By James Kenney
Apparently run out of Hollywood after a bad divorce, and unable to find work, Baby Doll and Harlow actress Carroll Baker found renewed celebrity as a lead in European genre cinema in the late 1960s and 1970s, particularly a series of gialli she made with director Umberto Lenzi. They were successful enough, and generally lurid enough, that she was cast in multiple films in the genre, often costarring with Belle De Jour‘s Jean Sorel.
One film made during this flurry of Euro-activity was a Spanish-Italian entry in a pseudo-giallo style, The Fourth Victim, directed by Eugenio Martin, best known for the superior Horror Express starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and the inferior western Bad Man’s River with Lee Van Cleef.. The Fourth Victim is well worth checking out for fans of twisty (nay, convoluted) mysteries of a European flavor, though it is relatively staid compared to much of its brethren such as All the Colors of the Dark or Deep Red, with no nudity and little violence. However, the plot is pleasantly cuckoo and the film does deliver enough twists in its first half to keep you involved, although the second half doesn’t really deliver a satisfying payoff to its baroque setup.
Baker shows up uninvited swimming at midnight in the pool of a rather odd English millionaire whose three previous wives have all suspiciously died in accidents or via overdoses. His third wife was found most recently floating in the same pool Baker trespasses in in an effective opening sequence that has the dour millionaire, played by Michael Craig, calmly pull the body out of the pool with the help of his housekeeper and lay her out on their bed and dress her without emotion.
Scotland Yard Inspector Dunphy (with a broad, irritatingly weird accent) is fully suspicious of our protagonist and spends the whole film accusing him of various crimes, accomplishing little, and supplying mostly-unfunny comic relief. Meanwhile Baker herself, who has identified herself to the millionaire as a reclusive next-door neighbor, Julie, basically throws herself at him but then runs away at the damnedest times, such as their wedding night. We suspect Julie herself is not what she seems as a very eccentric woman shows up late at night at Julie’s estate wearing sunglasses while dressed in black, acting most peculiarly, seemingly with no connection to anyone else in the movie.
Generally you should know what you’re getting into with one of these relatively low-budget, underpopulated early 1970s giallos– twisty, often ludicrous plots, some nice European locations, and a plethora of zoom shots. It’s not really a giallo as we recognize them today, as no one is killing anybody for most of the running time — it’s more of a oddball variation on Hitchcock’s Suspicion, where a woman puts herself into the hands of a likely murderer, with the twist that we’re not sure who’s in more danger here, the husband or the wife.
Martin does shoot things with some energy, using the widescreen framing fairly well and avoiding static shots, although, yes, the zoom is used irritatingly often, especially early in the film. It does provide a pleasingly period giallo score by Piero Ulmuliani, and Baker is fine as usual and Craig is professional, although a more personable actor slumming in Europe at the time such as James Franciscus or John Cassavetes might have made us “feel” more for the befuddled newlywed despite his having quite possibly murdered three previous wives.
Severin has put out this obscure, minor release in a nice Blu-ray edition with an interview with Martino biographer Carlos Aguilar. I’m glad to have made its acquaintance, but you’d likely do well to start with another one of the Baker giallis if you’re curious; Severin has a nice boxset containing the ones she did with Lenzi. But as an obscure deepcut, The Fourth Victim does the job.