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Reviews & Commentary

Tragic Ceremony (1972)

Also known as
Estratto dagli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale europea (original)
Writer
Mario Bianchi, José Gutiérrez Maesso, Leonardo Martín
Director
Riccardo Freda (credited as Robert Hampton)
Cast
Camille Keaton, Tony Isbert, Máximo Valverde, Giovanni Petrucci, Luciana Paluzzi, José Calvo

Before hitting the big time, such as it was, in Day of the Woman (Zarchi, 1978), Camille Keaton spent several years in Italy making low-budget movies such as this one, which has the lovely, giallo-tinged original title Extracts from the secret archives of a European capital’s police force.

The plot concerns three ostensibly British gentlemen and a girl (at least, the script seems to think it’s set in Britain, given the references to the Scotland Yard): Bill (Tony Isbert), a rich boy with a mommy complex; Joe (Máximo Valverde) and Fred (Giovanni Petrucci), a couple of working-class guys who are seemingly just out to scam some money from Bill; and Jane (Camille Keaton). The relationships between our heroic quartet is never made clear, except that all the boys seem to be infatuated with young Jane. And really, who can blame them?

After a short sailing trip, some flashbacks showing Bill’s mother rejecting his gift of a pearl necklace due to its reportedly demonic provenance, and Bill giving the necklace to Jane, the group find themselves out of gas in the middle of the night. After an encounter with a strange gas station attendant, they take shelter in the villa of Lord and Lady Alexander (Luigi Pistilli and Luciana Paluzzi). Her Ladyship is the hospitable sort, and invites our quartet to stay the night.

Naturally, there is more than meets the eye to their Lord- and Ladyships. In the cellar of the villa, a ceremony is taking place. Jane takes a bath, naturally, and is then led by the pearl necklace to the cellar, where she becomes the ceremony’s centre piece. Our heroic now-trio, however, have other ideas and interrupt the ceremony with, you guessed it, tragic results. The ceremonistas, except Jane, all die in a flood of cheap gore and vaseline-smeared lenses. Up to that scene, the film is slow-moving, plodding along in a workmanlike fashion, showing not an ounce of visual flair. But when it reaches the titular ceremony, all hell breaks lose, and we are treated to a really quite enjoyable display of schlocky gore, wacky acting, and speedy camera-work. It’s like Freda only had enough visual creativity for about half a film and decided it would be best to cram it all into that one scene. After the ceremony, the film mostly coasts along on the momentum gained from that scene and Camille Keaton’s not-insignificant presence.

There is a kind of unschooled naturalism to Keaton’s acting that I find very appealing; she never over-emotes, instead, as the saying goes, letting the audience do the work, and she has a screen presence that draws your eyes to her. In the opening scenes of the film, she’s given very little to do and looks mostly bored with the role, but little by little she builds up the ambiguity, and it’s as if her face — angular and beautiful in an intriguing, slightly androgynous way — becomes more and more magnetic. She has a way of letting you see her thinking through small, subtle expressions, and she pretty much carries the last act of the film with her ambiguous, almost imperceptible half-smiles. The real tragedy is that Camille Keaton never broke out of the exploitation ghetto, largely, I’d wager, due to the histrionic reactions of US critics to Day of the Woman.

Mainly thanks to Keaton, I found myself liking the film more and more from the ceremony scene on, but it’s not quite enough to make up for the slow opening, or for the acting of the other players who, with the exception of the underutilised Luciana Paluzzi, are almost-uniformly mediocre. The ending, too, leaves much to be desired; they seem to be going for a twist ending, but they bungle it so badly, mostly because of a wholly superfluous explanation from a doctor played by Jess Franco regular Paul Müller, it doesn’t really twist so much as turn ever so slightly. If they’d ended the film about five minutes earlier, not explaining anything, it would have been a much stronger and much more interesting film, and been a much more satisfying pay-off to Jane’s character arc. Camille Keaton is well worth the price of admission on her own, but I can’t help but imagine what this film could have been in the hands of a more capable director. Or a less capable but more-consistently insane one.

Written by Kalle on Friday August 14, 2009
Permalink - Category: Film - Tags: 1970s, giallo, camille-keaton

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