Aldo Lado, 1972
Starring: George Lazenby, Anita Strindberg, Nicoletta Elmi
Somewhere in France a young, red-haired girl is murdered in the woods by an old woman dressed all in black. Later, in Venice, a different little red-hared girl goes to visit her father, who is a sculptor. Soon, she is also murdered by the same mysterious lady. Her estranged parents come together to solve her murder at any cost as the body count begins to rise.
Despite director Aldo Lado's previous success with the chilling, excellent Short Night of the Glass Dolls (1971), his follow up doesn't live up to its predecessor. It suffers from two major flaws -- firstly, that it falls so short of Short Night of the Glass Dolls' atmosphere of death mingled with sex, mystery, oppression, and paranoia. Secondly, it also pairs in comparison with another, similar film that actually came out a year later, the magnificent Don't Look Now (1973). Obviously this criticism only applies in hindsight, since Lado would have no way of knowing what he was working against, but for anyone who has seen the latter film, this is laughable in comparison. Not to throw another bone of contention against Lado, but it also fails in comparison with his follow up, the brutal Night Train Murders (1975).
Unfortunately I have to admit that Who Saw Her Die? is probably only entertaining only for die-hard giallo fans, or for die-hard James Bond fans who want to see George Lazenby in a more traditional role -- he stars as the forlorn father searching for his daughter's killer and I can't say this film does much to cement his reputation as a talented actor. I could be wrong, but I believe this is his only role in a giallo film. (Also keep your eyes peeled for Adolfo Celi, of Thunderball.) There are also some solid performances from a few genre regulars, including the sexy Anita Strindberg (Lizard in a Woman's Skin) as the little girl's grief-stricken mother and Nicoletta Elmi, the creepy little girl from Deep Red who grew up to be a creepy twenty-something in Demons.
The film's main problem is that, like Short Night of the Glass Dolls, the solution to its central mystery is a conspiracy, rather than a single murderer. While this worked in the former film, thanks to a solid plot and plenty of nightmarish atmosphere, Who Saw Her Die? just can't compare. It squanders the lovely Venice set and attempts to make the proceedings as drab and gray as the Soviet background of Short Night of the Glass Dolls, and relies far too heavily on run-of-the-mill giallo trademarks. I never get tired of seeing those black gloves, but they are not used particularly inventively here.
That's not to say it totally misses the mark. The first half of the film is compelling, but almost as soon as little Roberta dies, Lado unleashes a barrage of red herrings, characters who do some really stupid things, and a host of forgettable side characters who factor into the conclusion in some way that I already don't remember. This is simply a clunky script that can't be rescued by any of the actors, the effects, or the fun score by Ennio Morricone. There are some solid death scenes and child murder is a risky subject even for a giallo film. Though a few of these popped up over the years, most notably Don't Torture a Duckling, the standard giallo victims are alluring women, or at least adults who have attracted the murderer's attention in some way.
Perhaps the film's most compelling scenes are those leading up to Roberto's death. Lado reveals fairly early on that she is most certainly going to die and agonizingly drags out a suspenseful series of near missing until her inevitable demise -- which of course occurs while she is out of playing and her father is having a tryst with another woman. The weightiness of her death is somewhat ruined by Lazenby's bland acting -- though neither of the parents exhibit a whole lot of grief -- and some ridiculous scenes, like one where he has to play a game of ping pong to get a witness to talk.
Though it is peppered with moments of humor and suspense, Who Saw Her Die? brings little to the genre. It's so frustrating because it shows off occasional glimmers of its potential, and in light of Short Night of the Glass Dolls and Night Train Murders, this could have been an exceptional film. If you still want to see it, there's a serviceable Anchor Bay DVD available.