THE 10TH VICTIM (1965) (Blu-ray)
Director: Elio Petri
Blue Underground

Merging Bond-esque spy-type thrills with kitsch science fiction, THE 10TH VICTIM (La decima vittima), was producer Carlo Ponti’s (MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE) answer to the swinging cinematic trends of the time. Based on Robert Sheckley's 1953 short story “Seventh Victim”, THE 10TH VICTIM is a very 1960s image of the future, and its mocking of Fellini’s innovative style mixed with pop art set designs and an overall campiness made this one an instant cult item.

In the 21st Century, after more than a handful of world wars, further wars have been eliminated by allowing select individuals to participate in the Big Hunt. The Big Hunt is basically a worldwide, completely exposed game show of organized violence, where killing is legalized. “Hunters” and “victims” compete until the death, with the winner moving on to another match. After ten victories, a winner can retire from the game and receive a hefty cash prize of $1 million dollars, something that has rarely happened.

After a bitter break-up with his wife, Italian contestant Marcello Polletti (Marcello Mastroianni), who has just completed his sixth round, is in the game for the money, as he is quickly going broke (they repossesses his large collection of comic books, for one thing). American contestant Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress, SHE), is a beautiful blonde bombshell with nine victims under her belt. Chosen via a computer, Marcello is to be Caroline’s “Tenth Victim”, and she devises a way to enter his life: pose as a television reporter wanting to interview him for money. Marcello (who poses as the leader of a sun-worshiping cult) is suspicious that Caroline may be his hunter; his assassination is continually prolonged or interrupted, as the two become more and more infatuated with each other.

If you like your Italian science fiction with big-name stars, and if you like them a bit edgier than Antonio Margheriti “Gamma 1” space opera series, you should highly appreciate the groovy antics of THE 10TH VICTIM. Director Petri (A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY) keeps things moving at a crazy pace, with all the location shooting (mainly Manhattan and Rome), the futuristic/pop art set designs (including a giant eye blinking as a wall decoration) and the designer shades and plastic discothèque wardrobes give the film a distinctive, outlandish appearance, even if there’s no hiding that it’s a product of the 1960s. The film’s takes on corporate sponsorship and product placement (a tea company gives contestants bonuses for mentioning their slogans on air, and their unethical tactics to “sponsor” Marcello’s death in front of the cameras) are probably more humorous today, especially in an age of rampant reality television, most of it of a sensational nature.

The bubbly jazzy score by Piero Piccioni (CAMILLE 2000, PUPPET ON A CHAIN), with its catchy, high-pitched female chanting, accents the film perfectly while creating an essential soundtrack of cocktail lounge sounds of the era. Mastroianni, who had already been a star for years after appearing in some of Fellini’s most essential works, had his hair shortened and bleached for the role, and he seems to be indulging the well-written character with an inkling of lighthearted frivolity. Andress, who had just gained international stardom as the very first big screen “Bond Girl”, is at the height of her beauty, and is radiant to look at in every frame, whether she’s pointing a pistol or modeling a backless pink outfit. The film is essentially carried around Mastroianni and Andress, who have nice chemistry together, and they were reportedly an item off-screen for a while. Elsa Martinelli shows up as Marcello’s materialistic mistress, but she’s rather wasted and only serves as eye candy.

In one of the film’s best scenes (and possibly the one it’s best remembered for) an exotically dancing Andress is scene stripping down to a icicle-designed bikini before an enthusiastic art gallery audience, and then shooting a Chinese hitman (George Wang) with ammunition which detonates from her breast cups. This unforgettable bit was much later lampooned in AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, which showcased “Fembots” sporting bras with trigger capabilities. It also must be mentioned, as I don’t think it ever is, how the film influenced SCTV’s brilliant early 1980s spoof of Italian cinema, “Rome, Italian Style.” If you can get a hold of the skit (which is available on DVD through Shout! Factory), you’ll note how they aped the music, styles and even some of the same shots from this very film!

Blue Underground has done its usual wonderful job presenting another cult classic on the Blu-ray format. The film is presented in High Definition, and the new 1080p transfer looks nothing short of marvelous. Colors are extremely rich, skin tones look as natural as can be, and black levels are deep. There are enough hints of grain present to remind you that you are still viewing a film almost 50 years old, but otherwise, the THE 1OTH VICTIM looks as though it were shot last year. The audio is offered in DTD HD in both Italian mono and English mono, both replicating the original mixes without a hitch, with dialog being perfectly audible and music and sound effects coming through beautifully. Optional subtitles are provided in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.

The surprise extra on this release is the 98-minute documentary (presented in standard definition) “Marcello: A Sweet Life”, all about the career of one of Italy’s most well known and well respected actors. It includes some great interview footage with family members, friends and colleagues, and is a must for fans. Mastroianni also gets his own still gallery, and there’s a still and poster gallery for the film, the original Avco Embassy U.S. theatrical trailer and the original Italian trailer. (George R. Reis)