At Least It’s Not Those PPI Bastards! THE KILLER… IS ON THE PHONE Reviewed

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L’assassino… É Al Telefono aka Scenes From A Murder. Directed by Alberto De Martino. Produced by Aldo Scavarda, Guy Luongo and Valerio De Paolis. Written by Alberto De Martino, Adriano Bolzoni, Renato Izzo, Lorenzo Manning and Vincenzo Mannino. Cinematography by Aristide Massaccesi (“Joe D’Amato”). Edited by Otello Colangeli. Production Design by Antonio Visone. Music by Stelvio Cipriani. Starring: Telly Savalas, Anne Heywood, Osvaldo Ruggieri, Giorgio Piazza, Willeke van Ammelrooy, Rossella Falk, Antonio Guidi, Roger Van Hool, Ada Pometti, Alessandro Perrella.

Although he worked his way up through the mandatory succession of peplums and spaghetti westerns and signed off his directorial career in 1985 with a skid row giallo (Formula For A Murder) and similarly under-resourced monster movie (Miami Golem… David Warbeck starred in both), Alberto De Martino was a capable director (responsible for my all time favourite Italian crime slime picture, Blazing Magnum) who nearly crashed the big time in 1977 with Holocaust 2000, a Kirk Douglas-starring Omen clone that did tidy international box office business. The er, omens for Alberto’s career were looking good until he perpetrated The Pumaman, a terminally lame superhero effort that crashed and burned in 1980.

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The aforementioned Blazing Magnum (1976) is one of those poliziotteschi with strong giallo overtones and Martino’s The Man With Icy Eyes (1971) similarly straddles both genres, to less compelling effect. The Killer… Is On The Phone is often dismissed as “for giallo completists only” but having finally caught up with this 1972 effort, I’d hesitate to go even that far, the film playing out more like a ponderous “psychological thriller” than a full-blooded Italian whodunnit…

… for starters, we know who did it (“it” being “bumped off actress Eleanor Loraine’s husband Peter”) from the get go. Yes, it was hit man Ranko Drasovic (Telly Savalas, the year before his apotheosis from cinema character acting stalwart to TV icon with Kojak).

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Ranko’s been contracted to kill a Middle Eastern diplomat in Bruges, when he spots Eleanor (Anne Heywood). His assassination job immediately goes on the back burner (to the chagrin of his employers) because he knows that Eleanor saw him killing Peter (Roger Van Hool). What he doesn’t know is that she was so traumatised by what she saw that she’s completely blotted it out of her memory.

So, an eye-witness to a crime who, unknown to the perpetrator, can’t testify against him… think of how cleverly Lucio Fulci deployed this device during his psychedelic giallo tour de force Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971). In contrast, De Martino just has Drago wandering around the canals of Bruges, dogging Eleanor’s footsteps and looking vaguely menacing while he ponders what to do next. When he does finally take decisive action he only succeeds in bumping off the wrong woman, Eleanor’s sister Dorothy (the very lovely Willeke van Ammelrooy, possibly best known to our readers from Dick Maas’s The Lift, 1983) who has taken the indisposed Eleanor’s role in a production of Lady Godiva. Yeah, I’d pay to see Ms  Ammelrooy (below) in that…

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Eleanor had to bow out of the show when she started declaiming Lady Macbeth’s lines during rehearsals and indeed, she seems to identify closely with Lady M… in one flashback she is apparently seen egging on her co-star / brother-in-law / lover Thomas (Osvaldo Ruggieri, who looks like Udo Kier in a Kenney Jones wig) to murder Peter (now there’s a twist!) only for it to be revealed that this is a scene from a play in which they previously appeared together (taking his cue from Busby Berkeley, De Martino stuffs the purported stage production with visual material that no theatre audience could possibly have seen…)

Any viewer roused from their slumbers by this potentially interesting development will soon wish they hadn’t been, as further endless scenes of Savalas wandering around ensue, detracting from what is (when it finally arrives) a rather gripping and suspenseful finalé in which Eleanor rings the curtain down on Ranko’s murderous career in conclusive style. Then there’s an unexpected twist which identifies who really ordered Peter’s murder (and why), all of which comes way too late to salvage this Italo-Belgian co-production which, even if it doesn’t quite piss on your giallo chips, saturates them in an unappetising slurry of stodgy narrative mayonnaise.

Disappointing stuff…

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