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It is no secret that the Italian movie industry, certainly during the latter half of the twentieth century, cranked out features that were strongly ‘influenced’ by popular American blockbusters. One big US movie would lead to numerous Italian knock-offs; for every Star Wars, there was a Starcrash and a Humanoid; for every Mad Max 2, there was a New Barbarians and 2019: After the Fall of New York.

The Designated Victim
The best of these tracing-paper copied movies usually were ones that took the basic premise of an American blockbuster, but then used it as a springboard to explore other possibilities and areas that the US movie did not venture into. Maurizio Lucidi’s 1971 film The Designated Victim was clearly inspired by Hitchcock’s 1951 classic Strangers on a Train, but Lucidi, along with writers Fulvio Gicca, Fabio Carpi and Luigi Malerba toss in some of their own ideas to keep an audience interested.

Whereas Hitchs’ film had Farley Granger as a tennis-pro who meets psychopath Robert Walker who offers to bump off his wife, The Designated Victim has advertising businessman Stefano (Euro icon Tomas Milian) being increasingly henpecked by his bitchy wife, with whom he owns a thriving business. Stefano has no real power, as his wife essentially owns their company, but Stefano dallies behind his wife’s back and when the decision is made to sell the business, there is a chance meeting with wealthy but world-weary count Matteo (Pierre Clementi), who offers to rid Stefano of his oppressive other half, in exchange for bumping off his enigmatic controlling brother.

Initially brushing off this offer, Stefano’s world is suddenly thrown into turmoil when he returns home, after spending the night with a woman he picked up, to discover that his wife has been murdered. Stefano refuses to reciprocate and realises that the Count has taken out insurance in order to get Stefano to carry out his side of the bargain; Stefano soon finds himself in the position of having to execute the Count’s brother or face being framed for the murder of his own wife.

The Designated Victim
The impressive opening credits are a perfect distillation of the movie, letting you know just the sort of giddy thrills you are letting yourself in for. Stefano is no angel; he sleeps with the photo-models used by his company and the opening titles nicely contrast the tasteful artistic shots of the models on billboards and posters with the sleazy side of the casting couch as Stefano plans the shots of his models, but without the benefit of clothes on either himself or the model.

After the furtive activities of the opening credits, we see Stefano get his togs on and make his way into the offices of his wife’s business—the eye-catching shots of European tower blocks gave rise to smiles from your dedicated reviewers, reminding us of the Starliner Hotel in Cronenberg’s Shivers.

Thomas Milian is not as devastatingly cool as he usually is, as he is hamstrung by looking like Richard O’Sullivan from the same era. Well, if you mix him with Richard O’ Callaghan (Carry On’s ill-conceived attempt to infuse new-blood into the series) and you’ll get the idea. He is still magnetic as a leading actor, but the whiff of Robin’s Nest lingers over the proceedings.

Pierre Clementi is appropriately fey and aristocratic as Matteo, the Count, and his mannerisms reflect those of a person who has been there, seen it, screwed it and left it to die. Clementi has the unfortunate look of a young Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen crossed with Eileen Daly, but this can be overlooked when you observe his performance—Matteo’s almost other-worldly vibe is essential, as it seems to draw in both the viewer and poor old Stefano himself. The change in Matteo’s demeanour after murders Stefano’s wife turns the movie on its head and keeps the viewer constantly guessing as to the outcome right until the closing moments of the film.

The Designated Victim
Special credit must go to the Augenti’s pet dog. During the pivotal early scene where Milian is trying to convince his wife to sell of their business, the pooch seems to be genuinely listening to their conversation, even turning its’ head with genuine surprise at the unfolding revelations! Give us this mutt over ‘Lucky’ from those damn insurance commercials any day.

There are certain elements so common in modern society that The Designated Victim can easily lay claim to being a trend-setter to. Everybody who associates with those whom lurk on the fringes of the Goth scene will attest that pet rats are not unusual, but Count Tiepolo keeps such an animal long before it became a cliché to do so.

The Count also blazing another trail, that of Metrosexuality. Granted, it’s just a modern, wanky buzz-term for a Dandy, an individual who takes great pains over their physical appearance, and their sexuality is outwardly vague. Count Matteo Tiepolo is just such a guy, and his close-quarters approach to male bonding combines with his dress-sense to make him a forerunner to the indeterminate ‘exquisites’ who haunt the wine bars of London today.

The Designated Victim
There is a fabulously interesting subtext to be found in Count Tiepolo’s clothing, and it provides a look into his psyche. For all his snazzy tailoring, all the furs, fluff & feathers he adorns himself with, they are all just a bluff, stripped away as his domestic situation worsens. As his brother makes his life more miserable, his clothing becomes gaudy rather than flamboyant, as though his pretensions are being eroded and settling for the horrible fashions of the day. Multi-coloured tank-tops over the best furs? Matteo’s mind is clearly going.

Speaking of clothing, those new to the genre will be a little perturbed by the fashions seen in the movie as a whole. There are some particularly dated outfits in The Designated Victim, and give the general air of being costumed out of a particularly grotty charity shop, with some tailoring being more flared that they would be today. The clothing seen here were obviously the height of chic when the movie was filmed, but like most things on the cutting edge, they go out of date very quickly.

You have to award Milian 10/10 for using a light-box when going about forging his wife’s signature on the business documents. It’s so much more accurate and convenient than holding the two pieces of paper up to a window, fighting against gravity in order to copy the genuine John-Hancock. Not that we indulge in such practices, you understand…

The core of the movie is the loss of masculinity. Milian is pussy-whipped by his wife, unable to sell the business without her consent. His plan to sell it out from under her backfires, and falls into her grasp legally. His machismo is fractured, and this drives his decision to kill his better half. Mirroring him is Tiepolo, a man not blessed with the most generous serving of testosterone, and the repeated bullying by his brother finally leads him to bring about his demise. While Milian trades murders in order to keep his hands clean, Tiepolo wants another to kill his bullying sibling because he hasn’t got the guts to stand up to his abuser.

The Designated Victim
Milian’s business partner looks amazingly like noted American movie critic Roger Ebert, known for his thumbs-up/thumbs-down style of rating films. As a point of reference, those who saw the remake of Godzilla might remember Michael Lerner as the mayor of New York, playing an obvious caricature of Ebert. Oops, went off on a flight of fancy there…

Director of Photography Aldo Tonti makes the locations used in the movie look gorgeous—given that two of the main places are Venice and Lake Como, about the only way to screw up making them look wonderful would have been to leave the lens-cap on the camera. Venice looks as stunning as always and Star Wars fans might care to note that Lake Como was later used in Attack of the Clones as the location for Padme’s secret hideaway.

Our boy Milian acquits himself amicably by singing the haunting theme song 'My Shadow in the Dark', a comfortingly morose, harpsichord-based affair which suits the film perfectly. There is more than a hint of 'Windmills of your Mind' about it, and it all helps to give The Designated Victim an air unlike many other movies like it made at the time. It contains the lyrics 'to die, to sleep, maybe to dream', obviously paraphrasing Shakespeare—it’s almost as though the writers had the same idea Roy Castle did in Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, creating a new song by assuming that the copyright on hallowed material was out of date.

The Designated Victim

Video


Shameless have put a lot of time and effort into their copy of The Designated Victim, bringing you the longest version of the film commercially available. The downside to this means that the copy has been pieced together from more than one source and at times, the difference in the image quality can be quite jarring, with the changing aspect ratios being reminiscent of watching a screening of Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock documentary (Editor: or The Dark Knight!). The main print used is presented with an aspect ratio of around 2.35:1, is anamorphically enhanced and looks pretty damn good, with relatively few nicks and scratches and the colours are quite strong, too. The quality of the material from other sources is pretty poor—taken from a 1.85:1 VHS copy, the drop-off would be noticeable to Mister Magoo, but it’s a fairly safe bet to say that the original elements were either not available or lost completely. Shameless have thoughtfully included a disclaimer about the varying image quality before the movie starts.

Audio


There’s a fair amount of hiss and pop on the English language track, but this really isn’t too troublesome—if anything it adds to the whole experience of watching The Designated Victim, as it almost recreates the feeling of watching it in a cinema in the early seventies.

In a wonderful move, Shameless have presented The Designated Victim in a manner that allows the viewer to choose between the dubbed English audio and the dubbed Italian (with optional subtitles). The English language track is stronger than the Italian one, but the performances are better in the movie’s native tongue. The quality of the audio on the reinstated scenes is superior on the English dub, providing a pretty much flawless transition; the audio for the deleted scenes on the Italian track are obviously sourced from another print, with a very noticeable hiss in the background.

The Designated Victim

Extras


Shameless have always put out titles with very solid transfers, but the biggest complaint came from the corners of moviedom who wanted a few nice additional features to garnish the main features. It’s nice to see that Shameless are now starting to push the boat out a little when it comes to including extras on their releases.

‘Theatrical Trailer’: Presented here is what appears to be the original trailer for the movie. Running at around three and a half minutes, this is great, as it really gives you a flavour of the movie (though possibly revealing a little too much, in true Italian exploitation movie trailer style!) and the use of the music score is pretty impressive.

‘Picture Gallery’: The viewer is presented with an exhaustive series of video sleeves for The Designated Victim, showing many of the various covers and artwork that were used in the promotion of this title on the now-almost defunct home format. There also a number of colourised pictures and a couple of shots of an audio cassette release of the soundtrack. Some nice stuff here!

The Designated Victim
‘Commentary Track’: This text-based commentary track was concocted by uber-fan Stefan Novak and provides the viewer with much factual information about the filming, locations, cast and crew, amongst many other things.

‘Deleted Scenes’: These are an interesting mix, with a number of them centring on the relationship between Milian and Tiepolo. Two sequences are set-up and pay-off to each other, with the Count describing himself and a ‘serial killer for free’ when suggesting his services, and wrapped up by the next piece where Milian refutes this, as he is now asking for a trade in murders. Most additions are merely ‘interesting’, not adding much to the overall story; Tiepolo drinks far too much, his God-complex is uncovered, but the rest are merely breadsticks to the main meal. Their inclusion is nice, a testament to the love Shameless has put into the release.

‘Other Shameless Treats’: Well, it wouldn’t be Shameless without their usual array of peeks at other titles in their movie arsenal, would it? Included for your potential purchasing pleasure are looks at Who Saw Her Die?, Strip Nude For Your Killer, Oasis of Fear, The Night-Train Murders, The New York Ripper and Phantom of Death.

The Designated Victim

Overall


The Designated Victim successfully transcends the fact that it is essentially a rip-off of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train by adding a few novel twists and several compelling performances, especially from Tomas Milian as the man who finds himself increasingly out of his depth. Director Maurizio Lucidi presents an appealing look at Venice and succeeds in keeping the tension high until the twist at the movie’s climax. Whilst not conforming to the rigid structure of a standard giallo, The Designated Victim manages to grip with a power all its own. Highly recommended—in fact, talk of Roger Ebert compels us to give this movie nothing less than two thumbs up!


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