The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Sergio Martino / Italy-Spain, 1971):
(Lo Strano vizio della Signora Wardh; Blade of the Ripper; The Next Victim)

The first murder is staged inside a car parked in the dark, barely illuminated by passing headlights; add Edwige Fenech’s introduction on the escalator and the marvelously gratuitous fashionista soiree (where models wrestle and rip each other’s paper dresses) and you have the mise en scène of Minnelli’s Two Weeks in Another Town, and Sergio Martino is just getting warmed up. The heroine is a sort of jet-setting Hérodiade (Mallarmé’s), divided between the stability of her diplomat husband (Alberto de Mendoza) and the "ecstasy and fear" of a sadistic ex-lover (Ivan Rassimov); a greasy-haired lothario (George Hilton) unites the two poles during her stay in Vienna, where women are mysteriously slaughtered. ("We should be grateful to this maniac, he’s eliminating our competition," Fenech’s sidekick quips.) The morbid longings of the disinterested wife, funneled into brutal fantasies shot with unnerving lyricism: Fenech’s broken-glass tryst with Rassimov glows in her memory, slow-mo and ululated to "Dies Irae" until she’s awakened from her reverie to face the leather-gloved culprit’s switchblade. Barcelona becomes the illicit lovers’ Eden, but, as somebody says, "Adam and Eve lost Paradise because they knew too much." (Another favorite line: "Your vice is a room locked from the inside and only I have the key.") Martino’s study of deep reds and blacks benefits grandly from inventive lightning, as when the couple stumbles through a darkened studio and a lighter turned this way and that becomes a compositional tool; the camera tilts down from the killer reflected in aviator shades in a late scene, and suddenly you recognize the Spanish desert from the Leone westerns. The home stretch tips its hat to both The Wages of Fear and Diabolique, Argento saw the stabbing in the park and reworked it to perfection in Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Altman’s Images is a distant American relative. With Conchita Airoldi, Carlo Alighiero, and Bruno Corazzari.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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