The Designated Victim Review
Like many, I imagine, I was drawn to the books of Patricia Highsmith through my first encounter with Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. When I first read the original book, I found that it put the film very much into second place. The movie compromised on Highsmith’s corruption of Guy, presenting a more heroic figure than was the case in the source. Hitch also was curtailed to intimations of Bruno’s sexuality and the satisfying moral greyness of Highsmith was all but lost.
The plot device of murderers who exchange victims has been used many times since, and whilst the original novel remains without a faithful cinematic counterpart, Mauricio Lucidi’s The Designated Victim does comes pretty close. Here the unwilling collaborator is manipulated and destroyed by his own vulnerable position and nature, and the relationship of an independently wealthy foppish toff and a less powerful, seemingly more masculine victim is satisfyingly explored.
Set in Venice, we meet the unhappily married and trapped Stefano, played with uncharacteristic restraint by Tomas Milian, snapping imaginary pictures of his beloved mistress. As we follow him through his unhappy married life and his fruitless efforts to break free, seemingly coincidental meetings with an elegant and wealthy Count Tiepolo recur and soon an odd kinship joins the men and they exchange tales of antagonists they’d like to disappear. Stefano laughs at the idea of a murderous pact, but his new friend is a master of circumstances and soon Stefano’s wife lies murdered with him dependent on the Count for exoneration. He will fight his fate but his growing incrimination will lead to being left with no choice but to close the killing circle.
Lucidi’s film pulls off a rare coup by being both dreamlike and well plotted. It is, I believe, a mistake to classify it as a giallo as it is so successful on basic thriller terms. It is tense, dramatically involving, and mysterious for all the right reasons. It avoids murder setpieces, ludicrous baroque narrative and sleaze or gore. The rare nudity it has occurs in a formidable title sequence as we join Milian looking through a lens much as he will as the film concludes. If Hitchcock’s film is a masterpiece of doubling with its repeated scenes, dual roles and circular locations, then Lucidi’s film is often as elegant in its construction.
Milian is an unfortunate pawn made vulnerable by his prison of matrimony, and then by his own horny actions. He is played like an instrument throughout, and his position, as the prey of Pierre Clementi’s Count, is wonderfully uneasy with a strong homoerotic element that seems to destabilise the bedhopping Milian. As the tormentor, Clementi’s initial fragility gives way to a kind of bad angel status as he destroys his prey’s chances of salvation or escape. The interplay between the two is superbly intimate with Clementi insinuating his way into Milian’s world only to take it over, and their relationship eventually resembling some kind of mystical food chain.
Well photgraphed to maximise the value of the location, and powerfully, if unusually acted. The plotting and delivery of this thriller is artful and it deserves to be seen as possibly the most notable of Shameless’ welcome releases. A masterful, forgotten thriller.
Transfer and Sound
The main feature seems to have been compiled from two or more print sources. One is a fullscreen print, possibly a TV recording, which has been cropped in order to blend in with the other much better quality widescreen print. This means that this is as full a cut of this film that may ever have been put together for the home video market, but the weaker source is quite poor quality, very murky and without detail or confident contrast or colour. It is mostly used as inserts which despite the efforts to merge the sources will be very obvious from the missing sides of the widescreen picture, so the overall anamorphic experience is interrupted by these letterboxed and cropped moments. The main print is quite good, with some signs of age like lines and marks and the transfer does struggle with keeping strong reds and oranges in check and the whites are not super clean. I did notice some tape noise during the film and mild aliasing, the fact is though that such a full print of this film needs to be celebrated as the difficult endeavour it clearly was.
The sound comes in Italian and English, with the quality of the English dub being far cleaner and reasonably well managed in terms of distortion. The Italian track is a little lo-fi, but the subs that come optionally are very reliable and well compiled. Unusually for a dual language disc, I found the English mix by far the easier to enjoy.
Discs and Special Features
Shameless' efforts on the extras of previous releases have not been as impressive as this release. The customary trailer reel of other products is here, but the film is also presented with a subtitled written commentary that pops up occassionally with snippets of information about the actors and the film to please those new to euro-cult genres and this movie. It is a little sporadic and more of a briefing device when returning to the movie later.
Also included are a number of other scenes which were filmed and have been taken from the inferior print source I mention above. Little of the sense of the movie is changed and a lot of the extra scenes are clearly redundant as they over explain or take mystery away from existing sequences. The film's trailer completes the extras along with an extensive gallery of promotional and poster art.
Strictly speaking, AV purists are not going to praise the transfer here but this is a labour of love of a truly remarkable forgotten movie. Possibly the best film Shameless have released, and one of my favourite releases of the year. Existing fans of the film will be pleased with the effort put in to present such a strong package.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 21:39:36