Poor old George Lazenby. When Sean Connery quit the James Bond gig (for the first, but not last time) after You Only Live Twice, Lazenby won the coveted role. It should have been the beginning of a long and successful career. Instead after just one film, the underrated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he walked away from Bond. His acting career never recovered. He kept making films through the '70s, but other than Bond, he’s probably best known for his appearances in several made-for-cable erotic films that were part of the Emmanuelle series.
Watching him in the 1972 giallo Who Saw Her Die? (sporting long hair and a classic ‘70s mustache, looking more like Matthew McConaughey in True Detective than the suave 007), it is clear to me that he should have been a star, or at least a really great character actor. He gave up Bond of his own free will, saying that the producers disregarded all suggestions he had for the character, and told the press he loved LSD and rejected the trappings of materialism. So really, his lack of fame is his own fault, which is too bad because he was really a fine actor.
Directed by Aldo Lado, Who Saw Her Die? has all the trappings of a classic giallo including an exciting score from Ennio Morricone, child molesters, stunning visuals, and lots of murder. It never quite attains that classic status despite a riveting first half, but the murders don’t quite have that visually exciting style and it falls apart by its third act.
Lazenby plays Franco Serpieri, an up-and-coming sculptor living in Venice whose bohemian lifestyle is mildly interrupted by his visiting daughter. I say "mildly" because he serves the young girl wine for dinner and allows her to play by herself in this strange city while he gets down and dirty with his lady friend. "Dad of the Year" material he is not. While he’s completely ignoring the daughter he doesn’t get to see very often in order to have sex with a woman he clearly plays with on the regular, the girl gets brutally murdered by someone wearing a black dress and black veil. The ex-wife, Elizabeth (giallo mainstay Anita Strinberg), comes to Venice for the funeral then stays to help Franco investigate the murder.
If this is all starting to sound familiar - artist loses a child in Venice and tries to find out what happened to her - you are not alone in thinking this might be a rip-off of Nicolas Roeg’s excellent film Don’t Look Now, but you’d be wrong. Who Saw Her Die? was made a good two years before that one.
Elizabeth and Franco talk to a collection of odd-balls, most of who have connections to Franco’s art world. Meanwhile more and more people start to get murdered. They also learn that other children have been murdered in a similar way in the past (the opening scene of the film shows a little girl similar to Franco’s daughter get attacked by a black-clad person in Switzerland).
The film loses steam in its back half. Franco and Elizabeth aren’t particularly good detectives. All they dig up are red herring after red herring, none of which are all that interesting. The conclusion is pretty standard stuff for a giallo and it isn’t handled all that well. The murders are pretty tame as well. The most interesting of which is when a man gets repeatedly stabbed whilst his collection of birds flutters about him, but even this looks like a knock-off shot from some forgotten Bava film.
Where the film excels is in its visuals and a sense of mood. The beautiful Venice setting and Morriconne’s score does a lot of the heavy lifting in this regard. The city is naturally filled with wonderfully cinematic corners and its shot with a painter's eye with the screen filled with creepy fog and mood lighting. The score is highlighted with an unnerving chorus of children singing, though even this is overplayed, coming on every time the killer is present (and even sometimes when he isn’t, but the film wants us to think he is).
Overall, a very watchable giallo with some fine performances (and what should have been another step towards stardom for George Lazenby). It starts to plod towards the end and the mystery never grips, but for fans of the genre I can definitely recommend.
Arrow Video has given Who Saw Her Die? a new 2K transfer with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Extras include a new audio commentary from Troy Howarth who spends more time discussing giallo as a genre and how it fits into Italian cinema as a whole than the actual movie at hand. There is an interview with director Aldo Lado, and other interviews with actress Niccoletta Elmi, co-writer Francesco Barilli, and critic Michael Mackenzie. The audio comes in both Italian and English (though sadly, due to the weird Italian way of making films at the time, Lazenby doesn’t even do his own English dub). Also included is the usual photo galleries, trailers and full-color booklet with an essay on the film.