Death Walks At Midnight Review
The best gialli have always been distinguished by their plots, even if the genre is perhaps better known for its set-pieces. It’s the reason why, say, Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso is far superior to his later The Stendhal Syndrome, despite both containing memorable standout scenes. Death Walks At Midnight, a 1972 example of the genre, manages to fall on the right side of this situation; it begins crazy and gets crazier.
In a nutshell, Death Walks At Midnight centres around the possible murder that a model has witnessed while taking a hallucinogenic drug for the purposes of a magazine article. Once this article appears, the killer (or killers) attempts to track her down and she also loses her job, allowing time for some amateur sleuthing. Interestingly, the tabloid is referred to as sensationalist but moulded to popular taste – a tongue in cheek nod to the giallo form perhaps? Meanwhile, there is some debate as to whether the events she witnessed did, in fact, occur; just one of the many red herrings intrinsic to the genre, thereby allowing the final revelation to be suitably absurd and unexpected but also vaguely plausible. Before reaching this point, the script (written by, among others, the director of Django, Sergio Corbucci) also finds the time for numerous twists and turns plus an array of characters including the obligatory pale, mysterious stranger, some jazz musicians and even a pair of cute Japanese kids whose significance cannot be entirely fathomed (if at all).
With the script fulfilling the requirements of the genre, the responsibility understandably falls to the director and this is where Death Walks At Midnight stumbles somewhat. Luciano Ercoli remains better known as a producer and, as with Irwin Winkler and Stanley Kramer (two other producers turned directors), this is the approach he takes to his directorial duties. What results is solid, workmanlike and efficient but never inspired in the manner of a Mario Bava or Dario Argento. If there is a stylistic trait then it can be summed up as a distinct fondness for the zoom lens; those who appreciate the genre for its kitschier elements will undoubtedly respond to the very 1972 production design and the fabulous acid-jazz score. As such, the set-pieces work solely because of the scripting, without being elevated to the mini-masterpiece level of the genre’s finest.
Ercoli does, however, draw a fine performance from his wife Susan Scott (nee Nieves Navarro, Scott being an alias aiming at attracting a more international audience). The film rests squarely on her shoulders as she is the only character not to be considered a suspect and she copes well with the part, being a likeable and engaging actress with a nice line in paranoia. Cult movie fans will no doubt recognise her from her various Spaghetti Western and exploitation appearances. Disappointingly, she is hampered by a lacklustre English dub. Whilst this may attract fans who adopt a kitsch approach to the genre, the original Italian dialogue would no doubt aid what is ultimately, despite its flaws, an effective little thriller.
Death Walks At Midnight arrives on disc with an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer but sadly the print isn’t of the greatest quality. Patches of discolouration appear over the image and the picture’s sharpness tends to vary from scene to scene. Whilst it no doubt remains watchable and is perhaps the best that can be expected from a release of minor interest, these defects can prove distracting.
As said above, the film is blighted by an English dub (presented in Dolby Digital Stereo). Moreover, this is a very treble-heavy mix with the odd hint of crackle. That said, this is still superior to the French dub which is also included.
Interestingly, the special features accommodate both the newcomer and the aficionado. The latter will no doubt enjoy the lengthy text interview with the director and star and the in-depth biographies of the pair along with the other lead actors. For the newcomer, the 20 minute interview with Adrian Smith (writer of the giallo study 'Blood and Black Lace') is especially welcome. During this time, he provides a concise introduction to the genre and its various tropes plus an introduction to the film itself. Admittedly, this does waver towards the fanboy style of criticism but Smith is clearly a knowledgeable and infectiously enthusiastic guide.
No subtitles, English or otherwise, are included for ether the feature or supplementary material.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 12:13:50