The Designated Victim Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: November 9, 2021
Audio: English and Italian LPCM 1.0 Mono
Run Time: 100:41 (Theatrical Cut)/104:52 (Extended Cut)
Director: Maurizio Lucidi
Stefano (Tomás Milian), a partner in a company that makes high-end commercials, wants to sell up his share of the business and move to South America with his girlfriend, Fabienne (Katia Christine). However, his wife, in whose name the shares are registered, won’t agree to the sale. Stefano goes to Venice with Fabienne for the weekend to escape his worries. There, he meets the mysterious Count Tiepelo (Pierre Clémenti), who tells him about his own brother who is making his life miserable. The Count then makes a startling suggestion – that he will kill Stefano’s wife if Stefano kills the Count’s brother. More amused than shocked, Stefano laughs off the idea. Then, one day, Stefano receives a phone call from the police; his wife has been found strangled and he is the prime suspect. From that moment on, Stefano’s life becomes a living nightmare as he discovers the true extent of the web the Count has woven around him. (From Mondo Macabro’s official synopsis)
In broad terms, the giallo genre was built upon cinematic traditions originated by Alfred Hitchcock. Many critics have even gone as far as to designate Psycho (1960) as the giallo Rosetta Stone and plenty of Italian filmmakers have directly cited Hitchcock’s work, whether through their titles and imagery – Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Italian: La ragazza che sapeva troppo, 1963) referencing Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, remade in 1956), for example – or by lifting complete narrative devices and plots, such as Eloy de la Iglesia’s Rear Window-esque Glass Ceiling (Spanish: El techo de cristal, 1971) and Maurizio Lucidi’s The Designated Victim (Italian: La vittima designata, 1971), which draped Strangers on a Train in the fashion of the early ‘70s. It is, of course, not the only adaptation of the 1951 film, itself based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel (Harper & Brothers, 1950) with a screenplay co-written by novelist Raymond Chandler, but is, to my knowledge, the only Italian version. Think of it as Strangers on a Venetian Passenger Boat.
Designated Victim – not to be confused with Eugenio Martín’s The Fourth Victim (Spanish: La última señora Anderson, 1971) or Elio Petri’s dystopian comedy The 10th Victim (Italian: La decima vittima, 1965) – was Lucidi’s only giallo. He was better known for his work directing and occasionally writing spaghetti westerns and poliziotteschi. Shortly after his directorial debut on one of Reg Park’s many peplum romps, Hercules the Avenger (Italian: La sfida dei giganti, 1965 [edit: I learned by listening to this commentary that Hercules the Avenger was culled from clips of other Hercules movies]), he churned out My Name is Pecos (Italian: Due once di piombo, 1966), its sequel Pecos Cleans Up (Italian: Pecos è qui: prega e muori, 1967), and two more B-tier westerns – Halleluja for Django (Italian: La più grande rapina del West, 1967) and It Can Be Done, Amigo (Italian: Si può fare... amigo, 1971). This certainly explains why Designated Victim fits the poliziotteschi mold almost as well as it does the giallo mold, despite being made in the period before the two genres were inextricably linked. Similarly to Lucidi, lead Tomás Milian was better known as a spaghetti western actor and would soon become a superstar, thanks to his poliziotteschi appearances. The only other traditional giallo he made was Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (Italian: Non si Sevizia un Paperino, 1972) a year later.
Lucidi was not among the top tier of Italian genre filmmakers, but he was very good at adopting top tier styles. The Pecos movies are a solid impression of Sergio Leone and Designated Victim is a solid impression of Dario Argento, specifically the pre-Suspiria (1977) style he developed for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'Uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970). The camera is constantly and gracefully gliding, even in outdoor situations, and director of photography Aldo Tonti – a fantastic cinematographer in his own right who shot Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (Italian: Le notti di Cabiria, 1957) – adapts some of Vittorio Storaro’s lighting techniques. Coupled with first-time (lead) editor Alessandro Lucidi’s patient pacing, the Argento-esque approach visually and tonally elevates The Designated Victim above the typical post-Bird rabble.
There are eight credited writers, including Lucidi, an English dialogue scriptor, two assistants, and screenwriter Fulvio Gicca. Hitchcock, Highsmith, and Chandler are not among them, but there are two members of the scripting team who were renowned for their giallo work – Antonio Troiso and Aldo Lado. Troiso co-wrote Knife on Ice (Italian: Il coltello di ghiaccio, 1972) with director Umberto Lenzi and Francisco Lara Polop’s The Murder Mansion (Spanish: La mansión de la niebla, 1972), while Lado (who, according to the extras on this disc, also acted as assistant director) went on to write & direct classics Short Night of Glass Dolls (Italian: La corta notte delle bambole di vetro, 1972) and Who Saw Her Die? (Italian: Chi l'ha vista morire?; aka: The Child, 1972). Lado’s love of melancholic, broken characters is present and there’s a social message buried somewhere in the fact that Milian’s character, Stefano, works in advertising, but what’s particularly interesting is The Designated Victim’s implied and explicit sexual politics, which also feels like a Lado trademark to me.
The villain of the piece is the gay/effeminate-coded Count Mateo Tiepelo, played by Pierre Clémenti. The character is not progressive by modern standards in that he is basically a Devil who tempts the hero into sin (at times, he appears supernaturally endowed – able to appear on command and maybe read Stefano’s mind/mood). The audience is meant to recognize that his gender-bending proclivities are part and parcel with his moral failings, among his social standing (by this time, societal shifts and upheavals dictated that rich people were rarely the heroes of gialli or poliziotteschi) and his blasé attitude towards murder. However, the film also shows Milian’s character, Stefano, as being completely comfortable with Mateo’s flamboyance, casually walking arm-in-arm with him, gently putting a necklace around his neck, holding his hand, cleaning his wounds, and not rebuking the femme fatale manner in which the Count seduces him into committing a murder of his own. He’s clearly not comfortable with the situation, but it’s the killing and possible punishment that is bothering him, not the tender touches or honeyed words. Clémenti’s and Milian have so much tender chemistry that it’s kind of a shock when Mateo fully reveals his scheme, despite the fact that we already know he has murdered Stefano’s wife.
Unconventional gender roles extend beyond Stefano’s interactions with Mateo to his relationship with his wife, who holds him back by refusing to sell her shares in their business. His murderous schemes are driven more to his greed and emasculation than his love of his mistress, who his wife knows about and doesn’t seem to mind. She prods him, joking that he’s incapable of killing her (“You didn’t have the courage to provoke an accident. I’m afraid that, even your idea to murder me, in a certain sense, is one of your mistaken ambitions.”) and, when she learns of his attempt to defraud her, she chalks it up to another failure of his manhood and talks down to him like a child (“Disgusting. You didn’t even have the courage to rob me completely.”). Queer characters (villains, in particular), overbearing wives, and henpecked Lotharios are hardly unheard of in gialli cinema, but they’re rarely handled as delicately as they are here.
The Designated Victim was, as far as I can ascertain, never released on video in North America. The easiest way to watch it (legally) would have been to import the PAL UK DVD from Shameless Screen Entertainment, though there were also two German DVDs from Maia Film Entertainment and New Entertainment World. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray (which was released as a limited edition earlier in 2021) features a new 4K scan of the original reversal negative, carried out by L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna. The disc also includes an extended cut culled from the Italian VHS (it’s about 4 minutes longer – see this post for a breakdown of the differences). The inserts are VHS quality, but the rest of the transfer is pretty great. Details are tight, edges are clean without being oversharpened, and grain levels appear natural, even when the Venetian fog turns them to snow. One issue is seen on a lot of L’Immagine Ritrovata scans is the color timing and tint. It changes depending on the lighting and whether or not a shot was filmed outdoors, but, on average, sunnier scenes and flesh tones skew too orange and other elements exhibit a teal tint that I don’t associate with movies from this era. It’s not a deal-breaker at all and is even less invasive than older scans from the company. A lesser problem is the occasionally gray, blue, or brownish black levels. These appear to be an issue with the original photography and ‘fixing’ it would require too much crush.
The theatrical cut of the film is presented with English and Italian dub options, both in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono. The extended cut is only available in Italian, likely because the deleted scenes were taken from the Italian tape. The English dub voices are more hit than miss and the lipsync is pretty sloppy on both tracks (keeping in mind that all language tracks are dubbed), so I’m comfortable recommending the more dynamic and slightly louder English track over the compacted (but still clear) Italian track (where Milian dubs himself). As usual, it’s a matter of taste. Luis Bacalov’s mournful music is used sparingly, but to incredible effect, especially the concertos that play when Stefano wanders through his villa while putting the pieces together in his mind and as he walks to a rooftop holding a sniper rifle. Milian himself sings the title theme, “My Shadow in the Dark,” which was written by Bacalov with lyrics by Sergio Bardotti (based on Hamlet).
Commentary with Rachael Nisbet and Peter Jilmstad (theatrical cut) – The co-hosts of the Fragments of Fear: A Giallo Podcast come very well-prepared for this rapidfire, fact-a-second track. Discussion covers Designated Victim’s place in the giallo canon, the careers of the main cast & crew, character motivations and major themes (they discuss the homoeroticism, but Nisbet also notes that Mateo extolls misogynistic views throughout the film, which is another aspect of its sexual politics I had personally missed), the clever stylistic choices, and a true-crime case that inspired the film as much as Stranger on a Train.
2021 interview with co-writer/assistant director Aldo Lado (48:04, HD) – Lado, whose fingerprints are all over Designated Victim, recalls his early career as a writer for hire, the Strangers on a Train connections, his love of Venice (which appears in a lot of his work), working with the cast & crew, and Italian genre cinema being rediscovered in the 2000s. Most interesting are the moments where he describes shooting pickups to fill holes in the film. If he’s remembering correctly, this means a significant chunk of the direction was his. He also plugs his books, such as The Movies You Will Never See (available from Amazon!).
Pierre Clémenti: Pope of Counterculture (27:42, HD) – Clémenti's son Balthazar talks about his father’s unique life and extensive career as an artist, performer, writer, musician, and filmmaker in France and Italy. It also includes clips and stills from his work as an actor and documentarian.
Slam-Out alternate English trailer (what does that title even mean?)
Alternate English titles
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.