An early role for George Lazenby, a later giallo for director Aldo Lado... Who Saw Her Die? is the second of Lado's gialli for Halloween Fifteen, but it's the more successful of the two - and it has a much better sense of the genre. Matt House of Chuck Norris Ate My Baby saw her die, and decided to write a testimonial for Halloween Fifteen.
Director Aldo Lado's Who Saw Her Die? opens in the most inconspicuous of ways. With a ski resort setting filled with happy children and parents out for a day of fun as viewed from some incredible overhead shots, who would ever think that a murder could or would occur in such a happy and lively setting. As a young girl and her mother are seen enjoying a day playing in the snow together, and away from the other families, suddenly the frigid wind filled air is replaced by an Ennio Morricone chorus of children singing what would become established as the taunting sound of death approaching. Within a moment's time, and just out of her mother's sight, the child sleds away, laughing and smiling until the moment she is brutally murdered by a female figure, dressed in all black. As the mysterious woman, whose face is obstructed by a black lace veil, bashes in the child's head with a rock, the mother approaches without the slightest clue as to what is happening. But by the time the mother reaches her daughter's whereabouts, she has already been covered up in a mound of snow, leaving the mother with a confused look that will surely transform into a look of terror when she realizes what has happened to her child.
The opening to Who Saw Her Die? has an immediate impact for a number of reasons, most notably being the shocking murder of a child. But as startling as this death scene is, especially in how it seemingly comes from out of nowhere, it's how this moment is constructed that makes the opening scene quite brilliant. The brutality of the scene mixed with Lado's technical prowess comes together to create and set a tone that haunts the film's first act, and as the story progresses to Venice to focus on Franco (George Lazenby) and his young daughter Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi), the viewer is left with the feeling that no one is safe, no matter what the situation may be.
Unsurprisingly, the Venice setting is absolutely gorgeous, and much like the opening ski resort setting, this is furthered by how the city is brought to life by Lado and cinematographer Franco Di Giacomo. This is especially true in how the city is utilized to gain investment into George and Roberta and what horror will eventually besiege the two. As father and daughter make their way in and around the Venice backdrop, things seem absolutely perfect. Their relationship is charmingly sweet, and the strawberry haired Roberta is filled with a playful innocence that will eventually be looked back upon as utterly tragic. Mirroring the film's opening, the beauty of Venice is captured in a way that is overflowing with life, with children playing and people working and socializing. But soon the closed in corridors and alleyways of Venice begin to feel as if they are almost inescapable, and the moment Morricone's distressing death score once again makes an appearance, all that safety is instantly gone. And suddenly, the memories of what once happened comes flooding back to the forefront.
Again, as with the opening five minutes of Who Saw Her Die?, the first act carefully builds up to a tragedy that is shocking and somewhat devastating to watch. When Roberta goes missing, as a viewer, you expect her to be okay; George will find and save her at some point. It's easy to think that they can't do "that" to another young girl, especially one who is as genuinely sweet and full of life as Roberta. It's this approach that gives the reveal of Roberta's whereabouts an emotional impact rarely found in film, and as Roberta's body is seen floating in a busy Venice canal, the devastatingly somber feeling left with the viewer is reflected in the facial expressions of the townsfolk who have found her. Innocence is once again lost, and the effect this time around is more than one would ever expect from a Giallo.
While I find Who Saw Her Die? to be a fairly solid entry into the genre, much of my affection for it is solely based on the film's first act, and essentially the reason for me wanting to write about the film. That's not to say that the rest of the movie is bad in any way, but the gravity of the situation is vastly different from the second and third act of the film in comparison to the first-third. The reason for that being is once Roberta is murdered, the story delves into an overly complicated dad-turned-detective movie, and the focus of the killer shifts away from the children and towards the adults. And once you have young, defenseless children targeted as your victims in the way that they are in Who Saw Her Die?, it's difficult to feel the same fear and anxiety for full-grown adults.
Who Saw Her Die? does fall into some trappings often associated with Gialli cinema, most notably the overbearing influx of characters and assorted (and unnecessary) red herrings that will wreak havoc on the viewer's ability to fully understand what the hell is going on. Due to the overwhelming amount of characters flooding in from every which way, there are moments where the film drags and losses its ability to command the attention of its viewer. Thankfully, there are still some great scenes to be had and certainly some great performances, specifically by Lazenby, who does a convincing job playing the tormented father seeking to find justice for Roberta's death. There's also a nice emotional performance given by well-known Gialli starlet, Anita Strindberg, who plays George's wife, Elizabeth. Unfortunately, Strindberg is as underused as she is beautiful, which is a shame because I feel if she had more of an involvement in George's search for Roberta's murderer, the focus could have been geared more towards their torment instead of the slew of useless characters. And that would have certainly made for a much more compelling story.
It goes without saying, though, that despite it's story flaws, Who Saw Her Die? is at times a masterful entry into the genre. The score put together by Ennio Morricone proves to be some of the best work the composure has ever done, and mixed with Lado's fantastic direction, Di Giacomo's gorgeous cinematography and the powerful first act, Who Saw Her Die? deserves a seat at any Gialli fan's table for at least one good meal.
The Moon is a Dead World's Take
When I picked the selections for Halloween Fifteen, I guess I didn't realize that I selected two Aldo Lado gialli. It doesn't make much of a difference, though, and it's kind of nice to visit a director at the beginning of his career (in Short Night of Glass Dolls) and then again later with Who Saw Her Die?. Who Saw Her Die?, though, is much more focused, better paced, and also a more stylish giallo, and it stars George Lazenby as Franco in a role after his James Bond stint in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Who Saw Her Die? begins with a child murder on chilly ski slopes, directly in the open, almost in front of the mother's eyes. It's a shocking scene made even more surprising by the veil positioned in front of the camera - is this a widow doing the killing, and if so, why does no one notice? It would appear as though this child will be the focus of the giallo, but that's not the case - the film's credits are shot on a case file of the girl, and once the credits end it's revealed that the girl's case has not been solved, even years later.
This is where George Lazenby enters as Franco, an artist who has his daughter with him for a time. Her name is Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi), and despite the characters' references to her beauty, she's a redhead demon child who is fairly spooky-looking in her own right. Once Roberta is introduced, it becomes apparent that the earlier child killing is not the death of the title; instead, director Aldo Lado sets up an interesting premise where Roberta will most likely end up dead, but the audience does not know the place or time. Lado plays with this, teasing the viewer with swift builds of Ennio Morricone's theme score, often acting as though Roberta will be killed but without the deed being accomplished.
The first half hour of Who Saw Her Die? flies by because of this. We're never sure when Roberta will be targeted, and there are moments of hand-wringing tension when it seems the killer will strike, veil obscuring the camera and black gloves holding some sort of dangerous object. When Roberta does go missing and eventually found in Venice's waters, it's a sad discovery - most children are safe in film.
Franco takes it upon himself to become detective, an obsession he carries because he was too busy having sex to notice Roberta had gone missing. He hunts down suspect after suspect, finding that people are hiding something, especially his art promoter Serafian (Adolfo Celi) and his group of friends. It is here where the giallo aspect of Who Saw Her Die? gets quite confusing; the reveal of another murder coupled with Roberta's is not explained very well, and the viewer must pay very close attention or else miss some very important, and hidden, clues.
The hunt for the murderer does not come close to the entertainment of the first few scenes, and this is where Lado's Short Night of Glass Dolls also suffered - following the clues becomes dry and tedious, but at least Who Saw Her Die? is evened out by a couple of later murders. Still, the film suffers because it tries to incorporate too many surprising events into one plot; it makes it difficult to follow, and it also means that the finale is too rushed.
The killer's reveal is literally done with about a minute left of film; that means that, if the viewer has missed a subtle piece of evidence earlier, the killer's motive will seem absolutely out of place. In all honesty, the motive is stretched at best, and this giallo suffers because it has spent little time observing the killer as an actual person.
But Who Saw Her Die? is rather good besides these points; it's made better by Ennio Morricone's haunting score, a flurry of children's voices accompanying the killer's approach. It has a more even tempo, something that not all gialli can muster - but it's also suffering from the flaws of most of those films, with a rushed conclusion and strained motives for its characters.
Who Saw Her Die? on Rotten Tomatoes