Director: Edward Ross
Writers: Biagio Proietti and Diana Crispo, from a subject by Oscar Brazzi
Stars: Adrienne la Russa, Nino Castelnuovo, Alberto de Mendoza, Idelma Carlo, Renzo Petretto, Nestor Garay, Rossano Brazzi and Paola Pitagora
On 18th September, I reviewed The Bobo at Apocalypse Later to celebrate the centennial of Rosanno Brazzi. It seemed like a decent choice and indeed it was, for Apocalypse Later, just not for Rosanno Brazzi because he was hardly in it. Sure, he appeared third on the bill, right behind the two leads, Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland, but perhaps that was merely an acknowledgement of his stature. After all, he was an important European actor who had starred in one of the biggest hits of the previous decade, South Pacific. Still, he was hardly in it, so I needed to find an alternate. There are plenty to choose from, given that Brazzi made 120 films in all, which doesn’t touch on his television work, though many are difficult to track down today, not least because he spent the first half of his screen career in Italy. I’m not sure what the survival rate of World War II era Italian films is but I hope there was an equivalent to the Phantom of the Cinémathèque, Henri Langlois, who saved so many French films during that same period.
Brazzi’s first English language film was MGM’s Little Women in 1949, by which time he had 36 Italian pictures behind him, including We the Living, a 170 minute adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel that soon fell foul of Mussolini’s political watchdogs. Other titles of note, based entirely on reading about them, include a 1942 spaghetti western called Girl of the Golden West, a historical romance set in the 11th century called The Gorgon and a Pushkin drama in 1946 called The Black Eagle, which prompted a sequel in 1951. On he went in Italy, turning out drama after drama, many of them historical or romantic in nature and often both at once, such as Milady and the Musketeers, a version of The Three Musketeers told from a female perspective. Inevitably though, Hollywood called loudly enough to summon Brazzi over the ocean, but even with hits in 1954 like Three Coins in the Fountain and The Barefoot Contessa, he continued to make films in Italy with just a few American titles here and there to dot his filmography like confetti.
He’s not listed in the opening credits as crew. The director is Edward Ross, generally accepted as a pseudonym for Brazzi, but who wrote the film is a little trickier to identify. The opening credits list the screenplay as by Biagio Proietti and Diana Crispo, working from a subject (or story idea) by Oscar Brazzi, who was Rossano’s brother and the film’s producer. Wikipedia only has a page on its Italian site for Salvare la faccia, but that backs up what’s on screen. IMDb omits Proietti entirely, odd given that he wrote a lot more than Crispo, but adds both Renato Polselli and Piero Regnoli as writers, with Rossano Brazzi listed for both screenplay and story. It may be that IMDb is misleading us, which wouldn’t be for the first time, but other sources share its suggestions. However much or however little he contributed to the writing, however, he was clearly interested in directing pictures that were different from the films he’d acted in. In particular, there’s a stylish, experimental edge to this one that helps to flavour it well.
Of course, Licia, who swans around in the wildly colourful mini skirts of the late sixties with her long hair floating in the breeze, as free as a bird, is far from comfortable in austere white gowns and ponytails. We don’t know how long she spends inside, but we do know that she hates every moment of it and she leaves with a serious grudge. If she wasn’t crazy when she went in, she is after she gets out and, in a giallo, that doesn’t bode well in the slightest. One of the successes of Psychout for Murder is its editing. It’s shot well by Luciano Trasatti, but it’s how those shots are cut together by Amedeo Giomini that turns up the style. It’s overt editing, obvious in scenes like the one where Licia is driven to the asylum. We jump around frenetically between three scenes which represent her past, present and future: the factory opening, which she didn’t attend but can imagine if it might undo the past; the car, a notably uncomfortable present; and a small Licia in white against a big wall, hidden away from everything in the asylum.
I didn’t recognise Adrienne Larussa, as her surname is usually spelled, but she made three Italian pictures in two years, her two in 1969 being notable; the other was The Conspiracy of Torture, a non-horror from Lucio Fulci that many deem underrated and unfairly obscure. She fits this material wonderfully, epitomising that free European spirit but turning psychotic whenever a scene calls for it. Given that, I was wildly surprised to find out that she didn’t in the slightest. I didn’t expect her to have been born in New York or to have ended up as a real estate agent in Beverly Hills. I hadn’t realised that I’d seen her before (in The Man Who Fell to Earth) or that her best known role was on an American daytime soap, Days of Our Lives, in which she played ‘the scheming Brooke Hamilton’, as IMDb would have it, for three years. I was particularly shocked to discover that she was married to Steven Seagal for four years in the eighties. All these things are true, but none of them seem remotely likely. Well, except for the scheming part.
Even when we leave the estate, we’re still firmly stuck in this family’s grip. We wander with Brigoli over to Laura’s house so they can get it on and lay plans that will elevate everyone in prestige and wealth. We leap with Licia into Paterlini’s car, Brigoli’s right-hand man, so she can set him up and derail those plans. We gyrate with the teens during the dedication of a swimming pool which ends with a reputation neatly sabotaged. Gradually, though, we focus in on the estate, watching Licia set her traps and waiting for everyone else to fall into them. What’s surprising is how closely all the traps spring, because they’re mostly left until the final act, which is blistering. I won’t spoil the final scene, but it’s a beautifully shot demonstration, sans dialogue, of both victory and defeat, the inevitable conclusion to one bad decision. Well, there may have been more bad decisions, as there are certainly undercurrents here, but it’s all framed as one quest for revenge spawned from one inappropriate action.
Maybe he wanted to comment on such changes by abstracting them onto the screen. There could well be social commentary going on here but, if there is, I can’t speak to it beyond highlighting how the various roles are all archetypes. There’s no depth to any of these characters except for Licia. Her father is Brigoli the industrialist, ever set on improving the family’s lot. Laura his mistress is even worse, orchestrating everyone else, including her husband, the politician who is never given a name. Licia’s sister, Giovanna, is nothing but Licia’s sister, just as her husband, Francesco, is nothing but a man to steal away. Paterlini is just a businessman and the Monsignore is just the Monsignore, put on screen not as a character but as the encapsulation of the Roman Catholic Church. It falls to Licia, the young and vibrant creature who just wants to live and love, to stir everything up because she’s too free to fit into an easily categorised box. Maybe it’s about generational warfare at the time of the counterculture, but maybe I’m stretching.