The picture opens with Mr. Rochard, a mysterious man wearing an eye-patch (really the eye-patch makes “mysterious” redundant) getting stabbed in a train by I masked killer bent on getting a handful of diamonds, themselves stolen by Rochard.
Later, Nicole will overhear a creepy electronic voice saying “I’ve been looking for you for a long time” only to discover that it’s a priest with a voice assistor talking on a nearby phone. (You know, the type of coincidence that happens all the time.) My favorite red herring is a ridiculous false lead played with utter sincerity: a bleach-blonde, arched-eyebrow ogre with a gloved metal hand and a cat that he pets in a sinister manner as he glares at Nicole. How can you not love that?
It doesn’t take long for Nicole to run frantically away from Michel’s house and elope with the slimy Dr. Robert Mathews (Frank Wolff) who she met filming her at a strip club. Why would she flee into the arms of a notorious married playboy with a fetish for boots a fancy for foreign women? A montage in her boyfriend’s bathroom helps explain:
It soon appears that Nicole has made the right choice, considering that Dr. Mathews flies her to his glorious seaside villa, takes her on a whirlwind shopping spree (an irresistible chance for yet another sequence of male gaze and 70’s Italian fashion) and treats her to a hilariously erotic meal where she eats greasy chunks of fresh fried fish and washes her hands in rose-petal water. One gets the impression that the screenwriter designed the scene based on a vintage magazine’s idea about the ultimate British date.
Much like “The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh” (1971), also penned by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, “Death Walks on High Heels” brings together a well-orchestrated finale that shows ingenuity, foresight and a combination of well-crafted layers. The problem with both films, particularly this one, is that the first half of the film is nearly empty of interest, filled for utilitarian sake with the obscure clues, character backgrounds and plot setups that will payoff only in the last act. At 108 minutes, the film is far too long and there is absolutely no reason not to be choosier in the editing room concerning the first half of the film.
The casting is spot on with acting that saves many of the scenes from the embarrassments that they could be, although Inspector Baxter is so wooden and incommunicative that he frustrates more than he investigates and gets outshone by the peripheral figures. Despite the reduced presence of Susan Scott in the second half, it’s there that the suspect roster really fills out to the benefit of the mystery. It becomes simultaneously amusing and baffling how everyone in the tiny fishing village where most of the action takes place comes off as so secretive and scheming.
Ercoli is far from a hack director (despite the claims of many critics) and while he lacks an evenhanded pacing and the ability to squeeze A performances from B actors, he admirably cultures a visual talent that has plenty of potential. I almost feel that the director has been unfairly punished for not taking his camerawork quite far enough, for despite plenty of filler sequences of bland conventions and sloppy focus all the hallmarks of a burgeoning giallo master are present. I’d even go so far as to say that the filmmaking is above the level of the average Lucio Fulci feature. To honor the unsung work of Ercoli and his cinematographer, Fernando Arribas, I’ll distribute some fictional awards: