Perhaps best-remembered for its casting of former one-time-only James Bond star George Lazenby and its noticeable parallels to Nicholas Roeg’s subsequent masterwork DON’T LOOK NOW (1973), Aldo Lado’s memorable giallo WHO SAW HER DIE?(1972) also adheres to the template set out by Dario Argento’s trailblazing THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970). What it also accomplishes is a harmonious sense of balance between the genre’s usual stylistic—at times excessive—touches (best-exemplified here by Ennio Morricone’s haunting choral score), while including a roster of compelling, authentically-delineated characters of a kind rarely seen in the more formulaic commercial cinema of this sort. While it’s safe to say that the aforementioned Roeg film remains without equal, WHO SAW HER DIE? definitely has far more on his mind than being a mere copycat giallo, so however you choose to categorize it, Lado’s gripping, deeply-affecting film still stands as one of the more indelible entries said genre has to offer.
While Roberta (juvenile actress Nicoletta Elmi, who has long since become an Italo-horror icon) is visiting her father Franco (Lazenby), a sculptor living in Venice, she captures the attention of an old woman (dressed in a deathly-funereal black dress, and a matching black-veiled hat to boot), who begins systematically stalking her among the decaying canals and eerie backstreets of “The Floating City”, and when the opportunity presents itself, Roberta is brutally murdered. In the aftermath of his daughter’s death, and feeling guilty about having left her alone in the park in order that he might spend some time with his girlfriend Gabriella (Rosemarie Lindt), Franco becomes determined to solve their daughter’s mysterious murder, while her mother, his estranged wife Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg), newly-arrived from London, becomes increasingly concerned about Franco’s obsessive resolve. No thanks to the ineffectual police force (here represented by Inspector De Donati [Sandro Grinfa]), Franco begins to uncover plenty of dirty secrets among his intelligentsia friends, including the murder of another young girl, which had occurred four years earlier in Megève, France…
Saddled with a rather nondescript—at least for a giallo!—title, WHO SAW HER DIE? is competently executed across the boards, with director Lado and his editors Angelo Curi and Jutta Brandsteadter acquitting themselves particularly well, and in some scenes the latter pair’s interesting cutting prefigures that in Roeg’s film. Probably best-known on these shores for his work on Damiano Damiani’s superb horror shocker AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982), DP Franco Di Giacomo’s impressive camerawork also effectively captures the wintery Venetian locations with some striking, verging-on-Neorealist visuals and, despite being known as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Venice appears claustrophobically oppressive here, even downright menacing at times. As Troy Howarth points out in his informative audio commentary, many of these filmmakers and craftsman were (quote) “way overqualified” when it came to working in the more commercial arena of the Italian film industry, and Di Giacomo’s work here is no exception.
Outside of WSHD?’s arresting imagery and well-timed, consistent pacing, what really sets the film apart are a number engaging, first-rate performances. Here playing the assertive Franco Serpieri, Lazenby is wonderful as the grieving father who must simultaneously deal with the inevitable (and entirely understandable) feelings of grief, guilt and anger he feels over the murder of his daughter. But it’s in the film’s first—highly crucial—act where both Lazenby and his junior co-star Nicoletta Elmi truly shine, as they expertly and effortlessly convey a genuine love and affection for one another with their playful father-and-daughter interaction. This dynamic remains the film’s driving force, skillfully establishing—and providing greater resonance to—not only the tragedy that unfolds, but also emphasizing the underlying theme of corrupted innocence which is further exacerbated by a number of pointed innuendos involving characters’ sordid predilections (i.e., pedophilia) and even political impunity.
WSHD? looks absolutely gorgeous on Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray, which features a brand-new 2K restoration from the 35mm camera negative. From the film’s snow-covered opening at a ski resort in France to the moodily-lit, fog-enshrouded alleys of Venice, every detail of Di Giacomo’s 2-perf Techniscope framing comes through looking crystal-clear. As with some of their earlier Italo-horror releases, Arrow have once again presented the film in both its Italian and English incarnations with alternate titles and credits, both of which also feature clean, uncompressed mono 1.0 LPCM audio, that really does wonders for Morricone’s unique and at times unsettling score. Unfortunately, Lazenby did not perform his own voice-dubbing, and although he is dubbed coherently enough by American actor Michael Forest, the Italian version (which includes new, properly-translated subtitles) remains the preferable option.
|Italian soggetto courtesy of Peter Jilmstad.|
Additionally, further complementing the first-rate transfer, Arrow have included an ample of amount of valuable extras, which get underway with an audio commentary from author and film historian Troy Howarth who, this time around, thoroughly discusses the history and longevity of the giallo, and how it was such commercially-minded genre films that kept the Italian film industry (quote) “afloat”. He also examines the film itself in great detail, including some of the initial casting choices, many of WSHD?’s themes (e.g., “The concept of the older generation corrupting and destroying the young…”), Lazenby’s controversial decision to leave the James Bond franchise after only a single film, as well as discussing the present film’s principal cast and crew members. An engaging listen to be sure, and an excellent primer to help one better understand the Italian film industry and just how prolific it once was all those years ago.
Insightful and sharp as a whip, Aldo Lado has plenty to say in I Saw Her Die (56m55s), an in-depth interview wherein he specifically discusses WSHD? (including plenty of anecdotal recollections) and his career in general, including his time working as an assistant director on Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST (1970) and his longstanding working relationship with famed composer Ennio Morricone. In Nicoletta, Child of Darkness (27m26s)—one of the disc’s highlights—former child actress Nicoletta Elmi recalls her many experiences working on such noteworthy productions as Dario Argento’s DEEP RED (1975), her starring role in Massimo Dallamano’s THE NIGHT CHILD (1977), and even though she doesn’t have too many memories about the present title, she does speak most fondly about Lazenby. Next up, writer-director Francesco Barilli recalls the many trials and tribulations of his own (quote) “messy film career” in Once Upon a Time, in Venice… (31m29s), during which he is seen shrugging his shoulders at the memory of working with unimaginative, frugal producers who simply didn’t share his artistic vision, although he praises Aldo Lado for delivering a very true-to-script film. And lastly, author and film critic Michael MacKenzie also offers up his views on WHO SAW HER DIE? as well as Aldo Lado’s (quote) “healthy” filmography in Giallo in Venice (26m17s). English and Italian trailers and a brief image gallery (1m40s) are also included. As with most of Arrow’s fine releases, the disc is nicely adorned with reversible artwork, featuring both new art from Haunt Love on one side and WSHD?’s original Italian poster on the other. In addition, as per the company’s usual marketing strategy, the first pressing includes a 35-page booklet of liner notes containing a couple of excellent essays from Rachael Nisbet and Troy Howarth.
Technically assured and emotionally powerful, Aldo Lado’s superior giallo should not be missed—even more-so on Arrow Video’s flawless transfer and extras-packed Blu-ray! Order it from DiabolikDVD.