The 10th Victim (La decima vittima)

Director: Elio Petri
Screenplay: Tonino Guerra and Giorgio Salvioni and Ennio Flajano) and Elio Petri (based on the story “The Seventh Victim” by Robert Sheckley)
Stars: Marcello Mastroianni (Marcello Polletti), Ursula Andress (Caroline Meredith), Elsa Martinelli (Olga), Salvo Randone (Professor), Massimo Serato (Lawyer), Milo Quesada (Rudi), Luce Bonifassy (Lidia), George Wang (Chinese Attacker), Evi Rigano (Victim), Walter Williams (Martin), Richard Armstrong (Cole)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1965
Country: Italy
The 10th Victim Blu-Ray
The 10th VictimThe Tenth Victim is one of the great, bizarre curiosity pieces of ’60s international cinema at its most flamboyantly groovy and ridiculously satirical. One would be hard-pressed to describe a film as fundamentally absurd and utterly mired in the most blatant cinematic, stylistic, and political trends of its era, and yet here it is in all its glory: a pop-art time capsule of silly pleasures that predates in various ways films as diverse as Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), Roger Corman’s Death Race 2000 (1975), and the Austin Powers series.

The story takes place in a not-too-distant future in which war and crime have been eradicated by centralizing and controlling violence via an international game known as “The Big Hunt,” which is advertised with catchy, politically attuned slogans like “Why control births when you can increase death?” A significant portion of the human population takes part in the game, in which names are randomly drawn by a supercomputer in Geneva and matched up: one victim, one hunter. The hunter is given all of the information about his or her target, who has absolutely no idea who the hunter is. The catch is that, if the hunter is successful, he or she becomes a victim in the next round. Those who manage to kill 10 people and survive 10 assassination attempts win $1 million and live the rest of their lives in the lap of luxury. As is the case with all sanctioned violence--from Roman gladiatorial games to NFL football--the Big Hunt has a huge fan base, and the best hunters become international celebrities hounded by paparazzi and courted by big companies.

The best of the best are Marcello Polletti (Marcello Mastroianni), a suave Italian with both money and female problems, and Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), a droll, beautiful American. Near the beginning of the film we witness Caroline taking down her latest victim with a pair of machine guns hidden in her go-go top, which immediately establishes the heights to which the film’s absurdist satire will climb. When she is assigned Marcello’s name, they are both at the cusp of winning the game: If she kills him, she wins; if he survives, he wins. Of course, since this is satire, simple assassination will not do, and each of them flirts with various commercial entities who want to include their product in the live broadcast of the killing: Product placement as the ultimate form of media violence.

Being a veteran of the hunt, Marcello knows to be on the lookout, and he immediately suspects that Caroline, who is masquerading as a sex researcher, might be his hunter, but he has to be absolutely sure because if he kills her and she turns out to be an ordinary citizen, he will face 30 years in jail. Thus, the majority of the film follows their complicated tango, as she tries to lure him to the Temple of Venus in Rome where TV cameras await his death and he tries to figure out if she wants him dead or alive. Naturally this leads to romance, although it is never entirely clear if they are truly falling in love or just playing each other for the best possible advantage, a back-and-forth that takes us right through multiple false endings before we find out who will actually emerge victorious.

Both Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress were at the height of their stardom in the mid-1960s. Mastroianni had cemented his reputation as a cornerstone of European art cinema with his roles in Federico Fellini’s groundbreaking La dolce vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s La notte (1962). By this time he was happily toying with that image, appearing in such films as the amorous comedy Casanova 70 (1965), in which he plays an army officer who can’t have sex unless his life is literally in danger. Starring as the bored-eyed, platinum-haired Marcello in The 10th Victim allowed Mastroianni to further parody his international image, playing the arrogant alpha male to its logical end. Ursula Andress, who had gained instant immortality when she walked out of the ocean in a white bikini in Dr. No (1963), is nowhere close to Mastroianni’s equal in the acting department, but she holds her own as the devious and clever Caroline, who knows better than anyone how to manipulate male egotism to her own ends.

The film was based on “The Seventh Victim,” a 1953 short story first published in Galaxy magazine by prolific sci-fi writer Robert Shakley, whose futuristic tales tended to bleed over into outrageous social satire. Director Elio Petri, a committed leftist who had begun his film career working under Giuseppe De Santis (Bitter Rice), clearly picked up on the satirical possibilities and ran with them, perhaps too far. Most of Petri’s films are inflected with his deep political convictions, and the same is true of The 10th Victim, with its trenchant satire of commercialism, violence, and dehumanization. The problem for modern audiences, though, is that the film is so fundamentally mired in the swinging silliness of mid-’60s Euro culture that the message gets lost amid all the gaudy colors, insipid pop music, and generally deranged production design. It is at times laugh-out-loud hilarious, particularly when Marcello finds himself pinned down by gunfire from both his ex-wife and his current lover, which forces him to turn to Caroline, his hunter, for help. The film’s gender politics are all over the map, as it blatantly fetishizes Ursula Andress’s body while simultaneously mocking masculine pretensions and essentially leveling the playing field by doling violence out to everyone. But, even if The 10th Victim doesn’t quite hold together or make a coherent statement, it is certainly a memorable ride down campy lane.

The 10th Victim Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.78:1
  • Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 monaural
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
  • Marcello: A Sweet Life (2006) documentary
  • U.S. theatrical trailer
  • Italian theatrical trailer
  • Poster & stills galleryMarcello Mastroianni stills gallery
  • DistributorBlue Underground
    Release DateSeptember 13, 2011

    Blue Underground’s new 1080p high-definition transfer of The 10th Victim offers a substantial improvement over their 2009 DVD (which was simply a repackaging of Anchor Bay’s 2001 disc) in just about every department. The image is notably brighter (making the two transfers literally like night and day when comparing them side by side), which allows for better contrast, richer detail, and, most importantly, more vibrant and intense color saturation. You will genuinely feel the heat as Ursula Andress struts across the screen in some kind of hot pink futuristic pantsuit that clashes ever so beautifully with Marcello Mastroianni’s lemon yellow sunglasses. There is enough grain presence to give the image a distinctly filmlike appearance, and it appears to have gone through some digital restoration since there is little in the way of blemishes or age artifacts. Viewers have the option of watching the film in either Italian or English monaural. There is not a great deal of difference between the soundtracks, and both have their limitations given the postproduction nature of most of the dialogue and sounds. The incessant pop music sounds crisp and clear, even if limited by the single-channel mix.
    The supplements are pretty much all Mastroianni all the time. The big inclusion is Mario Canale and Annarosa Morri’s 2006 documentary Marcello: A Sweet Life, which runs 98 minutes and covers the entirety of the great actor’s life and career. In addition, there is a stills gallery featuring images of Mastroianni, a poster and production stills gallery, and both U.S. andItalian theatrical trailers.

    Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Blue Underground

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    James Kendrick

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