Shameless Presents: The 10th Victim, La decima vittima (1965)

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Shameless are back with another classic release to DVD/ Blu Ray Combi, Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim; a film which literally radiates 60’s retro sci-fi cool, celebrates pop art visuals and satirically stabs into the heart of media culture. The 10th Victim is so much more than just another sci-fi film, masterfully crafted, and genuinely funny, a warped romantic comedy with a dark heart- providing a mix of raw violence set against the background of super stylish minimalist interior design, beautiful people and high fashion. The film takes place in the future, using a sparse and heavily stylized environment to hammer home the message; this is sci-fi Vogue style with not a plastic helmet or cardboard console in sight. Gone are the usual trappings of sci-fi cheese which give way to something that looks like a retro fashion magazine.

The 10th Victim (adapted from the original story The Seventh Victim (1953) by Robert Sheckley)  revolves around the central storyline of The Big Hunt where killing has become legal providing you stick to the rules laid out by the State; a theme which has been reused in more well-known features such as The Running Man, Deathrace 2000, and more recently The Hunger Games.  The problem of war has been solved in allowing people to let out their destructive impulses in legally acceptable murder, and in order to play the game they must participate in ten hunts, five as victim, five as hunter. The victims are told nothing about their ‘other’ while the hunters are given inside information into their potential kill’s background and movements. If a participant is successful in completing their full ten rounds they are awarded with fame and fortune. Here lies the cleverness in the plot line, as it allows Petri to explore the concept of how far people will go to pursue material wealth and satisfy their own egos. As civilised the hunters appear outwardly they are nothing more than Roman Centurions who kill for both pleasure and acclaim, regardless of the fact they opt to leave the battle armour at home and replace it with official sponsors and lawyers. Petri skilfully wraps up his story in layers of irony and satire which is, even in the present day, sincerely funny and perhaps even more resonant in today’s environment where everyone seems to be looking for their five minutes of fame.

Our central characters American Caroline Meredith, (played by 60’s icon Ursula Andress), and Italian Marcello Poletti, (Marcello Mastroianni who also appeared in Petri’s debut full length feature the dark thriller L’assassino  (1961) as well as the anti-religious Todo Modo  (1976) and Le Mani Sporche (1978)  ) get locked in a game of cat and mouse as Caroline tries to complete her tenth kill, with Marcello the target. Both leads put in solid performances, Ursula portraying the very cold cookie Caroline. Set on achieving her aim she is able to tie up her opponent in knots, exploiting every aspect of her feminine sexuality and preying on Marcello’s weak willed and fragile ego. In contrast Marcello deploys a strategy of one-upmanship based on what he thinks he knows and consequently becomes a tough adversary for Caroline. Marcello as the aptly named Marcello portrays a super cool, full of himself, male counterpart to Ursula’s nonchalant Caroline, who manages to get himself in all sorts of bother with the women in his life. Following along the line of a bizarre romantic comedy in parts, the interplay between the two brings plenty of opportunity for laughs, regardless of the morbid undertones of the central plot, while the comedy between the two is light, clever and fun. In the supporting cast stand out parts go to Marcello’s mistress Olga (Elsa Martinelli) and his ex-wife Lidia (Luce Bonifassy) who both manage to break his balls and make him wriggle and squirm like the egotistic philanderer he is. Although their scenes are limited they do add a depth to the piece which fuels Marcello’s predicament.

There are so many moments of weird genius in The 10th Victim  it would be impossible to list them all, and while the film lacks gore and gratuity it more than makes up for it on the basis of providing copious amount of bizarre and wonderful concepts. In Petri’s pop art inspired background we are treated to images such as Ursula Andress in a spiky metal bikini, doing a provocative dance, assassin style, Marcello’s little pet robot dog ‘his only friend in the world’, service stations where you can book relaxation time, and Government condoned killing, sold to the masses on advertising boards spouting, ‘Why have birth control when you can have death control? Live dangerously, within the law’.

Petri presents us with an unpopulated universe where the problem of the ‘old people’ is solved by ferrying them away, unless of course you don’t have any old people to worry about because you were created in the Centre of Artificial Insemination, the population is kept down by shooting people in cold blood and people moan in public about how you can’t kill in restaurants, hospitals, churches and orphanages, as if this is some sort of freedom they are being denied. The 10th Victim presents a world where people go out to cry at the sunset and get egged by protestors for doing so, marriage is disposable and everything has a price, which shows with hindsight how far ahead of its time it really was. This notion of the almost otherworldly is backed up by jarred angular shots, a stark white colour palette which is contrasted with bright yellows, cheerful costume colours, worn by Andress in particular, and slick hyper-retro-futuristic interiors; the production design being as sharp as the comedy at play.  Amongst all this The 10th Victim delivers plenty of wry chuckles along the way, but the pinnacle has to be the proposal of an assassination live on TV, sponsored by the Ming Tea Company; complete with people dancing around dressed as teacups. The ludicrous nature of this scene alone makes the film worth watching; if for some strange reason the thought of 60’s sex siren Ursula Andress dancing around in a shiny bikini was not inspiration enough to pick this up.

Another noteworthy point about this film is the amazing jazz soundtrack which accompanies it, scored by Piero Piccioni, with the scat styled vocals of prolific artist Mina on the title track Spirale Waltz being outstanding. The light upbeat tone succeeds in resonating 60’s cool providing a perfect contrast to the dark undertones of the film’s overall message, not to mention the soundtrack is completely addictive.

This Shameless release, which is a first time outing for the UK, presents a beautiful print from a HD master in its original widescreen format, which is clear, vivid and appears to have either had a very respectful clean up with no obvious erosion of the grain and detail,  or has been taken from a very good quality master; if you bear in mind this is a film which is nearly 50 years old it looks magnificent on this release.  The print shows depth and no signs of sharpening or filters, the colours are naturalistic and the saturation perfect; thus allowing Petri’s artistic eye to shine through and showcase the exquisite cinematography involved in this film. The feature is presented with a quality dual audio English/ Italian, with optional English subs, theatrical trailer, Shameless trailer and a photo gallery, collectors lenticular and an exclusive interview with Paola Petri and Kim Newman. Paola gives really interesting insights into the production of The 10th Victim in her interview talking about her husband’s vision and passion for the subject matter involved.

In essence The 10th Victim is an amazingly cool piece of retro futuristic filmmaking, fun, darkly comic, and beautifully shot, a must for all cult film fans. Elio Petri was a phenomenal director, and it is positively criminal that the bulk of his work is almost impossible to find outside of Italy; apart from his perhaps most well-known feature the Academy Award Winning, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) . He was a director who had a varied output, which as a whole defies any sort of genre defining. But he did follow similar themes in the lot of his work, some of which I will touch upon here for comparison reasons. The 10th Victim represents his first attempt at a colour full length feature (I am stating this on the grounds that I have seen all the others leading up to this apart from the documentary  Nudi Per Vivere (1964) which is impossible to find, so I could be wrong, and would be interested to know if I am- or if someone knows how to track this title down!) and the way Petri embraces the medium of colour with such flair demonstrates what an artist he really was;  the colour aspect of The 10th Victim plays a key part in the overall feel of the film perhaps more so than anything else he did. So where does The 10th Victim fit in to Petri’s overall portfolio?  Well it is the only sci-fi film he did for a start, and it is stylistically very different to a lot of his other films. For the most part Petri would focus on alienated characters, usually experiencing some sort of existential crisis or dissatisfaction in their lives, characters who were embedded in very realistic situations while The 10th Victim moves away from this to a surreal futuristic world, Caroline and Marcello seem to both be experiencing some sort of re-evaluation of their lives as the story unfolds. Futuristic themes aside The 10th Victim does bear a lot of comparison with Petri’s other films and those familiar will spot the similarities. Money often played a key role in his work, the pursuit of, and how money can corrupt, here it is seen again, as did the internal politics between couples; with men generally seen in some way subjugated to their more dominant or demanding female counterparts and it is safe to say Caroline really puts Marcello through his paces during the hunt. Finally Petri usually cast a critical eye on the failures, as he saw them, of his country’s political system; taking on corruption, religion, industrialism, media and The State. The 10th Victim makes no exception to this rule revolving around media, fame, power and control by The State, with plenty of digging at Rome ‘being behind the times’ and references to The Vatican. It is safe to say if you enjoy this title, and have not already, seek out Petri’s entire body of work and watch it all. I have seen all of his films apart from his initial two short movies in the 50’s, the aforementioned Nudi Per Vivere , and a TV play Le Mani Sporche  which was broadcast in 1978 , and I can safely say with my hand on my heart he is one director that certainly deserves more recognition in the world of cult movies.

Head on over to Shameless Official for more details here.

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Categories: Reviews, sci-fi

1 reply

  1. It was about time this had the Shameless treatment – indeed it was the perfect addition to the catalogue. Especially alongside Femina Ridens. I think maybe The Girl From Rio would be perfect next to keep the style. As much as I like New Barbarians and Cannibal Holocaust I would have preferred it if Shameless had left those ones out, and kept things very much in the cool side of stuff: Venus in Furs, Designated Victim etc. Indeed while Arrow bagged Lickerish Quartet I felt that too would have been perfect Shameless material.

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