Friday, October 5, 2012

COLD EYES OF FEAR (1971)

I'm trying to get into a Halloween mood, but this wasn't a very good start. I launched Enzo G. Castellari's Gli Occhi Freddi Della Paura (the English title is a literal translation) expecting something like a giallo, but the closest we get to that is an opening gag that seems to give us what we're looking for -- a scantily clad woman menaced by a man with a knife -- only to pull back and reveal one of those morbid cabaret shows that Europeans were fond of in those days.




 
Karin Schubert stars in the live giallo within the film

This is England, actually, and Cold Eyes of Fear is yet another Italian film that imagines the sceptred isle as the land of dark doings. My hunch is that we're seeing the influence of Edgar Wallace and the German films (often themselves set in England) made from his novels in these Italian movies. In many ways, Cold Eyes is an old-fashioned thriller, if not necessarily the kind Wallace wrote.


In any event, among the audience for the sex-&-violence show are young lawyer Peter Flower (Gianni Garko) and an expatriate Italian prostitute, Anna (Giovanna Ralli) who romp through Swinging London a while before heading to the home of Peter's uncle, a highly respected judge (Fernando Rey). Little do they know that an intruder has already broken in and killed the butler. Julian Mateos plays the intruder, but the dominant performance is by whoever dubbed the role into English. While the rest of the dub artists play things straight, or dull, Mateos's dubber heads straight for cartoonland, issuing the sort of Cockney accent you might hear from a drunk anglophobic American.



The intruder is only setting the stage for his partner and mastermind, who arrives disguised as a policeman, having taken the uniform from a victim sent to the house by the judge to give Flower instructions for finding certain documents. It becomes apparent quickly that the home-invaders are working at cross purposes. Quill (Mateos) is only after money, while Welt (Frank Wolff) is after different kinds of papers. As delusional flashbacks reveal, Welt was sent up the river by the judge while his accomplices got off. Ever since, he has suspected that the accomplices bribed the judge to escape justice, and he hopes to find the proof in the judge's house. At the same time, he has booby trapped the judge's office to blow up should the official pull his door open to leave. Presumably he intends to publicize whatever evidence he expects to find to show the world why the judge deserved to die.

 
The majesty of the law: Fernando Rey presides; Frank Wolff protests
 

Cold Eyes is basically a cat-and-mouse story made occasionally interesting by the contrast between a fearless, defiant Anna and the feckless weakling Flower. Take Gianni Garko out of his Sartana costume and he's a lot less formidable, but his character hardens the more he comes to believe that Welt might be right about the judge, until he's at last ready to take violent action against his tormentors. Death by JB bottle is sure to be a highlight for certain fans of Italian genre cinema. Meanwhile, there are strong insinuations that Quill is a misogynist homosexual, though it's unclear whether Welt is that kind of a partner with him. This sort of story really isn't an ideal vehicle for an action specialist like Castellari, who entertains himself with Welt's fantasies of destruction and his persecution-complex flashbacks. The film definitely becomes less linear once Welt takes center stage, as if giving in to the villain's madness, but that description may make the film sound more interesting visually than it actually is. I dug the neon-lit night scenes actually shot in London, but otherwise it's a fairly uninspired film. Not even Ennio Morricone can do much to jazz it up. It must have seemed like an old-fashioned film even at the time it came out, because there's something timelessly tired about it.

4 comments:

Nigel Maskell said...

You are really far too kind to Cold Eyes of Fear!! What on earth was Castellari thinking.

I think this was the film, for me at least, that cemented the view that Castellari, at best, is a pretty inconsistent director. I loved Eagles Over London and later I really enjoyed most of his Eurocrime and much else he did. Castellari films are seldom dull.

This time I fancy that he misfired in the most spectacular fashion.

Justin Kosch said...

I royally disliked this movie. And it annoys me when it's lumped with gialli. My last prostate exam was more of a giallo than this film. At least that had a man wearing gloves. And nudity. And suspense.

Samuel Wilson said...

It's a relief to know I haven't offended legions of Cold Eyes of Fear fans out there with my criticisms. Justin, after seeing the thing I don't see why people think of this as a giallo, yet I have seen it described as such. Odd.

Aaron said...

I bought a copy of this from my local Borders when they closed but have avoided it this whole time because of all the bad things I heard about it - even from friends of mine who are pretty forgiving of bad movies. But I'm a fan of Gianni Garko (I somehow didn't realize he was in this), so I'll probably check it out. Good stuff, Samuel.