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Original title: La decima vittima

D: Elio Petri / 89m

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress, Elsa Martinelli, Salvo Randone, Massimo Serato, Milo Quesada, Luce Bonifassy, George Wang

In the future, war has been eradicated thanks to The Big Hunt, a televised form of mass entertainment that involves people with violent tendencies taking it in turns to be Hunter or Hunted. The Hunter knows everything about their prey, while the Hunted has no idea who might be trying to kill them. There is a financial reward for the winner of each round, and if a contestant successfully despatches their tenth victim then they win a million dollars and can retire from the game. Caroline Meredith (Andress) is facing her tenth hunt; her intended victim is Marcello Poletti (Mastroianni), who has survived six hunts. With sponsorship allowing Caroline the chance to stage the grandest of all televised kills, she sets about luring Marcello to his death by pretending to be a journalist who wants to interview him about the sexual proclivities of Italian men. But Marcello becomes suspicious of her behaviour, and soon the pair are involved in an increasingly convoluted game of bluff and double-bluff, a game that will test the limits of the feelings they are starting to have for each other…

In many ways, Italian movies from the Sixties were startling creations, and unlike any others from around the world. Adapted from the short story, Seventh Victim (1953) by Robert Sheckley, The Tenth Victim fits neatly into that category, its tale of intrigue and romance bolstered by futuristic costume designs, a visual style that fuses images of old Rome with avant-garde projections of its future version, and a reckless approach to the narrative that serves the movie well for the most part, but which also undermines it completely at other times. It’s a sci-fi thriller with earnest romantic leanings that don’t quite gel into a convincing whole, but it’s also a movie that provides sights and sounds that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else (even in other, similar Italian movies of the period). Where else would you see a bra that fires bullets, or a mechanical toy animal that Marcello calls his only friend, or a seat that catapults an unlucky sitter into a nearby pool with a crocodile in it? Bizarre moments like these, where the script goes off on a creative tangent, help the movie overcome some of its more pedestrian passages, but there aren’t enough to overcome the feeling that the material is being stretched too thin in places, and to no obvious benefit.

That said, the game of bluff and double-bluff played out by Caroline and Marcello does have its moments, with each trying to manoeuvre the other into place so their kill can have the most impact. Andress is earnest and determined as Caroline, both in terms of her character’s growing love for Marcello, and her single-minded pursuit of the game’s ultimate prize. But while Andress – unexpectedly – proves to be very good indeed in her role, the same can’t be said of Mastroianni, who is let down by the script’s indecision in how to portray him. One minute he’s looking smug, the next he’s angry, the moment after that he’s as amorous as a typical Italian male… and so on. He’s not helped by Petri’s scattershot approach to directing, with the future director of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) unable to maintain a consistent pace or tone throughout. There are very definite highs in the movie, but there are also very damning lows, and it’s this inconsistency that stops the movie from being as carefree and as enjoyable as it could have been.

Rating: 7/10 – while there’s a lot going on visually – all of it captured by Gianni Di Venanzo’s exemplary cinematography – the story suffers somewhat, making The Tenth Victim both invigorating and disappointing at the same time; with the main storyline falling victim to a series of implausible built-in plot developments, the movie is as preposterous as many others of its kind from the Sixties, but thanks to a frothy sense of its own absurdity, overcomes many of its faults by sheer force of indomitable Italian will.