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September 13, 2005

Sergio Martino "Animal" Double Feature

Your Vice is a Closed Room and Only I have the Key
IL Tuo Vizio e una Stanza Chiusa e Solo Io ne Ho La Chiave
Sergio Martino - 1972
NoShame Region 0 DVD

Big Alligator River
Il Fiume del Grande Caimano
Sergio Martino - 1979
NoShame Region 0 DVD

The two newest Sergio Martino films to be presented by NoShame on DVD could almost be called animal revenge films. While Big Alligator River is pretty self explanatory, "Vice" is a variation of Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Cat which is actually a bit closer to the literary source than so many of the other films inspired by this particular work.

The plot to "Vice" is as convoluted as the title, which after viewing the film still doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Made immediately after All the Colors of the Dark, "Vice" takes an opposite tact taking place primarily in one location and concentrating more on mood. While the film is part of the giallo genre, it is more restrained in the violence. The film takes place in a provincial villa, where author Oliviero (Luigi Pistelli) lives uneasily with his wife, Floriana (Anita Strindberg). Oliviero is obsessed with his deceased mother, and has not written anything in about three years. When he is not taking his frustration out on Floriana, Oliviero distracts himself with mistresses and parties with the local hippies. An unknown person has slashed to death two of Oliviero's mistresses. Observing the domestic discord and making mayhem is a black cat named Satan, the pet left by Oliviero's mother.

Edwige Fenech shows up as the bisexual cousin who beds Strindberg and the young stud who delivers groceries. In spite of her billing, it's really more of a supporting role as someone who distracts Pistelli and Strindberg from solving the mystery, as well as distracting me because frankly, when Edwige Fenech is nude, the plot is no longer important.

One aspect of the film that I had discomfort with was with the racial attitudes expressed by the characters in the film. One of Oliviero's mistresses is a black woman. Some of the statements may be able to be placed in the context of Italian culture at the time the film was made. Likewise, with Big Alligator River, the natives are called "savages", although the "Jungle" genre that was popular in Italy for a while can be generalized as "retro", having pretty much gone out of style in the U.S. by the late Fifties.

Martino admits in the DVD extra that he was inspired by Jaws. Big Alligator River also tips its hat to the old films and serials with characters like Jungle Jim who saved the white people from the angry "natives". Mel Ferrer portrays the operator of a resort on a remote jungle island. Barbara Bach is his assistant. She also has a background in anthropology. People mysteriously disappear, equipment is sabotaged, and in the last half hour Big Alligator River kicks into high gear. Maybe this is a reflection of my living in the tourist trap called Miami Beach, but it was fun seeing tourists trapped between "peaceful" tribe with flaming arrows and a very large, very hungry alligator (or is it actually a crocodile) reducing the hapless tourists to crunchy snacks in his own all you can eat buffet.

In addition to seeing Martino discuss shooting Big Alligator River in Sri Lanka, there is also an interview with Antonello Geleng, the production designer. Martino places this film as one of his last to get international distribution, prior to the general collapse of the Italian film industry and Martino's eventual transition to television. Geleng discusses working with Fellini as well as several giallo film makers. He is introduced with a panning shot of his collection of art and artifacts in his studio. Behind Geleng is a large abstract painting that I wanted to see more of. I googled his name which led me to Cinecitta's website where he was one of several artists who created posters for the studio.

Posted by peter at September 13, 2005 06:43 PM