Short Night of Glass Dolls is a 1971 Italian/West German/Yugoslav horror thriller film. It was the directorial debut of Aldo Lado (Night Train Murders; The Humanoid) and stars Ingrid Thulin, Jean Sorel and Barbara Bach (Island of the Fishmen; The Great Alligator).
The film was first released as La Corta notte delle bambole di vetro in Italy and also appeared under the title Malastrana. It appeared in America on video as Paralyzed and is also known as Short Night of the Glass Dolls.
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To label Short Night of Glass Dolls as a giallo is somewhat misleading; there is little in the way of blood, indeed there are only two murders in the whole film. The cast are not attired in black gloves and they are not lead Cluedo-like through an increasingly twisted plot to a Scooby-Doo reveal. Instead, we have a gripping, almost intoxicating scenario, which rumbles along, at admittedly land-mollusc pace, with a couple of ingenious twists along the way.
American reporter, Gregory Moore (Jean Sorel) is found dead in Prague and whilst he’s laying in the morgue under-going examinations by doctors, we hear his posthumous thoughts and recollections of the events which lead to his current state. He and a friend had been searching for Moore’s girlfriend, Mira (Barbara Bach in one of her earliest roles, pre-Bond and pre-Ringo Starr marriage), having given up on the futile attempts of the local police.
It transpires many well-to-do locals have something to hide and as they dig deeper, a sinister group, Klub 99, is uncovered. The action is heightened by the fact that Gregory isn’t dead after all, just paralysed; his friend begins to realise something is wrong but it’s a race against time to not only find Mira but stop doctors performing a very unwelcome autopsy.
It requires a certain level of patience to be rewarded by Short Night of Glass Dolls; the pace is stiflingly slow and the toing and froing of Gregory’s flashbacks are a little disconcerting. However, the palpable tension of his plight and the fact that there’s nothing he can do to alert anyone to the fact that he’s very much alive, are terrifically involving, leading to those film-watching scenarios that have you scratching a non-existent itch when insects are on-screen or gasping for air when someone is drowning.
The film was the directorial debut of Aldo Lado who was later to make films such as Late Night Trains (1975) and Who Saw Her Die? (1972). The complex plot also saw his input, alongside that of one of Italy’s masters of the art of screen writing, Ernesto Gastaldi, who also wrote, amongst hundreds of others, All The Colors of the Dark (1972) and Death Walks At Midnight from the same year. Jean Sorel does a tremendous job, wearing his best Franco Nero face, under the extenuating circumstances and Bach, inevitably, catches the eye. Also worthy of note is the ever-reliable Mario Adorf in an unusually restrained performance.
Though being trapped in a helpless state was not a new venture for cinema to explore (see Edgar Allan Poe and Roger Corman for details), the challenge of portraying Moore’s situation is handled very skilfully and benefits from cinematography from Giuseppe Ruzzlini and Ennio Morricone’s beautiful, yearning, sigh-heavy score.
Short Night of Glass Dolls is a must-see, whether you want to read anti-communist oppression or political menace into the plot or simply want to take it as a top-notch, heart-pumping thriller.
Daz Lawrence, MOV!ES and MAN!A
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