Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cold Eyes Of Fear (1971)

Original title: Gli occhi freddi della paura

Italian prostitute-in-London-exile Anna (Giovanna Ralli) did probably not expect going home with charming young solicitor Peter Flower (Gianni Garko) would end up to be quite as dangerous.

Soon after the couple has arrived at the home Peter shares with his uncle, Judge Flower (Fernando Rey), the corpse of the house's butler falls out of a cupboard, and they are threatened by a cockney with a gun (Julián Mateos). Quill, as the guy is called, doesn't actually seem to want anything from his victims right now, so a long, tense wait for something the criminal's victims are not sure of ensues.

Eventually, a cop (Frank Wolff) sent by the judge with a snarky "put away your strippers for a moment and look up some law for me" letter for Peter arrives. However, when Peter tries to clue the cop in on his plight, all he gets in return is a fist in his face, for the cop isn't really a cop, but Arthur Welt, the brain behind the whole strange criminal affair. Arthur has a plan that involves murdering the Judge for revenge and looting his house of certain files; his problem is that he doesn't know where the files are located, so he and Quill need to stay much longer at the Judge's villa than they'd like to. A cat-and-mouse game between them, Peter, and Anna begins that may turn deadly at any moment.

We who know and love the body of work of director Enzo G. Castellari mostly love him for his Eurocrime films, his handful of Spaghetti Western and his post-apocalyptic movies - all basically different kinds of action films - while ignoring his horrible TV action comedies (don't talk to me about the Extralarge films, maaan) as well as his more interesting sporadic expeditions into other genres. Often, that's pretty understandable, for the films Castellari took on outside of his core genres often aren't quite as exciting or complex as his action films are, even when they are not utter tripe.

Cold Eyes Of Fear is Castellari's contribution to the giallo. The film comes down heavily on the suspense-based thriller side of the genre, working with a plot thrillers have used at least since the time of the noir (I suspect since the beginning of time). Large parts of the film (with the big exception being the pretty random inclusion of a fight between bikers, what looks like fat karateka to me, and the police that might hint at the direction Castellari's post-apocalyptic movies would later take) take place inside of a few rooms inside of a villa, the Judge's office and a police call centre, therefore preventing Castellari from indulging in the awesome, largely movement-based action scenes he is so good at.

Instead the director uses fast, sometimes nervous cuts, his zoom lens, a bit of standard giallo stylishness and lots of close-ups on the faces of a fine cast doing fine work to bring a sometimes tight, sometimes flabby script to life. Castellari also indulges in moments of pop-art surrealism to illustrate his characters' inner lives, which clearly isn't playing to his strengths; these scenes work on a camp level, but aren't as good at fulfilling the function of fleshing out the characters as they are supped to do, especially when you keep in mind that an actor like Wolff really has no need for this sort of visual crutch to show that his character is losing it fastly.

Still, the film does work more often than not, and even finds time to ask questions about some of Castellari's pet themes - the difference between justice and the law, as well as the influence of class on the two - as ever without finding any satisfactory answers. In fact, there's an especially great, silent moment between Garko and Rey right at the film's end that probably says more about the nature of corruption than any long philosophical discussion ever could.

Yet even if it weren't for that moment or the performances of the cast throughout the film, it would be worth it getting through Cold Eyes of Fear's too slow moments for the fantastic climax that once again demonstrates Castellari's class as a director of physical violence, be it between hordes of thugs or just between four frightened and mad people in a dark house.

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