The 10th Victim (1965)

Country: Italy / France
Directed by by Elio Petri

Ursula Andress, Marcello Mastroianni, Elsa Martinelli, Salvo Randone, Massimo Serato.
Director by by Elio Petri
Music by Piero Piccioni
Original title: La decima vittima

While The 10th Victim is not a spy film it is an iconic sixties film that has inspired countless imitators. It features Ursula Andress and Marcello Mastroianni as a pair of killers participating in a barbaric game called The Big Hunt. The film is borderline science fiction, but it features a few elements that would be picked up by espionage films that were to follow. Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, in particular, pays homage to The 10th Victim.

The Big Hunt, the game that the characters play in this film, is a legalised form of violence. But the game has rules. You can’t just kill people willy-nilly. Firstly, you have to be registered with the Ministry of The Big Hunt. If you volunteer to participate in the hunt, you have to agree to participate in ten hunts. Five as a ‘hunter’ and five as a ‘victim’. Each of these roles alternates with each hunt that you participate in — presuming that you win, and stay alive of course! The person selected as the hunter is given all the information available about his intended victim. The victim, on the other hand, does not know who the hunter is. Whoever wins each hunt is given a prize. If you survive all ten hunts, then you receive one million dollars.

The film starts in New York, and a girl with dark hair and wearing a cowprint dress is taunting an Oriental man with a gun. He shoots at her but misses. It appears that he is not much of a marksman. She runs off. A police officer notices the commotion and stops the man. He explains that he is a hunter in The Big Hunt, and the officer allows him to go about his business. He continues to chase the girl, who is of course, the victim.

Through the New York streets, she keeps taunting him, and he blindly follows. She comes to the door of a night club and enters the establishment. Inside, the club is very modular and cubist. Patrons sit on their squares drinking, while a girl in a mirror mask and corset gyrates and writhes for the adoring crowd. One club goer removes the entertainer’s corset only leaving a very pointy looking, mirror-faced bikini. The hunter cannot find his intended target. He stomps around the crowd trying to flush her out. Eventually he becomes distracted by the stripper and starts to watch the show. The stripper approaches him during her routine and asks him to remove her mask, which he does. She then turns and fires two booby guns hidden in her top. The booby gun has become something of a cliche after it appeared in the Austin Powers films, and prior to that the Matt Helm film, The Ambushers, but The 10th Victim is its first iconic use. I’m sure that booby guns had appeared in film or some pulp fiction novel before their use here, but this is the scene where it entered into popular culture.

It appears that the stripper and the victim running through the street were one and the same person, Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress). Once again she has been successful. This is her ninth hunt. All she has to do is survive her next hunt – but she will being playing the hunter, rather than the victim, so that should give her an edge – and she will win one million dollars.

Meanwhile at an equestrian event, Marcello Polletti (Macrcello Matroianni) is engaged in his sixth hunt. He kills his victim with an explosive device he plants in the man’s shoe. During his next hunt, he will be a victim. So the stage is set to pit Miss Caroline Meredith against Mr. Marcello Polletti. Will he be her 10th Victim?

Without being overly psychedelic, the film is incredibly trippy with a mod fashion sense and some fantastic quasi-futuristic set design. The carnival style music by Piero Piccioni adds to the trip. The 10th Victim is a fascinating film, but I’ll stop short of calling it a great film. It’s a film of its time, and like Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, it is a film that can rub the viewer the wrong way. But like all good late sixties cinema, it at least asks a few questions about society and looks at our changing values.

While I enjoy The 10th Victim, I do find it a bit cold and detached, but then again maybe that is the point. After all, only a certain type of sociopath would want to join The Big Hunt. And maybe that’s a indication of what society is becoming in it’s tolerance of violence – cold and detached.

To read more about The 10th Victim, and it’s amazing Production Design, click here and you’ll be beamed across to The Spy Vibe, and Jason Whiton’s Top Ten Spy Set Countdown.

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