DEATH WILL HAVE YOUR EYES (aka La Moglie Giovane, aka Infamia, aka Savage City)
starring Marisa Mell, Farley Granger, Francisco Rabal, Helga Line, and Riccardo Salvino
directed and co-written by Giovanni d’Eramo
released in the USA on DVD by Mya Communications
The American DVD release of the obscure 1974 Italian feature DEATH WILL HAVE YOUR EYES has not gotten very good reviews, mostly because people are complaining it’s not really a giallo (and it isn’t, and did not set out to be one, though it certainly has some of the flavor of a giallo) and because the source material is VHS quality, at best, and with all the incredible quality high-definition transfers and blu-rays of 1970’s Italian cinema having become available in recent years, people are getting spoiled. I’m not sure if this ever got any American theatrical release back in the day (although it WAS dubbed into English…the trailer included with this Italian-language feature is in English, although since Farley Granger is not doing his own voice on that trailer, I’m glad I’m seeing the film in Italian…it certainly plays a lot better than the ridiculous English dub), but if it did, it would surely have been at some backwater drive-in via a print that had been making the rounds for months upon months, so I have no problem with Mya’s picture quality here. Evidently they could not get a better copy, and we all would have been happy with having ANY print of this back in the 80’s. At least it does not have Dutch or Thai subtitles taking up the bottom third of the screen, like our grey-market copies of many films of this type.
Director Giovanni d’Eramo is a new name to me, and that’s not surprising, as he directed only two films in his long career (the other one was in the 1940’s), which consisted mostly of writing. Interestingly, he handled publicity for Gillo Pontecorvo’s film BURN, starring Marlon Brando, so perhaps he also worked in the publicity side of the Italian film industry while writing the occasional script or scenario. In any event, he makes no big mistakes here and he has a good eye. Also, the writing is intelligent, and the film is full of small touches that make it rise above the murder melodrama that it essentially is. For instance, when Farley Granger’s character—-a wealthy surgeon and professor who is lonely and looking for a wife—is dating Marisa Mell, Louisa, the lead character in the film, their relationship is depicted as a series of transfers of possessions from him to her. It’s as if he’s buying her on the installment plan, and after the final payment, she is his….which is exactly what’s happening, as there is no love between the two. Her poverty and his loneliness brought them to this, but as people of different classes (not only is he affluent, but a devoted classical music lover, art lover, poetry lover, and poet), they have next to nothing in common, and once they get married, she never really seems comfortable play-acting the part of the society wife. Actually, one of the most important themes one takes away from the film is the limited opportunities for women—and the film’s imagery and plot machinations underscore that theme.
Each of the five major characters in this film is lonely and either somewhat or totally desperate, and the four characters who are not wealthy are all looking for some kind of redemption through the promise of money and through aspiring to a bourgeois level. This being an Italian film, the class structure is not shied away from the way it often is in American cinema, and in the film’s final fifteen minutes, Marisa Mell and her blackmailer (played by Francisco Rabal) have long conversations about how their class background has determined their lives for them. Love doesn’t offer any consolation, except maybe temporarily, and everything seems to fall apart. Actually, make this film in 1948 and film it in black and white, and it would work as a film noir….much more than a giallo. It’s a bleak world where everyone’s a loser, in the big picture, and those who try to break free are struck down.
Marisa Mell (perhaps best known in North America for Mario Bava’s DANGER: DIABOLIK) is quite impressive as Louisa, the girl from the provinces who tries to find honest work in the big city but discovers women cannot get decent employment, so she succumbs to the temptation of “dating for money.” She does eventually get a job as a switchboard operator, where she works with a friend (played by Helga Line, star of many an early 60’s peplum and mid-60’s Euro-spy feature), but she leaves this to marry Farley Granger’s character. It’s a tribute to Mell that even when she (I don’t want to be a spoiler here, so I’ll keep it vague) commits crimes, we wish that she had had some better breaks along the way. She’s not really the Black Widow character one finds in Film Noir…to quote the old country song, “Life Turned Her That Way.” Of course, Farley Granger is always fine…no wonder Hitchcock used him in two of the master’s greatest films, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and ROPE, and Visconti used him in SENSO. During the early 70’s, he was alternating European films with American TV guest starring roles (I remember seeing him in the Ellery Queen episode that took place on New Year’s Eve and had Guy Lombardo in it…he was a hoot!), and eventually worked on the soaps THE EDGE OF NIGHT and AS THE WORLD TURNS…and of course, he also appeared on THE LOVE BOAT and MURDER, SHE WROTE, the standard course for a Hollywood star of the 40’s and 50’s who was still working in the 80’s.
Those expecting much nudity or sleaze will be let down…and there’s no gore either…it’s really a psychological drama with meditations on the class structure, with a bleak view of modern life….all of it set to a sparkling yet somber lounge-score from Stelvio Cipriano (the soundtrack album is pictured below) that could just as easily have come from THE ANONYMOUS VENETIAN…
The original Italian title for the film translates as THE YOUNG WIFE and an alternate title was SAVAGE CITY, both of which fit the film well, but I prefer DEATH WILL HAVE YOUR EYES. The line comes from a poem read by Farley Granger’s character on a tape recording (though not written by the character, who is a poet…in the dialogue, he states that he’s reading another poet’s work on that tape), and that tape is played THREE TIMES in the movie. It’s the perfect poetic motif for the film, as you’ll see when you view it.
Once again, though this is being sold as an obscure giallo, it really is not….it lacks the stylized visuals and the Hitchcock influence (despite having a Hitchcock star in it) and, fortunately, the violence against women one associates with the genre. However, entering the film having no idea what it was, I found it an excellent way to kill 95 minutes….and if a film noir style scenario set in early 70’s Italy excites you, copies of this are available cheap online….I paid $4 for mine!
MARISA MELL as Louisa in DEATH WILL HAVE YOUR EYES
Farley Granger (w/ Alida Valli) from Luchino Visconti’s SENSO (1954)