26 February, 2007


If you're like me and prefer your gialli served flaming hot then Lucio Fulci's 1969 entry, ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER, is your ticket. Actually, this is what I would term a prototype "erotic thriller", a superior murder mystery with elements of the police procedural. The plot takes dangerous curves with the greatest of ease, but watch out for appearances. Before looking at Severin Films new DVD let's consider what Fulci accomplished with this underrated title, known as UNA SULL' ALTRA in Italy and PERVERSION STORY in France.

Dr. George Dumurrier (BELLE DE JOUR's Jean Sorel) runs his upscale San Francisco "clinic" with the slippery side show morality of a seasoned carnival barker. His concerned brother (Italian giallo regular Alberto De Mendoza)takes him to task for suggesting the underfunded clinic host a heart transplant. On the personal front George's marriage to Susan, a homebound asthmatic, is a front for his hardly concealed affair with a bisexual fashion photographer (Elsa Martinelli). While away in Reno, Nevada on a gambling excursion George is informed that his wife has died from her condition. Upon his return he finds he has inherited a multimillion dollar fortune though his wife's will. As he is trailed by a suspicious insurance investigation he becomes obsessed with a stripper (DIABOLIK's Marisa Mell) who is the star attraction in a local psychedelic adult club. The stripper is a dead ringer for the late Susan which makes her all the more fascinating as the object of George's obsession. That's a lot of plot already and suffice it to say there are a mind boggling array of further twists and turns, none of which are predictable. That is, unless you've seen Hitchcock's masterwork VERTIGO. But Fulci is being Hitchcockian in a good/creative way rather than a bad way (cf Brian De Palma).

This emerges as the best written and constructed of all Fulci's 57 feature films and the scenario he has concocted with Roberto Gianviti and Jose Luis Martinez Molla is almost demonically clever in its layered ironies, rapid inversions and the way it plays with the element of time, the latter being the most crucial as the action crosscuts between preparations for George's execution in San Quentin's gas chamber and events which have unfolded sometime earlier on another continent. Fulci's judicious use of familiar San Francisco locations is every bit as original and unconventional as the one's Hitch chose for VERTIGO. The fact that the film opens and closes with aerial views of the famous bay bridge is doubly ironic since it represents the main theme of escape from reality.

The film's two setpieces, George's visit to the Frisco strip club and the death row climax are examples of a director working at top form, using color, framing, tempo, focal length, camera movement and actors like a symphony conductor. Fulci employs mirrors, overhead shots of the locations, a sylized palette, and startling angles in a carefully calibrated mise en scene. If it's still too early to call him an auteur, one can certainly discern such future themes as a critique of class prejudice, an unhealtly fascination with the living dead and, even though there's absolutely no preaching about it, a look at the realities of the death penalty which may make some supporters of it think again. It's all as impressive as anything he subsequently accomplished in his more explicit gialli (the delirious LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN) or his zombie gorefests of the 1980. Fulci was already a seasoned professional after 10 years of directing broad comedies like HOW WE STOLE THE ATOMIC BOMB and a terrific Spaghetti Western, MASSACRE TIME (1966). He is given significant support by the detailed, complex set ups of master DP Alejandro Ulloa (THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z) and first rate performances by Sorel, De Mendoza, Riccardo Cucciola, all of whom revolve around the feral Marisa Mell until their fates play out.

The one element which perhaps impresses me the most is a wild, hot jazz score of maestro Riz Ortolani which breathlessly combines swing, big band, lounge, sax, flute and booming bass instrumentation. It's one of the great giallo soundtracks from that era and on par with Ortolani's equally memorable compositions for THE ETRUSCAN KILLS AGAIN, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and many more Italian genre films. It's compulsively listenable and is presented on a separate CD in the new Severin Films double disc set. Presented as PERVERSION STORY, the English translation of the French title, the print here was discovered in France as an original vault negative. The onscreen title is UNA SULL' ALTRA, the original Italian. The transfer is glossy, has excellent resolution and bold in terms of definition and color. Obviously, the elements were crystal clear and the rich hues are a knockout. Presented in 16X9, letterboxed at 1.85:1, there are English and Italian language options with English subtitles. I would recommend watching it with the English track first, since it seems to have been shot in that language. Theatrical trailer included. A 103 m runtime is listed on the box. The film itself runs just over 97 minutes.

Leaving aside THE DEVIL'S HONEY. this registers as Fulci's most erotic film due mostly to the late Ms. Mell and the sex and nudity are presented full strength. I haven't seen the US version titled ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER, but there has been some internet chat that it is some minutes longer, apparently establishing shots and dialogue scenes on the Reno, Nevada locations. If that's so they certainly aren't missed here, unless one is waiting for them. This edit was the previously lost French theatrical one and I view it as a legitimate alternate Euro version. Some internet comparisons have this version containing over 4 minutes of footage not included in the US cut. If any of our readers have access to the Italian or US versions and can add any comments, please do. In any case, given that this is a first class revelation of Lucio Fulci's first (but not last) masterwork and that you get a CD of a score that will rock your world many times over this comes highly recommended.

(c) Robert Monell, 2007


Anonymous said...

the man's definitely not an auteur or anything but he made plenty of good movies. dying to get this dvd, the most purely pleasurable fulci film for me.

Robert Monell said...

I really feel this is one of the best in terms of of Hitchcockian suspense. It's a near perfectly crafted machine with fascinating characters and layered subtext. Unlike some of his later gore films it's also beautifully written. The score is the real clincher for me and it's great to have it on CD. I think he may have tended to be an auteur toward the end of his career but a lot of his films don't fit into that category at all. I'd also like to see MASSACRE TIME on a good R1 DVD presentation. And welcome to the blog Steven.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if we should still be referring to the PERVERSION STORY cut as the French print. The opening logo suggests its a German print.

I dug out my letterboxed French tape LA MACHINATION (video burned insert title) from Proserpine (1985) and unlike the Severin disc it has French language credits which makes sense since its an Italian-French-Spanish co-production. I've only looked at the first couple minutes but the French tape has the first instance of missing footage mentioned in Paul's comparison above. It contains the extended bit of expository conversation after the closing of the briefcase, the San Francisco shots as Sorel drives home, the exteriors of the home leading to the shot of Marisa Mell watching him arrive.

I'll keep watching with a printout of the differences in hand.

I'm curious to see this Greek release that combines the extended erotic scenes with the rest of the footage missing from the Severin version.

I wonder how the Spanish version looks of this film since it was a Spanish co-production.