Death Carries A Cane (1973)

APRIL 17, 2024


I picked up Forgotten Gialli Vol 6 at this year's Overlook, as Vinegar Syndrome had a table set up outside the box office all weekend and I wanted a "souvenir" from my trip (it might stun you to learn I'm not much of a knick-knack collector). But I was also delighted by this particular volume because it was only the 2nd time that it included a film I had actually seen before: The Bloodstained Shadow. I don't remember much about the film beyond the title, but according to my review it sounds like a pretty good "level 1" giallo: nothing special, but easy enough to follow and featuring enough of the genre's hallmarks to let a newcomer know if they should keep seeking other titles. Amusingly, I can say the same thing about Death Carries A Cane, so now I'm curious if the third movie on the set (Naked You Die) is the same way.

In fact the most disappointing part of the movie is the title. While Death Carries A Cane is certainly in line with any number of other entries produced at the time, the Italian title (Passi di danza su una lama di rasoio) translates to "Dance Steps on a Razor Blade", which is way more awesome. Why would they give it this comparatively bland one? Didn't they know that fifty years later we'd have easy access to online translators that could tell us what the on-screen Italian title actually meant in English? Fools.

At least it actually refers to something in the movie, for the killer does indeed carry a cane for his limp. I don't know if it's intentional, especially with the different language, but I applauded this plot point at the end when the motive is explained, because the killer also faked being impotent, which is (at least here/now) referred to as having a limp d**k. So he has two fake limps! I dunno, it amused me anyway.

Anyway, the plot is fairly basic: someone witnesses a murder and the cops are suspicious of their story, but eventually they partner up to find the real killer. The initial murder is one for the ages, because our heroine (the stunning Nieves Navarro, who has appeared in a few other gialli) accidentally sees it while looking through a coin operated telescope in the park, and the time runs out at a crucial moment. So she scrambles to get another coin in, by which time the killer has escaped but she can see that he clearly tumbled with a street vendor as he ran. She also can see the house number but not the street name, and I guess we just have to assume that she's unable to track a straight line from the telescope to wherever it's pointing to, because they can't even find a body at first. How powerful was this telescope and why were they wasting it on tourists?

Sure enough, the street vendor also ends up dead, as does someone else who witnessed the killer's panicked run from the murder scene, so he's covering his tracks and thus that puts Navarro in danger. It's a pretty good setup, I think; the "we can't find the street" thing doesn't entirely make sense but the frenzy of the scene sort of covers it up. And the murder scenes are well done and fairly suspenseful, checking the boxes at an even clip (the J&B bottle appears just past the half hour mark, for the record) while also adding in more skin/sex than average. Not in a sleazy way like Strip Nude For Your Killer (unwanted a**l sex is not played for laughs here!), though Navarro's boyfriend tells her to either get back in bed or he will slap her around, which is a weird choice.

(She chooses the former, thankfully. And he's quite gentle with her!)

It's also got enough of the weird little things that seemingly only happen in these movies and never stop amusing me, like the cop is always sharpening pencils. There's also a part where a guy has some info for the reporter, but forgets a detail and asks to use her phone to call his girlfriend who'd remember. He gets what he needs, but then keeps talking to her about what to make for dinner. It's so charming! I also had to laugh that their big plan to trap the killer involved having Navarro dress as a hooker and sport the bag the killer knows a witness had, but when a car pulls up and the driver has a cane, it turns out to just be the police captain who was, you know, just looking for a hooker. Whoopsie!

The ending is kind of a letdown though, as it's one of those ones where the culprit is shot down before they're even unmasked, and then someone else just explains everything real quick. The historians actually talk about this as a sort of "feature, not a bug" of the genre, and while they're probably right (they're the historians, I'm the guy listening at home while eating Little Debbies), I feel that the best ones don't do that and thus it shouldn't be something to shrug off as an unwritten rule. At least it involves the line "He pretended to have become impotent to protect me from his mental illness, which would have forced him to kill me," so there's something. The rest of the track is the usual bios and such, though there is one really weird part where one historian (who is recorded separately from the other two) is talking and then suddenly they edit in the other two over him, so for twenty seconds you're listening to DUAL AUDIO COMMENTARIES! Very Spielbergian. The only other extra is an interview with the editor, and it's in Italian and he covers his whole career so I can't say it held my interest. Looks like he has a nice house though, good to know editors make bank over there.

What say you?


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