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DVD Review: The Designated Victim (1971)


I've been praising the Shameless release schedule for some time now. Early on, the titles seemed just a little hit and miss, but of late, the releases have had both the quality and the attention to detail so beloved of cult movie fans. And in The Designated Victim, Shameless could well have hit a high point on both counts.

Originally released back in 1971, this Maurizio Lucidi-directed movie has suffered since its debut, leaving Shameless (along with Stefan Novak and Marc Morris) to recreate the film from several available sources - producing this 'fan edition' of more or less all the original flick, albeit with the occasional drop in quality. Don't let that worry you though, the bulk of it is up there with any other reissue of the period.

The story itself might well be familiar to you, especially if you've seen Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train (or read the book it was based on by Patricia Highsmith). Yes, we're talking murder pact, specifically involving ad man Stefano Argenti (Tomas Milian) and the foppish, affluent (and almost goth-like) Count Matteo Tiepolo (Pierre Clémenti).


Argenti wants out of his marriage and out of the Milan-based ad agency he runs with his wife - he's even planned a new life in South America with his mistress Fabienne Béranger (the stunning Katia Christine). But there's a problem - his wife isn't keen to cash in on the business or end the marriage, so our man Stefano devises a plan to defraud his wife of the money, transferring the proceeds out of the country to finance that new life.

On a break from the job with his mistress in Venice, he encounters the mysterious Count Matteo on three separate occasions. On the fourth occasion, they discuss their personal woes - specifically Stefano's wife and Matteo's brother - with Matteo floating the idea of a murder pact, each killing the other's antagonist. While Matteo is 'deadly' serious about the idea, Stefano laughs it off, pushing ahead with that plan to flit to South America.

But everything is about to change. Matteo finds out about Stefano's plan to defraud his wife - and uses that knowledge to set in motion a plan to frame Stefano for his wife's murder, carrying out the actual murder himself. Stefano is left with one real option - to carry out the killing of Matteo's brother in order to clear his own name. If he carries out the killing, Matteo will give Stefano an alibi for the night of his wife's death.

In truth, it would be hard to make a complete mess of things with a plot so solid and well-worn, but Designated Victim takes things up a notch with a thriller that packs style and substance in equal measure. In terms of the substance, we're talking an incredibly well-made movie. The storyline is tight and well executed, replacing those staples of the giallo (excessive blood and nudity) with suspense and clever plot twists. Ok, you might guess the ending well before the final scene, but it's still a tension-filled finale that leaves as many questions as it offers answers. And the interactivity of the main characters is a joy to watch, offering an insight into each, but still leaving a layer of mystery - especially when it comes to the almost vampire-like Matteo.

And The Designated Victim just oozes style. Stefano has a look that's come round again in 2008, Matteo looks like a prototype (but slightly more foppish) Russell Brand. And Katia Christine dominates the screen in just about every scene she appears in. Filming the movie in Milan, Venice and the Italian lakes is no bad thing either. Throw them all into the mix and you wonder how this gem of Italian cinema has languished in the archives for so many years.

Thankfully it's hidden no more. As I said at the start of this review, The Designated Victim is quite possibly the best movie release of Shameless' short history. It's cool, it's sharp, it's packed full of fan-friendly extras, but above all, it's a top-notch thriller that will have you hooked from the first minute to the last. For fans of the genre, pretty much essential - especially with Amazon selling it for under £6.

Find out more about the DVD at


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