DECEMBER 1, 2011
Most Gialli end with the mystery being solved thanks to information we had no access to previously; you can maybe guess the killer but have no idea why (and sometimes they don't bother giving much of a motive anyway). Who Saw Her Die? is the opposite, however - the movie overloads us with motives and subplots, to the extent that it's needlessly confusing, taking away from the above average cat and mouse sequences and admirable attempt to make Venice look dreary - if this was the first Venice-set movie you saw, you'd probably never want to go there.
But that's a good thing, because if you kept soaking in the usually gorgeous Venice scenery, you might have even more trouble following the dense plot, which centers on (I think?) a group of sexual deviants with ties to the church. Our hero is George "Bond For A Day" Lazenby, a father who seeks to find the person who killed his daughter and plays detective himself when the cops express little interest in helping him. It's amusing in a way that the motivations and such are so complicated when you have a guy with a very personal interest in it; he inadvertently exposes several awful people that didn't have all that much to do with his daughter's death. If he WAS a cop (or even if the cops were involved), he could look at all this stuff as a bonus of sorts, but what does it matter to him if a blackmailer gets taken out in the process?
Because there's basically a conspiracy here, the movie has an inordinate number of scenes in which Lazenby talks to someone and then leaves, only for that person or some unseen third party to enter frame and make a phone call or something, which makes me wonder why they didn't just kill him off when he started snooping around their places of business and such. It's also kind of funny how just about every death just makes things more complicated - it seems that the guy just wanted to kill little red haired girls, but Lazenby's snooping causes the deaths of several others. Jerk.
Said death scenes are pretty good, particularly one guy who gets offed inside his aviary (with the residents chirping and flying about). The one in the movie theater was a bit ridiculous though - the killer leans forward and chokes a woman in plain sight of the others in a flat floored theater. He would have been blocking some folks' view of the screen! Also he sticks around after the deed is done; it's not until Lazenby enters, sits down next to her and notices that she's dead that he decides to take off. Granted you gotta expect SOME ridiculousness in one of these things, but that one was a bit too much of a stretch for me.
I was also baffled when one bad guy goes out of his way to provide a clue for later; he writes a name on an envelope to be delivered, and then makes a rubbing, seemingly for no other reason than to allow the receiver's name to be discovered after he has been dispatched. There's also a silly bit where Lazenby talks to someone who has info he needs and the guy makes him play ping pong while he provides the exposition - Lazenby is far too accommodating, especially when you consider why he's asking around in the first place. If I was hunting down the person who killed my daughter, I'd smack a guy in the mouth who demanded I play ping pong before he gave me the information I was seeking. The final moment is also a bit silly, where we learn that a priest character was an impostor - it's almost like the movie can't stop over-complicating things (though I read that this might have been a "safety net" bit of throwaway dialogue to keep the censors from being outraged at a "true" priest being depicted in a negative light).
During those rare moments where I felt I could "daydream" a bit without getting too lost in the movie, I wondered if the film was an influence on Don't Look Now, which came along a year later. The locale, the basic "obsessed father" plot... hell it even has a "We're sad about our kid so we should have some epic sex" scene. However this is more firmly planted in the horror genre (though the killer's reveal in Don't Look Now is much creepier, admittedly); unlike Aldo Lado's previous Short Night Of Glass Dolls, this is straight up Giallo, black gloves and all.
With a slightly more streamlined plot, I think this could have been one of my favorites in the genre. The basic story is more interesting than the usual "visiting dude gets caught up in a murder" approach, and again, I like that Lado wasn't interested in making a Venice travelogue. But since I was constantly trying to keep track of all the characters and how they related to each other (and wondering why they didn't just have someone go kill Lazenby in his sleep), I couldn't really get my mind "in the moment" and enjoy the thrills as much as I could in something like Deep Red. Worth a look for sure (Ennio Morricone's score alone makes it worthwhile, though they overuse the creepy "child chorus" theme), but proof that sometimes having too much of a plot is worse than not having one at all.
What say you?
P.S. The title is meaningless - there were seemingly no witnesses to the murder (not even us in the audience; it's off-screen), and Lazenby doesn't ever ask the question. I guess "Who Killed Her?" would be kind of dull.