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L’Assassino (1961) | Elio Petri’s Kafkaesque thriller is a neglected cinematic gem

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)Released within months of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, director Elio Petri’s dazzling 1961 debut L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome) also stars Marcello Mastroianni, this time as sleazy thirtysomething antique dealer Alfredo Martelli, arrested on suspicion of murdering his older, far wealthier lover Adalgisa (Micheline Presle). But as the police investigation proceeds, it becomes less and less important whether Martelli actually committed the crime as his entire lifestyle is effectively put on trial…

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)

Best known for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The Tenth Victim (read my review here), Elio Petri was one of the finest and yet most underrated Italian directors of the 1960s and 1970s. Highly acclaimed on its original UK release but unjustly neglected since, L’Assassino is a remarkably assured debut from one of the cinema’s sharpest chroniclers of Italian social and political realities; fusing a thriller, a favourite genre of Petri’s, with elements of a mystery plot with a Kafkaesque air, while also being an explicit critique of the rising upper-bourgeois society in Italy in the early 1960s.

Written for the screen by Tonino Guerra (who also did Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Fellini’s Amarcord and Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia); lensed by Woody Allen’s favourite cinematographer, Carlo Di Palma; edited by Fellini regular Ruggero Mastroianni; and with music by Piero Piccioni (whose compositions have recently been used in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook), L’Assassino is certainly ripe for rediscovery.

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)

THE UK 2014 BLU-RAY/DVD RELEASE
Following a high-definition restoration by Cineteca di Bologna, this is the first-ever UK home entertainment release of L’Assassino and comes in a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack from Arrow Films’ Arrow Academy label.

Alongside the 2k digital presentation of the film, there’s also a host of special features on offer, including the 52-minute documentary, Tonino Guerra – A Poet in the Movies, about the acclaimed screenwriter; an introduction by Italian cinema expert Pasquale Iannone; theatrical trailer; collector’s booklet (featuring some informative new and vintage writings on the film); and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw.

The 10th Victim (1965) | It’s the Pop Art and deadly bullet bra that makes this 1960s sci-fi satire so achingly cool

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IT’S THE 21ST-CENTURY AND THEY HAVE A LICENCE TO KILL
In the near future (from a retro 1960s perspective that is), war and violence have been replaced with The Big Hunt, a government-backed televised sport in which players take turns to be either Hunters or Victims in a hunt to the death which offers a huge cash reward and lucrative advertising deals.

The 10th Victim

Huntress Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), whose weapon of choice is a double-barrel bikini bra gun, scores a major deal with the Ming Tea Company to kill her tenth victim live on camera at Rome’s Temple of Venus. When the Big Hunt computer selects famed hunter Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastroianni) as the victim, Caroline poses as a TV reporter wanting to run an exposé on him. Unsure as to whether she is his hunter, Poletti is reluctant to take her down, especially when he starts falling for Caroline. But with a vindictive ex-wife wanting his assets and an impatient mistress (Elsa Martinelli) waiting in the wings, the Italian playboy soon discovers he has more than one reason to watch his back…

The 10th Victim

POP (ART) GOES THE SEX FARCE
For this 1965 Italian comedy sci-fi, director Elio Petri adapts Robert Sheckley’s 1953 short story, The Seventh Victim, into a parody of the Euro spy craze (that came in the wake of the Bond films) and Italian rom-com (of the kind that often featured Marcello Mastroianni being chased by women), as well as a satire on bourgeois consumerism.

For his achingly cool visual palette, Petri dips his distinctive brush into contemporary popular culture, drawing on haute couture, modern design and Pop Art imagery to create a gorgeously framed Vogue fashion spread brought to vibrant comic book inspired life. Ursula Andress looks absolutely stunning here in André Courrèges’ Space Age fashions, thanks to Fellini’s favourite cameraman, Gianni Di Venanzo, who also gives Rome a wonderfully futuristic look. And because Italian cinema just wouldn’t be the same without its iconic mood music; Piero Piccioni gives us a catchy score, with Italian songstress Mina providing the high-pitched harmonies.

The 10th Victim

The Tenth Victim harks back to ‘man being hunted for sport’ pictures like 1932’s classic The Most Dangerous Game, but with a 1960s-futuristic spin. Petri fittingly places much of the action in the shadow of that last monument to gladiatorial conquest, the iconic Coliseum, while taking potshots at television elimination shows which, frighteningly, is becoming a reality today. But the sci-fi on display here is nothing like the dark dystopian nightmares of similarly themed films like The Running Man, Battle Royale or The Hunger Games. Instead, Petri opts to tell his story as a romantic comedy that’s more about love, marriage and divorce than futuristic fights to the death (there’s not even a drop of blood in sight). Still, this madcap saturated super colour sci-fi sex farce is so retro-cool, you’ll want to screen it over and over…

The 10th Victim

THE SHAMELESS 2014 RELEASE
The Shameless Screen Entertainment dual-format release is sourced from HD master restored in the original widescreen film format, with a choice of English or Italian audio with subtitles, and is released for the first time in the UK in a Numbered Collector’s Lenticular Edition. The special features include an interview with Kim Newman and Paola Petri (the late director’s wife), trailers and photo gallery.

DID YOU KNOW?
The brassiere that Ursula Andress sports in the film really did shoot, and was the inspiration for the Fembots in 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

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