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The Eavesdropper More at IMDbPro »El ojo de la cerradura (original title)

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Vivid but dIfficult masterwork by Torre-Nilsson

Author: 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 braces.

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.

SPOILERS ALERT:

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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