One On Top Of The Other/Review

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Director Lucio Fulci, hailed as the Godfather of Gore in Italian Horror, proves he could tackle complex and interesting stories with this cleverly done Mystery. What he does to make things more unique is to have the story be not so much about has a crime been committed, but what kind of crime has been committed. The two central characters, George and Susan Dumurrier, are a couple who’ve never been in love; George is a philandering charmer, but he also runs a much-needed clinic in San Francisco, Susan is a beautiful woman too bent on having a cushy lifestyle, but at the same time won’t leave the security her cheating husband’s clinic brings in. When Susan suddenly dies from an apparent overdose of her asthma medication, a surprising barrage of evidence shows up pointing to George as the main suspect. Fulci and his co-writers then weave a web of intrigue including insurance fraud, possible double indemnity, double life living, and murder that all seem to help in putting an innocent man, though his ethics are questionable, in the Gas Chamber. While released at a time when the Giallo was still in its infancy, this film, along with Il Dolce Corpi di Deborah (The Sweet Body of Deborah), helped to reinforce the trend and motifs set by Mario Bava a few years earlier. The use of subjective camera work, surreal imagery, and jazz/pop inspired scoring were some of the keys to the Giallo becoming a staple within the Italian film world.

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What sets this Giallo apart from the others is that it has the rare distinction of having exterior scenes shot in the United States. With the film being set in San Francisco, Fulci and the producers managed to get the OK from Hollywood to shoot on location in the streets, highways and some buildings. The only interior scene filmed in the States was in the real San Quentin Penitentiary and its actual Gas Chamber, the producers managing to secure permits most Hollywood insiders had trouble getting (some believe this was because Fulci used many San Quentin staff involved in the Chamber’s official capacity as extras). This adds to the film’s nostalgia value as in all likelihood many of the places shown in the film are no longer standing and offers a time capsule like glimpse into a bygone era.

Fans of the film The Boston Strangler with Tony Curtis, Henry Fonda, and George Kennedy will be intrigued to know the use of multiple window screen scenes got one of its earliest uses with this film. It’s only utilized during part of the investigation into Susan’s murder and during the revelation scene of what was really going on. While not used as frequently as in The Boston Strangler, it’s still an impressive technique that works well in not only Giallos, but in Mystery films in general.

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Jean Sorel, a French actor who found fame in Italy is a surprise as Dr. George Dumurrier. Looking a little like Alain Delon, or the poor man’s version of him, Sorel usually played the romantic lead in one form or another. What sets his role apart from many of his other appearances in the genre is that he’s not somehow involved in the plot to earn money. Some of his character’s were womanizing charmers, but in Dr. Dumurrier’s case, he also had positive qualities. He really wants his clinic to succeed and help people, though how he reaches that goal sometimes borders on the unethical. He’s either fallen out of love with his wife, or never loved her period, but he does love his mistress. He would gladly divorce his wife so they could each find real happiness, but his public image and his wife’s seemingly fragile health prevent it. That he’s playing an overall nice guy whose done bad things is a nice change up from some of his earlier roles in other Giallos, as it makes what’s happening to his character all the more ironically tragic.

Marisa Mell (Danger: Diabolik), an Austrian actress who, like many others in Europe, found fame working abroad is a mesmerizing scene stealer in the dual role of Susan and Monica. While rightly a sex and cult symbol of the 1960’s and 70’s, Mell also showcased in this film that she was a talented actress who could’ve gone far. With Susan and Monica having completely different personalities, a talented actress would be necessary to play up two totally separate people. That Mell could go from being homely looking and temperamental to a sexy, outgoing, and vivacious vixen takes a great deal of ability, and Mell proved many times over she had hit. The question many of the characters are asking is whether Susan and Monica are one in the same or if they are two totally different people who happen to bear a very strong similarity to each other. Another question that George and his mistress Jane want to know is how much does Monica know about Susan’s fate, and if she’s been paid to cause trouble by somebody. She has a partner, but she’s not saying who it is.

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A nice round-up of character performers including Alberto de Mendoza, John Ireland, and Riccardo Cucciolla fill out the cast. Mendoza, an Argentinian actor who became famous in Spain and Italy, plays Henry Dumurrier, George’s brother. He’s involvement in helping George may or may not be what it seems. John Ireland, a Canadian-American actor who worked both in America and Italy, has a somewhat small part as Police Inspector Wald. Ireland plays the part as the general harried cop who has to shuffle through a series of suspects and evidence. Even with doubts that the evidence and circumstances are all too perfect and neat, his natural dislike of the not so good Dr. Dumurrier has him eager to arrest the man. Riccardo Cucciolla, an Italian actor who worked onscreen and as a voice dubber is interesting as the mentally unhinged Benjamin Wormser. A character that may or may not be a wild card in the situation, Wormser is a meek man with an almost unhealthy obsession and standards for the seductive Monica. What does this mild, sad, and unassuming man know?

Two exceptionally photographed and staged sequences were the sex scenes between Jean Sorel and Elsa Martinelli and later between Sorel and Marisa Mell. The scene between Sorel and Martinelli is done with psychedelic lighting, subjective camera angles, and a glass bed bottom showing viewers Martinelli’s entire backside. The scene feels like something out of an acid trip, but it’s still very cleverly done and showcases the strong feelings between the characters of George and Jane. The later scene between Sorel and Mell is a little unusual, but no less interesting. The character George, wondering if he can prove Monica is Susan by seeing how she makes loves, leads into one of the most unusual encounters in the boudoir. The contrast between light and shadow in the scene relates to the game being played between George and Monica, but whether Monica knows what the game is, is unknown. George’s occasional flashback to seeing his dead wife on their bed as he’s engaging with Monica leave viewers with only a vague idea that maybe Fulci’s playing with the character’s subconscious that he’s engaging in necrophilia, though he’s with his wife’s doppelganger.

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One of Fulci’s lesser known, but more impressive works, Una Sull’Altra aka One on Top of The Other aka Perversion Story is a unique film that really plays with the viewer’s head into what is exactly going on. That any of the characters, with the exception of the police and insurance people, could be the guilty party is really interesting. The Giallo genre had its roots in the Mystery Thriller, and this film personifies what filmmakers like Mario Bava, and writers like Ernesto Gastaldi were looking to make the genre into. The cast, the writing, and the atmosphere help to fuel the fires that keep viewers glued to the action and intrigue and wonder what will happen next. The twists, red-herrings, and consistent double and triple crossings make for an interesting and puzzling affair that will leave audiences stunned at the revelation and quite pleased at the conclusion.

A prime example of a well made Mystery Thriller, Una Sull’Altra is a must for fans, young and old, of both that genre and Giallos too. Cult film distribution label Mondo Macabro has done a fine job with the restoration of the film, audio and picture quality equally good. The Italian language version with translated subtitles is the better option and it relates the story the way Fulci and his co-writers intended and is more realistic. The English dub, though fine in that the actors did their lines phonetically in English, still sounds artificial and forced, leaving something quite missing come the big reveals.

Reviewed by Tony Nash - MOVIE FAN MAN: CINEMA CONNOISSEUR

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