• L'Assassino

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: July 21st, 2014.
    Director: Elio Petri
    Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Micheline Presle, Cristina Gaioni
    Year: 1961

    The Movie:

    Comparatively obscure when you place him next to his Italian filmmaking contemporaries like Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini, Elio Petri is starting to garner notice due to a series of hi-definition releases of some of his best films. Cult fans were treated to an American blu-ray of his quirky 60s sci-fi flick THE 10TH VICTIM, courtesy of Blue Underground. Criterion recently pulled out all the stops for his brilliant INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, a film that was awarded an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. Now Arrow Academy present his debut film, L’ASSASSINO (the film has also been known as THE LADYKILLER OF ROME).

    The title and cover art may suggest that we’re dealing with a giallo but don’t be fooled; L’ASSASSINO is really a film in the vein of Petri’s own INVESTIGATION, a story with a decidedly Kafka-esque feel and political undertones. The inimitable Marcello Mastroianni stars as Nello Poletti, an antiques dealer who wakes up one morning to find himself the center of a police investigation. It turns out that his lover, Adaglisa (Micheline Presle) has been found murdered and the authorities believe that Nello is responsible. The police, led in their investigation by a commissioner (Salvo Randone), put our protagonist through a series of interrogations designed to make him admit his guilt. The viewer witnesses a series of flashbacks as Nello explains the events, as he experienced them, leading up to the time of the murder.

    Although framed like a murder mystery, Petri is really more concerned with the overbearing police officers who are utterly convinced that Nello is guilty. One of the film’s interesting developments is the fact that the police seem just as interested, if not more so, in Nello’s very lifestyle as they are his actions surrounding the murder. In these moments you cannot help but be reminded by the scrutiny that the character Meursault undergoes in the second half of Albert Camus’s THE STRANGER (interestingly enough, Mastroianni starred in a cinematic adaptation of Camus’s classic existentialist text, directed by Luchino Visconti).

    When it comes to the early 1960s, Mastroianni seems to have been everywhere (LA DOLCE VITA, LA NOTTE, among others) and as expected, he gives a superb central performance - the likability of his character is essential for Petri’s film to succeed. Thus, by positioning Nello as a protagonist amidst a corrupt (and almost absurdist) authoritative system, L’ASSASSINO plays less like a conventional thriller and more like a parable about man in relation to his modern surroundings. In this sense, this puts Petri in league with Antonioni’s obsessive chronicling of contemporary society.

    It’s a real shame that Petri has been all but forgotten by the general public because he’s certainly a talented filmmaker. Although L’ASSASSINO is his debut feature he already proves himself an adept stylistic; the camerawork is on a high level and, with the assistance of legendary cinematographer Carlo Di Palma, Petri’s film simply looks wonderful. In fact, on a purely visual level I would put Petri’s direction here on par with LA DOLCE VITA - lofty praise indeed, and although not as flashy as Fellini’s classic the cumulative effect is just as impressive. Couple the great visuals with Piero Piccioni’s jazzy soundtrack and you’ve got a film guaranteed to please fans of classic Italian cinema.


    L’ASSASSINO is given a splendid blu-ray release by Arrow under their art-house oriented “Arrow Academy” line. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in a superb 1080p transfer. The 2K digital restoration was performed by the Cineteca di Bologna and the results are a joy to behold - the transfer was culled from two sources but thanks to the restoration effort Petri and di Palma’s gorgeous black and white visuals look great. The opening and closing reels show their age but for the most part there’s great detail and filmic grain throughout.

    The audio option of Arrow’s disc is an Italian lossless Mono 2.0 PCM track. There’s good balance throughout and no glitches or distortion to report. Arrow’s disc also features removable English subtitles that are free from typos or other errors. A solid audio presentation.

    There are three main extras on Arrow’s blu-ray release. The first is a 9-minute introduction by Italian cinema expert Pasquale Iannone - unfortunately this is not professionally shot, although Iannone does a good job placing the film in its cultural context. The main extra is a 50+ minute long documentary about Tonino Guerra, L’ASSASSINO’s prolific screenwriter - it’s a great supplement, although one wishes for a similar doc about Petri. Finally there’s a theatrical trailer. The test-disc provided for this review did not feature the booklet, which reportedly features new writing on the film by Camilla Zamboni and a selection of contemporary reviews.

    The Final Word

    A great release of an elegant and, sadly, under-seen effort - whereas Pasolini's Marxist dramas and Antonioni's icy studies have become canonical feature films, Petri's films are only known by specialists. Hopefully Arrow Academy's blu-ray of L'ASSASSINO will further Petri's standing and help to place him in the pantheon of great Italian filmmakers where he belongs. In addition to its stylish pleasures, the film is also thematically rich and represents a growing disaffection with authority and society that would eventually make the late 60s such a turbulent time, for filmmakers and everyone else.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!