søndag 27. april 2008

Francesco Narducci: still photographer & bit part actor

Francesco Narducci has served as a still photographer on numerous Italian films - everything from classy gialli like The Case of the Scorpion Tales (1971) to more cheesy ones like Delirium (1987), to silly sex comedies like A Policewoman in New York (1981) and even silly caveman films like The Ironmaster (1983).

But in additon to his job as a still photographer, Narducci also took on a lot of (usually uncredited) bit part roles in the films he worked on. Typically, he would play a police photographer who photographs a crime scene. This basically just required him to do his normal job of taking pictures. However, he also had a few bigger speaking roles in which he didn't play photographers. Director like Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi and Giuliano Carnimeo all gave Narducci a chance to strecth his acting muscles in several films. Some of his more memorable parts include the father with the little girl in the car who is cold-bloodedly shot to death by two escaped convicts in Martino's The Violent Professionals (1973), and the receptionist at the Hotel Presidente in Lenzi's idiotic giallo Eyeball (1975), in which he appears in several scenes.

No doubt, Francesco Narducci has popped up in many more films - probably together with his camera. Meanwhile, here are a couple of pictures from his acting roles - both with and without his camera:

Narducci as the bartender in Umberto Lenzi's western Pistol for a Hundred Coffins (1968)

Narducci photographing a crime scene in The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1970)

Handy with the camera again in Giuliano Carnimeo's The Case of the Bloody Iris (1971)

Narducci and child actress Susanna Melandri in The Violent Professionals (1973)

Narducci with the one and only Edwige Fenech in Carnimeo's Secrets of a Call Girl (1973)

Francesco Narducci plays his largest role in Lenzi's Eyeball (1975)

Taking pictures of yet another crime scene in Lenzi's Syndicate Sadists (1975)

Narducci as a British military man in Tonino Ricci's Panic (1982)

fredag 18. april 2008

Without Apparent Motive/Sans mobile apparent

France/Italy, 1971

Directed by Philippe Labro

Jean-Louis Trintignant, Dominique Sanda, Carla Gravina, Sacha Distel, Paul Crauchet, Laura Antonelli, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Stephane Audran, Gilles Segal, Esmeralda Ruspoli, André Falcon, Erich Segal, Jean-Jacques Delbo, Michel Bardinet

In the French Riviera, wealthy industrialist Tony Forest (Michel Bardinet) is shot to death in the street by a killer using a telescopic rifle with a silencer. The daring crime is committed in broad daylight with Forest surrounded by several friends. Inspector Carella (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is assigned to the case but isn’t able to find a motive behind the bold killing.

The killer claims his first victim

Not long afterwards, a similar murder is committed when a man on a diving board – about to jump into a hotel swimming pool – is shot dead. He plunges into the pool with a big splash and the other bathers scream in horror as they notice blood flowing from his floating corpse.

Death in the swimming pool

A third victim follows; being shot to death while seated out on his balcony together with an elderly client.

The killer must strike again

Inspector Carella is baffled by the mysterious murders as there doesn’t appear to be any connection between the three victims. A small hope arrives when the first victim’s beautiful stepdaughter, Sandra (Dominique Sanda), starts snooping through her stepfather’s belongings and discovers a small pocket diary, which she shows to Carella. Flipping through the diary, which contains a list of phone numbers for the dead man’s mistresses, Carella discovers that one of them is Jocelyne Rocca (Carla Gravina), a woman who Carella himself has recently been romantically involved with.

Sandra and Carella discover an important clue

Carella calls Jocelyne and invites her over to his apartment, which she gladly accepts - thinking he is out to rekindle their relationship. She shows up and it is revealed that she had ties to all three victims. However, once Jocelyne realizes she has been invited for investigative reasons rather than romance, she hurriedly leaves the apartment and runs out into the open, sun-drenched streets. Carella rushes after her but before he is able to catch up, shots ring out and Jocelyne slumps lifeless to the ground...

Carella loses his biggest lead before she can reveal anything...

For someone like myself, who has often found French thrillers to be a bit too detached, slow-moving and pretentious to really enjoy, Without Apparent Motive comes as a genuinely pleasant surprise. The director, Philippe Labro, knows how to make a suspense film and musters up effective tension and thrills. The plot – adapted from Ed McBain’s pulp novel Ten Plus One – is tight and solid; with a complex central mystery that really grabs the viewer’s attention.

Although the actual story is clearly inspired by film noir – with Trintignant playing a Bogart-style detective – Labro makes the inspired choice of unfolding the film in the sunny French Riviera rather than the classical dark noir-ish locations one might expect. The sun-drenched, open city streets are very picturesque but Labro manages to make them feel distinctly sinister. Outside, no place feels safe as there are big buildings everywhere – all of them being potential hiding places for the ruthless killer who seems able to strike just about anywhere. This creates a masterful sense of tension and paranoia, which is heightened Ennio Morricone’s pulsating, suspenseful musical score.

The killer is everywhere and no place is safe...

The violence is relatively mild but the killings are nevertheless quite effective in their simplicity. The third victim’s death is particularly memorable as the poor victim actually spots the bright sun reflected in the assassin’s rifle lens but doesn’t have time to react before the bullets reach him.

But Without Apparent Motive isn’t without its faults. The mystery is good but the actual denouement isn’t entirely satisfying – you’ll probably be able to figure out who the killer is before the film reveals it. The film also fizzles out a tad towards the end but the final scene (after the killer has been revealed) is quite memorable.

The highly impressive cast list consists of some of the best European actors of the time, with Jean-Louis Trintignant making a fine lead as Inspector Carella. He is convincing in his hard-boiled cop routine but Carella is also portrayed as a more humane character that genuinely cares for Jocelyne, whose death leaves lasting impact on him. He is haunted by a feeling of guilt throughout the rest of the film – with Jocelyne’s shooting and his inability to prevent it flashing before his eyes numerous times. This effectively gives Carella a personal involvement in the crime he is investigating, and makes the character more interesting. Jean-Louis Trintignant does a great job of bringing the tormented cop to life, and also gets to work up a good sweat as must do his fair share of dodging bullets and running through the streets.

Trintignant the action hero

Then there’s the stunning female cast. Dominique Sanda, fresh from Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970), looks exquisite and has great chemistry with Trintignant. However, her character could have been made a tad more substantial. Carla Gravina, a rather serious Italian actress who is best known to Euro cult fans as the possessed leading lady in Alberto De Martino’s Exorcist rip-off The Antichrist (1974), is excellent as the doomed ex-mistress. Like Dominique Sanda – she has strong chemistry with Trintignant; with their conversation right before her death being one of the key scenes in the film. I love that hurtful look of disappointment in her eyes when she realizes Trintignant’s reasons for contacting her wasn’t to get back together like she had thought. Through the use of her eyes alone, Gravina is able to silently emote a feeling of hurt in an understated, convincing way.

Trintignant knows his way around the ladies

The doomed lovers

It’s also good to see the wonderful Jean-Pierre Marielle – memorable as the humorous gay detective in Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) – as another typically fine-mannered gentleman but the real surprise here is the gorgeous Laura Antonelli (a couple of years before she became a huge star and sex symbol) in an atypical role as a traumatized woman who is somehow linked to the sniper killings. Also on board is the wonderful Stephane Audran in a small but important role as a woman tied to the mystery. Appropriately enough, her character is named Hélène – a nifty reference to the many characters named Hélène she played in various thrillers directed by famed director Claude Chabrol (her husband for many years). Audran also sports a most jaw-dropping cleavage and it’s quite amusing to watch Trintignant (who had been Audran’s real-life husband many years earlier) bluntly staring at her cleavage.

Trintignant gives his real-life ex-wife's rack a look of approval

A few other familiar faces pop up too, including Michel Bardinet from Euro flicks like The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968), An Ideal Place to Kill (1971) and Revolver (1973) as the first victim, and Italian actress Esmeralda Ruspoli from Kriminal (1966) and The True and the False (1972) as Bardinet’s wife but, unfortunately, they get very, very little to do.

All in all, Without Apparent Motive is one of the best French thrillers of the 1970s thanks to Philippe Labro’s confident direction, a strong story and an excellent cast. Well worth watching!

© 2008 Johan Melle

The cast:

Jean-Louis Trintignant as Inspector Carella

Dominique Sanda as Sandra Forest

Carla Gravina as Jocelyne Rocca

Sacha Distel as Julien Sabirnou

Paul Crauchet as Francis Palombo

Laura Antonelli as Juliette Vaudreuil

Jean-Pierre Marielle as Perry Rupert-Foote

Stephane Audran as Hélène Vallée

Gilles Segal as Di Bozzo

Esmeralda Ruspoli as Madame Forest

André Falcon as The Mayor

Erich Segal as Hans Kleinberg

Jean-Jacques Delbo as The Commissioner

Michel Bardinet as Tony Forest

Alexis Sellan as Pierre Barroyer