The 10th Victim (1965) reviews and overview

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‘She’d love to kill him – and kill to love him’

The 10th Victim is a 1965 French-Italian science-fiction satirical action feature film about a futuristic TV game in which murder is legal.

Directed by Elio Petri (Investigation of a Citizen Above SuspicionA Quiet Place in the Country) from a screenplay co-written with Ennio Flaiano, Tonino Guerra and Giorgio Salvioni, based on the short story ‘The Seventh Victim’ by Robert Sheckley, the movie stars Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress and Elsa Martinelli. It was produced by Carlo Ponti. The Italian title is La decima vittima

Review:

A Roman orgy of 1960s pop- and op-art imagery, this bizarre satire expands and elaborates on a famous American science-fiction short story, taking potshots at a decadent near-future society. Certain elements have aged well – especially “reality TV” and the jaw-droppingly accurate forecast that silly superhero comic books will become valuable “classics” of literature.

In the 21st century war and aggression have been successfully
neutralised via “the Big Hunt,” a worldwide, computer-orchestrated murder game that matches volunteer assassins with willing, equally lethal, human targets. The few sporting types who last long enough to take ten lives win $1 million, plus many commercial endorsements.

New Yorker Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), one killing away from the prize, is assigned Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastroianni), a flamboyant Italian hitman who could use the money himself; he tried to create a new religion of sunset-worship, but the cult isn’t generating the income he wanted. Plus overspending by both his wife and his mistress have bankrupted him.

Caroline approaches Marcello pretending to be a reporter covering his latest successful kill. In reality, she’s being positioned by an ad agency to stage Marcello’s demise as the centrepiece of an elaborate mint-tea commercial. Marcello recognizes Caroline’s ruse, and schemes to kill her as well. Matters are considerably complicated when they fall in love.

Filmmaker Petri, formerly a film critic for a Communist daily newspaper (and you thought your CV was unpromising), creates an exhilaratingly amoral, consumerist world that has wildly spun its moral compass (the Vatican opposes “The Big Hunt,” but nobody cares) and, perhaps most disturbing of all, looks like it might be a genuinely attractive place in which to live – or die.

Sterile, surreal interiors and campy designer clothing convincingly allowed the filmmakers to do an exotic Euro-culture culture on a modest budget, a la Godard’s Alphaville. This one’s more fun though. Instantly legendary is the scene wherein Andress’ brassiere top turns out to secretly be a concealed double-barreled firearm, probably one of the most famous uses of a bosom in cinema (and we make that claim without even looking at a lot of websites no doubt extant on the topic).

That its “mod” 60s touches look even stranger down the years only enhances the film’s cult ambience. The story grows more frolicsome as it goes on, however, and in the end, what started out as a dystopian nightmare ends up more of a clever romantic romp. One problem is that death in this milieu is clean and sanitised; victims perish bloodlessly, like galoots in a vintage western. Only the cold slaying of an anonymous female Big Hunt competitor, helplessly beseeching bystanders as her pistol jams, has real impact.

Mastroianni’s world-weary persona fits his role perfectly, and Andress’ part enhanced her sex-symbol status. A drawback is the typically heavy-handed English-language dubbing, though the soundtrack greatly benefits from the recurring, neurotically catchy melody “Spiral Waltz” by Sergio Bardotti and Piero Piccioni.

 

Robert Sheckley mined this humans-hunting-humans-for-entertainment territory in another short story “The Prize of Peril.” In 1982 a Franco-Yugoslavian adaptation, Le Prix du Danger also brought that one to the screen also, with less lasting impact, but it did the premise as a serious-minded thriller and is well worth looking into for comparison’s sake. No bikini-guns in that one.

Charles Cassady Jr., MOV!ES and MAN!A

Other reviews:

The 10th Victim‘s emphasis on its involved plot and well-developed characters make the technical merits even more critical to the film’s success. Fortunately, all’s well in that area, too. Leads Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress are excellent. The interplay between them is dynamic…” Blu-ray.com

” …the film is never quite as much fun as it should be, possibly because of rather ponderous dubbing and possibly because imaginative camera angles cannot totally make up for lapses in narrative.” BFI Monthly Film Bulletin, 1968

“Despite the undertone of dark satire, this movie has as light a touch as any movie by Rene Clair, and both Andress and Mastroianni are so charming in their respective roles that I found the movie utterly irresistible. Compared to it, movies like Death Race 2000 are heavy-handed and obvious.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

” …a clever but patently self-conscious exercise […] The cleverness is so insistent that it soon becomes excessive and absurd, and the gamesmanship of the satire becomes too cute too much a bore.” The New York Times, December 21st 1965

Choice dialogue:

“You get to a point when you don’t know what to do for a living.”

“No, I am not the type that follows orders.”

Cast and characters:

• Marcello Mastroianni … Marcello Poletti
• Ursula Andress … Caroline Meredith
• Elsa Martinelli … Olga
• Salvo Randone … Professor
• Massimo Serato … Lawyer Rossi
• Milo Quesada … Rudi
• Luce Bonifassy … Lidia Poletti
• George Wang … Chinese Hunter
• Evi Rigano … Victim
• Walter Williams … Martin Tibbett
• Richard Armstrong … Cole

Technical details:

92 minutes

Release:

In the United States, The 10th Victim was theatrically released by Joseph E. Levine’s Embassy Pictures.

Trivia:

Author Robert Sheckley later published a novelization of the film in 1966 and two sequels (Victim Prime and Hunter/Victim) in 1987 and 1988, respectively.

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