Friday, May 12, 2017

Past Misdeeds: Psychout For Murder (1969)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Licia (Adrienne Larussa, in the same year she also appeared in Fulci's version of Beatrice Cenci), the daughter of a successful - and consequently highly corrupt - businessman (director Rossano Brazzi) is taken out for a nice bit of couple time in a bordello by her boyfriend Mario (Nino Castelnuovo). Alas, the cops are raiding the place and a whole lot of photographers are waiting in front of the door, too. Turns out Mario himself called them in a successful attempt to steer Licia into a compromising situation to get a blackmail handle on Daddy. Personally, I wouldn't try to do my blackmailing with photos that are already in the hands of the yellow press, but what do I know?

Daddy is paying Mario anyway. He, the rest of the family and their equally disgusting friends in business and church decide that the best way to save his face in front of the public (here's where the film's original title comes in) is to declare Licia to be mentally imbalanced and put her into a mental institution for a time.

Licia, betrayed by everyone she ever trusted, doesn't take to the clinic or the betrayal too well and has a real breakdown there. After her discharge, the young woman begins to act rather disturbingly. She gets in contact with Mario again and convinces him of a much more interesting blackmail attack on her father, and begins a long-form seduction of her sister's husband. Licia also adds a lot of little malicious things to make her Daddy's life miserable to her daily schedule, the sort of things only a once loving daughter could come up with. Everything she does is of course part of a complicated plan to destroy her family for what they've done to her. Daddy is, in good Freudian fashion, his little girl's central victim.

Psychout for Murder does not carry its very late 60s sounding title without a reason. Even in the terrible looking, bleached Alpha Video version of the film I saw, there's no escaping the decade's obligatory far-out-ness in interior decoration and fashion, and I can't help but imagine some equally mind-blowing colour schemes where my print only shows everything in the pale tones of various sorts of camembert. The film's music alone (by Benedetto Ghiglia), sounding exactly you'd expect music in an Italian movie of the era to sound, is enough to disperse any thought of browns and greys from a viewer's mind. I'd use the word "groovy" if it weren't so undignified.

Rossano Brazzi usually didn't stand behind the camera much, but had spent most of his working time (starting in 1938) as an actor in roles large and small, something that wouldn't change at all after this, his third and last work as a director. Brazzi's direction is not as psychedelic as the art direction would lead one to hope. For long stretches, the man shoots about as straight as any director of 50s Westerns, just with short breaks in the conventional in form of intense little fast-editing freak-outs that again scream "1969" as loudly as a purple wig. This doesn't mean Brazzi doesn't know what he's doing. The director just doesn't seem to want to step in the trap of over-directing everything actors working behind the camera are so often trampling into; Brazzi just trusts into his script and his co-actors and does not feel the need to show off with his work behind the camera.

The film also lacks the other big problem of film's directed by actors who are also on screen. There's nothing of the horrible "Look at me being a great actor!" that can make this sort of thing so tiring. In fact, Brazzi lets his co-actors shine as much as possible. That is of course something this particular cast, full of people like Brazzi who you've probably seen in dozens of Italian genre pictures but won't necessarily be able to name, does very well indeed, even though a rather rough English dub track might distract the novice in Italian genre cinema from their achievements. I've heard much worse dubs in Italian films, but then I always have seen or heard worse things when it comes to movies.

The weakest link in Psychout's acting is probably Adrienne Larussa (in her first film role, no less), who, as Licia, is appearing in nearly every scene. I wouldn't be very surprised if she'd been cast for her looks (a certain type of brittle and strained - and again very 60s - long-haired beauty) first, and for her acting abilities second. The actress is perfectly fine in her more measured scenes, or when staring emptily or hurt into a mirror, but whenever the script calls for a more intense and direct moment of breaking down, she's just a bit too showily melodramatic to be believable, especially in direct comparison with her more subtle co-actors.

Of course, the film's script does at times tend a bit in the direction of needless melodrama too, with one or two scenes from the soap operatic lives of the decadent and corrupt rich played a bit too earnestly for what they contain. I did, on the other hand, really enjoy the film's other face, its sardonic joy at first showing the trinity of church, business and state and their favourite institution the family as corrupt and perfectly willing to sacrifice an innocent like Licia just to make their own existence a bit easier, and then seeing it destroyed through its own vices in a way you'll only see in exploitation cinema, with a sneer not very well hidden under a candy-coloured surface. And because that alone wouldn't be fun enough, Brazzi adds a nice helping of half-digested Freudianism and a merry sense of the perverse to the mix, all the better to give his film a giant undertow of black humour to rub against the melodrama.

To me, this looks like about as much as one could wish for from a nearly forgotten giallo.

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