Strangers on a Gondola

The Italian film poster for THE DESIGNATED VICTIM (1971).

The first Patricia Highsmith novel to be adapted to film was the author’s first book, published in 1950, Strangers on a Train, which Alfred Hitchcock made into a movie the next year. Yet, with the exception of U.S. television which adapted some of Highsmith’s stories for the small screen (The Talented Mr. Ripley for Studio One in Hollywood in 1956, The Perfect Alibi for Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre in 1957, Annabel for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1962), no American film director would attempt another Highsmith screen adaptation for many years. European filmmakers, however, have returned again and again to her perversely fascinating thrillers which are marked by their disturbing psychological detail and macabre humor. Among these are René Clément’s visually stunning Purple Noon (1960), an adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Claude Autant-Lara’s Enough Rope (1963), based on the novel The Blunderer, Wim Wenders’ hallucinatory noir The American Friend (1977), adapted from Ripley’s Game, This Sweet Sickness (1977) by French director Claude Miller, and most famously Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Yet, one of the least known – and uncredited – adaptations is La Vittima Designata (English title: The Designated Victim, 1971), which is a very loose, revisionist version of Strangers on a Train with colorful Italian location shooting in Venice, Milan and Lake Como.  

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Lee Marvin in Canicule

As a big Lee Marvin fan, I have seen a large amount of his work on TV and the screen, even many of the early roles in the fifties when he was an unbilled bit player or an extra in such films as the war drama Teresa (1951) or the suspense thriller Diplomatic Courier (1952). As he moved into larger supporting roles, usually playing the heavy, he often became the most electrifying presence in the film, whether it was a noir (The Big Heat, 1953), western (Gun Fury, 1953) or drama (The Wild One, 1953). But he really hit his stride in the early sixties starting with his fearsome gunslinger in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and moving into starring roles with a string of iconic performances in The Killers (1962), Cat Ballou (1965), a dual role which won him the Best Actor Oscar, Ship of Fools (1965), The Professionals (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and the cult favorite Point Blank (1967). Nobody, however, even Marvin himself, could have predicted that one of his final movies would be made in France with an international cast and the result – Canicule (English title: Dog Day, 1984) – is certainly one of the oddest films of his career, if not the most eccentric.

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Confessions of a Girl Watcher

Barry Evans is at the center of things in Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1967)

Barry Evans is at the center of things in Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1967)

Among the many films to emerge from the “Swinging London” film phenomenon of the sixties, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1967) followed in the wake of such popular titles as Georgy Girl (1966), Morgan! (1966) and Alfie (all 1966) but is not as well known to American audiences. Based on Hunter Davies’ first novel, the film is a giddy, high-spirited time capsule of its era with day-glo colors, groovy fashions, British slang and playful cinematic techniques influenced by Richard Lester’s Beatles films such as speeded up motion, still frames, and the breaking of the fourth wall; the protagonist, Jamie McGregor (Barry Evans), constantly addresses the viewer in the manner of a confessional.   Continue reading