Death Carries a Cane Review
I don't think there has ever been an official tally of how many giallo films were produced in Italy in the early 1970s, but it certainly ran into triple figures. Among this slew of derivative efforts were some real gems, helmed by the likes of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Aldo Lado. There was also some absolute dreck - material that no amount of rose-tinted reappraisal can improve. The vast majority of the gialli that were produced, however, were neither great nor terrible - just like any film industry, Italy's moviemakers churned out a great deal of pictures that were simply average, with little or nothing to offer that couldn't be found elsewhere. 1972's Death Carries a Cane (Passi di Danza su una Lama di Rasoio - which roughly translates as "Dancing on a Razor Blade") is one such film. A perfect example of the banality that ran rampant in an industry content to emulate itself over and over, there is nothing horribly wrong with it, but at the same time there's really nothing in it that you absolutely must see.
While photographing her elderly aunt and uncle who have come to visit her in Rome, Swedish bombshell Kitty (Nieves Navarro) inadvertently witnesses a man stabbing a woman to death in a nearby apartment. Her boyfriend, Alberto (Robert Hoffmann), is initially sceptical, but a little research quickly reveals that this is just one of a number of murders of young women in the area, the defining characteristic of the killer being, according to eyewitnesses, that he has a limp and carries a cane. When it is discovered that all of the murdered women were somehow connected to dancing, Inspector Merughi (George Martin), jumping at the chance to catch the culprit, hatches an elaborate plan that involves using Kitty as bait...
The leading lady of this giallo is a fiesty Spanish woman named Nieves Navarro. She starred in a number of Westerns from the mid-1960s onwards, before donning the decidedly Anglicized moniker of "Susan Scott" and making her thriller debut in Fernando Di Leo's I Ragazzi del Massacro. Her first true giallo appearance came in her husband Luciano Ercoli's 1970 offering Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, which was followed by a string of similar films in which she generally played supporting roles. Death Carries a Cane was her first of only three gialli as a leading lady (the others were Death Walks on High Heels, as yet unavailable on DVD, and Death Walks at Midnight, a jaunty little offering reviewed here by Anthony Nield). She was 32 when she starred in her first giallo, and her lack of success could be attributed to the fact that she got into the game at a somewhat later age than her more youthful counterparts - which is a shame, because she definitely had a very particular screen prescence and a degree of energy that set her apart from most other giallo screen queens. Most notably, she possessed a very distinct combination of mature grace and playful eroticism that is hard to come by and again set her apart from the pack.
Given all her obvious strengths, therefore, it is a shame that she is so wasted in this film. She gets title billing and is very much the heroine, but for large stretches of the film you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise, as she all but disappears from view and leaves the legwork to her co-star, Robert Hoffmann. Her fans, of which I consider myself to be one, will no doubt be glad to hear that she gets naked a lot in this movie, but it's disappointing that her qualities as an actor are so criminally ingored here. Hoffmann himself is not a particularly engaging screen presence - he's no George Hilton, that's for sure - but he copes reasonably, even if he does bear an unsettling resemblance to Donald Sutherland. Props must go to Anuska Borova, the stunning blonde bombshell who plays twin sisters Silvia and Lydia with some aplomb. Her IMDB entry lists this film as her only ever gig, which makes me wonder if she was in fact appearing under a pseudonym.
Little remains to be said about the film. Pradeaux's direction is flat and uninspired - only in the murder scenes does he ever seem to come alive and actually take an interest in what he is shooting. The production design is also a major letdown. Given that gialli are so often renowned for their exotic locales and flamboyant architecture, it comes as something of a surprise that the film spends most of its time in nondescript urban streets and grotty slums. Even Roberto Pregadio's score is completely and utterly passable, with not a single memorable theme. It's also worth pointing out that the English dubbing in this film, and it would seem the script, are absolutely attrocious and render virtually every scene as insincere farce. Furthermore, despite a relatively brisk running time of 88 minutes, the whole thing seems stretched and overlong. Admittedly, watching the gorgeous Nieves Navarro swan around does help while away the minutes, but there's absolutely nothing of note to recommend in Death Carries a Cane - just an hour and a half of indifference. If you want to see Navarro strut her stuff in an environment that lets her shine, see the flawed but vastly more enjoyable Death Walks at Midnight. This is a giallo for completists only.
At least the lesbian, for once, didn't bite it. I'll give them some credit for that.
Death Carries a Cane arrives on DVD in completely unimpressive fashion from the ever unreliable X-Rated Kult DVD, whose attitude seems to be of the "anything goes" variety, frequently releasing DVDs that range from below average to nearly unwatchable. This title falls squarely into the latter category, I'm afraid. It's framed in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, which seems to be its correct format, but it's non-anamorphic and has been sourced from an incredibly poor quality print which is plagued by watered-down colours and all manner of damage throughout - including thick vertical hairs which run the length of the screen and are visible for more or less the entire duration of the film. Furthermore, a number of gore shots appear to have been sourced from VHS and, when viewable at all (most of the time their quality is so bad that it becomes impossible to see what's going on), they seem overly tight, suggesting that they came from a pan and scanned source and were zoomed in. To add insult to injury, the DVD keeps dropping in and out of interlaced mode, with some scenes being encoded progressively, but others exhibiting all manner of combing and ghosting. The opening credits, by the way, are in an odd combination of English and German.
The audio fares better but is still unimpressive. The German mono track sounds reasonably clear, but the English variant is worn and muffled, and at times seems to drift slightly out of sync with the picture. No subtitles are provided.
By the way, like all of the X-Rated Kult DVD releases I have owned so far, this title comes inside an oversized clamshell case that is a pain in the neck to store. It also comes in two different flavours, each using a different piece of artwork for the front cover. The "floating heads" variant, pictured in this review, is my preferred version.
Nothing to write home about here. All we get is the German trailer (in an even worse state than the film itself), the original Italian credits, which are essentially the same as the English/German ones tacked on to the film itself, although perhaps a bit more organic, a gallery that features various video covers and publicity stills, set to music from the film, and the largely text-based German press kit.
Poor DVD, average film - there really is nothing much to recommend here. If you're a fan of Nieves Navarro's performances or are a comprehensive giallo collector, you might want to give this release a look, but bear in mind that Death Carries a Cane is not a very good example of either. Either way, you'd be far better served with one of the more critically acclaimed offerings from the likes of Dario Argento or Sergio Martino, all of which are available on far better discs than this.