The 10th Victim (1965)

Genres - Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Chase Movie, Media Satire, Sci-Fi Action  |   Run Time - 92 min.  |   Countries - Italy  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mark Deming

Elio Petri's La Decima Vittima (aka The 10th Victim) is an unlikely combination of satire, science fiction, cat-and-mouse thriller and dark-humored romantic comedy, and it manages to work quite well on all these levels thanks to Petri's light but pointed touch and a pair of engaging performances by Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress. Set in that Not Too Distant Future that was so common in 1960s sci-fi, Petri gives this story of a game of death (a notion that had been familiar since The Most Dangerous Game in 1932) a fresh touch with a striking visual style (thanks to Piero Poletto's production design, Gianni Di Venanzo's camerawork and Giulio Coltellacci's costumes) that manages to be sleek, colorful and just a bit ridiculous all at once, and the narrative style follows the images as the two handsome killers are surrounded by bumbling television producers intent on shoehorning a sponsor's message into the show at every opportunity. Mastroianni and Andress also have the intelligence to underplay the film's humor (Mastroianni just about defines laconic in his performance), and they have a powerful onscreen chemistry that makes their attraction to one another seem plausible despite the incredibly unlikely circumstances. (It certainly doesn't hurt that Andress is appallingly beautiful in this role -- who wouldn't be smitten with her?) And while suspense takes a back seat to satire and curious romantic byplay in The 10th Victim, Petri juggles the various elements with enough dexterity that the false endings seem genuine (at least for a moment) and the ending is a genuine surprise. The 10th Victim may well have been the smartest and most original offshoot of the European spy boom of the 1960s (most of the plot elements are there, even if the spies are not), and it's still sharp, sexy and engaging entertainment more than forty years after it was released; the rise of reality television has made it all the more timely, though thankfully no one has yet tried to bring "The Big Hunt" to the small screen.