Cult Epics release Tinto Brass’ thriller from 1967 starring Jean Louis Trintignant and Ewa Aulin. John takes the bullet…
For those of us who delight in the sub genres of Italian cinema from the sixties and seventies, one of the strange joys of watching the films is noticing the attempts to piggyback on another movie. Just think about all of those westerns that have Django added to the title, the references to animals in the titles of gialli, and the glut of movies seemingly set in Blighty or having a British connection. Tinto Brass’ early thriller fits very nicely into the last category as it comes the year after Antonioni’s Blow-Up, and features London Buses, Picadilly Circus, photographic models and lots of swinging sixties culture.Happily, Brass doesn’t try to hide this fact, and he even quotes Antonioni on screen at one point. It would be wrong though to find Brass’ film purely derivative as it is obviously intended as a nod to all sorts of thrillers before it and enjoys self parody throughout. There are some annoying piece of de rigeur experimentation in the use of the camera, much as in Lenzi’s similar Dirty Pictures, but Brass manages to create a thriller that frolics through seedy worlds of blackmail, jail bait sex and murder.
I would note that any success here is not the screenplay’s doing. The film meanders, jumps in and out of narrative, and is a completely redundant whodunnit. It seems though that the director knows this and opts to take the mickey out of the story and mine the fun of the set pieces. At one stage towards the film’s conclusion, the identity of the killer is effectively given away by Brass concentrating on a railway advertisement of a book title and then cutting back to a particular character. For the director what seems to matter here is the visual gag rather than any pretensions to building up tension.It is the plentiful touches that Brass gives the film that provide most of the entertainment. The story is a film noir knock off which sees out of work actor Jean Louis Trintignant playing amateur sleuth to protect pouting lovely Ewa Aulin who he finds over a dead body at the film’s opening. JLT’s efforts to learn the truth cast suspicion over Aulin’s character’s family, there is an attempted kidnap by a pervy dwarf, scenes in swinging discos, and quite a lot of visual humour.
This director has rightly received much criticism for his erotica where he repeats formulaic female empowerment stories alongside some pretty unreconstructed leering. However, from the evidence here, it is interesting to note that the young director was keen on taking risks and parodying the form. Examples of these qualities include JLT’s introduction in the film with him saying virtually nothing for the first 10 minutes, constant referencing of film noir and classic detective movies, Batman “Kapow” type intertitles during the fights, and the pathetic sight of our supposed hero getting beaten up by a little person.The erotic moments are interestingly done as well. There is a love scene in a photographic studio which breaks from Antonioni copy to silent movie pastiche completed with speeded up ravishing and Tarzan gag, and the first “meeting” of the two leads is all veils, punchy editing and coloured lights. The camera enjoys Aulin whose short career saw her in demand in Italian exploitation, and the titillation here is relatively tame given how she “inspires” Klaus Kinski in Joe D’Amato’s dreadful Death Smiles at Murder. Aulin and JLT have some chemistry, and her startling beauty explains how bewitched his character becomes. The two would work again together in the intriguing Death Laid an Egg later that year.
Brass’s attempt at a thriller is therefore quite light in tone and if you consider this his nod to Antonioni, like Snackbar Budapest seems like a parody of Fellini, then you may enjoy it and its flaws very much.
Transfer and Sound
I have been unable to confirm if this transfer is a standards conversion but it is heavily interlaced. This is a real pity as the underlying print seems basically sound with very minor damage and some dirt present. Whilst this is sharpish, contrast is very unreliable and colours are washed out with skin tones often looking as if they are smeared onto the screen. Contours have been artificially enhanced and characters are often haloed, there are compression artefacts and instances of combing, and some moments which made me suspect that the framing may have been cropped at the top of the image. Once I had adjusted my equipment to de-interlace the transfer it did look much better, but perhaps most buyers won’t be so fortunate.The sound is provided by a single Italian mono track with optional good English subtitles. I did find the whole track slightly dull and lacking in clarity, but there are no issues in terms of distortion. There is a moment of sound drop-out which doesn’t lose any dialogue and may be a partially intended effect, but it jars all the same. Similarly the film’s conclusion involves the left channel going very very quiet for no obvious reason for a couple of minutes before returning to a proper balance.
Discs and Special Features
Tinto Brass provides a commentary for this release in English. He mentions some recent positive reviews, and moves on to how he cast the film with lots of praise for Trintignant’s professionalism and character. Brass talks about problems with lighting necessitating the black and white sequences, and he claims they shot the entire film very loosely. Brass is honest about not liking the genre and being happier when dealing with the erotic, the comic, and the “grotesque”. He talks well and easily throughout with little hesitation except for a longish pause in the last few scenes.
The trailer sells the film as a swinging thriller and includes a hefty spoiler. The lobby card gallery contains five black and white images from the French publicity for the film.
This is an all-region dual layer disc with simple poster art menus accompanied by the film’s theme song.
Before he got lost in soft core porn, Brass was an interesting and literate film-maker. Deadly Sweet is no classic but it is a jolly frolic of a giallo and worth a spin for fans of the genre. The Cult Epics transfer is not great, but this carries English subtitles whilst the Italian Medusa disc doesn’t.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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