J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Strange Lands: The 10th Victim

It is odd when an author novelizes himself, but is sort of what Robert Sheckley did. He wrote the short story adapted as the film that he subsequently wrote the novelization for. He then wrote two original sequels. Give the credit to Ursula Andress’s deadly brassiere. Sure you can call it satirical sociological science fiction, but it is really about being beautiful in Rome. Life is short but hedonistic in Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim (trailer here), which screens during the Film Society of Lincoln Center new series, Strange Lands: International Sci-Fi.

To placate humanity’s violent instincts, the global authorities instituted the Big Hunt. Participating players compete in ten hunts, alternating as hunter and victims. Hunters are fully informed of their prey’s habits and background, whereas victims simply better be careful. Players who survive ten hunts win fame and a fortune in 1965 dollars. Those that don’t are dead.

American Caroline Meredith is one hunt away from completing the cycle. Her victim will be Marcello Polletti, an upcoming Italian player saddled with excessive debt and excessive lovers. To maximize publicity for her sponsor, the Ming Tea Company, Meredith plans to kill Polletti on live television at the Temple of Venus. Of course, Polletti is automatically suspicious when Meredith approaches him in the guise of a television reporter. Nevertheless, they are instantly (albeit warily) attracted to each other. Even though he suspects he will have to kill Meredith, Polletti starts to play along, hoping it will not come to that.

With its depiction of legalized murder serving as a social pressure relief valve, 10th Victim predates scores of dystopian films, such as Running Man, The Purge, Hunger Games, Battle Royale, and the French film Le Prix du Danger, which was based on another Sheckley short story. However, the Big Hunt is arguably more about alleviating the ennui of modern life than appealing to man’s more savage instincts.

Playing a bored playboy, Marcello Mastroianni truly spread his wings in 10th Victim. Considering he had to romance Ursula Andress, he also really took one for the team. Frankly, it is a little bizarre to see Andress playing a Yank, given how often distributors over-dubbed her for the American market. However, she looks great in Meredith’s lethal couture (but not so much Mastroianni’s blond die job). Yet, even with their tongues firmly planted in cheeks, Mastroianni and Andress generate plenty of heat together.

10th Victim’s script (credited to Petri and a battalion of collaborators) is almost too glib for its own good, but the style is to die for. Petri prioritizes attitude over suspense, thoroughly sending up the hyper-real decadence of Mastroianni’s Fellini oeuvre. It all looks and sound great, thanks to Piero Piccioni’s wickedly groovy soundtrack, cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo’s eye for flash-and-dazzle, and costume designer Giulio Coltellacci’s fab frocks. You don’t really invest in 10th Victim as a movie, but it is hard not to enjoy it on its own terms. Recommended for fans of the superstar cast and those who can appreciate some mordant Italian irony, The 10th Victim screens this coming Wednesday (10/27) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of Strange Lands.

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