fate has planned it differently…

Paul accompanies Anna up to the bedroom where David is being treated for his heart attack, and volunteers to measure up and prepare the medicine according to Dr. Bowen’s instructions. Somewhat skeptical, Anna gives David the medicine Paul has prepared…

A telling glance between Anna and Paul as Anna gives her husband the medicine

Not long after, David’s heart attack worsens and he dies. His estate and vast fortune is left to Anna but only on the condition that she continues to live in the house and takes care of David’s brother. If she doesn’t, everything will be turned over to the brother – under Elisabeth’s supervision. Paul quickly moves in with Anna in the mansion – allegedly to act as her administrator.

Soon afterwards, Commissioner Perrotti (Umberto D’Orsi) receives an anonymous letter which claims David’s death was murder and that his killers are currently enjoying the fruits of their crime. The commissioner is puzzled by the letter and starts to wonder what it was David wanted to talk to him about on the phone just before he died.

As the commissioner starts asking questions, Anna becomes nervous and her fears are intensified by the presence of David’s disfigured brother, whose muffled, agonizing cries are driving her crazy. She can’t stand the thought of having to stay in the house and grows more nervous and paranoid by the minute. Eventually, more deaths follow and the case turns out to be more complicated than it seems…

Unlike other early black and white gialli such as Libido (1965) and the aforementioned Death on the Fourposter, A Game of Crime is more traditional and straightforward in its approach – playing out like a thriller in the classic Hitchcock vein – but there’s enough atmosphere and good twists to make this an enjoyable experience. Certain parts play out like a psychological thriller, with Anna growing increasingly nervous and frightened by having to live in the house where her husband died. As such, the film anticipates the early gialli of Umberto Lenzi in some ways, but there are also touches that seem inspired by contemporary Italian horror films. For example, the large, old Lugani mansion makes a nice, gothic backdrop to the wicked shenanigans while an old, ramshackled wine cellar full of rats comes into play during the memorable climax.

The Lugani house

Some chills in the Lugani wine cellar

The disfigured brother – or “monster” as Anna calls him – also recalls similar, hidden-away characters from various gothic horror films. His presence is downright creepy as he just sits there – day and night – in his wheelchair; hiding his eyes behind sunglasses and letting out loud, tormented cries.

The "monster"

Another atmospheric, if odd, detail is the presence of famed Italian jazz trumpeter Nini Rosso and his orchestra, who perform the spellbinding song “Ho bisogno di te” in a nightclub Paul enters at the start of the film to hide from the thugs that are chasing him. While this musical act by the famous Rosso may have been included for the sole purpose of drawing attention to the film, it ends up doing much more than that. The song is a fantastic, haunting piece that sets a fantastic mood for the film. The rest of the film is scored by the talented Berto Pisani, who provides a splendid soundtrack that heightens the mood and suspense.

Nini Rosso performs "Ho bisogno di te"

A rare 45 single of the song

The director, Romano Ferrara, previously directed the early Italian science fiction film The Planets Are Against Us (1962), which was an interesting and good-looking but ultimately dire and unsuccessful film. As such, it is a pleasure to see that Ferrara’s directorial skills have improved but A Game of Crime still isn’t without its flaws. Its primary drawbacks are several long, trite scenes of Paul and Anna bickering, only to make up shortly afterwards. These scenes just don’t cut it – they are too long and repetitive, and should have been trimmed somewhat.

The sort of bicker and make up scenes we could have done without

After a memorable supporting role in Death on the Fourposter, John Drew Barrymore is upgraded to leading man this time around. He does pretty nicely with his suitably shady and suspicious character but the best performance doubtlessly comes from Luisa Rivelli. A beautiful and captivating screen presence, Rivelli was often used in decorative roles but was actually a versatile and capable actress if given the chance. In stark contrast to her role as the sinister, unglamorous housekeeper in Death on the Fourposter, Rivelli looks magnificent here and really delivers the goods as the increasingly terrified Anna. Her guilt-ridden character may have served as an influence for the paranoid upper-class heroines played by Carroll Baker in the Umberto Lenzi films Orgasmo (1968) and A Quiet Place to Kill (1970), although in the end Anna is shown to be a stronger woman than those played by Baker.

Rivelli is tormented by agonizing screams

Rivelli faces the "monster"

The supporting cast is top-notch too, and particular mention must go to the wonderful character actor Umberto D’Orsi as the surprisingly sharp police inspector who must investigate Rivelli, who he has an obvious crush on (a nice and welcome little detail). Another interesting face in the cast is Lisa Gastoni, who became an esteemed and serious actress after winning a Silver Ribbon award for her performance in Carlo Lizzani’s Too Soon to Die (1966). But before that she appeared in a number of less prestigious projects. She first had a successful acting career in England in the 1950s before returning to Italy where she was in a number of cult-ish titles such as Antonio Margheriti’s cheesy sci-fi adventure The Wild, Wild Planet (1965), Roberto Mauri’s ultra-obscure giallo Le notti della violenza (1965) and of course this film. Here, Gastoni is as beautiful as ever as the suspicious nurse who is always close by. French actor Jean Claudio also does a solid job as the fatally temperamental David, while Piero Gerlini is very amusing as the commissioner’s well-meaning but bumbling assistant.

Though extremely hard to come by these days, A Game of Crime is well worth the effort of hunting down. It isn’t perfect and the middle-section should have been snappier but it’s a well-made giallo overall. Unfortunately, the English-dubbed version is only available in skuzzy-looking versions. The English dubbing itself (directed by Dom Leone) is serviceable but not much more. Luisa Rivelli in particular suffers from being dubbed by a poor actress who sounds rather disinterested. Presumably, the film would play better in Italian.

© 2008 Johan Melle

The cast:

John Drew Barrymore as Paul Morand

Luisa Rivelli as Anna Lugani

Umberto D'Orsi as Commissioner Perrotti

Lisa Gastoni as Elisabeth Buckner

Jean Claudio as David Lugani

Peter Dane as Dr. Bowen

Ombretta Colli as Christine

Piero Gerlini as The Sergeant

Elisa Mainardi (right) as A friend of the Luganis

Aldo Bonamano and Peter Martell as The thugs

Nini Rosso and his orchestra

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