Duccio Tessari, 1974
Starring: Luc Merenda, Senta Berger, Umberto Orsini, Anita Strindberg, Bruno Corazzari, Rosario Borelli
Peter has lost his memory in a car accident in London and a doctor is helping him to recover. He comes to find out that his real name is Edward and a man is on his trail and is threatening his life over missing money and drugs. Peter/Ted returns to a rural Italian town to track down his wife, Sara, who still loves him but is attempting to move on with her life, as his past as a liar and con artist concealed other nefarious behavior she only guessed at. It seems the new Ted wants to genuinely reconcile with Sara and promises to put things right before both their lives are at stake. But has he genuinely lost his memory or is he part of some conspiracy?
Written by giallo master Ernesto Gastaldi and directed by underrated Italian cult director Duccio Tessari, Puzzle — also known as Man Without a Memory — is an enjoyable film that skips some of the more common giallo characteristics. This is more of a mystery than a Blood and Black Lace-style slasher precursor, there is no black-gloved killer picking off attractive young women, and there is basically no sex or nudity. This flawed but entertaining entry is certainly one of the more underrated mid-period giallo films and it borrows a bit from Italian crime films as a rural resort town is transformed into a place of menace and violence (though admittedly not as effectively as an earlier crime/noir film like Brighton Rock). There are some nice set pieces even if it isn’t a particularly stylish example of the genre, and this is probably the only giallo that features a fight with a chainsaw — a fight between the killer and a victorious female protagonist. Despite its overall tamer tone, the film has some surprisingly violent and suspenseful moments, even if the overall plot is somewhat cheesy.
The concept of a man with amnesia is a compelling and oft-use crime/suspense plot device, one that I am admittedly a sucker for — but has Ted really lost his memory, or is he making it all up? Incredibly bland giallo and crime film regular Luc Merenda (The Violent Professionals, Torso, A Man Called Magnum) stars and though I normally am not a fan, he’s effective here because his character is written to be ambiguous, even sphinx-like. Though this film isn’t particularly sleazy — for instance, it has nothing on Tessari’s superior other giallo film, The Bloodstained Butterfly — Merenda’s character is introduced as a good-for-nothing con-man. Though it isn’t outright described what he has done, Gastaldi’s script gives a good indiction that he’s guilty of a full spectrum of crimes and/or sins. The real crux of the story is whether or not Ted will reunite with his wife and if he will turn out to be the good guy she believes he is — next to this, the crime plot seems to just be going through the motions. Sara (prolific Austrian actress Senta Berger of Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace) is Puzzle’s only fully realized character. The main benefit to this is that it allows for dual protagonists — Sara and Ted — which keeps Ted ambiguous till the ending and still gives full expression to Sarah’s hurt and paranoia.
The side characters (not that there are very many of them) are all generally silly or annoying, including Death Rides a Horse’s Bruno Corazzari as would-be threatening muscle, alluring giallo regular Anita Stringberg, and child actor Duilio Crucieni (Don’t Torture a Duckling). I typically hate kid actors in Eurocult movies — and most other type sod films — and the character of Luca is no exception. His gag is that he acts like he has a crush on Sarah and they will soon be married. The annoying elements are balanced by some nice suspenseful moments. SPOILERS: The film’s best involves a false broken leg — Sarah’s — that is the storage for some missing heroin, though Sarah herself takes some time to realize it.
Puzzle will probably disappoint anyone looking for a more straightforward giallo replete with genre trappings and a jazzy sense of style, but fans of quieter suspense fare will find a lot to love. Overall, I prefer Tessari’s first giallo film, The Bloodstained Butterfly, but Puzzle is plenty entertaining and has some solid scenes, including the aforementioned chainsaw duel. Unfortunately I don’t believe this film has a US release and the region 2 disc from Another World Entertainment is sort of difficult to track down. If you’re savvy enough, you’ll be able to find the film online — it’s definitely worth the search.