Saturday, June 27, 2015

L'uomo senza memoria (1974)

... aka: Atormentada (Tormented)
... aka: Dødens puslespil (Death Puzzle)
... aka: Le trancheuse infernale (The Infernal Slicer)
... aka: Man Without a Memory
... aka: Puzzle
... aka: Rompecabeza: Hombre sin memoria (Puzzle: Man Without Memory)

Directed by:
Duccio Tessari

Eight months after having been involved in a car accident and waking up in a clinic, a young Brit (Luc Merenda, last seen in TORSO) still hasn't been able to regain his memory. A passport on his possession claims he's “Peter Smith” but a man named Philip (Manfred Freyberger) shows up at his psychiatrist's office telling him he's a friend and his name is actually “Ted Walden.” After Philip gets Peter / Ted alone, he promptly beats him up, calls him a two-bit con artist, accuses him of faking his amnesia and threatens to kill him but someone from outside the apartment shoots Phillip to death through the window. Before dying, Philip also passes along some other possibly important information, namely that Peter is 30 years old and is married to an American woman currently living in Italy. Immediately after, the doorbell rings and he receives a telegram from his wife Sara (the seriously gorgeous Senta Berger), who claims she can't wait to see him again and leaves a date and location for them to meet. Peter / Ted hides the body in a Murphy bed and then it's off to the airport.

Meanwhile in Portofino, Italy, Sara has moved on with her life best she can and is working as a swim teacher. Luca (Duilio Cruciani), a young boy who lives next door, has a massive crush on her as does an older man, Daniel Reinhart (Umberto Orsini), who works at the same sports center as Sara and seems to secretly hope she remains single for selfish reasons. After someone breaks in, chloroforms her and ransacks her home, Sara receives a telegram from Peter / Ted telling her he's about to join her. The two meet at a train station and have a lot of catching up to do. Peter / Ted doesn't really learn a whole lot from his wife. After all, the two barely even knew each other! They met in New York City, married after a week-long courtship and, soon after, went to London, where she spent most of her time alone in their hotel room while he was off doing something. That something is unknown. Sara recalls he had an interest in antiques but never even told her what line of work he was in. Edward Walden turns out to be his real name... or “Ted” if you're a friend.

According to nearly everyone who used to know Edward (including his wife), he was a “dirty rotten bastard” or a "dirty son of a double crosser" before the amnesia came into play. Now it appears he's going to have to pay for all that when his past comes back to haunt him. One of Edward's former partners-in-crime, violent and perhaps mentally imbalanced thug George (Bruno Corazzari), keeps stalking him and Sara. He was also the one who sent the initial telegraph that lured Edward there and the guy who broke in Sara's home, knocked her out and rummaged through her things. Apparently, he, Edward and Philip all owe someone a million dollars. They'd purchased heroin with the money and now the drugs are missing but the debt remains. Whoever they owe is determined to get the drugs back within a week of Edward's arrival.

After being stalked and terrorized over several days time (including Sara enduring having her dog killed and getting lit matches tossed on her), the couple decide to flee to America, but don't keep their stupid mouths shut about their plans. Not surprisingly, right before they're supposed to leave she becomes incapacitated after being hit by a car and breaking her leg in a staged “accident.” Certain incidents Edward witnesses along the way (like blood and a ceiling fan) trigger flashbacks to his past, which help to slowly reveal what happened before his car crash. Things finally start to liven up a bit at the very end, which features some fist fighting, razor slashing and bloody scenes involving a chainsaw.

This is a presentable and competently-made but nonetheless routine little mystery (or “giallo” if you will) that holds few if any real surprises and owes a huge debt of gratitude to Terence Young's Wait Until Dark (1967) in more ways than one. Considering what this is, when it was made and where it's from, I consider the lack of surprise both a positive and a negative thing; positive because many Italian thrillers from this era seemed so intent on surprise twists they'd venture into the realm of the senseless, idiotic and absurd to provide them and negative because, well, who wants to sit through an average, predictable movie? While the lack of imagination and creativity makes for a forgettable viewing experience overall, it won't exactly kill you to watch this either. Some mildly intriguing flashbacks sequences, OK production values, realistic characters and charismatic actors help put it in about the middle of the pack.

Puzzle was scripted by the extremely prolific Ernesto Gastaldi, who perhaps wrote more of these things than anyone else. Giallo regular Anita Strindberg (Lizard in a Woman's Skin) appears in just two scenes in a minor and forgettable role. Prior to this, the director co-wrote Goliath and the Vampires (1961), Bava's HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961) and numerous other peplum and spaghetti westerns; some of which he also directed. His only other genre film as director was the obscure giallo The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971). The DVD release from the Danish company Another World Entertainment comes with both English and Italian audio tracks, but no English subs for the latter.


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