søndag 23. mars 2008

Camille Keaton's Unknown Euro-Adventures

As we all know, American actress Camille Keaton had a career appearing in several Italian exploitation films before returning to America for her notorious performance in I Spit on Your Grave (1978).

Camille got her first big roles in Italian films in 1972, when she appeared in stuff like Decameron II, Tragic Ceremony and of course What Have You Done to Solange? She was also a Playmen centerfold that same year.

But did you know that she also appeared in two gialli directed by Umberto Lenzi? Yup, that's right. In 1971, before getting her big break, Camille was apparently a day player and served as a background actress in a couple of films.

If you look closely, you can spot her in Lenzi's An Ideal Place to Kill (1971) where she is one of the girls looking on during a tennis match early in the film. Actually, we don't even see all of her face but those eyes are unmistakable!

Blink and you'll miss Camille's haunting eyes in An Ideal Place to Kill

Camille can also be seen in Lenzi's Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (made in 1971 - released in 1972) as one of the hippie girls at Bruno Corazzari's apartment. She is seen lying on a bed with a boyfriend, and can also be glimpsed in the background later in this sequence.


I'm guessing she also did other tiny roles around the same time but I don't know of any specific examples. Yet...!

tirsdag 11. mars 2008

Special Killers/La ragazza di Via Condotti

Italy/Spain/France, 1973

Directed by German Lorente

Frederick Stafford, Femi Benussi, Alberto De Mendoza, Michel Constantin, Claude Jade, Simon Andreu, Manuel De Blas, Pupo De Luca, Dada Gallotti, Giuseppe Castellano, Arturo Dominici
Patty Shepard

This is one of those Italian crime films made during 1972-74 that contain a fair share of giallo elements – thereby making it a sort of genre hybrid. The opening part of the film is certainly giallo-ish enough:

Simone Mattei (Patty Shepard), an attractive but bad drunk, is in bed with a lover whose face is not shown. In the midst of their lovemaking, the man puts his hands around Simone’s neck and starts strangling her. But it’s not to spice things up – he keeps on strangling poor Simone until she is dead.

An erotified strangling

A little later, Simone’s husband Sandro (Frederick Stafford), a private investigator, returns home and finds his wife lying motionless in bed. At first he thinks she’s just sleeping because she was such a bad drunk that it wasn’t unusual for her to spend her entire days in bed, but Sandro quickly realizes that his wife is actually dead. He also finds a photograph on the floor – showing a guy on a motorcycle and a woman in the background.

A dead wife and a photographic clue

Not content with the police’s investigation, Sandro keeps the discovery of the photo to himself. Although he had stopped caring for Simone several years ago, Sandro is still determined to find his wife’s killer, and he enlists the help of his close friend Tiffany (Claude Jade). Tiffany is a photographer, and she makes a blow-up of the photograph to get a better look at the people in it.

Classic blow-up sequence

Tiffany thinks she recognizes the woman in the photo as Laura Damiani (Femi Benussi), a beautiful model who performs in nightclubs and owns her own fashion boutique. Sandro contacts Laura to learn more about Simone’s death but it doesn’t take long before he starts falling in love with her. This, of course, leads to trouble as Laura is mixed up in both blackmail and shady business…

Laura Damiani: a woman who spells trouble

The basic premise and the opening minutes of Special Killers were pretty promising but that certainly didn’t last long. If you want to witness a movie whose entire promise goes straight down the toilet within the first 20 minutes, then look no further. Once Sandro gets involved with Laura, the film develops into one big melodrama, with some blackmail and minor crime business thrown in here and there to keep us watching.

This is a clearly misguided film that suffers from a poor screenplay by director German Lorente and small-time writers Adriano Asti and Miguel De Echarri. They take a decidedly wrong turn early on by introducing a lead character who is dead-set on finding out who killed his wife, who he had no affection or feelings for (“Poor little bitch” is his comment when he discovers her dead). What’s the point of that? We never really learn why Sandro is so determined to hunt down the killers. His relentless quest would have been far more logical – and the film more effective – if he had actually loved his wife and was after revenge. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, and Frederick Stafford’s un-engaging and one-note portrayal of Sandro doesn’t exactly improve on things, either.

Not that it matters, really, as the whole whodunit aspect of the film is pretty much forgotten about once Sandro meets the beautiful Laura Damiani. From then on the film focuses almost solely on their troubled relationship while trying to spice things up with a couple of nude scenes here and there. There’s also a bit of lame “action” and some police scenes in between. The murder mystery does get resolved in the end but it’s done in an unsatisfying way and with little enthusiasm. The entire film is generally uninspired and boring – with long dialogue scenes taking up the large bulk of the running time.

Some scattered attempts to keep the pace up

Special Killers dabbles in different genres and just doesn’t seem to really know what it wants to be. Clearly, it’s partly a giallo, with its murder mystery aspect, and there is even a lot of yellow throughout the film; just notice Sandro’s phone, his car and the flowers in his apartment:

A touch of yellow

At the same time there are the many crime movie aspects, and then, of course, all the drama. But, ultimately, the film fails in each of these three categories. As a thriller it lacks the thrills, as a crime film it has too little action, and as a drama it lacks any sort of convincing emotional drive or any dramatic punch. I guess the ending is meant to be sad but it just doesn’t work when the lead character is so stiff.

Still, the film isn’t entirely devoid of some good stuff. Technically, this is a well-shot affair with solid cinematography by Mario Capriotti. The opening minutes are pretty well-handled but this only helps make the rest of the film seem like an even bigger disappointment. The action scenes are too few and far between to make much of a difference but Lorente does try to make amends by throwing in a lot of nudity. There is one particularly memorable and sleazy scene in which Laura is attacked by a half-naked couple, who rip her clothes off and jump on her to make compromising blackmail photos. Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t have too many other moments to match this.

One of the film's more enjoyable moments

The real saving grace of the film is the gorgeous Femi Benussi as Laura. Benussi was frequently cast in supporting roles but here she finally gets to play the leading lady – just too bad she couldn’t find a better film to star in. She does, however, look exceptionally good – both as a brunette and as a blonde (she wears a blonde wig throughout the film’s second half). Femi also delivers a delightful nightclub act, as well as providing most of the nudity. All in all, she really delivers a good performance here.

Femi Benussi: a beautiful and underrated actress

The rest of the cast is also full of gifted actors but few of them are used to their fullest potential. Spain’s horror queen Patty Shepard is always a welcome presence but she isn’t given much opportunity to shine since her character is killed off less than two minutes into the film. Alberto De Mendoza (known from several Sergio Martino gialli among other things) is his usual slimy self as Benussi’s crooked lover, Michel Constantin has little to do as the police inspector, Manuel De Blas (Patty Shepard’s real-life husband and frequent co-star) is quite good as a petty pimp, while French actress Claude Jade is relegated to the thankless role of Sandro’s supportive friend Tiffany, who has an unrequited crush on him (she’s basically reprising Barbara Bel Geddes’ role as the kind but less interesting woman in Hitchcock’s Vertigo).

Bottom line: Special Killers is a rather poor and un-engaging film. Fans of Femi Benussi may want to check it out as this is a pretty good showcase for her but the film itself is unfortunately very poor. If you want a better giallo/crime movie hybrid with Frederick Stafford, it might be worth checking out Camillo Bazzoni’s Shadows Unseen (1972).

© 2008 Johan Melle

The cast:

Frederick Stafford as Sandro Mattei

Femi Benussi as Laura Damiani

Alberto De Mendoza as Giorgio Russo

Michel Constantin as Inspector Palma

Claude Jade as Tiffany

Simon Andreu as Mario Ceccacci

Manuel De Blas as Franco Bertoni

Pupo De Luca as Taxi driver

Dada Gallotti as Gina Nincone

Arturo Dominici as The District Attorney

Giuseppe Castellano as Broccole

Patty Shepard as Simone Mattei

??? as Tony

Eva Maria Gabriel as Tony's girlfriend

Antonio Basile as Killer

Nestore Cavaricci as Policeman

Pietro Torrisi (right) as Giorgio's man

tirsdag 4. mars 2008

Unknown Actor #2: "Blondie"

The above picture is from Stelvio Massi's Il commissario di ferro (1978) and here we have another actor who seems to crop up uncredited in lots of films. A hard-faced blonde guy who seems to have played tough brutes in several films.

I also noticed him in a tiny, tiny role in Umberto Lenzi's Violent Naples (1976), and he can also be seen during the opening titles of Antonio Margheriti's Death Rage (1976). This guy, who I am nick-naming "Blondie", can also be seen in a somewhat bigger role as a drug dealer in Massimo Pirri's The Tunnel (1980).

Death Rage (1976)

Violent Naples (1976)

The Tunnel (1980)

He probably appears in many other films too but I just recently came aware of him. Anyone know who he is?