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 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.