JANUARY 8, 2011
When I tweeted that I would be watching Short Night Of Glass Dolls (Italian: La Corta Notte Delle Bambole Di Vetro), I pointed out that it was one of the Giallo-est Giallo titles of all time. So it was kind of funny that the movie itself was barely an actual Giallo (despite being included on a set from Blue Underground titled “The Giallo Collection”, which would suggest that these were the crème of the crop), as it featured only one or two on-screen kills, no actual murderer, and almost no misogynist dialogue whatsoever.
However, it WAS pretty good, or at least, the last act was. It’s a VERY slow burn – it takes about a half hour for the girlfriend of Jean Sorel’s character (our hero) to disappear, which is what basically kicks the thriller plot off. And then he wanders around for nearly an hour looking to find out where she went and why, but he’s a pretty lousy investigator, since the bad guy just explains everything to him. It kind of reminded me of Eyes Wide Shut at times, since the answers involve both secret societies and orgies.
But it has one key difference: he’s “dead” (spoiler). About a third of the movie actually takes place in a morgue or hospital, where Sorel has been taken after his body was found in a park. The twist is, he’s not actually dead yet – he’s just extremely paralyzed (Nikki and Paulo style!). So the movie actually cuts between the present day, with him in the morgue, about to be autopsied, and with him in the past, flashing back to how he got to that point (again, like Nikki and Paulo – the Lost writers must have seen this). They cut to this stuff a bit too often - it’s very repetitive (obviously he can’t wake up or really die until the movie’s almost over, so it kind of limits how much they can do in these scenes) and sometimes a bit jarring; they could have used a transition or sound effect (like, er, Lost) to signify when they were flashing back and forth, but it’s a cool idea all the same, and helps prevent the first part of the story from being too thrill-challenged.
It’s got some really creepy moments sprinkled throughout, and I was additionally entertained due to the fact that I couldn’t always tell if the creepiness was intentional or not. For example, there’s a scene with a scientist talking about something he’s done to a tomato, and behind him is an assistant or student of some sort, staring at him without any sort of movement whatsoever, as if he was paralyzed too (or just a really bad actor/extra). I also enjoyed the scene on the bridge, where Sorel was to meet someone with some answers, who ALSO just stood there motionless.
There’s also some light sleaze, which of course I enjoyed. Sorel’s best friend spends a scene groping a girl who doesn’t seem to mind, and when he goes to a library he catches a couple (also with much groping) in one of the aisles, which he smiles at. But nothing could have prepared me for the climax, where the villains (aging high society members who wish to retain their power and youth) are all naked and gyrating around; the average age of the breasts on-screen is around 75 years too-old. And the Grindhouse patron in me had to cheer when Sorel (who is spending the movie looking for his girlfriend, remember) beds the older lady who is helping him. You sly dog.
Another thing I appreciated was the dubbing, which was better than usual. I’m always puzzled why the original Italian isn’t made available on these “special editions”, but at least the dubbed track was acceptable. There are a few instances where the dialogue overlaps due to something apparently taking longer to say in English than in Italian, but the lip matching is pretty close and the actors are putting effort into it. Not dubbed is the disc’s only real extra, an interview with the writer/director, the anagrammically named Aldo Lado. As is often the case with these old Italian guys, he’s hilariously blunt and honest (one anecdote refers to punching the DP after he referred to the movie as a piece of shit), but he’s got a good memory too, unlike some of the others. He also explains the rather baffling title – apparently it was supposed to be “Short Night Of Butterflies”, which makes sense since butterflies are part of a plot point, but there was another movie with “Butterfly” in the title, so it was changed later despite “Glass Dolls” not having a goddamn thing to do with the movie, as far as I could tell.
If you enjoyed movies like Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much, this should be up your alley, but the lack of traditional Giallo elements might disappoint some (at least if they are expecting them – I started enjoying the movie a lot more after 40 minutes or so, when I got up and checked to see if this was really a Giallo and found similar sentiments on its IMDb page). It’s not particularly great, but it’s got some interesting ideas (and an Ennio Morricone score!) and a fun finale. Just takes some effort to get there.
What say you?