Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Movie vs. Book: THE 10TH VICTIM


THE 10TH VICTIM (1965)

Do you ever make it to the end credits of a movie and wonder, “What just happened here?” If you not only have, but enjoy it, then THE 10TH VICTIM (1965) is for you. This movie was loosely based on a Robert Sheckley short story. I say “loosely” even though I have yet to read the story. However, I doubt there is ever a point in the story where it says, “And random farm animals appear in the background.” The movie is based on the notion that, in the not so distant future, homicidal individuals are given the chance to compete in “The Hunt” where they alternate being the hunter or hunted. Two people enter the challenge, only one can survive. If they can survive ten rounds on both sides, they win respect. And a million dollars. Ursula Andress plays Caroline, a nine time winner and audience favorite. A tea company offers to sponsor her championship kill, as long as she makes it filmable and pretty, so they can use it in a commercial. Marcello Mastrioanni plays Marchello, the victim in the hunt. Caroline tries to lure him in, posing as a journalist. Marcello appears to be falling in love with her. Or does he know her true identity as his hunter, and is just using her as part of a plan? And is she falling for him, or is that part of her bigger plan? And what were those farm animals doing in the background there?

Like so many other Italian movies from the sixties, THE 10TH VICTIM is all about style. The story provides little more than a framework for the wild visuals, costumes, music. And, like many of its counterparts from that era, it’s certainly a joy to look at. And that’s really all I can judge it on. Absurdity seemed to be director Elio Petri’s only concern. Sure, the performances weren’t realistic, but they weren’t supposed to be. For most of the movie, the story held up well enough to support the wild style. However, Petri kept upping the ante throughout the movie so, by the time it got to the end, he had to go so far afield that it not only made no sense, but I even stopped asking, “What’s going on here?”, shrugged, and let the movie be what it was.

I’m sure somebody, somewhere could make a realistic, darkly humorous adaptation of THE 10TH VICTIM story. Not to say that this was a bad movie. It wasn’t—it was the movie it set out to be, and a whole lot of fun to look at. However, the story inside the movie had so many possibilities, none of which were achieved. But for visual candy, THE 10TH VICTIM did deliver. Greatly.



THE 10TH VICTIM by Robert Sheckley (1965)

This is an oddity, as it is almost a novelization. The novel would never have been written were it not for the movie, and it incorporates many elements of the screenplay. The screenplay, however, was inspired by the shorter work "The Seventh Victim" by Robert Sheckley, and had incorporated many elements of the short fiction into the screenplay. The book lies somewhere between novelization and expansion of The Seventh Victim. I suspect Sheckley would have enjoyed the confusion. He was a man of deep artistic knowledge armed with a deft wit and a philosophical perception. He spent much of his literary career illuminating the absurd within daily life, and that effort is shown here to great effect. In this future world, life has little value. People play hunter/killer games in public areas both as a means to further themselves financially and legally but also to amuse the general public. Sheckley takes a hard look at personal freedom and creates an interesting extrapolation: in order to eliminate the murderous impulses from society, a central authority is created to allow violent people to kill each other under guidance of a carefully arranged and equitable set of rules. Sheckley takes the opportunity to skewer everything from social engineering (the attempt to eliminate murderous citizens merely exacerbates the situation) to law and order extremists (the penalty for littering is public impalement) to romantic relationships to ethnic slurs to... well, just about anything that pops into his fertile mind. Instead of being overly restricted by the screenwriter's modifications to his original story, Sheckley merely further modifies it again, using the tools available to him as an author to create a cohesive narrative. The book is like a learner's swimming pool: as shallow or as deep as any user might wish, and capable of functioning perfectly in multiple capacities. It does suffer very slightly from having to follow the general progression of the movie, but for the most part the book excels.

Four stars out of five