Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Man With Icy Eyes

Original title: L'uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio

Albuquerque, New Mexico. Senator Robertson is shot by an assassin in front of his own house. The killer absconds with a mysterious suitcase the politician was carrying. Very soon, the police suspect Mexican American Valdez of the deed. The man does after all have enough reasons (some of them political) to hate the senator, and there's enough circumstantial evidence to put the responsibility for Robertson's death on him. Valdez not being white sure doesn't hurt, either.

Italian American reporter Eddie Mills (Antonio Sabato) is working the case with some excitement, hoping to use it as leverage for a professional breakthrough that until now hasn't been coming for him because he's not white enough, either. Mills soon realizes that the most interesting aspect of the case is what happened to the suitcase Valdez supposedly took from Robertson. Because the police couldn't find it among the belongings of their preferred killer, they theorize the existence of an unseen accomplice in the deed. Mills decides to look for that man, and in his search finds the model Anne Sachs (Barbara Bouchet), who - as it turns out - was close to the senator's home when he was shot. Conveniently, Anne witnessed Valdez giving the suitcase to another man, soon to be dubbed "the man with the icy eyes". Though nobody manages to find this mysterious accomplice, Anne's statement will be an important factor in a trial that sees Valdez convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Eddie's editor John Hammond (Victor Buono actually bothering to act here, giving his character something I'd describe as "sardonic warmth") has his doubts about Anne's veracity, but his and Eddie's inquiries in this regard lead nowhere.

Only months later, on the day of Valdez' execution, new information convinces Eddie and Hammond that Anne has been lying all this time and they themselves might be partly responsible for bringing an innocent man to the gas chamber by having given her lies additional authority. In a race against time, haunted by a doubtful prophecy of death and some very real death threats, the reporter and his boss are trying to expose the true killer.

If you are one of those people who dislike the giallo genre for its setting of mood and ambiguity before a straightforward narrative, you might be positively surprised by The Man With Icy Eyes. In fact, Alberto De Martino's film is so straightforward that it often seems to come down more on the side of a conventional thriller than that of the giallo. Fortunately, The Man does err often enough from the more predictable path of the less Italian genre to stay interesting. There's that whole bizarre subplot about Robertson's astrologer prophesising Eddie's death at midnight after two other people have been murdered that is in part a red herring, in part a rather peculiar way to ratchet up the film's tension. That part of the plot feels as if someone had planted a piece of Cornell Woolrich where it wouldn't naturally belong just to make the landscape more interesting. It certainly keeps the film from becoming too obvious.

De Martino's direction is also quite straightforward for the genre he's working in. He puts the genre's usual (and lovely) stylistic excesses on the backburner and presents the plot as if his film were an action movie, just with more talk and less action. When the opportunity to include a fistfight (with Victor Buono pretending to hit people, even!) or a short chase sequence arises, De Martino's the right guy to make it tight and exciting, though.

While the script (as usual for an Italian genre film credited to half a dozen people, but turning out much more coherent than one would expect after hearing that) doesn't exactly burst with originality, it has its interesting elements. The film might not dive very deeply into the race and class aspects of the tale it tells, yet it does make clever enough use of it as an obvious part of the world its story takes place in. It also certainly isn't an accident that both Valdez and Eddie have a tougher life on account of their darker skin, giving the whole plot a vibe of Eddie throwing another man with whom he has more in common than with the people he works for to the wolves for his own betterment in a classic case of the disenfranchised getting complicit in their own demise. The film never gets too explicit about these connection, though - I'm not sure if distractibility or an attempt at subtlety is the reason for it, but there you have it.


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