Who Saw Her Die? (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros examine Shameless' release of Aldo Lado's classic thriller...
It’s a funny thing, but back in the heyday of Italian cinema, whenever there was a huge hit from another country, several Italian knock-offs would spring up in an effort to make money from a passing trend.
In 1972, this trend was bucked when Aldo Lado ( The Night Train Murders) unleashed his thriller Who Saw Her Die? onto the world, trumping the very similarly-themed Don’t Look Now by Nicholas Roeg by about a year.
Credited to four writers (Francesco Barilli, Massimo D’Avak, Ruediger von Speiss and director Lado), and almost certainly based upon the same short story by Daphne DuMaurier, Who Saw Her Die?, or to give the movie its original Italian title, Chi L’ha Vista Morire?, sees sculptor Franco Serpieri (George Lazenby) arriving in Venice after picking up his young daughter, Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi), from estranged wife Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg).
Franco is unaware that a child murderer who killed a girl in France the previous year is now residing in Venice and has set his sights on Franco’s daughter. After several unsuccessful attempts, Nicoletta’s luck runs out and she is murdered by the mysterious figure. United by grief, Franco and Elizabeth mourn their only child, but this reunion is jeopardised by Franco’s increasing obsession to identify and bring their daughter’s killer to justice, regardless of who he upsets and what he could lose whilst doing so.
One cannot help but see the main drive of Who Saw Her Die? as being eerily prophetic to George Lazenby—in the 1990s, he had to endure the death of his son Robert and from a contemporary perspective, being armed with this knowledge adds more weight to Lazenby’s performance and also makes the viewer seem more like an intrusive voyeur.
The cinematic technique for repeatedly building tension and then acting upon it is employed here—director Richard Donner once described the method as ‘show them the banana, show them the banana and then have them slip on it’—there are three attempts to abduct Nicoletta and on the third attempt, it is successful. OK, it can be looked upon as a somewhat crass and manipulative, but it certainly works.
Also included in terms of cynical cinematic manipulation is the use of some kind of false hope for the protagonist at a time when things are at their most dire. Stuck in the middle of every parent’s nightmare, Franco searches frantically around the neighbourhood for Nicolette; he returns to his house and hears what he thinks is his daughter in the front room—this momentary glimmer of hope is dashed when he enters the room and discovers that the voice he heard is coming from the television set.
Who Saw Her Die? is not a giallo in the traditional sense, but there are certainly many of the trappings on display—an amusing little visual clue that Lado’s movie is not a straightforward giallo comes when the killer’s gloved hands can be seen—they aren’t the standard fetishistic black leather gloves, seen in so many other gialli, but they are the glove equivalent of a string-vest, almost as though Lado was daring to defy the conventions dictated by the sub-genre. There are some point-of-view shots of the killer approaching children—this is seen through the black veil the character is wearing, almost as though these shots are filmed in some sort of Grief-O-Vision. Another staple of the giallo is the eccentric character; in Lado’s movie, this requirement comes in the form of a table-tennis-playing, pigeon pot-shot-taking caretaker, who appears, like such characters often to in gialli, long enough to provide some clue or expository information to the lead.
There is a shot of Franco entering a building that is a none-too-subtle visual nod to Dario Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage—it has a small illuminated section of the frame and Franco makes his way through the illuminated area and then the rest of the frame is suddenly flood with light. It’s not quite as effective as Argento’s, but it’s still very nice and another little reference to other gialli.
Venice looks simply stunning— Who Saw Her Die? is almost a love-letter to the city, with numerous sumptuous shots of canals and the kind of architecture that can only be found on the continent. The emphasis in Who Saw Her Die? is on atmosphere; Aldo Lado successfully extracts a gloomy mood that looms like an ominous shadow over the backdrop of Venice . The funeral scene utilises the local environment wonderfully—Roberta’s estranged parents board a boat as her coffin is loaded for her final journey; the performances from Lazenby and Stindberg, along with the score from Ennio Morricone really sell the scene.
Unfortunately, the dubbing leaves a lot to be desired—the biggest blow comes is George Lazenby not having his own voice. The actor’s distinctive gravelly Australasian tones are replaced by one of the voices most commonly heard on dubs for Bud Spencer and seriously distracts from the movie. Lazenby walked away from the Bond series through a mixture of bad advice and his own arrogance—it is generally reckoned that if he hadn’t sent back the cheque for Diamonds Are Forever, then Lazenby would have grown nicely into the part and more importantly, grown as an actor. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is our favourite Bond movie and considering that he had had no previous dramatic experience, The Big Fry acquitted himself admirably in the role. It’s a crying shame that Lazenby’s own voice is not heard here, as visually there is a maturity to his performance that really impresses; you actually see a sense of fatherly love and pride in the eyes of Lazenby; grief when the apple of his eye is murdered and see the grief turn to anger and then to an obsessive desire to track down the person responsible for the foul deed. You have to hand it to Lazenby; he didn’t want to get typecast in the role of Bond—even after OHMSS wrapped, he was determined to leave the part behind and turned up at the premiere with long hair and a thick beard. Lazenby reportedly lost thirty-five pounds for this role, if this is indeed the case, you have to admire the man for his sense of dedication, as it pays off when you see an almost haggard-looking man burning with fury, anger and despair on the screen—even through the inappropriate dubbing, there is still something to admire in his performance.
Speaking of dubbing, the voice used for Franco’s daughter, Nicolette is provided by the same voiceover artiste who infamously (and irritatingly) voiced Bob aka Giovanni Frezza in Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery, only the end result here is not as annoyingly unconvincing as in Fulci’s opus. Speaking of dubbing, we’re pretty sure that we heard the distinctive tones of Annie Ross replacing the performance of one member of the cast…
The supporting cast are fine, with Anita Stindberg being particularly good as Franco’s estranged wife. There is a degree of believability in the chemistry between her and Lazenby—certainly they seem like a couple with little in common at the start of the movie, but are brought together again by an act of supreme wickedness. Nicoletta Elmi puts in a convincing performance as Franco and Elizabeth’s daughter—Elmi would go on to appear in several landmark Italian horror movies, including Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso, Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood and Lamberto Bava’s Demons. Former Bond villain Adolfo Celi pops up as Franco’s agent, Serafian, who seems to be in the frame for the killings, whilst Dominique Boschero is simply stunning (whether clothed or unclothed) as Serafian’s scheming personal assistant/bit-of-fluff, Ginevra. Jose Quaglio is suitably creepy as a wealthy lawyer who has an unhealthy attraction to children and might just know more than he’s letting on about the murders.
A nice touch is having the dialogue during the opening sequence of the first murder, which takes place in Megeve, France, actually in French. Usually when a movie is dubbed, most little touches such as this are removed, but it’s very cool to hear the dialogue spoken in French, with burnt-in subtitles on the screen—it all adds to the European flavour of the movie.
There is a lovely title sequence that really builds a sense of suspense and also gives a nice feeling of the passage of time, taking you from the moment of the opening murder and the inability of the local French police to catch the killer, through to (what was then) the present day and into Italy.
Ennio Morricone has always been one to come up with scores that are unconventional and here, he presents one of his most mind-bendingly experimental. Morricone composed to distinct themes into the score of Who Saw Her Die? and there are many times where the two merge in a surreal manner that will have you scratching your head for days afterwards, wondering if the blending actually worked or not. One of the themes is very reminiscent of his later work in Exorcist II: The Heretic; the use of children chanting might have provided a source of early inspiration for Danny Elfman, who uses a lot of this sort of thing in his collaborations with Tim Burton. The sequence where Roberta’s impending demise is imminent is really enhanced by Morricone’s score, which starts out with children chanting the nursery rhyme on-screen, but is then joined by the more sinister score as the murder approaches (the intercutting between the children playing and Franco in the sack with his bit-on-the-side is a nice juxtaposition (the theme of engaging in carnality whilst a child dies would form the basis of Friday the 13th a number of years later). The mixing of the angelic voices and the creeping bass-line, coupled with the dizzying circular camera movements combine to produces a truly disorientating effect.
Without wishing to give away the twist ending of Who Saw Her Die?, there are certain similarities between the twist ending in this and Lucio Fulci’s wonderful Don’t Torture a Duckling—a certain type of person who at the time these movies were made was considered beyond reproach is the key to the murders in both films. Viewing both of them from a contemporary perspective, it seems blatantly obvious as to the identities of the perpetrators, but at the time, it was considered a shocking and outrageous thing to do. A while back, one of us was watching Fulci’s Duckling with a lady-friend and he had to put things in historical context, as the perpetrator of the evil deeds entered her top-three list of suspects almost immediately. It must be pointed out that Who Saw Her Die? has a ludicrous coda tacked on to the ending in order to soften the blow—needless to say that the Fulci movie had no such last-minute addendum.
Shameless have managed to get their mitts on a lovely looking print of Who Saw Her Die? The anamorphically-enhanced 2.35:1 looks surprisingly fresh and is pretty clean. Shameless have gone that extra mile over the R1 Anchor Bay copy by including some subtitles where necessary and also restoring a little extra violence to the movie. Those of you who are familiar with Who Saw Her Die? through nth generation VHS bootlegs are going to have their expectations shattered when they see this copy.
Only the English language dub has been provided, but it’s serviceable enough—it would have been nice to have been presented with the Italian dub, as Lazenby’s performance would have been easier to accept if he was dubbed into another language entirely.
Shameless present a trailer for your edification, along with X other trailers from their catalogue; The Designated Victim, Strip Nude for Your Killer, Oasis of Fear, The Night-Train Murders, What Have They Done to Your Daughters? and The Black Cat—always good fun to put on in front of a group of drunken mates. Oh, there is also Shameless' own trailer for Who Saw Her Die? included for good measure.
Who Saw Her Die? deserves more than being just a cinematic footnote as the precursor to Don’t Look Now—it’s a damn entertaining and shocking movie in its own right and it also allows (barring the horrible dubbing) to show that Lazenby had potential to become a serious dramatic actor if he hadn’t have flushed his golden opportunity down the crapper.
Who Saw Her Die? is a movie that could only really have been made on the continent. In Britain and the US there is a certain squeamishness inherent in the cultures that shy away from depicting child murders in such a stark and painful manner. There is something refreshing about the European sensibility that allows such stories to be told in a way that isn’t coy or pulls any punches (save for the ridiculous state/distributor-imposed addendum) and Who Saw Her Die? is a riveting, classy movie which cleanses the palate and sharpens the appetite like a refreshing sorbet after a large meal. Shameless have come up trumps once again by delivering such a classic in a more complete form that it’s R1 counterpart.
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 25th August 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Ennio Morricone
Extras: Coming attractions
Easter Egg: No
Director: Aldo Lado
Cast: George Lazenby, Adolfo Celi, Anita Strindberg
Length: 90 minutes
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