A young couple live in Venice – Franco (George Lazenbury) is a sculptor, and his wife Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg) spends most of her time looking pretty. With their marriage under pressure Elizabeth has been away from the family home, allowing Franco time to indulge in a few extra curricular activities with his mistress. During one of their afternoon ‘sessions’ his young daughter Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi), whom he is supposed to be minding, goes missing. Her body is later found floating in one of the city’s many canals, seemingly the victim of a mysterious killer who will stop at nothing – including murder – to cover their tracks and keep their identity a secret.
Looking at the premise for the marvellously moody Italian thriller Who Saw Her Die (Chi l’ha vista morire?) you could be mistaken for thinking you’d stumbled upon the outline for that other great Venice based chiller Don’t Look Now. Analysing it you would say that director Aldo Lado’s mist shrouded journey into Italian giallo is a virtual ripoff of the cult shocker featuring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. The mysterious murderer – never fully seen until the film’s climatic showdown – flitting through Venice’s shadowy waterways. The artistically inclined anti-hero of the piece – neither Lazenbury or Sutherland’s characters are particularly pleasant men, both too introverted and self-obsessed with their own problems, to notice whats going on around them until it’s too late. And the pièce de résistance – Strindberg as an almost carbon copy of Christie, right down to her ‘straight-from-the-salon’ hair and kohl etched eyes.
In truth however Who Saw Her Die came a year before 1973’s Don’t Look Now. It could be argued that the latter film was more than a little influenced by Lado’s lesser known, but no less impressive, work. This is probably being pedantic though, as countless films from this period and particularly from the giallo genre – with which Don’t Look Now shared many characteristics – frequently featured similar core elements, all of which are present in Who Saw Her Die. Gruesome death by sharp implement – a protracted scissor stabbing is particularly effective. Attractive, successful central characters who feel no shame in sleeping around – there is plenty of bed romping and bare breasted women on display. And the dark and shadowy backwaters of Venice are ideal for concealing the foul deeds of any number of demented individuals – the killing’s here carried out by someone dressed as an old woman, and seen from their point-of-view through the lace of a veiled hat, simply add an extra dimension of unease to the proceedings.
One of the film’s few flaws is the presence of Lazenbury. His portrayal of the saturnine Franco – guilt ridden at the loss of his daughter through, as he sees it, his carelessness – is brilliant. However he has the unfortunate appearance of a slightly bohemian’ish 70’s porn star – complete with polo-neck jumpers, shoulder length hair and thick, dark moustache. This look, though perfectly in keeping with his character and the period, becomes none-the-less distracting, especially as the only way most people will remember him is as the clean cut 007 in 1968’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Strindberg – who the same year also featured in another piece of Venice based hokum, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key – however, more than compensates for any such shortcomings. Her character Elizabeth is so dreamily gorgeous looking, that you soon forget she is given little else to do than be a woman in peril, chased through endless empty streets and dimly lit apartment buildings.
Watching the film one can’t help but feel a sense of dejavu – as though you feel you have seen it all before. However Who Saw Her Die plays out with such an overriding air of sinister style and restrained menace – brought to life with a haunting soundtrack by Ennio Morricone – that you’ll forgive such failings and lament the fact it hasn’t received the wider exposure it so richly deserves.
Cleaver Patterson (@Cleaver68 / @ScreenAndGone)