Saturday, April 14, 2007

Review of The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail

“The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail” (1971) is one of the earliest giallo films made by the underrated Sergio Martino. In it, Lisa Baumer (Ida Galli) discovers during an affair that her husband’s plane has just exploded and she stands to inherit a tidy sum. She seems to have display the requisite amount of moaning and groaning, but the audience knows to immediately consider her as the top suspect (she was having an affair at the time of the call after all). She seems doubly untrustworthy after her lover ends up brutally killed.

Some creepy stalker-vision camerawork and Bruno Nicolai’s excellent score soon advise us that Lisa might be as much a potential victim as her husband. Soon the cast begins to expand and the suspect chart widen as we are introduced to “sexy” insurance case inspector Peter Lynch (played by the ever-popular George Hilton), “sexy” tabloid reporter Cleo Dupont (Anita Strindberg), Mr. Baumer’s jealous, “sexy” mistress Lara with her scar-torn bodyguard/lawyer Sharif and the suspicious police investigator Mr. Benton (who, unfortunately, can not be called sexy even in quotation marks).

Despite the rumors whirling around the aeronautic explosion, Lisa manages to cash her entire life insurance inheritance and makes plans to head to Tokyo on a plane to meet a mysterious new person. Too bad for her, a psychotic killer delivers some sharpened-steel room service before she can check out her hotel. Now the tension is really on as Peter Lynch and Cleo Dupont team up to discover the truth.

“The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail” does a wonderful job building up its cast of suspects and balancing audience expectations and assumptions. As he slowly kills off the major players (in some delicious set-pieces including a rooftop inexplicably strewn with creepy dolls and manikins) the viewer has to constantly scramble for a new answer and even if they figure it out they’ll probably waffle and switch several times before the payoff. Martino does a better job than usual staying focused on his plot and suspense making this one of his leaner and most consistently plot-driven films. He doesn’t always play fair with the audience, introducing one red herring that should identify the killer and then not actually coming through with the continuity.

The title is poorly chosen (and not too exciting) considering that the scorpion is relatively unimportant and lacks any punch as “cool.” The actual clue in question appears late in the film at one of the more convoluted parts of the mystery and seems retrospectively a bit difficult to believe.

The director also remains in high style throughout, showing an impressive intelligence for where to place his camera. Extreme long shots and uncomfortable close-ups are often juxtaposed to keep the audience off-balance and make a thankful substitute for the more typical zoom shots. Keep an eye out for the virtuoso single-take interrogation scene that Martino shoots in a single take with the camera placed between the characters, turned sideways and swiveled back-and-forth to catch the dialogue.

Though I’m often critical (or at best amused) by the many zoom shots, some show remarkable framing at both ends and one zoom-out during the beach finale manages to pull through a handful of clever cavernous reframes in the space of a single second. The finale itself is well worth the wait through the movie and brings together broad daylight terror, a chilling subterranean set, a kitschy purple costume, a shark rifle and the inevitable spectacular death.

Walrus Rating: 7.5


Anonymous said...

It's been awhile since I've seen it, but doesn't the scorpion give away the killer's identity ?

FilmWalrus said...

No, the scorpion is planted by the real killer to frame a different character whom he knew it would implicate. It's a bit on the convoluted side and probably could have been done away with entirely.