*. Over the years, there’s been significant interest expressed in remaking the Italian film Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion for a North American audience. At one point Paul Schrader wrote a script and Al Pacino or Christopher Walken were tabbed to star, but the project was shelved (and Schrader and Walken went on to do The Comfort of Strangers, which was at least set in Italy). Then Jodie Foster’s production company was said to be interested, with Sidney Lumet set to direct, but that didn’t go anywhere either.
*. There are various reasons for wanting to remake a foreign-language movie. Probably chief among these is the idea that it will play well in domestic markets. But I think for the talent I just mentioned it was more likely that they either thought it was a great idea that would translate well to a North American setting, or because they felt the original left something on the table.
*. I think both of these were in play. There’s a great premise here, whose satiric message about political corruption and the bureaucratic madness of the justice system would play just as well in the U.S. in 1970, or, for that matter, today. But at the same time, it’s an idea that has more potential than is realized here. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion was well regarded when it came out, winning the Grand Prize at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, but it’s a movie where I think people saw a lot of room for improvement. It had a great story, but the execution was off, and quickly dated.
*. Pauline Kael found it off-putting: “The film is extremely dislikable. Petri is a highly skilled director but he doesn’t use suspense pleasurably; he doesn’t resolve the tensions, and so you’re left in a rather foul mood.” I don’t really agree with this, but I can understand Kael’s feeling of queasiness. It has to do with the question of tone. Just what kind of a movie is Elio Petri making?
*. One with a political message, to be sure. But the satire and general sense of loopiness muddies the water, much as it did in The 10th Victim. It’s hard to take the proceedings seriously, especially with Ennio Morricone’s score playfully going boing-boing in the background. But most disconcerting of all is the dream ending, which takes a perfect ironic climax and just tosses it aside. Why? By that point it was clear we were no longer watching a movie that was trying to be realistic, however serious its themes.
*. Gian Maria Volonté plays a chief homicide inspector (“Dottore”) who decides to kill his lover in order to prove, perhaps only to himself, that he is untouchable. But his actual motivation is as obscure as it is perverse. He may just be bored. It’s hard to see him as a Roman Raskolnikov, trying to prove that he is beyond good and evil. And it’s equally hard to see him as a fascist zealot, because what would his scofflaw attitude be proving then, to himself or anyone else? I understand Petri’s point in all of this, but what is Dottore’s? Exposing police corruption? Roger Ebert thought he was driven by a compulsion to find out just how powerful he really is, but I think he’s more consciously self-destructive than that. He’s been a master of the game and now he’s sick of it. He’s an artist, with a fetish for staging crime scenes, and what he really wants to do is direct . . .
*. We’re left with a line from Kafka and he may be the real presiding spirit, with his sense of the absurd and that we are all somehow victims of the law, whichever side we’re on. But this is another thing that undercuts Dottore’s big speech about how tough the police have to be on crime.
*. I don’t think Petri was trying to be suspenseful, which is something else that might have attracted Hollywood. This is really a sort of reverse of The Big Clock, with the killer wanting to be caught. You could also connect it up with the American cinema of paranoia of the 1970s, only this time seen through the eyes of the Man.
*. Even more perversely, to my eye, is that it’s not a movie that scores many style points. Poliziotteschi usually have more signature moments in them than this. The only grin I got was the art gallery of oversize hand- and fingerprints. Which was gloriously silly in the best Italian way.
*. So I can see wanting to remake it ten or twenty years later. And indeed I can see it being remade today. I think it would work. Just think of how many times The 10th Victim has been remade, under various titles, and the ideas being explored here are equally as contemporary and pressing. Dottore is really just a phoney who has never had anyone call his bluff, which has only made him bolder and more degenerate. Those guys are still with us.