- Ravi Swami
"The 10th Victim", Dir: Elio Petri, 1965
There are some films where I think "Can I be bothered to review this ?' and the 1965, Carlo Ponti produced, Elio Petri directed, "The 10th Victim" - adapted from a novel by Robert Sheckley, who wrote the film novelisation - falls squarely into that category - a choice arrived, as usual, at random, curiosity piqued by a screenshot on MUBI channel of a dyed blonde (!) Marcello Mastroianni surrounded by a group of women dressed in a 1960's pop vision of futuristic clothing - all shiny white PVC and hats with celluloid visors.
What would my deep-dive into Italian 60's cinema yield this time ? I wondered..
The film opens with shots of modernist buildings in New York as a woman (Ursula Andress in a brown wig) is being pursued by an Oriental man with a gun who takes several shots at her but which she manages to evade - his attitude suggests that a homicide is going to take place.
The woman runs through a doorway next to a sign that says "Masoch Club" and then the scene cuts abruptly to the sparse futuristic interior of the club where Andress, now blonde and in a skimpy silver bikini and wearing a "cats eye" mask to conceal her identity is dancing suggestively on a raised dais surrounded by ogling suited men and elegant women - this is clearly no low out-of-town "dive" but an exclusive upmarket club with a select clientele.
She dances toward her pursuer who has followed her into the club and he drops his guard, and his gun, momentarily, as she writhes in front of him before pulling a gun and shooting him dead.
The body is removed by a group of heavily armed men, like a militia, who then announce that she is the victor and on her way to collecting a million dollars, and at this point we realize that this is part of a macabre game of hunter and hunted staged for public consumption in the near future.
Incidentally, few of the posters above allude to the plot, most especially the second one where Mastroianni isn't even blonde, and Andress is a major selling point in common with all of them.
Before you have a chance to recover from the previous scenario you are plunged into the bizarre plot, where Mastrioanni is revealed to be a champion with a high kill-rate and is something of media star and also Andress' next victim, leaving the winner to scoop a million dollar prize and advertising contracts to promote various products in a game of last man standing.
A plan is cooked up by Andress' agent to lure Mastroianni into a fake TV commercial shoot for "Ming Tea" and to kill him there in front of a live TV audience but the plan goes awry and Mastroianni and Andress fall in love and, I think, both escape with their lives, but then the conclusion is a little irrelevant in what is a wacky satire with some hilarious dialogue exchanges, eg at one point Mastroianni shoots Andress but she survives because she is wearing a bullet-proof "skin suit" under her skimpy 60's dress, and it is set in world of 1960's futurism mixed in with the ruins of ancient Rome that are a feature of the city.
The distinctive art direction succeeds in supporting the central conceit of the plot, even if you constantly question it and it seems frequently absurd, horrifying and improbable, a point being made by a character at the start of film that had Hitler not been defeated at the end of WWII, he would have heartily approved of a society where people hunt each other for sport for the amusement and entertainment of the public as an acknowledgement of the baser drives and motivations of human beings.
Ultimately, it's a thinly disguised allusion to the cruelty of ancient Roman gladiatorial combat and the arena - "Bread and Circuses" projected into a brutalist landscape of the world of the future, which is referenced in one scene where two men dressed as gladiators fight to the death for the amusement some well-heeled partygoers, and the "Ming Tea" commercial is staged in Rome's Colosseum, as if we need a further hint.
I had no idea that the film was so influential as to inspire similar films, such as "Death Race 2000", "Battle Royale" and "The Running Man" and more recently, "The Hunger Games" though a prior template existed in the 1932 film, "The Most Dangerous Game".
The pop-art art direction and tone of the film was also a key influence in the Austin Power's films and "Ming Tea" inspired the fictitious 60' British pop group of the same name headed by Power's (Mike Myers) himself in all 3 of the films.
Much like "Battle Royale" the film represents a kind of squaring up with a past characterised by cruelty within militaristic societies like Ancient Rome, though in a very bloodless way compared to the later film - lots of guns are fired but blood and wounds are conspicuously absent, which contributes to the sense that the film is a satirical spoof, played dead straight by a deadpan Mastroianni with dyed blonde hair, which if nothing else, if worth watching the film for.
"The 10th Victim", Dir: Elio Petri, 1965
MUBI Channel / Apple TV