The Designated Victim

The Designated Victim (Maurizio Lucidi, 1971)

aka La Vittima designata / Murder By Design / Slam Out

In the annals of Italian cinema Maurizio Lucidi’s THE DESIGNATED VICTIM is something of a standout when you consider the period in which it was made. Shot in 1970 and released in Italy early the following year, it pre-dates the poliziesco explosion by a couple of years but doesn’t fit perfectly within the confines of the genre anyway: nor does it play like the gialli that were typical of the period either; it’s far closer to thrillers such as Elio Petri’s Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto (aka INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION) and therefore would seem more like an attempt at serious filmmaking, rather than the exploitationer that its credentials would suggest.

Lucidi’s plot (co-devised by Augusto Caminto, Aldo Lado and Antonio Trioso) owes its central conceit to Alfred Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and foreshadows Dario Argento’s own homage, DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK? Tomas Milian stars as Stefano Argenti: a fashion designer stuck in a loveless marriage to Luisa (Marisa Bartoli). While he tends to the day-to-day running of her business he becomes increasingly frustrated by the lack of confidence she has in his capabilities. With a buyer lined up to purchase a sizeable amount of the company’s shares, Stefano becomes incensed when Luisa refuses to allow him to sell, thus scuppering his plan to pocket the money and disappear with his mistress, Fabienne (Katia Christine). While on a short break with Fabienne in Venice, Stefano meets Matteo Tiepolo (Pierre Clementi) a mysterious count who offers him a solution to his problems: Matteo is happy to kill Luisa if Stefano is prepared to return the favour by murdering the Count’s bully of an older brother.

Though Matteo’s plan seems like an obvious solution to Stefano’s problems, the designer declines the Count’s offer and returns to his wife. However, Matteo continues to court Stefano, seemingly desperate to eliminate his brother who has now taken to physical violence. Stefano refuses once more which results in Matteo killing Luisa and him being blackmailed into upholding what the Count believes to be the designer’s side of the bargain. With Matteo doggedly pursuing him and planting crucial evidence, and the police closing in, time is clearly running out for Stefano…

THE DESIGNATED VICTIM is a cracking thriller. Lucidi and his writers establish their plot early on, leaving the stage clear for some tremendous sparring between Milian and Clementi, both of whom deliver first rate performances. Milian’s Stefano is at first confident and calculating but becomes much more sympathetic as the narrative unfolds and the actor nails both of these dispositions perfectly. In contrast to Stefano, Clementi’s Matteo is the complete antithesis: we are introduced to a softly-spoken, sensitive and frail Count whose devious plan is borne out of desperation. But as his manipulation of Stefano amps up in the second half of the film, we begin to see a much darker side of his character. Such complicated characters live and die by the actors that play them and if either of them had been inhabited by a weaker actor, the film would never have reached the heights of intelligence and plausibility that it maintains throughout.

Though the acting and dynamic between Stefano and Matteo–that is clearly derived from the script–is the essence of what makes THE DESIGNATED VICTIM such a great film, Lucidi’s role as director also brings a great deal of prestige to the proceedings and is certainly the best example of his work that I have seen. Having directed spaghetti westerns such as A STRANGER IN TOWN and HALLELUJA FOR DJANGO before THE DESIGNATED VICTIM and the likes of STATELINE MOTEL and SICILIAN CROSS after it, nothing else on his directorial filmography would appear to be in the same class. That said, many of Lucidi’s key contributors add a great deal of elegance to THE DESIGNATED VICTIM too. From Enrico Sabbatini’s sublime and heavily-stylised production design to Aldo Tonti’s formidable cinematography, the film manages to gel on every conceivable level. The ever reliable Luis EnrĂ­quez Bacalov also delivers another memorable musical score that stands among the likes of DJANGO and MILANO CALIBRO 9 as the composer’s best work.

Coming almost two years after the German release and English-language DVD debut from New Entertainment World, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Shameless’ recently issued UK disc would be ripe for overlooking but you’d be wrong. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen and framed in the original 2.35:1 ratio. While the quality of print isn’t as good as some of the company’s better releases, the print is serviceable and slightly better than the NEW release to my eye. However, Shameless have gone the extra mile by adding some of the elements that were missing from the print found on the German disc. Although the inserts do come from a noticeably inferior source, they are brief and detract from the sudden scene cuts that plagued the NEW release. There is also the choice of either the original Italian soundtrack (accompanied by English subtitles) or the English language dub. Extras include a gallery of artwork, deleted scenes the trailer and the now obligatory selection of previews for other Shameless releases. Best of all however, is a text-based fact track that unspools during the film. Written by Stefan Novak, the track mines much information regarding the differences between versions released around the world and trivia surrounding the filmmakers and actors. Definitely worth 90 minutes of anyone’s time.

Shameless have delivered the definitive version of an excellent film. THE DESIGNATED VICTIM transcends the limitations that pigeon-holed many of its contemporaries. It’s a sterling feature film and one that stands up to repeat viewings.

(Paul Alaoui)