The year was 1971 and everyone was following in Argento’s footsteps with their animal entitled gialli. Paula Cavara was one of the directors of Mondo Cane and several other similar features released in its wake. After making a couple of war themed films, the stars aligned for the director, and with a story by Marcello Danon, who would later pen the script for La cage aux folles, a bevy of beautiful ladies, and a score by Ennio Morricone, Cavara was on target as he jumped genres again and delivered a stunning giallo.
When a film opens up to Barbara Bouchet nude on a table getting a massage from a blind masseur, then you know you’re in business. Bouchet is Maria Zani, a woman of loose moral standards who’s being blackmailed, but we hardly get to know her before a killer sticks a needle in her neck, paralyzes her, and cuts her open. Inspector Tellini (Gincarlo Giannini) is called in, and his prime suspect quickly becomes the victim’s jealous ex-husband. That line of inquiry is quickly closed as the husband is dispatched in the same fashion, and Tellini’s other leads follow much the same path. The unsure Inspector finds himself grasping at straws as the killer strikes at will, and the murderous path he’s carving might even find its way into Tellini’s home.
While the women of the film were quite ravishing, and the cinematography and score sublime, what really caught my attention was Gincarlo Giannini’s starring role as Inspector Tellini. We are lead to believe that he is a newly appointed inspector, and he’s very unsure of his suitability for the job. Sure, it’s a redemptive story arc that’s come up in films time and time again, but as the hero of a gialli, it seemed a fresh take for the typically baffled male lead. Tellini’s character is also enhanced greatly with scenes of his home life, and Stefania Sandrelli gives a solid performance as the inspector’s worried wife. Giannini was a veteran of several films before Black Belly, and he has worked steadily ever since. As if this film didn’t have enough Bond-ian connections, Giannini appeared as Mathis in 2006’s Casino Royale.
Speaking of Casino Royale, that gives me a good angle to get back to the beautiful ladies of the film. The briefly seen and quickly murdered Barbara Bouchet appeared in the spoofy 1967 version ofCasino Royale, but there’s so many of James’ dates in this film. If you read yesterdays post on Barbara Bach, you may have noticed an omission. I neglected to say anything about her role as Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me. Well, I had to save it for today; after all, Bach’s Bond girl is often credited as being the first to break from the traditional archtype. Of course, the fact that she’s even more ravishing in the 007 film than either Fishmen or Black Belly surely also serves remembering. The last of the Black Belly Bond Babes (say that five times fast) is Claudine Auger who appeared in Thunderball as Domino. All three provide with more than eye candy turning in fine performances, although in the case of Bouchet that generally meant getting gutted.
What really makes Black Belly work is the mixture of violent kills, a tense mystery, a great action sequences. There’s a rooftop chase in this film that is worth the price of admission by itself, and then it gets capped off with a great shot of a falling dummy. These action scenes really kept the film’s pace up where some other gialli become mired in endless fretting. Again this is where the Tellini character really works, while we’ve seen him at home playing the part of the put upon schlub, there’s something about him that makes him a believable action hero. It doesn’t hurt that the scenes, like the whole film, are enhanced by the frenetic score by Ennio Morricone. I know I’ve raved about his work before many times and no one needs me to tell them how good Morricone is, but I’m going to anyway. The score to this film was both memorable and played perfectly with the artful direction of Cavara and Marcello Gatti’s amazing cinematography.
Great gialli always have their own sense of style, and Black Belly of the Tarantula is no exception. Where other films revel in the high life, Cavara’s film almost feels like a urban film. The clothes for the most part understated, though some of the women wear stunning couture on occasion. Still the setting feels very much removed from the cosmopolitan digs that usually dominate these kinds of films. On the whole the Rome seen in the film has much more in common with the polizia than the stylized locales from a Bava or Argento film. It adds to the great chemistry this film has. Cavara somehow brought a perfect balance to the screen and delivered a film that looks, sounds, and feels like its own entity.
To add the icing on the cake of this film, the ending is by far one of my favorite conclusions to a gialli. It’s surprising and to make it even better, it even makes sense. I know, who could ask for much more? Not this Bugg, I’ll tell you that. Black Belly of the Tarantula was a great way to round out this month long celebration of Italian thrills, and I hope everyone enjoyed it. Next month, they’ll be no new feature because the whole month of October is going to be devoted to silent Russian dramas of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Ok, maybe not seriously. How about a whole month of horror movies capped off with the return of the Halloween Top 13? Sounds better, huh? Well stay tuned for more details in the next couple of days on how you can be a part of Halloween Top 13: The Sequel. Until then, this is the ever lovin’ Bugg, signing off, putting on his black trench coat, donning some yellow gloves, and exiting in the night with a pocket full of straight razors and piano wire. See you folks real soon.