I love Lenzi's gialli offerings, or at least the one's I have experiences! I still need to see KNIFE OF ICE and A QUIET PLACE TO KILL. SPASMO and EYEBALL are some of my more favorite gialli viewings. Two very stylish yet, odd in nature but still very effective in the payoff!
It's been a long time since I first seen his SO SWEET... SO PERVERSE (1969), was that not just recently issued on DVD again??
I absolutely loved Freda's brilliant I VAMPRI! Now, what was the deal with Bava being uncredited for with this again? I know he had something to do with the overall direction, but what's the full story on that again?
Any opinions about this more recent giallo? I've heard some bad things but when I found it dirt cheap on eBay, I couldn't resist the temptation of picking it up. Figured I need to give some of the more recent horrer/thriller stuff a chance too. Still waiting for it to arrive and I'm not quite sure what to expect of it but at least it has a pretty good cast that includes famous transsexual Eva Robins from TENEBRAE (1982) and the good-looking Elisabetta Rocchietti, who has been cropping up in a lot of horror stuff like THE THREE FACES OF TERROR (2004), DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK? (2005) and THE LAST HOUSE IN THE WOODS (2006). Not to mention supporting roles by Florinda Bolkan and Franco Nero! Anyone here seen it?
Interesting looking film out of Italy with Irish/Spanish co-financiers. Directed by Italian SFX man Stefano Bessoni.
In the 1600s, long before the invention of photography, a scientist named Girolamo Fumagalli was obsessed with the idea of reproducing images. He discovered that by killing a victim and removing the victim's eyeballs, it was possible to reproduce on paper the last image imprinted on that person's retinas. He named this technique 'thanatography'. Today, the same kind of gruesome ritual and abominable crime recurs within the walls of an international school of cinema. -imdb.com
Also stars the daughter of Charlie Chapman, Geraldine Chaplin as well as her daughter Oona.
Well, it seems this is yet another Argento flick that is taking a beating in the review department. Even die hard fans are not too pleased with this outing. Anyhow, the PAL R2 DVD is now out via a Polish company that found it important to force the Polish subs!
Looks like this will be getting a UK release first via Arrow Films! I still haven't seen this, it was on my radar during last year's Midnight Madness during the Toronto Film Fest. The disc will be released March 15th..
Reviewed by Johan Melle Cast: Ugo Pagliai, Massimo Girotti, Paola Tedesco, Carla Gravina, Rossella Falk, Franco Volpi, Silvia Monelli, Carlo Hintermann, Augusto Mastrantoni, Andrea Checchi, Roberto Bruni, Angiola Baggi Directed by Daniele D’Anza. Written by Flaminio Bollini and Giuseppe D’Agata. Source: Elleu DVD (Italy, PAL Region 2, 360 minutes)
The exploding DVD market has really done its part in ensuring that Italian gialli and thrillers have received some long overdue fan admiration outside of Italy, but there is one part of Italy’s output in this genre that remains largely ignored to this day – namely the thrillers and mysteries produced for Italian television. The reason for their obscurity outside of Italy is probably because none of them exist in English-friendly versions – coupled with the fact that most of them are technically inferior, stage-bound adaptations of British mystery novels (the works of Francis Durbridge were particularly popular) filmed on cardboard-looking studio sets. They don’t contain the flashy and violent images that have made their cinematic counterparts such big fan favorites but if you look carefully, you can still find a couple of gems among the television products, too, and one of these is the five-part series IL SEGNO DEL COMANDO, which was a tremendous ratings success when broadcast on Italian television during May and June of 1971.
The story concerns Edward Forster (Ugo Pagliai), an English literature professor at Cambridge University who is an expert on Lord Byron. At the moment, Forster is working on a translation of a diary Byron wrote during his stay in Rome in 1817. In the diary, Byron describes a mysterious Roman piazza that Forster believes to be a fictional invention and not a genuine location. However, he receives a letter from a mysterious Roman painter named Marco Tagliaferri, who claims that the piazza really exists. As proof, Tagliaferri has enclosed a photograph of the piazza and he invites Forster to come to Rome to discuss the matter further. Forster also receives another invitation to come to Rome – from George Powell (Massimo Girotti), a cultural attaché of the British Council in Rome who wants to Forster to hold a speech at a Byron-week Powell is arranging. Intrigued, Forster promptly heads to Rome and seeks out Tagliaferri’s residence but when he knocks on the door, he is not greeted by the painter himself but by a beautiful red-haired woman named Lucia (Carla Gravina), who is Tagliaferri's model. Lucia tells Forster that he can’t come in now because she is posing nude for a portrait, but she suggests that the three of them get together later in the evening. She also tips Forster that he should check in at the Hotel Galba, where the proprietress is Signora Giannelli (Silvia Monelli), is a good friend of hers.
Following Lucia's advice, Forster checks in at Hotel Galba, where he is greeted with friendliness by the attractive Signora Giannelli. But when Forster says it was her friend Lucia who recommended the hotel to him, Signora Giannelli seems surprised – claiming that she doesn’t know anyone named Lucia. Slightly puzzled, Forster nevertheless meets with Lucia later in the evening and she takes him to an old tavern named Taverna dell’Angelo, where they are to be met by Tagliaferri to discuss the piazza described in Lord Byron’s diary. However, Tagliaferri doesn’t show up and there's a really strange and spooky atmosphere in the tavern. Forster starts to feel uneasy and apparently begins to hallucinate before losing consciousness altogether. When he finally comes to, he finds himself lying inside his car, and he discovers to his horror that the microfilms containing Lord Byron’s diary has been stolen. There’s no trace of Lucia and in spite of valiant efforts, Forster is unable to find his way back to the Taverna dell’Angelo. In fact, when he goes to the police, he is told that the tavern doesn’t exist. It’s as if everything that happened has been a hallucination. The only proof to the contrary is the strange silver medallion worn by Lucia, which she has left behind in Forster’s car.
Agitated, Forster goes to Tagliaferri’s house but finds the door locked and the whole place looking crumbled. The next-door neighbor, an elderly colonel (Augusto Mastrantoni), tells a confused Forster that Tagliaferri died 100 years ago. Seeing how distraught and bewildered this makes Forster, the colonel (who turns out to be Tagliaferri’s only living relative) invites him in and reveals that Tagliaferri died young under mysterious circumstances. His model-cum-lover was so upset by his death that she committed suicide the following day. She was named Lucia and her ghost is said to still be haunting the premises. Forster, however, is convinced that the Lucia he met with is a real person and not a ghost. He heads to the British Council and asks George Powell for help. Powell’s beautiful secretary, Barbara (Paola Tedesco), takes an interest in Forster and soon becomes a reliable ally to him.
Later, Forster encounters a portrait of Tagliaferri and gets very unsettled when he sees that the deceased painter bears an uncanny resemblance to himself! Desperate to find out more about Tagliaferri, Forster seeks out the painter’s tomb and discovers that he was born on March the 28th in 1835 and that he also died on March the 28th – in 1871. Now Forster starts to get seriously creeped-out because it turns out that he himself was born on March the 28th, 1935 – exactly one hundred years after Tagliaferri. And March the 28th of 1971 is just around the corner – in fact it’s the very same day that Forster is set to make his speech about Lord Byron. He starts fearing that he may actually be Tagliaferri’s reincarnate and that unless he is able to solve the mystery of the strange piazza, he too will suffer a premature death...
IL SEGNO DEL COMANDO is a surprisingly impressive effort. As one might expect of a five-part TV series from the early 1970s, it doesn’t exactly progress at a breakneck pace but the gradual unfolding of its very clever and intricate plot really draws you in deeper and deeper. Unlike a lot of other Italian television thrillers, this one isn’t an adaptation of a British or American mystery novel but was actually written specifically for the small screen by Flaminio Bollini and Giuseppe D’Agata. The two writers have come up with a solid, compelling mystery that really manages to grab the viewer’s attention and maintain it throughout each of the five episodes.
The main problem with television mysteries is that they are often very story-driven and low on visuals. The mystery itself tends to be the main draw, and as such, television mysteries usually don’t have a lot of replay value. But, fortunately, IL SEGNO DEL COMANDO is an exception to this rule – largely because it employs a fair share of ambiguity and leaves some notable details for the viewers themselves to decide.
Another notable drawback to most Italian television products from this time is the reliance on cheap-looking interior sets – usually captured by a very static camera. While some ugly video technology is certainly visible here (especially at the Hotel Galba) and we occasionally see boom mike shadows on the walls, this series nevertheless avoids the worst pitfalls because of its extensive exterior shooting in the city of Rome. The genuine Roman locations are really atmospheric and beautiful, and they add a certain flair to the production. Also, the camerawork – while not revolutionary for a television product – is above average and the use of some inventive camera angles assures a more pleasing look. Director Daniele D’Anza actually manages to build up some good suspense and stages a few sequences that are surprisingly creepy. Forster’s exploration of the crumbled and cobwebbed Tagliaferri house is quite eerie, but even better is the scene where a mysterious medium holds séance is held at a sinister, old castle. There’s a really nice atmosphere in this sequence and the lighting is perfect, as it manages to make the mysterious, veiled medium look appropriately creepy. There’s also a real gothic vibe in the scene where Forster discovers a Lucia’s ghostly figure roaming around in a castle while clutching a candelabra. However, the most atmospheric moment is probably Forster’s bizarre nightmare where he is faced by laughing figures who present him with the coffin he is to be buried in. Furthermore, the production is greatly aided by Romolo Grano’s fantastic musical score, which complements the action perfectly and adds immensely to the mysterious atmosphere.
The impressive cast features strong performances by each and everyone of the actors, who are really well-chosen for their parts. Ugo Pagliai, who was a bit stiff as the male lead in Emilio Miraglia’s great giallo THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES (1972), does a great job as the confused Forster, who must race against the clock to solve the complicated mystery. He is ably supported by the renowned Massimo Girotti, who brings both charm and authority to the role of the British Council attaché. But even more of an impact is made by the attractive female cast, which features respected and serious actresses who should also be familiar to Euro cult fans due to their performances in various genre films. Carla Gravina, who would go on to play the possessed leading lady of Alberto De Martino’s wonderful exorcism flick THE ANTICHRIST (1974), is perfect as the enigmatic and ghostly Lucia; while the raven-haired Paola Tedesco, who was later in Dario Argento’s TV effort THE TRAM (1973) and Antonio Bido’s underrated giallo WATCH ME WHEN I KILL (1977), is very compelling as Forster’s dedicated helper who forms a gradually stronger attachment to him. The ravishing and somewhat exotic-looking Silvia Monelli, who is otherwise known from Umberto Lenzi’s top giallo KNIFE OF ICE (1972), is superb as the chic and mysterious hotel proprietress; but the unquestionably finest performance is delivered by the outstanding Rossella Falk in the role of Forster’s old flame, Olivia. Falk should be a recognizable face to all giallo fans thanks to her numerous appearances in the sub-genre in efforts such as THE FIFTH CORD (1971) and SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS (1972), but she is also one of Italy’s most renowned stage actresses and capable of tackling a wide variety of different roles. The character of Olivia is a likeable but ultimately pathetic figure as she is a woman of weak nerves who finds the solution to her nervousness only at the bottom of a whisky bottle. It’s a testament to Falk’s impressive capabilities as an actress that she somehow manages to make a pitiful drunk like Olivia also come across as charming and attractive. She’s a real joy to watch and steals every scene she appears in.
If there’s one thing to really fault IL SEGNO DEL COMANDO with, then it is that the final episode, in which the mystery is finally unraveled, is too heavily based in dialogue. It could well have benefitted from being more visual – perhaps by the use of some flashbacks in-between all the talking – and the boring police commissioner played by Andrea Checchi should have been dropped altogether as his late entrance into the proceedings seems both superfluous and tacked on. Still, these are relatively minor complaints, and even if the final episode is discernibly weaker than the preceding four, the series as a whole is still very satisfactory and well worth checking out.
DVD company Elleu, who have specialized in releasing old Italian TV series, has put out a nice 2-disc release of IL SEGNO DEL COMANDO. The print is in the original 1.33:1 ratio and the picture quality is generally good and clean. Some dirt shows up here and there, though, and some scenes look way too dark. Still, this is about as good as we can ever expect an Italian TV production from the early 1970s to look and overall the quality is perfectly acceptable. The audio is good and clear but, unfortunately, there are no accompanying subtitles – making it hard to fully recommend the disc to anyone who doesn’t speak Italian. Extras are limited to biographies for Ugo Pagliai, Carla Gravina and director Daniele D’Anza as well as a DVD-Rom extra in the form of a PDF file that gives a bit of information about the series and some ancient Roman mysticism. As expected, all of it is in Italian only.
It’s really a shame this series isn’t available in subtitled form because it’s a memorable production and long overdue for recognition outside of Italy. While not perfect, IL SEGNO DEL COMANDO is a rewarding series and comes recommended to those wanting to explore some new territories within Italy’s vast genre output.