The 10th Victim
May 5, 2018
1 Hr., 32 Mins.
In the chic dystopia of Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim (1965), murder has become a spectator sport. To avoid the possibility of war, governments worldwide have opted to foster the creation and eventual omnipotence of a quasi-reality show called “The Big Hunt,” in which two people (one hunts, one is hunted) act out the “kill or be killed” concept. It’s essentially a long-winded, globe-trotting game of tag, except a hand’s replaced with a gun or knife. Once you’re selected to participate, you go through 10 rounds — five as prey, five as predator. Death, of course, is finite. But if you manage to make it until the end, a grand prize is thrown your way and you’re able to retire wealthy and untouched.
The feature-length duel that drives the action in The 10th Victim is between a bleach-blonde Marcello Mastroianni and an enticing Ursula Andress, playing long-time champs whose battle royale is underlined in ever-mounting sexual tension. In this scenario, Mastroianni is the rat and Andress is the calico. But while this cat-and-mouse chase is sated with intrigue, double crosses, and bountiful locale changes as all hunts have been, different this time is that rumbling of physical attraction, which threatens this society’s long-standing, unmoving totalitarianism.
In line with the tense pitting of this unlikely couple against a foam-mouthed government, much about The 10th Victim seems at odds with something else. Its nippy satire clashes with its corny, Modesty Blaise (1966)-esque one-liners; its mod, futuristic-cum-retro style can clash with the rampant bloodletting; and the abysmal dubbing hurts performances from Mastroianni and Andress we gather are supposed to be fortified by confidence and cool. The movie is consistently insecure, uncertain whether it wants to be campy or grave, genuinely materialistic or satirically so. Still, this is a mostly excellent satire. Take away its decoration and The 10th Victim
decently ridicules media ubiquity and general culture's undeniable way of often directing its attention toward more extreme forms of entertainment, with a dash of era-appropriate dubiousness around New Age remedies. This is all characteristic of Petri, a political filmmaker whose best films, like Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), subversively poked fun at social and governmental hypocrisies.
The 10th Victim is just as ambitious as Petri’s ‘70 masterwork. It’s just more or less botched by distributors not knowing exactly how to format it, with a sometimes-shiny-but-still-strained swinging ‘60s aesthetic that visually and sensorially magnetizes but still heightens the truth that the narrative is spottily riveting. But when The 10th Victim is inspired — and there are many moments when it is — it sings, occasionally proving itself one of the more singular sci-fi thrillers of 50 years ago. B+