Saturday, February 4, 2023

PUZZLE (1974)


PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*

This giallo is atypical of its kind in three ways. It's wholly naturalistic, having no black-gloved killers or weird murder-scenarios, and just barely qualifies for the "bizarre crimes" trope. In addition, though some giallos end with life-or-death brawls, this is one of the few giallos I've seen in which one of the protagonists shows unusual competence in not one but two hand-to-hand fights. And so far, this is the only giallo I've seen that stars a male character and a female character with about equal emphasis, instead of the more common approach of opposing one against the other.

A British citizen with memory-loss (Luc Merenda) has struggled for months with his dubious identity. He knows that his ID said his name is Peter, but nothing else. Then he's approached by a man who says his real name is Ted and that he owes some dangerous people a lot of money. Yet, when the fellow pulls out a gun and threatens the newly christened Ted, a mysterious protector shoots the gunman from a distance. 

Someone also goes through the trouble of sending Ted new information: that, in the course of his memory loss, he deserted a wife named Sara (Senta Berger) back in Portofino, Italy for over half a year. Still remembering nothing, he sends a communication to Sara and ships out to Portofino. Though stung by Ted's apparent desertion, Sara loves him enough to meet him again, and becomes his aide in sorting out the mystery.

Like other stories with amnesiac protagonists, Innocent Ted soon finds out that he used to be Guilty Ted, a guy who conspired with other criminals in a heroin smuggling operation. The script, partly written by director Duccio Tessari, shows uncommon empathy for the beleaguered couple as they try to patch up their relationship as well as get rid of the criminals dogging their tracks, and both Merenda and Berger turn in strong performances.

The mode in which the heroin is smuggled is the only moderately bizarre thing in the movie, though the climax includes a singular method of "heroine defense," when sexy Sara must defend herself from an attacker with a handy chainsaw. This, however, would be Tessari's only other giallo after 1971's BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY, as he was far better known for action-movies, such as  directing the superior 1975 ZORRO the next year, and having written better than average strongman-films like GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON and HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD.

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