I recently came across this slightly-obscure giallo from 1972, and decided to share my thoughts on it. It rarely gets a mention in articles about Venice in film, and never makes any Top 10s. And I think that’s a shame because there’s lots to admire in Chi l’ha vista morire (“Who saw her die?”) both as a giallo but also as a visual record of Venice in the early 1970s.
It was filmed one year before Don’t Look Now and shares much of the funereal atmosphere of Nicolas Roeg’s film. We begin in a French ski resort, where a young girl is murdered by a black-veiled, black-gloved killer. Years later, in Venice, the daughter of sculptor Franco Serpieri (George Lazenby) is abducted and drowned. Serpieri and his estranged wife (Anita Strindberg) investigate, and discover some very dark secrets at the heart of Venetian society.
Aldo Lado is never really considered among the great directors of the giallo genre, but he does a good job here. The set pieces are stylishly done, and the dark, foggy streets of Venice are as atmospheric and beautiful as they are in Roeg’s film.
Lazenby – gaunt, long-haired and moustached – is unrecognisable as the former James Bond but he does look magnificently 1970s, as indeed does Strindberg, a regular in gialli during this period. Adolfo Celi turns up amongst the supporting cast, along with young Nicoletta Elmi who would later appear in Profondo Rosso.
The plot, perhaps, does not make a great deal of sense but then we don’t watch Italian thrillers of this period for narrative coherence. We watch them for the triumph of style over substance, and Chi l’ha vista morire has that in spades. Dark corridors and staircases, shadows and fog, and a black-gloved killer – they’re all here. And perhaps most interestingly, the filmmakers had permission to shoot within the Molino Stucky – now, a five star Hilton hotel, but at that point just a crumbling industrial building that had been closed for decades.
Elsewhere, there’s a very fine score by Ennio Morricone that makes use of a children’s chorus dissonantly chanting the film’s title. The main theme is genuinely unsettling, although there’s a little too much of it and its appearance on the soundtrack pretty much guarantees that someone is about to die.
So, should you see it? Well, that might depend on whether you happen to like this genre of film, and the subject matter, of course, is rather grim. Neither is it on the level of Don’t Look Now. However, it’s full of visual and historical interest, and it’s also relatively restrained as far as gialli go (there’s a scissors murder – well, of course there is! – but the blood is a not terribly convincing poster-paint red). It can be found relatively easily online, in both English and Italian (note that the unfortunate Lazenby is dubbed in both languages) and I’m also told the Arrow Blu-Ray release is well worth investing in.
If you do watch it, I can guarantee that you will be baffled by the ridiculous final line. The film ran into trouble with the Italian censors and the church and so the producers threw it in as a last minute cop-out. It doesn’t convince for a moment, but neither does it spoil what’s come before..
Finally, it’s impossible not to laugh (albeit rather hollowly) at the scene in which Serpieri and his unnamed journalist friend discuss the future of Venice. “Venice is dead….there’s nothing to do here…we should be like another Las Vegas!”
If only they knew…