Saturday, September 17, 2011

La porta sul buio: La bambola (1973) [filmed in 1971] (TV)

... aka: Bambola, La
... aka: Dario Argento's Door Into Darkness: The Doll
... aka: Door Into Darkness: The Doll
... aka: Doll, The

Directed by:
Mario Foglietti

Here's the fourth and final entry in the short-lived La porta sul buio ("Door Into Darkness") series. So let me recap a little about the series and its origins and then we're off! Both THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1969) and The Cat O' Nine Tails (1970) were hits in Italy (though Bird faired better internationally), so RAI (Italy's only television channel at the time) enlisted director Dario Argento to host, produce, sometimes write or direct and generally oversee the suspense tales on their new mystery / thriller / chiller series La porta sul buio. Four episodes were filmed in 1971, but they weren't actually released until the fall of 1973. All of the tales are reasonably budgeted, run about an hour in length, are non-graphic yet very stylish and contain equal parts mystery and terror. Each also has that distinctive Argento stamp on it when it comes to the presentation, camerawork and score. The directors were Argento (who directed The Tram), Luigi Cozzi (who made THE NEIGHBOR), Roberto Pariante (who is credited with directing EYEWITNESS, but rumor has it Argento - sans credit - re-filmed nearly the entire episode himself after being displeased with the original version) and Mario Foglietti, the director of this one. Foglietti made a few other features (he also helped writer Argento's FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET), but this was his only genre film; a shame since this effort shows a lot of promise.

After a very Ed Wood-ian intro ("Look at all these people walking, rushing...) with Argento stating that any one of us can go nutzoid at any moment while showing a crowd of people shuffling about, the story begins with a great montage of POV shots of someone escaping a mental institution and running through the woods, finally managing to hitch a ride. We're next introduced to an unnamed, handsome, well-dressed man (Robert Hoffmann) carrying a black leather bag who shows up at a hotel, rents a room, is extremely unfriendly to the nosy old female innkeeper and then spots a woman outside talking to a boyfriend. The man then immediately starts following the woman around. She turns out to be Elena Moreschi (Erika Blanc), who owns and operates her own fashion house, and seems to be popular with the men folk in the area. Someone sneaks into Elena's garment factory and murders her. A police detective (Gianfranco D'Angelo), with help from a professor of psychology (Umberto Raho) who works at the same asylum the nutcase escaped from, are on the case.

While the police are out trying to locate the escapee, the strange man begins stalking a second woman; the meek Daniela (Mara Venier). He follows her to a toy store, sneaks a doll into her purse and uses that as an excuse to follow her back to her apartment. He more or less barges in and then refuses to leave. Can the police reach Daniela before it's too late? Naturally, this film comes complete with a big twist ending and it's not a hard conclusion to draw before it's actually revealed once the stalker's psychological torment begins. Then again, in this case that's really not all that important; this is primarily a visual piece. And on its own terms, it's fairly successful.

La bambola has truly bizarre camerawork and editing, and shows much more visual flair than the segments directed by Cozzi and Pariante. There are long takes of people walking, flurries of weird camera angles (edited together at a fast clip), high angles, low angles, plenty of moving POV shots and even a shot that starts at the top of someone's head and then quickly zooms out. The camera seems like it never stops moving and the director makes good use of panning shots and tracking shots. He also toys around quite a bit with focus and blur, and comes up with several very interesting and effective uses of it. There's even a long, unbroken shot that floats around the floors of the apartment into and through various rooms that Dario himself would be proud of.

The cast is also pretty interesting. I've been a big fan of Blanc's for years now because of her work in such films as THE VENDETTA OF LADY MORGAN (1965), Kill, Baby... Kill! (1966) and most especially THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE (1971), and even though she's only given about fifteen minutes of screen time here, it's always nice to see her. Venier (who also appeared in the 1987 giallo Sweets from a Stranger) is someone I'm completely unfamiliar with, but she was quite good in her role, too. Neither actress is going to be everyone's idea of beautiful, but they both have a very striking and haunting quality about their appearance that fits both the film and the 'doll' motif perfectly. Lead actor Hoffmann (who also starred in Naked Girl Killed in the Park, Spasmo, etc.) is one of those unshaven hunky guys you'd expect to see in a spaghetti western, and does a good job in his enigmatic role also.

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