Sunday, 22 April 2012

One On The Top Of The Other (1969)

If there's one Lucio Fulci's film you cannot afford not to watch, it's "One On The Top Of The Other" aka. "Perversion Story" (Italian title: "Una sull'altra"). Inspired by Hitchcock's famous "Vertigo" with James Stewart and Kim Novak, it uses giallo rails to spice up classic thriller frame by exploiting what Hitchcock was never able to come through with – sex and erotic passion. While for my money it's a much better picture, I need to mention I was never big fan of Hitchcock appreciating "Psycho" and nothing more. Partly cause I personally hate Old Hollywood romance cliches and partly cause his style is very repetitive and too self-conscious for my taste. Fulci on the other hand had roaring 60's past him, standing on the shoulders of the cultural revolution, which changed a lot in the cinema – from 1959 to 1969 it was like light years ahead! That gave the movie a distinctive flavour, but also let him boil up the story to a sensual orgy.

In fact, it's one of these maestro's genre flicks so flapped around eroticism, that pratically void of violence, which is very often paired with his style by gore fans if not forcefully superimposed. However we have to remeber, that Fulci was suave and smart director, who didn't jump on stage just to say: "Let's do this zombie movie, filled with sex and violence. It'll sell". He evolved like every other great director, shaping his workshop and developing his interests with time through many movies, which included sword & sandals flicks, comedies, documentaries, spaghetti westerns and even musicals. In the end of 60's shaken by suicide of his wife, tired with comedies and spaghetti westerns he suddenly discovered giallo – invented single-handedly by Mario Bava in his two early 60's movies: "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" (1963) and "Blood and Black Lace" (1964). That definitely changed Fulci's artistic route giving him new means of expression, which is best exemplified by "One On The Top Of The Other".

But Fulci would never lower himself to a blatant rip-off, instead he was gonna offer one of the most complex, criminal stories ever featured on the screen. His first take on giallo is definitely one of the best of the genre and starts a completely new offshoot – erotic criminal, which tracks a bust up of marriage. But that's not all of it! Considering, that this amazing movies, starring Jean Sorel, Marisa Mell and Elsa Martinelli was an international co-production, it was released in four different cuts (American, French, Spanish and Italian) of which two (Spanish and Italian) are considered very rare today. Although differences between the cuts are not crucial for the intrigue, they accentuate diverse tones and expose or delete erotic scenes. American version is the most stripped one as far as carnal heat is concerned, while Italian and French one are the most passionate showing all of it. Italian version is the longest one, running approximately 105 min., but it drops initial bird's eye shots of San Francisco apparent in French cut, released as "Perversion Story" on DVD. On the other hand it contains full dialogue lines making this version most elaborate and detailed one.

Italian cut presents full, sophisticated script based on a story of a San Francisco upper middle class marriage. Doctor George Dumurrier (Jean Sorel) is exposed as a character finding himself in a difficult situation, between a falling relationship and his private clinic drowning in serious financial troubles... but his affair with a sexy photographer Jane (Elsa Martinelli) is fortunately flourishing while he's daydreaming about getting rid of the wife, Susan (Marisa Mell) to make his life complete. This somehow happens without his intervention as she soon dies of dramatic asthma attack. Not being able to grieve as he's heart is jumping to start over with Jane, he surprisingly finds out, that his wife's kept a valid life policy worth $1 mln, which makes him instantly rich.

He's able to save the clinic now... and pursue his erotic desires as he's just met a new hottie in a local strip club, Roaring Twenties – Monica Weston, whose beauty is a mirror reflection of his dead wife. Only she's blonde, has deep green eyes and her line of work includes paid sex – in the end she seems nothing more than a witless hooker. But after spending night with her, he accidentally finds out, that she needs to take the same anti-asthmatic drug as his dead wife and that's just the beginning of a long mystery-solving run as he promptly becomes arrested by police and accused of murdering Susan to profit from her insurance policy. Hitting with red herrings, hazardous passions, double-crossing, unexpected twists and dark underbelly, film finally leads to slightly crude, but still surprising ending. As Fulci plays the suspense very well, it becomes a very effective challenge for the imagination.

Maestro's picture is visually stunning, spiked with absolutely amazing shots of Alejandro Ulloa, including fast close-ups, slow panoramic shots and off-beat dolly outs. My favourite one captures Jean Sorel and Elsa Martinelli making love through a veil of thin fabric with red lens – very psychedelic indeed. This Fulci owes undoubtedly to European New Wave masters like Godard or Antonioni. But his vision of working with a camera is not worse than these established auteurs, Fulci is just more after genre's exploitation possibilities and doesn't want to be pretentious. On the top the movie is supported by a breath-taking jazz soundtrack by Riz Ortolani ("Mondo Cane"), clearly one of the best 60's soundtracks I happened to hear. Ortolani's main theme with rich bass notes, counterpointed by a flurry of high-pitched brass licks is an intrisic element of many pivotal points of the movie and often left me breathless.

As far as acting is concerned Jean Sorel is not bad in his role, but feminine creations rule here with gorgeous Merisa Mell playing two sides of the coin and Elsa Martinelli capturing the spirit of strong, sexy, self-made woman. Well-chosen sets and locations add another layer to this cult movie as well as high fashion costumes, which will make vintage orientated designers scream. Although this is one of the rarest Fulci's movies, it's more than worthy tracking down and a must-see for maestro's fans. In my shortlist it occupies a second position after "Don't Torture a Duckling" (1972) and before "Lizard in Woman's Skin" (1971), starting the most creative period of Fulci's career. The only thing I really don't like about it is the ending, suddenly bringing para-documentary style onboard. And while it couldn't meet any more experimental touch in order to sell worldwide, I feel that going down that road it could have made a real masterpiece. Nevertheless, divorced from "what if he..." wondering, I reckon it's still one of the best B-movies or at least gialli ever made, which can be hardly pigeonholed after all. It needs very careful watching, but it won't disappoint Fulci's ardent followers.

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