1 Hr., 32 Mins.
Short Night of Glass Dolls / Who Saw Her Die? March 26, 2019
1 Hr., 34 Mins.
This is especially true of his follow-up to Short Night of Glass Dolls, Who Saw Her Die?. The latter film, released in 1972, is more mournful and harrowing than it is lips-lickingly freaky. It’s about twin murders, both of which see its victims in elementary-school-aged girls. The film opens in 1968 with the strangling of a French child; it then moves to 1972, where the daughter of a sculptor (George Lazenby) visiting Venice is drowned. The perpetrator of both murders wears a black veil; it is intimated that they are involved with the church.
Who Saw Her Die? features a miscellany of giallo attributes. But like Short Night of Glass Dolls, it mostly does away with the trace of muckiness one tends to associate with the genre. I was quicker to think of it as a downcast albeit captivating piece of psychological drama: the narrative, after all, sees the Lazenby character reconnecting with his estranged wife (Anita Strindberg) in an attempt to both give each other strength and find out what has happened to their daughter. All-consuming grief is more noticeable than suspense, though admittedly the sing-songy score by Ennio Morricone is creepy enough to depose this idea whenever it pops up.
Many a viewer might think of another movie while watching Who Saw Her Die?. Certainly, the film bears more than a passing resemblance to Don’t Look Now, Nicolas Roeg’s totemic thriller from 1973. (The niceties of each film’s narrative diverge enough to clarify that Roeg wasn’t going for imitation, though.) In the Roeg movie, Venice-visiting parents are struggling with the loss of a child who accidentally died in the recent past; in the Roeg movie, much of the storyline is built on parents trying to find joy in life after tragedy, not literally finding someone. But the eerie Venice setting, the fixation on the remedying of a broken relationship, and the constant presence of death in both draw a surprising connective line — a dispiriting double-feature if there ever was one.
Short Night of Glass Dolls: B+
Who Saw Her Die?: B+
ado was more of a giallo dilettante than he was an exclusive specialist like peer Dario Argento, for instance. Easy to appreciate about many of his films, however, is how often he managed to subvert thorough scumminess. The horror reads as horror rather than exploitation dubbed excusable because of the genre under which it’s happening.
clear to us, through gauche voiceover work done by Sorel, that this man is conscious of his surroundings. Yet to say Gregory is paralyzed isn’t quite right. His heart isn’t beating, and his body is doing all of the things your average mortal’s remains might do just after calling it quits. What’s going on?
The premise of Short Night of Glass Dolls is simple. Gregory, while “dead” and struck with short-term memory loss, is going to solve his own murder. This allows for an urgent, amusing narrative. As our hero lay still on a cold slab, hoping he can put off getting put in the ground for at least a few more days, he delves into the annals of his memory, trying to figure out what got him to where he is now. It involving, we find out, a number of strange missing-person cases — one centering on his girlfriend, a pretty blonde named Mira (Barbara Bach) — that he was investigating for an investigative article. The more we learn, the plainer it becomes that these vanishings have more than a little to do with his current state.
Lado, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ernesto Gastaldi, patently takes pleasure in doling out this illogical premise. Without the leading-in conceit, this might be just another movie about a journalist putting on a detective hat when investigative-reporting no longer seems to be an appropriate descriptive verb. There’s a palpable glee, then, in the way everything unfolds via an apparently dead man’s recollections. Evidently, this is not just a feature about ominous disappearances that also happens to spotlight an unreliable — i.e. dead — narrator. How Gregory’s present condition relates to the vanishings is as inventive as it is radically disturbing. The ending is a tour-de-force in Kafkaesque bleakness; I squirmed when the ultimate truth was revealed, and more so when it became obvious that no quick absolution would be cameoing.
Short Night of Glass Dolls is regularly grouped in with giallo, a horror subgenre popular in Italy in the late-1960s and early 1970s. Though an epigrammatic, universal definition is hard to come by, it’s generally understood that a typical giallo is a whodunit with slasher elements, made with twitchy style and undergirded by spazzy music. (Giallo, which translates to “yellow,” is itself a nod to the aesthetic of pulp magazines popular in Europe at the time, which would encompass shabby stories on thin pages with a flaxen hue.)
At first, referring to Short Night of Glass Dolls as a giallo seems a smidgen off: so many gialli are more clearer-cut slasher movies. An assortment of beautiful women with a middle part tends to get brutishly offed in spades as a protagonist tries to unmask the killer; the killer, in turn, usually sports a black hat, a black trenchcoat, and black gloves, with their weapon of choice frequently a straight razor.
Short Night of Glass Dolls does not feature these characteristics, which, while not catch-all, are so much more common in giallo than not that to not have them around makes any deviation makes the project in question feel cousinly. To my eyes, the utmost commonalities here are the intriguing if nonsensical title, the presence of an Agatha Christie-like mystery, and the ubiquity of Sorel and Bach, who appeared in a number of prominent gialli in their careers.
But then, keeping those commonalities in mind, I re-considered, if only because Short Night of Glass Dolls, like the best of giallo, succeeds in inculcating in us an intense unease that has a pulp lining. The overhanging mystery teeters on the languorous, but with a finale so wonderfully depraved, I’m partial to forgiving the shortcomings.
o The Ronettes, the inimitable girl group from the 1960s, the best part of breaking up is making up. To Gregory (Jean Sorel), the journalist protagonist of Aldo Lado’s Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971), the worst part of waking up is finding out that you’re dead. As the film opens, his corpse is found in a plaza in Prague, where he's been staying in the name of a story. When his body is transported to the nearby morgue, it's made