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Vivid but dIfficult masterwork by Torre-Nilsson
lor_ from New York, New York
17 October 2011
Made during the peak period of his career, THE EAVESDROPPER is a
politically charged melodrama by Leopoldo Torre-Nilsson. A very big
deal at the time (local film awards and showings at New York Film
Festival and other such events), it's been forgotten and might seem
quite dated to first-time, latter-day viewers.
Made as a U.S. coproduction with producer Paul Heller, the film stars
Janet Margolin, who Heller had introduced so successfully in "David and
Lisa", paired with Stathis Giallelis, also an extremely hot property
circa 1964 (when EAVESDROPPER was made) who had shared a Golden Globe
award for Elia Kazan's "America, America" with no less than Albert
Finney and Robert Walker Jr. in the "most promising actor" category.
Giallelis, whose brooding, intense mien is on view throughout the
movie, is cast as young Argentine neo-Fascist Martin, seen early on
with his chums defacing various monuments and public buildings as a
sort of right-wing opposition movement. A telling early scene has his
thuggish pals terrorizing a car full of innocent folk who are driving
too slowly in front of them on the highway. Martin meekly joins in the
tormenting my letting air out of the front tire, but feels deeply
shamed when he discovers the driver is a helpless, handicapped guy in
Martin checks in at the Hotel Venus on a prominent avenue, with
mysterious plans. We later find out that a major fascist leader will be
feted with a parade on this route, a key to the plot line.
A friend of a girl he knows is impressed with Martin and moves into the
hotel with him -she's Ines, played by Margolin who is truly lovely and
glamorous this time out (and convincing in her post-synched Spanish
dialog). The duo's torrid sex scenes are tastefully staged, not as
explicit as Torre-Nilsson's memorable Isabel Sarli vehicle of a couple
years before 70 TIMES 7, but still effective.
A troupe of actors and musicians from Spain is staying on the same
floor of the hotel and performing in a large ballroom/theater there.
While Ines tries to befriend them, including a cute child (who has an
animal toy bearing a human skull as its scary head -typical of many odd
stylistic flourishes and "wake-up" calls Torre-Nilsson dots throughout
the film -an obvious influence on Almodovar a couple of decades hence),
Martin becomes the title figure. He imagines plots and intrigues on the
part of the Spaniards and becomes obsessed. Looking forward to Leo
DiCaprio as J. Edgar, I was impressed with the way Stathis embodied a
similarly iconic role, South American style.
Martin finks on the Spaniards, having one of his chums turn them into
the police for supposedly plotting against the fascist who's due on the
parade route soon. The cops investigate and find the Spanish are merely
innocent artistes, and Martin's identity as the fink is revealed. This
results in a vividly staged, violent climax in which our would-be thug
anti-hero gets a dose of his own medicine, reminiscent of the brutality
by ordinary folks (in an extraordinary situation) that Hitchcock
exploited in LIFEBOAT. This leads to an oddly romantic, ambiguous
denouement as Ines surprisingly stands by her man.
Seeing these two fabulous talents, neither of whom fashioned a career
or achieved the stardom worthy of their initial films' impact, is
reason enough to discover THE EAVESDROPPER. Its local content and
topical material (Torre-Nilsson forecasts the style of Haskell Wexler's
classic MEDIUM COOL in several scenes deftly integrating real-life,
documentary content with staged dramatics) were a bit impenetrable for
me, especially viewing an untranslated Spanish-language print, but the
overriding themes carry considerable bite.
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