Code Red // 1970 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // August 28th, 2009
At least they know the butler didn't do it...he was the first body they found!
When the wealthy Sir Henry Carter passes gentle into that good night, his eclectic but vulturish family gathers at his estate for the reading of the will. Going in, they're not expecting any surprises -- only Sir Henry's niece, Barbara (opera singer Anna Moffo, La traviata), could tolerate him, and she stayed with him his final years. Sure enough, while the odd piece of crap gets doled out to this relative or that, Barbara inherits the bulk of the estate.
But before Barbara can celebrate -- or the rest of the family grumble -- Henry's loyal butler turns up dead. At first, everyone thinks it's a joke, the kind that Aunt Gladys' son, Georgie (Chris Chittell, Zulu Dawn), has a penchant for playing. But a local constable, on the scene because he is also a beneficiary, assures them that the butler is quite seriously dead.
With Scotland Yard on the case in the form of Inspector Grey (Lance Percival, Yellow Submarine), the family members consider that perhaps one of them is a killer, a possibility that horrifies them more from a social standpoint than a criminal or moral one. But why the butler? Before they can answer that, someone takes a shot at Barbara -- then, someone else turns up dead.
An Italian rendering of a British murder mystery, The Weekend Murders is a neat Agatha Christie riff made a few years before Murder on the Orient Express kicked off the flurry of Christie adaptations and knock-offs. Treading the lines of murder mystery, character comedy, and sex romp, this is a surprisingly fun film rescued from complete obscurity by Code Red.
Stylishly directed by Michele Lupo (The Revenge of the Gladiators), The Weekend Murders offers an intriguing little mystery with a house full of eccentric suspects, some murders, and close calls that are more comical than frightening. The actors seem to be having a great time with their quirky characterizations, particularly Chittell's Oedipal wreck of a young man, Marisa Fabbri (Four Flies on Grey Velvet) as his harpy of a parent, Percival as the overly cocksure inspector, and Gastone Moschin (The Godfather: Part II) as the dumb-like-a-fox constable. It's an "international cast" of people who never really reached "star status" in the US, but these B-Listers bring their A-Game to the film.
The film was released in the US in 1972 and distributed through MGM on a double bill with The Black Belly of the Tarantula. I guess the thinking was that since they were both Italian-made murder mysteries, they'd make sense together. Not really: The Black Belly of the Tarantula is a terrific movie, violent, sexy, and lurid, one of the better examples of the giallo films of the '60s and '70s. The Weekend Murders is not a giallo. Its sensibilities are English drawing room, filled with dry humor and wry observations. It would be like a double bill of Death on the Nile and Dead Calm, reasoning that they both play on boats and feature people with accents. In any event, while Black Belly turned up on DVD years ago from Blue Underground and developed a following as a well-made giallo, The Weekend Murders seems to have pretty well fallen off the map. Until now.
This is the second disc I've watched from Code Red -- the first was The Strangeness -- and I'm impressed. The company is taking films that seem to have little, if any, following, and turning out top-notch releases. For The Weekend Murders, we get a solid, "mastered in hi-def" anamorphic transfer that looks very good. There's some print damage here and there, but nothing more than you'd expect from a low-budget, 40-year-old film. Colors and contrasts look fine; overall, a commendable job. Audio is a mono track that's a bit low but still works alright. Subtitles would have been a great addition.
Much to the company's credit, we don't get a barebones disc; rather, there's a nice set of supplemental material, most of it focusing on American actor Peter Baldwin, who plays one of the suspects. Baldwin has worked as an actor and a director for nearly 60 years, winning an Emmy Award for directing an episode of The Wonder Years. This disc features a 20-minute on-camera interview with Baldwin, as well as a feature-length commentary with the actor and Scott Spiegel, producer of Hostel, plus a short introduction to the film. Baldwin's stories of his years in the business are just great. He remembers a lot about the film and tosses in plenty of stories about other people he's worked with, including Barbara Steele and Roberto Rossellini. Also included are a stills gallery and the original trailer.
The Weekend Murders is silly fun and well worth a look, but the big winner here is Code Red. Not only is the company giving us odd and obscure films, but for the most part, they're releasing them with decent tech and cool supplements. Showing the films some respect translates into showing consumers respect, and while its catalogue is still relatively small, Code Red has the potential to make real inroads in the niche DVD business.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Code Red
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Rated R