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Who Saw Her Die? on VHS

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Who Saw Her Die?
cast: George Lazenby, Anita Strindberg, Adolfo Celi, and Piero Vida

director: Aldo Lado

89 minutes (18) 1972
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Shameless DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
One of the lesser known facts about noir as a genre is that its name does not stem from the blackness of the themes tackled in hard-boiled fiction, but rather from the fact that Gallimard, the French publishers who pioneered that style of writing, released the books with black and white covers under the title 'series noire' (literally 'black series'). A similar thing happened in Italy in the 1930s when the publisher Mondadori started releasing crime thrillers and whodunits with lurid yellow covers. These books came to be referred to a 'giallis' ('yellows') and since then the term giallo has come to refer to a particular type of book and film with its own generic conventions and reference points. Who Saw Her Die? (aka: Chi l'ha vista morire?) is stylishly shot, has lurid extended scenes of sex and murder and deals in madness, alienation and revenge. In short, it is every inch the giallo.

The film begins with a young redheaded girl playing in the snow with her nurse. Wanting to be chased, she takes off down the hill on her sled, only to be murdered by a woman in black with a veil. The veil is draped over the camera and Aldo Lado (who also made the infamous 1975 giallo video nasty Night Train Murders) focuses the camera in such a way that we can see the girl and the material of the veil. This neat way of giving us a subjective point-of-view on murder is combined with the victims only ever seeming to notice the murderer at the last minute. This gives an amazing impression of intimacy with the victim as well as a creepy sense of power over them... the murderer can see them but they can't see the murderer until it is too late. This neat photographic trick is used throughout the film and combines brilliantly with Ennio Morricone's amazing score that combines eerie children's song with an almost cardiac drum and bass-line, which really needs to be heard to be believed.

Once the action switches to Venice, we are instantly in familiar territory. The decision to film Venice in the autumn, stressing not its beauty but rather its poverty, decay and other-worldliness are hugely reminiscent of Nicolas Roeg's classic horror film Don't Look Now. In fact, so strong is the visible and thematic resemblance between the two films that it seems almost impossible that Roeg made Don't Look Now without having seen Who Saw Her Die?

As with Don't Look Now, Who Saw Her Die? is a story about a man's isolation in the wake of the loss of his child. Franco (George Lazenby) is an artist who is separated from his wife Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg). An emotionally aloof man, Franco seems to keep much of his life compartmentalised in such a manner as to keep his romantic life from his friends and estranged family and his professional life from pretty much everyone. In fact, his friends complain that they no longer see his work as everything he produces is shipped off to Beirut by dubious art-dealer Serafian (Adolfo Celi). When Franco takes delivery of his daughter Roberta for a short holiday, the walls start to come down as he is obliged to take his daughter with him wherever he goes, prompting previously fire-walled information to slip out. In an attempt to keep his compartments safely separate, Franco allows Roberta to play in the street while he goes home and has sex with his girlfriend. While he is amusing himself, the killer from the film's opening sequence strikes again, killing Roberta and dumping her in a canal. Blaming himself for Roberta's death, Franco decides to work around the predictably political and ineffectual Italian police and conduct an investigation himself.

What is strange about Who Saw Her Die? is that Franco never seems to make any headway. Indeed, the film spends an inordinate amount of time establishing a complex network of relationships and secrets for Franco to investigate but for all of Franco's sneaking about fighting, there is never any growing sense of who might have committed these murders or why. In fact, when the final revelation comes as to the murderer's identity and motives, they have surprisingly little to do with the web of lies that Franco has been trying to unravel. This may in part be due to the fact that the film had four separate writers. Or it could be due to the film's frankly bizarre approach to storytelling whereby truths are distributed almost as an after-thought through partially overheard conversations in other rooms and mumbled confessions in between the grunts and groans of a fistfight. Either way, the effect is quite unsettling, it is as though the truth is mocking Franco's tendency to keep his life compartmentalised in such a way that he can uncover conspiracies in one room while the real motivations for his daughter's murder are far less baroque and ultimately come down to an almost random encounter with a lesser character.

The film's aloof nature is not helped by what is an incredibly limited performance by George Lazenby. A hugely successful model until he was selected to play Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Lazenby is extremely limited in his range. Indeed, the only difference between his appearance as a happy father and his appearance as a grieving parent is that he stops smiling. The situation is not helped by the fact that he spends much of the film on his own while exploitation film veteran Strindberg goes slowly mad back at the flat.

Between the strange plotting and Lazenby's unconvincing acting, Who Saw Her Die? is a film to watch for the cinematography rather than its actual story. Its superb score and photography go some way to making the film worth a look but with all the good will in the world it is difficult to avoid calling this a film that is ultimately disappointing.

On a side note, it is worth pointing out that the film's packaging is entirely inappropriate. Back in 2000, the Salvation group, a media company that focus upon releasing horror, porn and other exploitation-style titles, released Who Saw Her Die? on VHS, and the cover was an artful black and white shot with red titles. However, now that Shameless have taken up the rights, the cover is a lurid murder scene full of primary colours. Indeed, upon putting the DVD in, I was confronted by an avalanche of trailers for other exploitation titles with much emphasis placed upon knives, blood and bouncing bosoms. As a piece of titillating exploitation cinema, Who Saw Her Die?, is a complete failure. It is a cold, bleak and distant film. I fear that by emphasising the more lurid aspects of the film, Shameless may well be lining up some unhappy customers whilst alienating people who might well find the film interesting despite the lack of bouncing bosoms and gore.

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