Friday, August 14, 2009

Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi's Summertime Killer (1972)

The golden blonde locks of the little boy, who from the catwalk is watching an older man getting beaten and killed below, are shown later in a black-and-white photo being caressed by a woman, accompanied by a woman's voice over narration who tells the police: "We don't need your help. We take care of our own." The golden blonde locks now belong to a young man, flowing in the wind, as the young man is on a motorbike, having a good time with the same eyes as Robert Mitchum. It must be summer, because the same young fella, with the same golden blonde locks, wearing some groovy sunglasses, on his motorbike, shoots a shady-looking older man in the back of his car at point-blank range and in cold blood. The blonde is Christopher Mitchum in Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi's Summertime Killer (1972).
Summertime Killer is another amoral Spanish co-production and hit starring Christopher Mitchum. Snubbed in Hollywood in the 1970s, Mitchum made several Eurocult favorites, such as Eloy de la Iglesia's Clockwork Terror (1973) and a film eerily similar in story to Summertime Killer but a lot nastier, violent, and sexual, Tulio Demicheli's unbelievable Ricco the Mean Machine (1973). After Mitchum's Ray Castor shoots another chump in a New York City subway car in broad daylight with a smirk on his face, Castor's off to Rome. Castor interrupts a don trying to get some loving under the moonlight at his posh villa by giving him a marksman shot to the chest. By now the underworld is a little worried and Captain John Kiley (Karl Malden) is brought in to help. Kiley might be a New York cop, but with a little reluctance and a little more willingness, he takes the mob's offer of ten-thousand bucks to find the killer. What if I don't find him? asks Kiley. Just find him, period. Kiley's off to Europe after he gets a hunch. Meanwhile, in Portugal, Castor's having a little trouble with his final mark, Lazaro Alfredi (Raf Vallone), the final underworld figure who killed his old man. After a botched hit attempt, Castor tries another approach in his quest for revenge: kidnap his daughter, Tania Scarlotti (Olivia Hussey), and hold her for ransom until a forced meeting with Alfredi to pay up comes about. When the day comes to confront Alfredi, Castor can kill the bastard and put his past behind him, unless in the interim, the mob boss's daughter and the would-be killer fall in love. Tsk, tsk.

Summertime Killer is certainly PG in its content: there's no nudity, no profanity, and the violence is more-or-less quick and anemic. However, the film has that rare undercurrent of "WTF? That's kind of disturbing" to accompany its relatively light tone. The wonderful Luis Bacalov provided the score (and provided myriad excellent ones, some of my all-time favorites, for genre legend Fernando di Leo's crime flicks), which is fairly light and airy, save the rhythmic and percussion-heavy bits during the action sequences. Bacalov's score accompanies Mitchum in one of the earlier sequences while he's riding his motorbike, being chased by his dog, in an idyllic scene of youth in the middle of the summer. The feeling of innocence is immediately apparent but violently undercut by Mitchum's cold killing in the subsequent scene. In another, Alfredi's secretary, Michèle (Claudine Auger) exits Alfredi's villa in her sweet-looking, now-vintage Porsche. Mitchum chases after her on his motorbike. While the chase takes on its high speed, jumps, and drifts, the chase is really an elaborate act of flirting, ending not in a crash but with the two in bed. Auger's Michèle does not initially appear to be an inside connection to Alfredi (although later revealed to be). She's more like a sexy diversion for Ray Castor, and Michèle falls hard for him. A montage sequence is Isasi-Isasmendi's method of rendering their brief affair and it's as sweet-looking as cotton candy. When Mitchum's Castor sets his sights on Hussey's Tania, he forgoes the vehicular flirting, as she buzzes by on her cute scooter. He violently grabs her in the nighttime and forces her down into his car. Pulling a syringe, he incapacitates the poor woman. WTF? The smirk on Mitchum's face and the camera-eye of Mitchum's scope on his rifle really take Summertime Killer completely out of the light and airy-zone. This hybrid of tones, light and disturbing, is rare and makes Summertime Killer worth seeing alone. Other examples of this type of cinema are Fernando di Leo's Mr. Scarface (1976) and (although far more extreme) Herman Yau's The Untold Story (1993). Summertime Killer is not without its other charms. While Mitchum doesn't have the charisma of his pops, his performance is endearing and competent. Ex-Bond girl (Terence Young's Thunderball (1965)), Claudine Auger is strikingly beautiful and shines with what's she is given in her small role. Auger would make other notable appearances in genre cinema, such as Paolo Cavara's standout giallo, Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971) and Mario Bava's seminal Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971). Olivia Hussey will forever be legendary for her performance as Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968). Soft-spoken and softly beautiful, Hussey's scenes with Mitchum are comical, intense, and when the romance begins to blossom, endearing and sweet. No stranger either to genre cinema, Hussey teamed previously with Mitchum in Philip Chalong's H-Bomb (1971) only to go on to appear in Bob Clark's killer classic, Black Christmas (1974), Kinji Fukasaku's Virus (1980), and Brian Trenchard-Smith's WTF-wonder, Turkey Shoot (1982). Finally, a true Hollywood legend, Karl Malden (R.I.P.), who forever will be to me the sweet suitor in Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) gives the best performance of Summertime Killer and is also rewarded with the film's most interesting character. Malden's Kiley is a pre-cursor to Harry Dean Stanton's Johnnie Farragut in David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990): Kiley's an excellent detective and is going to find his man; however, along the way, he makes a couple of revelations and choices with serious results. Also not a stranger to genre cinema, Malden appeared in little-known director, Dario Argento's The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971).While not a Eurocrime classic, Summertime Killer is certainly fun. A teen-idol romance movie combined with a searing hitman portrait is a film that is going to get a lot of love here. I've seen it now three or four times, and any serious fan of Eurocult cinema should give it a peek.


Mr.LargePackage said...

It's time for a montage! There's too much shit to show! You are large and in charge Hans. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

O_o I was preparing a SUMMERTIME KILLER post for this weekend! How odd is that? I will go ahead, only minus my capsule review. Will direct folks your way for that.