If I remember rightly Death Carries a Cane was the first film I ever reviewed for Horrorview many years ago. Looking back, the review was, of course, terrible, so in the first of an ongoing series I have decided to go back and review (or re-review in some cases) many of the more obscure giallos from my collection and to update the details where necessary to take into account any recent DVD releases/quality upgrades.
Death Carries a Cane is a film that most genre reviewers seem to class as a middle of the road giallo. It never really gets slated, but very few people “in the know” have anything good to say about it. Except me.....
Before we get into the details of the film itself, it’s worth having a look at the female star of the movie, Susan Scott. Her real name is Nieves Navarro, and she starred in a number of spaghetti Westerns in the 60’s before turning to the giallo field under the guiding hand of her husband Luciano Ercoli. The films she made with him were Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight, both of which received a terrific DVD release on the NoShame label and are well worth picking up if you can still find them. Her first thriller, however, was I Ragazzi Del Massacro, for the fantastic Fernando Di Leo, which was quickly followed by Death Carries a Cane.
None of her giallo films were that successful, but over the years they have all developed something of a cult following, and belatedly the qualities of Nieves Navarro have been reappraised and she is now receiving the recognition she deserved. While not possessing the more obvious charms of Barbara Bouchet and Edwige Fenech (and at the risk of sounding ageist she was 32 when she made her debut in these films, no spring chicken for Italian cinema of the time), Navarro nevertheless was happy to doff her clothes at the drop of a hat, frequently appearing nude in most of her films, and displaying a certain confidence and maturity that some of her counterparts at times lacked.
The films begins with Kitty (who for some reason is Swedish in the script) taking photographs of her elderly relatives who have popped over to Rome to pay her a visit. While looking through the scope she is drawn to a nearby apartment window where she sees a woman being murdered by the archetypal giallo killer, dressed all in black.
When she tells her boyfriend Alberto(Robert Hoffman) about it he initially laughs it off, but after investigating further it comes to light that there have been several similar murders in the area. A note about Alberto – what an asshole he is! Sexist, violent and condescending (a trait shared by many of the male leads in 70s Italian giallo), god knows why Kitty would even consider going out with him looking like she does. These characters say a lot about the Italian male mindset of the era, where machismo was everything and weakness and sensitivity was frowned upon. I wonder how I would get on these days if I gave my missus a slap round the chops every time she got on my nerves, was systematically unfaithful, and brawled with everyone who even looked sideways at me in a funny way. Probably single, homeless, or in jail!
As the murderer hotfoots it away from the murder scene(or at least does so as fast as he can considering he has a cane and walks with a limp), he is spotted by several eyewitnesses including a chestnut vendor, and you just know that it isn’t going to end well for the majority of these minor characters (Note to self: never be a witness in a typical giallo plot. As for blackmailing the killer if you know his identity, forget it! It will all end in tears, and it won’t be the fedora wearing assassin who is crying his eyes out come the final reel....)
We are introduced to Inspector Merughi (played by perennial exploitation favourite George Martin) who decides to forego any attempt to solve the case and instead decides that it will be best all round if he simply reveals Kitty’s details to the press and sets her up as bait instead.
Considering how well this tactic worked for the chestnut vendor (another note to self-after witnessing a murder; if you are in bed at midnight and hear a noise outside, dont stick your head out the window to see what’s going on-particularly if the killer has been committing his murders with a straight edged razor.....), you would have thought the Inspector may have thought twice about this course of action.
It may be worth mentioning the murderers limp at this point. I don’t know about you, but I only know one person who walks with a cane and that is because he had polio when he was young (his friends call him The Vampire Lestat which to be honest is a bit tasteless, but the fact that his cane has a gold embossed handle is taking it a bit too far in my book...) Anyway, everyone in this case walks with a limp and has a cane. Alberto has had an accident so is limping, the police commissioner (who has a neat sideline in picking up hookers in the park in his downtime) also has a cane, and numerous other characters walk with the aid of a stick. If I ever retire I’ve decided to move to Rome and set up the walking stick concession-I’d make a fortune if this film is anything to go by.
It eventually transpires that the murders are something to do with the dance business (hang on, dancing, a limp, surely someone isn’t taking revenge for a previous perceived accident that curtailed a dancing career.....)
You will be hard pushed to find any reviews on the net that show any love for Death Carries a Cane, but it’s a film that I have always liked and would consider as a guilty pleasure. Yes, it’s somewhat flatly directed (Pradeaux only shows any sort of visual style during the splashy murder sequences) and even at 88 minutes has a few moments that drag, but overall its one of those giallos where all the staples are in place and it does exactly what it says on the tin.
The DVD in question was released by Xrated video in Germany, and was released in two different versions. The first one was a really bad print 1.66:1 from incredibly poor source material, with lots of visible damage and what appear to be hairs running vertically across the screen for the entire film. This was heavily criticised, and Xrated quickly released a collector’s edition with an improved quality print, which while still not perfect, is a lot better than the initial release. I’d like to see this receive a decent release from someone like Blue Underground, but to be honest I can’t see that happening anytime soon.
If you are a fan of giallo cinema you could do a lot worse than Death Carries a Cane, so if you manage to get hold of a copy post your comments here-I’d love to know what other people think of it.