Blue Underground // 1965 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Russell Engebretson (Retired) // September 29th, 2011
She'd love to kill him -- and kill...to love him!
In the 21st Century, the human lust for war and violence is vitiated, or at least redirected, by the creation of a global game of legalized murder called "The Big Hunt." Participation in the game is voluntary, and players are matched in a lottery determined by computer. In the first round, one player is designated as Hunter and the other Victim. In the next round, the survivor (if a Hunter) will become a Victim; or conversely, the Victim becomes a Hunter. Surviving ten rounds nets the winner one million dollars and retirement from the game.
Hard and sharp as a stiletto, Marcello Polleti (Marcello Mastroianni, 8 1/2) is a charismatic blonde Italian killer with a taste for turtlenecks, black suits, yellow tinted horn-rimmed sunglasses, and gorgeous women. The NYC American murderess, ice queen Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress, What's New Pussycat), has a penchant for choreographed murders staged for a live audience. In the opening credits, she lures her Hunter into a club and performs an exotic dance that culminates in death by a bullet-spitting bikini top, apparently with bosoms trained to withstand massive recoil. As fate would have it, the famed pair of killers are selected as opposing contestants, with Caroline designated the Hunter.
In Italy, Marcello is bored with his mistress and mired in a messy divorce that has wiped out his bank account. His chances of identifying his Hunter are greatly reduced, due to lack of funds, and he has sunken into a detached funk, only interested in reading his extensive collection of comics (the preferred form of literature in the future). Caroline is approached by an American advertising agency that wants to capture her tenth kill on film for their client, Ming Tea. She is easily seduced by the agency's generous fee, and no doubt the unique opportunity to strut her murderous stuff on a worldwide stage. She arrives in Rome with a full film crew in tow, hoping to lure Marcello to the Temple of Venus for his grand, fatal finale. So begins the cat and mouse game between the world's most celebrated pair of charming, stone-cold killers.
Director Elio Petri's The 10th Victim was based on a 1953 short story, Seventh Victim, by the great -- and greatly under-appreciated -- science fiction writer Robert Sheckley. (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would not exist, as freely admitted by Douglas Adams, if it were not for Sheckley's cornucopia of inventive short stories, from which Adams and many others have freely borrowed.) After its success, Sheckley wrote a novelization of the movie and a couple more Hunter-Victim books. Alas, none to my knowledge have made their way to film.
Naturally enough, The 10th Victim is padded out considerably from the short story, though much of the dark humor remains intact. Sometimes, to the film's detriment, the black comedy is overshadowed by sex farce elements. For example, one scene is a literal war between the sexes as Marcello is chased by his ex and mistress in a running gun battle, and the ending, perhaps the weakest element of the movie, is an unsatisfying stab at a romantically happy finale rather than the satirically ruthless comeuppance the killers so richly deserve.
For those concerned about excessive violence, despite the many bullet-riddled corpses that litter the sets, not one drop of blood is spilled. In fact, rather miraculously, no bullet holes are discernible in the victims' clothing -- perhaps a scientific advancement in the future that conceals fatal wounds and instantly mends garments.
The 1960s view of the 21st Century is marvelously anachronistic: the black and white mod garb worn by the ad agency's dancers, the lack of cellular phones or personal computers, outdoor jazz clubs, highway rest stops/brothels called Relaxatoriums, and inflatable plastic furniture (thank goodness the last item has not come to pass, though the rest sounds agreeable enough). But it's all presented with such style and fun as to be easily forgiven. In fact, compared to the depressing present, it's a future that many might prefer to live in right now.
As for the disc, there is a singularly fine extra, a standard definition, hour and a half feature on Marcello Mastroianni that could easily be released as a stand-alone documentary. The other extras include photos and stills, and original trailers in both Italian and English.
The sound of the English dub is brighter than breaking glass and missing most of the bass and mid-range. That's unfortunate, because it's a really good dub that is tightly synched with the actors' lip movements, and quite often the spoken English is better than the English subtitles on the original Italian soundtrack. The Italian audio, on the other hand, has a pleasant, smooth mid-range with little hiss -- and, of course, the real voices of the actors. I prefer subtitles and rarely bother with English dubs of foreign movies, but the wildly divergent dialogue makes this one a treat to watch both ways. Both tracks are confined to the front pair of speakers, and sourced from the original mono.
The 2009 Blue Underground standard definition DVD (identical to the Anchor Bay 2001 release) was a fine upgrade from the old VHS and the worn-out prints shown on TV, but still washed out and marred by scratches and dirt. By comparison, the 1.85:1/1080p Blu-ray transfer, remastered from the original negative, is revelatory. Most of the film was shot in outdoor daylight or on brightly lit interior sets, yielding a broad range of colors and a crisp picture. Gianni Di Venanzo's cinematography is well-served by this new high definition transfer. Skin-tones appear realistic and natural, especially when compared to the dull brown flesh-tones of the DVD. In her first scene with Mastroianni, Ursula Andress' hot pink pant suit could not be more vivid, and the loosely draped light tan dress she wears later in the film shows every pleat and fold in detail. Contrast is very good (the outdoor club of white stone with jazz saxophonists playing atop black cubes is a good reference), yet shadow detail is not overwhelmed by black crush. It's a balanced, startlingly fine transfer. A couple of times I briefly saw small gobs of dirt at the top and bottom of the frame, and that's about as bad as it gets. I've seen Blu-ray transfers sourced from movies decades more recent than this one that are put to shame by The 10th Victim (Blu-ray). I wish all high-definition transfers were treated with the care and respect Blue Underground has lavished on this release.
The 10th Victim is a campy, satirical, mid-sixties Italian sci-fi movie starring Ursula Andress and Marcello Mastroianni in a dazzling high definition transfer. What more recommendation is needed?
Guilty of premeditated murder, and acquitted of all charges.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Italian)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Poster/Still Gallery