Italian Horror Showcase: Who Saw Her Die (dir by Aldo Lado)


Did you know that today is World James Bond Day?

It certainly is!  Today is the 55th anniversary of Dr. No and therefore, it’s the day when we celebrate all things Bond!

Now, it may seem strange to start a review of a classic giallo like 1972’s Who Saw Her Die? by talking about the James Bond franchise but the two do have something in common.

George Lazenby.

George Lazenby was the Australian model who was selected to replace Sean Connery in the role of 007.  It was Lazenby’s first big break and it also nearly destroyed his career.  Lazenby played the role only once, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Though many modern critics have come to recognize that film as one of the best installments in the franchise, contemporary critics were far less impressed.  After the disappointing reception of OHMSS, it was announced that Lazenby would be leaving the role and, in Diamonds Are Forever, Connery returned to the role.

What happened?  Why did George Lazenby exit one of the biggest film franchises in the world?  In my research, I’ve come across several different theories.  Some say that Lazenby voluntarily quit because he either wasn’t happy with the direction of the franchise or he didn’t get want to get typecast.  Others say that Lazenby was fired from the role because he was difficult to work with and was viewed as being a diva.  Others have said that Lazenby was viewed as being too stiff of an actor to continue in the role of James Bond.

Obviously, I can’t say whether Lazaneby was difficult to work with or not.  Nor can I even begin to speculate on what he thought of the franchise’s direction.  But, as far as this idea that Lazenby wasn’t a good actor goes … well, all I can say is have you even seen Who Saw Her Die?

As you can probably tell from the trailer, Who Saw Her Die? might as well take place on a totally different planet from the Bond films.  Who Saw Her Die? is an atmospheric and, at times, nightmarish giallo.  A murderer of children — complete with black gloves and a black veil, because this is a giallo film, after all — is stalking Venice.  When the daughter of architect Franco Serpieri (George Lazenby) is murdered, Franco and his ex-wife (Anita Strinberg) search for the murderer and discover a connection to a previous murder that occurred, years before, at a French ski resort.

It’s a dark and disturbing film, perhaps the most emotionally intense giallo film that I’ve ever seen.  A year before Nicolas Roeg did the same thing with Don’t Look Now, director Aldo Lado captures Venice as a city of both great beauty and great decay.  Every scene features the ominous shadow of death hanging over it and, after the murder of Roberta Serpieri (Nicolette Elmi), the viewer is painfully aware that everyone that we see is a potential child murderer.  Is it the artist?  Is it the priest?  Or is it some random passerby?  This film keeps you guessing.

And holding the entire film together is George Lazenby.  At the time, I’m sure that some said it was a step down to go from playing James Bond to appearing in a low-budget Italian thriller but Lazenby gives such an emotional and empathetic performance that it should silence anyone who has ever said that Lazenby was a stiff actor.  It’s not just that Franco wants justice for his daughter.  It’s also that he’s haunted by his own guilt.  Franco abandoned his daughter, leaving her on the streets of Venice, so that he could get laid.  If he had been with there, the killer never would have targeted her.  As played by Lazenby, Franco is motivated not just by rage but also by a need to redeem himself.  He is equally matched by Anita Strindberg, who perfectly captures the raw pain and rage of a mother who has lost her child.  Perhaps the film’s strongest moment features Franco and his ex-wife making love after their daughter’s funeral.  The scenes of their love-making  are intercut with scenes of them crying in bed afterwards, a technique that, a year later, Nicolas Roeg would also use for Don’t Look Now‘s famous sex scene.  Together, Stindberg and Lazenby make Who Saw Her Die? into the rare whodunit where you care as much about the future of the characters as you do the solution to the mystery.

Who Saw Her Die? is an excellent and powerful giallo and proof that George Lazenby was more than just someone who once played James Bond.

George Lazenby (center) in Who Saw Her Die?

Bond Goes Deep!: THUNDERBALL (United Artists 1965)


cracked rear viewer

THUNDERBALL, the fourth 007 adventure, will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s the first James Bond movie I saw at the theater, released at the height of the Secret Agent/Spy craze, and I was totally hooked! I even had all the toys that went with the movie, including Emilio Largo’s two-part boat the Disco Volante, with which I engaged in mighty battles in the bathtub against VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA’s Seaview (hey, I was only seven!).

SPECTRE is at it again, this time hijacking a NATO jet loaded with two nuclear bombs, and holding the world hostage. Bond, sent to recuperate at a health spa, stumbles on to trouble related to the crisis, and is sent by MI6 to investigate Domino Derval, sister of the NATO pilot. This leads 007 to Domino’s “guardian” Emilio Largo, a rich and powerful man who’s Number Two…

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Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Monsignor (dir by Frank Perry)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  It’s taking her longer than it took Saint Malachy to transcribe The Prophecy of the Popes!  She recorded the 1982 film, Monsignor, off of Retroplex on March 8th!)

Maybe it’s because I’m a fourth Italian and I was raised Catholic but Monsignor amused the Hell out of me.

See, Monsignor is a big, sprawling epic about the Church and the Mafia.  I don’t know much about the production of this film but, having watched it, I’m going to guess that it was made by people who were neither Catholic nor Italian.  This is one of those films that is so full of clichés and inaccuracies and yet so self-important that it becomes oddly fascinating to watch.

It tells the story of Father John Flaherty (Christopher Reeve, an Episcopalian who gives a performance so wooden that one worries about getting splinters just from watching it).  When we first meet Father Flaherty, he’s just taken his orders.  He’s a good Irish kid from Brooklyn.  The neighborhood’s proud of him, because he has volunteered to serve as a chaplain in the army.  (The film opens during World War II.)  The neighborhood is even prouder when he performs a Mafia wedding.  Don Appolini (Jason Miller), who may be a mobster but who still loves the Church, is especially impressed.  He expects big things from Father Flaherty.

(The father of the bride, incidentally, is played by Joe Spinell, who played Willy Chicci in Godfathers One and Two and who achieved a certain infamy when he starred in Maniac.)

Father Flaherty goes to war and discovers that it’s not easy to be a man of God in a war zone.  Everywhere around him, soldiers are either dying or losing their faith.  (Perhaps it would help if Father Flaherty knew how to properly conduct a Requiem Mass but the movie screws that up, with Flaherty saying, “”Requiescat in pace” when he clearly should have said, “Requiescant in pace.”)   After trying, in vain, to comfort a mortally wounded man, Flaherty snaps, picks up a machine gun, and starts blowing away Germans.

Having broken the Thou Shalt Not Kill Commandment and indulged in one of the seven deadly sins, Father Flaherty apparently decides to commit every other sin as well.  Or, at least, it seems like that’s his plan.  The thing is, Christopher Reeve’s performance is bland that it’s difficult to guess what could possibly be going on inside of Flaherty’s head.  Is he disillusioned with the church or does he still have faith?  When he says that he feels guilty over his transgressions, is he being sincere or is he lying?  It’s impossible to tell because, when it comes to Father Flaherty, there’s no there there.  He’s literally an empty vessel.

That, of course, doesn’t stop him from becoming a powerful man in the Church.  Through his Mafia connections, he makes a fortune on the black market and launders money for the church.  He also has sex with a cynical, nymphomaniac postulant nun, who is something of a stock figure in films like this.  In this case, the role is played by Genevieve Bujold.  Despite the stereotypical nature of her character, Bujold comes the closest of anyone in the cast to giving a nuanced performance but her character abruptly vanishes from the film.  One can literally hear the producers in the background saying, “Okay, we’ve indulged in the sexy nun thing.  Send her home now.”

Towards the end of the film, there’s a flash forward that is so abrupt that I didn’t even realize it had happened until I noticed that Christopher Reeve and Jason Miller now had a little gray in their hair.  The flash forward doesn’t really accomplish much.  Father Flaherty has lost a lot of the Mafia’s family and the Mafia’s not happy about it.  It’s kinda like the Vatican subplot in The Godfather Part III, just with less interesting actors.

Anyway, Monsignor obviously thinks that it has something to say about both the Church and the Mafia but it’s actually remarkably empty-headed.  Strangely enough, for an epic film that cost 10 million dollars to make (that’s in 1982 money), the whole film looks remarkably cheap.  If a community theater decided to put on a production of Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal, the end result would probably end up looking a lot like Monsignor.

And yet, I really can’t hate Monsignor.  It’s so bad that, as I said earlier, it’s also oddly fascinating.  You watch and you ask yourself, How many details can one film about Catholicism get wrong?  How many Italian stereotypes can be forced into a movie with a Mafia subplot?  Now, I should point out that, at no point, does Don Appolini say, “Mama mia!” but, if he had, I wouldn’t have been surprised.  It’s just that type of film.

Anyway, Monsignor is so sordid and stupid that it becomes entertaining for all the wrong reasons.  If you’re into that, you’ll enjoy Monsignor.

James Bond Review: Thunderball (dir. by Terence Young)


The Shattered Lens is taking on all of the Bond Films, one a day until the U.S. Release of Skyfall on November 9th. Today, we approach the fourth Bond Picture, Thunderball. Before I start, I should note that this film actually has a bit of controversy behind it. Thunderball had the potential to become one of the first Bond films, but a law suit in 1961 stating that Ian Fleming’s novel for the story was based on the screenplay for the film. Producer Kevin McClory was able to win the lawsuit and hold on to the rights. This would later result in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, with Sean Connery returning to play the same role in the same story as he did in 1965. In the meantime, Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger were released with great success.

Before watching the movie, I watched a 1965 documentary from NBC called “The Incredible World of James Bond”, which talked about Ian Fleming, James Bond, and the overall popularity of the character. By the time Goldfinger came out, you’d find lines around theatres all around the world. People were buying colognes and watches – if it had 007 written on it, it was an easy sale. Both the books and the movies were doing extremely well. So with Thunderball being the latest release, it was similar to having perhaps the next Harry Potter or Twilight film on the way. I also learned that Q (Desmond Llewelyn) actually has a name, Major Boothroyd. That was cool to discover.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed Thunderball.  It’s the only Bond film I’ve never seen and the production values for the film were some of the most elaborate around at the time of it’s release. They went out of their way to create submersible machines and other equipment, but the fact that so much of the film took place underwater really caused me to lose interest in what was going on. Granted, it may be fun for many people, but I really wanted to them to give me a few more locales under than the major underwater harpoon fight that occurs near the film’s action climax. Both Tom Jones’ theme song (which describes Bond’s approach to things) and John Barry’s score help to set the mood of the story.

Thunderball continues the SPECTRE story started with Dr. No. Originally, this was supposed to be SMERSH, but that was a real group, much like the KGB or CIA. For movie purposes, SMERSH became SPECTRE to avoid giving any of the Bond stories an anti-nation slant. This would also be done with Quantum of Solace, the organization being something private rather than being any kind of counter intelligence group. This time around, the story opens with Bond attending the funeral of one of the SPECTRE members, and on seeing his wife getting into a car on her own (something I didn’t see as wrong), he follows her to her home to confront her. It’s revealed that the widow is actually the SPECTRE agent (I wasn’t expecting the punch that revealed it), and in the fight Bond ends up killing him. He makes a quick exit and uses a jet pack to get out of the building, where his Aston Martin is waiting for him. It was kind of interesting to see that there was that kind of technology in the 60s.

SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) is given the task to acquire two Nuclear weapons and decides he’s going to blow up Miami if he doesn’t get his way. Bond is assigned to stop him, and along the way he meets Domino (Claudine Auger), who assists him on this.

At the time of it’s release, Thunderball was a major hit and even won an Academy Award. It managed to come out at the height of Connery’s career as the secret agent. It does suffer from one or two flaws. As most of the story takes place on or near a beach, there are tons of underwater sequences, including a full out battle. Even Finding Nemo took some time to stay on the surface once in a while. This doesn’t make Thunderball a terrible film at all, it simply focuses the story on one element. I would have liked a little more variety.

Q’s gadgets for Bond this time around included a Geiger Counter, a rebreather, an underwater camera, and a personal flare gun, all for the life aquatic.

Overall, Thunderball’s a good film to watch if you’re doing what we’re doing here and are watching the films in a series. You may find yourself a little bothered by the amount of underwater scenes, but the movie still manages to keep some of the spy vibe of the earlier films. Below is Tom Jones’ theme to the film. Tomorrow, the Shattered Lens will take on the David Niven / Peter Sellers version of Casino Royale.

Book Review: The Eurospy Guide by Matt Blake and David Deal


Sometimes, believe it or not, I feel very insecure when I come on here to talk about movies because, unlike most of my fellow writers and the site’s readers, I’m actually pretty new to the world of pop culture and cult films.  Up until 8 years ago, ballet was my only obsession.  It was only after I lost that dream that I came to realize that I could feel that same passion for other subjects like history and writing and movies.  In those 8 years, I think I’ve done a fairly good job educating myself but there’s still quite a bit that I don’t know and, at times, I’m almost overwhelmed by all the movies that I’ve read so much about but have yet to actually see.  And don’t even get me started on anime because, honestly, my ignorance would simply astound you.  What I know about anime — beyond Hello Kitty — is pretty much limited to what I’ve read and seen on this site.  (I do know what a yandere is, however.  Mostly because Arleigh explained it to me on twitter.  I still don’t quite understand why my friend Mori kept using that as her own personal nickname for me back during my sophomore year of college but that’s a whole other story…)

The reason I started soul searching here is because I’m about to review a book — The Eurospy Guide by Matt Blake and David Deal — that came out in 2004 and I’m about to review it as if it came out yesterday.  For all I know, everyone reading this already has a copy of The Eurospy Guide in their personal collection.  You’ve probably already spent 6 years thumbing through this book and reading informative, lively reviews of obscure movies.  You may already know what I’ve just discovered.  Well, so be it.  My education is a work in progress and The Eurospy Guide has become one of my favorite textbooks.

The Eurospy Guide is an overview of a unique genre of films that started in the mid-60s and ended with the decade.  These were low-budget rip-offs — the majority of which were made in Italy, Germany, and France — of the Sean Connery-era James Bond films.  These were films with titles like Code Name: Jaguar, Secret Agent Super Dragon, More Deadly Than The Male, and Death In a Red Jaguar.  For the most part, they starred actors like George Nader, Richard Harrison, and Eddie Constantine who had found the stardom in exploitation cinema that the mainstream had never been willing to give to them.  They featured beautiful and underappreciated actresses like Marilu Tolo and Erika Blac and exotic, over-the-top villainy from the likes of Klaus Kinski and Adolfo Celi.  Many of these films — especially the Italian ones — were directed by the same men who would later make a name for themselves during the cannibal and zombie boom of the early 80s.  Jess Franco did a few (but what genre hasn’t Jess Franco experimented with) and even Lucio Fulci dabbled in the genre.  Their stories were frequently incoherent and, just as frequently, that brought them an undeniably surreal charm. 

And then again, some of them were just films like Operation Kid Brother, starring Sean Connery’s younger brother, Neil.  (Operation Kid Brother was an Italian film, naturally.)

Well, all of the films — from the good to the bad (and no, I’m not going to add the ugly) — are covered and thoroughly reviewed in The Eurospy Guide.  Blake and Deal obviously not only love these films but they prove themselves to be grindhouse aficionados after my own heart.  Regardless of whether they’re reviewing the sublime or the ludicrous, they approach each film with the same enthusiasm for the potential of pure cinema run amuck.  It’s rare to find reviewers who are willing to pay the same respect to a film like The Devil’s Man that they would give to a sanctioned classic like The Deadly Affair.

Along with reviewing a countless number of films, Deal and Blake also include two great appendices in which they detail the review some of the film franchises that came out of the genre and provide biographies of some of the more prominent stars of the eurospy films.

The highest compliment I can pay to The Eurospy Guide is that, even with all the various films guides I own (and I own a lot), I found films reviewed and considered in this book that I haven’t found anywhere else.  Everytime I open this book, I learn something that, at least to me, is new.  The book was an obvious labor of love for Blake and Deal and I love the results of their labor.

So, if you already own a copy, you rock. 

And if you don’t, order it.