Originally released in 1965 and based on a story by Robert Sheckley, Elio Petri's The 10th Victim (just out on DVD from Blue Underground) is a mod ménage of La Dolce Vita, James Bond and The Most Dangerous Game. The film is set in the then-futuristic 21st century; we've lived to see some (but thankfully not all) of Petri's amorally corrupt worldview come to fruition. Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress are players in the world's most popular game: a real-life manhunt in which two participants are randomly chosen by a computer, one to be a hunter, the other to be the hunted. After ten successful rounds, you win a million dollars and the elite status as a "decathlete." The world is their battlefield (except for churches, bars, barbershops and a couple of other off-limits locales) — and other than parking violations not being tolerated, there are no rules.
Petri is perhaps most famous for the unjustifiably hard-to-find Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, made five years later in 1970 and concerning a police detective who commits a murder so perfectly that he cannot possibly be implicated, even after he confesses to the crime. What both films share is an Art Deco sense of perversity and violence: aesthetic perfection masks immorality. Sex and commercialism run rampant: both Andress and Mastroianni sell their "kills" to beverage companies, promising to lure their prey before the cameras and speak the slogan as the victim dies in close-up. Dancers in "futuristic" clothing (read: scantily clad women in geometrically revealing outfits) are poised, ready to shimmy and shake with their guns the moment Mastroianni and Andress are in front of the cameras. Andress stalks in a transparent dress while Mastroianni wears skull-hugging, over-sized sunglasses with orange lenses. Model, killer, actor, or sandwich man — such is the fragmented identity of Petri's citizens, who are at once international celebrity and average joes and janes. Nothing separates the two anymore.
Chock full of James Bond-type gadgetry, including a bra that doubles as a machine gun (this is where Austin Powers got it from) and a mechanical pet named Thomas that delivers a soothing massage and hides a gun in its mouth, The 10th Victim is a retro fantasia that may look charmingly dated because of its "futuristic" vision. But beneath the façade is a dystopic view that continues to remain relevant. And considering the increasingly mobility of media and the seeming promise of instant stardom (whether on reality television or the internet), Petri's film will continue to speak to consumer culture for a long time to come.
Also on DVD this week:
Becoming Charley Chase (VCI, Region 1) - Four-disc collection of over forty shorts of the sadly overlooked silent comedian Charley Chase. One of the top box-office draws of the 1920s, Chase's middle-class clown deserves a place alongside Lloyd and Keaton as one of the Patron Comics of the Middle Class.
Repulsion (1965) (Criterion, Region 1 DVD and Blu-Ray Region 'A') - Forty four years has done nothing to diminish the seething, sexual anxiety of Roman Polanski's second feature film (and first in English). Catherine Deneuve's fevered delusions of arms coming out of the walls to grope and assault her are still as twisted and terrifying as ever.
Torso (1973) (Blue Underground, Region 1) - I prefer the literal translation of the Italian title, I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale: "Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence." Suzy Kendall (of The Bird With the Crystal Plumage fame) stars as an American in Rome who must elude a sex-crazed murderer. Heavily censored upon its initial release, all the original bloody goodness has been restored to this giallo classic.