Out for a walk one evening near the advanced medical lab the Terzi Institute, Franco Arno a blind puzzle solver and his daughter Lori overhear an incident of blackmail and then assault. Later that evening there’s a robbery at the Institute. Intrepid reporter Carlo Giordani reluctantly team up with Franco to solve the crime, but then members of the facility start to be killed off and they uncover a web of intrigue involving industrial espionage, sexual intrigue and more…
This is generally regarded as one of Argento’s weakest film and the great man himself has said he’s not too fond of it. Nonetheless, it’s a interesting and very effective suspense thriller in it’s own right and I actually prefer it to his previous movie, his first film The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. Maybe it is more of a conventional murder mystery than his other films, and it’s not especially bloody, but it’s still fascinating to watch and full of great directorial touches.
The plot is extremely complicated and although it does get progressively more intriguing and darker with Argento and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti throwing in as many plot elements as they could think of such as incest, homosexual blackmail and the kidnapping of a child, it gets rather bogged down a bit around the middle. However Argento keeps things interesting with some really striking editing [quite often things are shown in sudden flashbacks a moment or so after you would expect to see them] and quite a bit of humour, often black, something the director isn’t really noted for but it works well here. There’s one brilliant scene which is rather Hitchcock-like where Carlo is being shaved at a barber’s and the barber starts talking about the killer and saying he could be a crazy barber, all the while his razor is grazing Carlo’s neck.
Of course there are some great set pieces, the buildups to the killings are extremely tense and the murders are quite unpleasent even though the killer prefers the garotte to a sharp implement. The best one though is a beheading by a train, actually very little is shown but the prelude and cutting of the killing are so superb that it’s still extremely effective. The brutal climactic rooftop fight and the killer’s subsequent lift death make for a great climax ,but actually some of the effective sequences are those with no violence at all, such as a brilliant walk through a graveyard. This doesn’t sound much, but it’s actually incredibly suspenseful with superb use of camerawork, sound and Ennio Morricone’s quite dissonant and experimental score [which is highly effective throughout].
James Franciscus and Karl Malden make a great team and as with Argento’s other early films there’s a lightness and humanity which often tended to be lost in the director’s later more ambitious and shocking movies,there’s even something pertaining to a romance! I think he was greatly influenced by Hitchcock in this movie and while he doesn’t really break any new ground it’s an easy, enjoyable watch and hard to dislike.