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A wealthy, decadent count convinces a disillusioned playboy that they shall murder one another's relatives, to get away with the perfect crime. The count murders the playboy's unpleasant wife. Now the playboy finds he cannot keep his end of the bargain, while the police finger him for the murder. Written by
Joe Arthur <email@example.com>
Pierre Clementi has Tomas Milian right where he wants him in this Strangers on a Train variation
The skeleton plot of one man tying another man in knots so as to use him in "The Designated Victim" is taken from "Strangers on a Train". All the details are different, however.
This version takes place in Venice mostly, a suitable milieu for decay. Tomas Milian is now a successful businessman with a lover and a wife who refuses to ink a deal to sell their current successful business. He's not a bad guy, but he's trapped in his marriage and business because she owns the stock. His way out will be forgery and an escape to Venezuela with his lover, but before he can do it Pierre Clementi intervenes. Milian's character is painted as a nice guy, a rather weak guy, a man who compromises. Even his success is in doubt. His wife was key in raising him from being a lowly designer. He is not exactly a kept husband but close. And yet he has talent and wants to succeed independently.
Clementi is an amazing character. He's a Count, symptomatic of a decayed society of the past, living off inherited wealth, with no goal in life except to try everything once. His affectations and manners are homosexual. They are also that of a vampire who is alive by fastening on other people. His hair is as long as a woman's. He wears a black cape, gloves and a light-colored suit. His scarf is a long scarlet affair. When he talks with Milian, he invariably has his hands on him, uncomfortably so it would seem. But Milian doesn't show any signs of resisting this. He thinks of Pierre as a buddy once he comes to trust him, a trust given too easily, even though they meet several times at first, seemingly by accident. Clementi's Count becomes a cloying and suffocating character whom Milian cannot escape, when he eventually wants to.
Clementi has plans for Milian. It's not long before he proposes exchanging murders. Milian laughs it off. Clementi is serious. He embroils Milian in more ways than Bruno trapped Guy. The script is very clever on that score, making the story entirely noir. Milian is really pinned down. The police have him as candidate #1 for killing his wife. The evidence that might free him is held by Clementi. Milian is at the point where he is being forced to kill or be thrown in prison.
The music score is excellent. The pace is on the deliberate side. The direction makes good use of the script's possibilities. The script is clever. Moving the story to Venice and inventing the new characters were very good ideas. The script manages to keep the characters plausible, but not quite as well as in the Hitchcock version. Still, this version holds up under repeated viewings. Clementi's Count will have you looking a little more closely at the smiles that hide wiles.
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