Thursday, July 24, 2014
Culture Shock 07.24.14: Love claims its '10th Victim'
Long before "The Purge" and its sequel slapped audiences with heavy-handed political allegory, director Elio Petri applied a lighter touch in his delightful 1965 satire "The 10th Victim," based on a story by science fiction writer Robert Sheckley and starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress.
"The 10th Victim" is available on Blu-ray and DVD, as well as on video on demand from Amazon.
In the near future, psychopaths have a legal outlet for their violent tendencies. That outlet is the Big Hunt, a globe-spanning contest pitting some of the world's most dangerous people against one another in a game of kill or be killed. At stake are the thrill of the hunt and cash prizes. But, alas, there are no parting gifts, not even a home version of the game.
The object is to survive 10 hunts, half as hunter and half as hunted. The hunters know all about their intended victims, but the victims know nothing about who is after them. They must be on constant alert if they hope to survive. And if either hunter or hunted kills an innocent person by mistake, that's an automatic 30 years in prison.
There are other rules, too. In Italy there's no hunting in churches, restaurants, hospitals or orphanages. For veteran hunter Caroline Meredith (Andress) those rules are just a nuisance.
"In America we don't have such restrictions," she says.
Only 15 players have survived 10 hunts, and Caroline is looking to become the 16th. Her target is Italian contestant Marcello Poletti (Mastroianni).
All that remains is for Caroline to lure Marcello to his doom, which, naturally, is more complicated than it seems. But if all goes according to plan, their destination is Rome's Temple of Venus, where Caroline's final kill — if she's successful — is to be broadcast on live television, sponsored by Ming Tea.
"Ming Tea makes better lovers!" as their slogan goes, and all is fair in love and you know what.
Caroline is a killer with few qualms about what she does, but Marcello is by turns fatalistic, morose and neurotic, although he prefers to think of himself as a romantic.
Still, when the penniless Marcello, who plays the Big Hunt for the money, begins to suspect that not only is Caroline his hunter but that she has a commercial endorsement, he arranges an endorsement deal of his own. It is a diabolically good idea, after all.
"The 10th Victim" has more in its sights than just contemporary society's blasé attitude toward violence. The elderly are shipped off to the Center for the Aged so they won't get in the way of everyone else's fun. And the only books anyone reads are comic books. Vintage titles like "The Phantom" are "the classics."
At the height of 1960s youth culture, "The 10th Victim" stands athwart history and tells those noisy kids to get off its lawn. There's more to life than kids' stuff.
Forty years later, hardly anyone reads comic books. But just about the only movies anyone sees are based on comic book characters. And like those superhero movies, "The 10th Victim" is about a timeless battle. Not good vs. evil, though, but the battle of the sexes.
It's Marcello vs. Caroline or, if you prefer, Marcello vs. Ursula.
Mastroianni, as he did on several other occasions, including Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita," portrays a character who shares his name, blurring the line between character and actor.
The same goes for Andress, who first achieved fame as the original Bond girl. The sex goddess who arose from the surf in "Dr. No" is as strong a metaphor for the love goddess Venus as you're likely to see. No wonder their showdown is destined for the Temple of Venus. Anywhere else would be sacrilegious — and would ruin the joke.
In the end, the line between love and death is no clearer than the line between Marcello and Marcello, or between Venus and Venus.