Made for Italian TV, Dario Argento's small film is a surprisingly witty and entertaining ode to the archetypes, hooks, and fetishes of Alfred Hitchcock, and his themes of wayward voyeurism and shared guilt.
Even in above-average works like Sleepless / Non Ho Sonno, one felt Argento struggled to tell a story within the giallo format he pioneered in the late sixties and had exhausted by the mid-eighties. The genre's narrative is prone to illogical plotting for the sake of arresting visuals of murder, brutality, and nudity, and it's a bit of a trap for writers aspiring to reinvent the genre's regulations.
Hitchcock's own films didn't always have strong characters, but the plotting, particularly when handled by top writers like John Michael Hayes under the director's supervision, plus Hitchcock's own fetishistic fascination for ice cool blondes and ordinary men thrust into extraordinary situations, established a formula that ensured the director's international and commercial success from the forties to the early sixties.
The stories and plot twists from Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, Vertigo, and Psycho have been cleverly dissected and reformulated into an engaging narrative, and while the opening murder with a candle stick holder marks the film's only real gory killing, Argento handles the plot-heavy middle and denouement with a finesse lacking since his superior episode of "The Tram" / "Il Tram" in his four-part TV series from 1973, Door into Darkness / Porta sul buio. The other beauty of the Dario Argento-Franco Ferrini screenplay is that even those familiar with the aforementioned Hitchcock classics will still find the narrative suspenseful, with some novel little twists.
As a whole, Do You Like Hitchcock? is very much an Argento film - the opening teaser that establishes Giulio's problem with voyeurism follows the giallo convention of a character's behavioral problems tied to a childhood event - but the film as a whole shows the director in a lighter mode, and with a more focused eye on telling an entertaining, ripping yarn.
The plot is a bit convoluted, but still easy to outline: Giulio is a film student living in a trendy, upscale pad, trying to write an essay on German Expressionism, but he gets sidetracked when his hungry eyes catch a neighbour's daughter, Sasha, admiring her nekkid self in a mirror. Aware she's being watched, she exploits Giulio's curiosity and embarrassment when they meet in the local video store, although she shows greater interest in another female customer, Federica, who happens to enjoy Hitchcock thrillers too (hence the title).
Using Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train as a pickup trick, Sasha later meets Federica in the park, and while Giulio watches from a distance, it's clear the two women share more than a distinct liking for Hitchcock films. A few nights later, Giulio hears an awful scream, and the next day he discovers Sasha's apartment invaded by police, after the mother was found bludgeoned to death.
Giulio becomes suspicious of Sasha's innocence, and he suddenly finds himself threatened by the killer when attempts are made on his life. With an over-protective and fussy mother, a woefully unattended girlfriend (Arianna) fed up with his amateur sleuthing, and a video store clerk (Andrea) overly friendly with Sasha and other pretty clients, Giulio slowly morphs into a Jimmy Stewart persona as an innocent but naive man threatened by a patient and brutal Argento-styled killer.
For Hitchcock fans, the mini-odes are obvious, and very playful: Giulio's pad overlooks similar multi-level apartment buildings, and like Rear Window, the neighbours are fleeting echoes of the latter film's decorative characters - including a woman with a dog, and a love-hungry couple experiencing a level of bliss totally absent between Giulio and his gamine babe, Arianna.
Though he didn't witness the actual murder, Giulio soon suspects Sasha of killing her mother, and Arianna is later convinced something is afoul, helping Giulio when he's rendered useless because of a leg injury and plaster cast after being too adventurous in his nighttime stalking of Sasha on a slippery, rainy night.
The relationship between Giulio and Arianna gets a kick of adrenaline when she volunteers to enter Sasha's apartment in search of a missing key (Dial M for Murder fused with Lisa's search for the dead wife's wedding ring in Rear Window), and Giulio fears for her life when she's in close proximity to the real killer who later dangles from the rooftop after a bad stumble (mimicking Jimmy Stewart, at the beginning of Vertigo).
Before his leg injury, Giulio suspects Sasha and Frederica did a bit of 'criss-crossing' - swapping murders as in Strangers on a Train - with Frederica killing Sasha's mother and Sasha killing Frederica's boss who's been blackmailing her because she stole company funds (like Marian Crane did, before her sudden flight, in Psycho).
Giulio's subsequent attack in the bathtub by video store clerk Andrea echoes Crane's attack in the shower, and Andrea's involvement was purely for money - one of the reasons Tony was able to snag a down-on-his-luck school chum into murdering pretty Margot in Dial M for Murder.
Argento himself doesn't go for a cameo, but there's some amusing visual nods, including the huge poster of Il Cartaio / The Card Player on the video store's front door, and a perfectly the visible cover of Asia Argento's The Scarlet Diva on the wall behind the talkative friendly Andrea.
Giulio's voyeurism also plays out like a De Palma-Hitchcockian nod, with nudity sprawled across the screen (Body Double, itself a riffing Rear Window); and Argento engaging Pino Donaggio, De Palma's favoured composer from Carrie (1976) to Raising Cain (1992), although the composer has already scored many of Argento's own films since Two Evil Eyes (1990).
The film's finale - implying a cyclical round of dangerous voyeurism - also ends with Giulio seeing another nekkid babe in Sasha's former abode, sprawled across the divan, reading Mary Roberts Reinhart's A Light in the Window - a giallo novel, with its unmistakable yellow cover.
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Previously available on DVD in Italy and France, Do You Like Hitchcock? is presented with its English dub track in Dolby 2.0. The included behind-the-scenes featurette has glimpses of the elaborate and effective green screen effects, and moments with actors speaking their English dialogue - perfectly intelligible, but replaced with more British-styled voices on the final dub track.
What's of interest to Argento fans are the brief glimpses of the director working with the actors - patient, benevolent - and the light atmosphere that markedly contrasts against the final scenes of fear, violence, and open sexuality. (The film is surprisingly frank in its use of nudity, including Giulio and Arianna's raw love scene, early in the film.)
While not the giallo fans may have been hoping for, Do You Like Hitchcock? is still a great deal of fun, and shows a mature director having being playful with his beloved influences, and the conventions of the cherished giallo genre.
This title is available separately, and as part of the 2008 tin boxed set, 5 Films by Dario Argento, which includes Tenebre, Phenomena (1985), Trauma, Il Cartaio / The Card Player (2004), and Do You Like Hitchcock? / Ti piace Hitchcock?
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan