“The times we live in!”, as Lucio Fulci once exclaimed before disappearing in a taxi. “Willy Pareto” (Riccardo Freda)’s The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire, rushed out during 1971 as a sure-fire cash in on the international success of Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) didn’t, in the event, get much of a release anywhere. In March 1972 British distributor Ben Rose submitted it to the BBFC for theatrical certification, which was promptly refused on the grounds of its florid sadism. Since then it’s only been available on nth generation bootleg VHS dubs and murky DVD-Rs sourced from them. Now, courtesy of Arrow (a label which has released several Freda titles in the last few years, with Double Face on the way) here’s a spanky new 2K restoration, uncut and rated ’15′(!) The times, indeed…
Now a more general audience can discover (and bootleg watchers can more clearly evaluate) the sheer oddness of this film, in which a serial killer on the loose in Ireland is defacing the proverbial prettiness of Dublin’s female inhabitants with acid before slashing their throats, to be sure. While TIWTTOF’s ineptly rendered gore scenes (courtesy of Lamberto Marini, who did rather better on Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, among others), nasty and mean-spirited as they undoubtedly are, look more laughable than anything these days, the very wilfulness of e.g. its plotting / dialogue / ludicrous Irish dubbing reaches levels only rarely attained by a select few, among whose numbers we can include the visionary likes of Tommy Wiseau and James Nguyen.
Whereas Freda’s 1980 directorial swan song Murder Obsession aka Fear, et al (alternating as it does phoned in-banality and such audacious visual moments as the climactic recreation of Michelangelo’s Pietá) might suggest that, while making it, he was recovering from a stroke (a stroke that he was conceivably in the full throes of while directing 1972’s batshit bonkers Tragic Ceremony) there are signs here of a director who very much knows what he’s doing (there are crane shots and even helicopter shots) but is winking at us and daring us to get the joke during TIWTTOF’s more ludicrous passages… dreaming, perhaps, that after all this faddish giallo nonsense has blown over, he’ll be back making “proper” pictures like the lavish costume dramas for which he was noted in the ’50s and ’60s. Guess again, Riccardo…
The film kicks off with Dominique Boschero, playing the mistress of Sobieski, the Swiss ambassador (Anton Diffring) being bumped off in the first of many not-so-grand guignol FX scenes. The fact that she promptly turns up in the boot of his limo (and is discovered there by a bored-looking, possibly catatonic schoolboy) immediately puts the aryan ferrero rocher slinger in the frame, but why is his chauffeur Mandel (familiar giallo face Renato Romano) acting so suspiciously? Come to think of it, why is everybody in the cast acting so bloody suspiciously? Just about all of them seem to own at least one pair of murderous black leather gloves…
The murder investigation, by Police Inspector Lawrence (Arthur O’Sullivan), is hampered by Sobieski’s diplomatic immunity so he spends a lot of time giving Mandel a hard time, to no avail, then calls in his “secret weapon”… ex-detective John Norton (played by Luigi Pistilli and seemingly named after his transportation mode of choice). Lawrence recruits Norton to the investigation by sending some of his men round to duff him up, which might seem a perverse tactic… until you consider the circumstances under which Norton (nicknamed “The Beast”) became an ex-detective. As revealed in a recurring Leonesque flashback, this involved the enhanced interrogation of a suspect, so very enhanced that when Norton took a break from beating up on him, the dude grabbed a carelessly placed pistol and blew his own brains out. Yep, that’s definitely gonna piss on your career chips (incidentally, as acknowledged in the audio commentary to this release, the unidentified actor briefly essaying the role of that victim is a particularly fine-looking specimen of manhood).
Norton’s beastliness is explained by reference to his own wife’s death at the hands of violent criminals, a revelation which fails to make his character any more sympathetic but significantly raises his own status as a suspect. In a clumsy bit of exposition / excruciating dialogue, Lawrence explains the film’s title to Norton… though he’s clearly confusing iguanas with chameleons. Shifting effortlessly from taxonomical error into political incorrectness, Lawrence confidently declares that the killer’s modus operandi is typical of “a woman… or a coloured person!”
Norton starts dating Helen Sobiesky (the ever lovely giallo icon Dagmar Lassander), apparently unaware (in one of the film’s many improbable narrative spasms) that she’s the ambassador’s daughter. Looks like Dublin’s got no bigger since Bloomsday. He takes her on a date to Ireland’s ravishing coastline and seems to contemplate strangling her and throwing her off a cliff. She’s OK with this. Takes all sorts.
Meanwhile various other characters are murdered and some gay people are being blackmailed. Or something. A decapitated moggy turns up in somebody’s fridge and every time any pair of spectacles appear on-screen, a burst of Stelvio Cipriani’s most sinister musical theme swells on the soundtrack. During one of the repetitions of the all-important flashback, Pistilli is clearly resorting to that most ludicrous of Francoesque expedients, acting in slow motion! Valentina Cortese’s excellent performance as Sobieski’s wife looks like it belongs in another film and she probably wishes it was. Confused yet?
Understandably, in view of his long lay off, Norton’s grasp of contemporary police procedure is a bit shaky so he debates the likely guilt or innocence of the various suspects with his elderly mum (Ruth Durley), with whom he lives. I’m reminded of President Carter announcing to a bemused world that he frequently sought advise on nuclear disarmament from his brattish daughter Amy… in fact Norton’s daughter lives with them, too. He mocks his mother’s “Mrs Marples” identification of the culprit, which turns out to be bang on the money. This is no consolation when the killer pays them a visit (in drag) during the film’s genuinely shocking climax, which briefly attains the kind of goofy delirium also seen at the conclusion of Fernando Di Leo’s Cold Blooded Beast, made the same year. Norton intervenes and the killer (whose previous appearances in the film you quite possibly missed if you blink at anything like the normal human rate), apropos of nothing in particular (I mean, he’s already killed plenty of other people) jumps out of a high window, down into the street and through the windshield of a passing car, whose driver seems understandably miffed to find his shredded face puking blood all over the dashboard. It’s suggested that the killer became a misanthrope because he was gay / a slaphead / traumatised by somebody else in his family being a murderer. That somebody else thinks they’ve eluded justice, but there’s a twist in the tail. Award yourself bonus points if you spotted Freda’s cameo as one of the guys who fished Lassander out of The Liffey and… relax. You have been watching Riccardo Freda’s The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire.
The commentary track, conducted by David “Reprobate” Flint and Adrian J. Smith (author of giallo tome Blood And Black Lace) strikes just the right balance between informative (they made the effort to research and confirm the existence of The Swastika Laundry, in which Dubliners could once tumble their underpants) and fannishly enthusiastic… there really is no alternative to raucous guffawing when confronted by some of TIWTTOF’s unlikelier plot developments and choicer visuals. In a bonus featurette, cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer further accentuates the film’s narrative incoherence, a quality which he found engaging in Sergio Bergonzelli’s In The Folds Of The Flesh but not here. Developing the thesis he previously expounded on the Arrow release of Luigi Bazzoni’s The Lady Of The Lake, he talks up his theme of “the monstrosity of The Family in Italian life”. Editor Bruno Micheli talks about learning his craft from his big sister Ornella, how sex scenes removed by the Censor were surreptitiously spliced back into prints, working closely with Freda and how producer Adolfo Donati was the only man allowed to wear a red tie in the presence of Mussolini.
We’ve had a few career-spanning interviews with Dagmar Lassander recently and there’s another here, conducted by Manlio Gomarasca, which starts with her oblique entry into the industry and takes in Lucio Fulci’s misogyny, Freda’s snobbery, Tomas Milian’s charisma and Valentina’ Cortese’s thespian caprices.
OST guru Lovely Jon presents a useful 25 minute primer on the recently deceased Stelvio Cipriani, pushing his claim for a place alongside the “big three” of Morricone, Nicolai and Alessandroni. He discusses the influence of Dave Brubeck, talks us through Cipriani’s deployment of music during three key scenes in the film and – evaluating the killer’s acid chucking, throat slashing MO – offers the verdict: “Fucking ‘ell, that’s some really nasty shit, man!” Indeed.
If your fancy is tickled by what Lovely Jon has to say, Arrow are issuing an LP release of Cipriani’s score too!
… and yes, that’s two reviews in a row where we neglected to mention (until now) that Werner Pochath was in the film under consideration. So sue us!