Thursday, May 17, 2012

Movie Review: Who Saw Her Die? (1972)

Okay, I know that this one is giallo for sure! It's a murder mystery with a killer who wears black gloves and there are lots of red herrings and a bit of violence and sex. Survey says: giallo. Also, the Netflix description said it was, so there you go. The genre is perhaps better presented in other movies (or not, I don't know), but Who Saw Her Die? is still a nice little Italian thriller that I really enjoyed.

In Venice, Italy, Franco Serpieri welcomes his young daughter Roberta for a visit, as she had been living in London with his estranged wife Elizabeth. While Roberta is out playing one evening (and Franco is at home canoodling with another woman), she is murdered and thrown in a nearby canal. Franco becomes determined to find his daughter's killer, but there are many likely suspects and things get dangerous for Franco and Elizabeth as he gets closer to solving the mystery.

Child murder in movies, while not totally uncommon, is still a pretty taboo and emotional subject. I guess I don't have as much a problem with it because I'm not a parent and I probably watch too much Law and Order, where kids get killed all the time, but I get the problem that other people might have with it. The first scene in Who Saw Her Die? shows a different little girl out sledding one day in France. She goes off by herself and is accosted by a veiled, black-laced glove wearing woman(?) who bashes her head with a rock and then buries her in the snow. Dang. That was much more brutal than I was expecting and it was a great way to kick off the story.

From then on, the movie is a slow build of suspense and mystery as it first works up to the inevitable death of Roberta and then works up to the identity of the killer. The main characters are likable and well-acted by these unknown-to-me Italians, even though at times they do not seem to emote enough for me in given situations. For one thing, the father barely shows any real grief over his daughter's death. The mother's stoic, quiet grief is understandable (love love LOVE that shot of the two of them in bed together with her tear-stained face), but I wanted to see a bit more passion and possibly anger from these people to really feel the weight of the loss.

Sidenote: They could not have picked actors who looked less like a family than these people. There's a dark-haired father with an angular face, a drop dead gorgeous mother with blonde hair... and then there's Roberta, a fair-skinned, freckled red head. Um, are you sure she wasn't adopted? I'd be pretty dang pissed off I had a supermodel mother and came out looking like a plain Jane ginger. Just sayin'.

The gore paragraph that I usually like to include in reviews is not going to be as exciting for this one because there is hardly anything to talk about. There are some nice instances of bad looking red paint blood, most noticeably in the death of beautiful Ginevra, who is strangled in the theater while waiting to meet Franco. There's a close up on her mouth as the paint blood oozes out... and just why being strangled would cause blood to come out of your mouth is anybody's guess. Then there's the totally unconvincing stabbing of the child molesting lawyer where all you see is paint blood stains on his shirt but no wounds. The killer gets a most surprising death that kinda makes up for the lack thereof in the rest of the movie when he gets into a throwdown with Franco and then gets set on fire and dives out a window. Cool.

One thing I can't go without mentioning is the music. I usually don't pay as much attention to the music in movies as I should, but with this one it was hard not to notice. Each time the killer is in the vicinity, this crazy loud music with children singing or chanting blows through the speakers, usually accompanied with a through-a-black-lace-veil POV shot of the killer approaching Roberta. This happens two or three times before the killer actually gets the chance to do the deed - something or someone would always interrupt - and instead of being annoying like it maybe should be, this music heightens the suspense of the scene because you only hear it when the killer is nearby and you don't know just what is going to happen. Granted, there are a few times where the music cuts out way too abruptly and that was a little unsettling, but I tried not to let it bother me that much. Other than that, love the score and thought it was perfect for the story.

Side-paragraph: As with most of the Italian films I've seen, even if most of the plot is easy to follow, there is always at least one weird and seemingly completely out-of-place scene. In Who Saw Her Die?, this scene comes when Franco goes off in search of the family of another red-headed girl who was murdered a month earlier and he finds a most unhelpful and odd person. This guy is sitting in a chair outside with a turtleneck pulled up over the bottom part of his face and shooting at birds. Whuh? Then when Franco tries to question him, the guy will only talk if Franco plays ping pong with him. I shake my head. I just... I don't get it. Am I supposed to?

Though maybe not as well known or recommended as other gialli (as some other reviewers have said it is), I'm really glad I gave Who Saw Her Die? a shot. It may have a lot of similarities to another movie that came out the same year, Don't Look Now, but I think it's good enough to stand on its own. I'm still a little confused about the killer's motive - did I miss the explanation? - but almost everything else about this movie is a joy to watch.


  1. Well, you've dug up one I haven't seen - and it stars a James Bond (Lazenby) and a James Bond villain (Adolfo Celi)! I have to see this! Immediately! In fact, I have to stop commenting now so I can go get ahold of this! Thanks, Michelle!

  2. Yeah, I learned about the James Bond thing after I watched this! I think there's a reason he wasn't asked to do it again... he's kinda not as sexy as the other Bonds. But this movie is pretty good - not super exciting but a nice example of the genre, you'd probably enjoy it.