Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Passport for a Corpse (1962)

The great Paul Muller plays a cohort in crime.

It begins like countless crimes; a group of men sitting around a table illuminated by a single, hot bulb. Outside of their small congregation is pure darkness. They’ve been studying the plans laid out on the table for some time now. You almost choke on the air, thick with smoke trailing up from each of the four men’s cigarettes. The next day, in the blaring sunlight, these men embark on a payroll heist---a blizzard of smoke bombs and gunfire. Time has elapsed, and we see the men’s car now only contains one at the steering wheel (his name is Marco), another bleeding to death in the back seat, and a satchel of cash. The man in the back gasps for air and dies. Marco sees a strangely familiar woman near his hotel room, the same woman he had glimpsed in a park before this nightmarish business began. Back in his room, he informs his wife that he is a wanted man. They make a hasty plan to separately cross the Italian border and meet up in a French cafĂ©. This is where the film takes a detour from the typical crime story and becomes something darker. Something noir.

Marco (Alberto Lupo) tucks himself into an uncomfortable ride in a coffin.

Hiking through the snow-covered mountains towards the border, Marco eyes a hearse being held over at the checkpoint. While the coffin is under inspection inside the station, Marco removes the corpse, lays the money in the coffin, and seals himself in for a ride. It may have been a ticket to freedom, but the hearse is forced to return to Italy because of some missing paperwork. Marco is deposited in a frozen morgue for the night, alongside the stiff bodies of his partners in crime. His voiceover narration sounds increasingly frenzied, and rightfully so: he’s learning what it’s like to be dead. Burning small piles of money ("Better poor than dead," he says to himself) to keep his hands from freezing, he manages to open the locked door with a makeshift explosive made from his stash of bullets. He wanders into the night like a resurrected corpse. Driving a stolen car, he sees that mysterious, beckoning woman---the same woman that has been following him throughout this crazy ordeal---in the middle of a desolate stretch of road. It’s the last thing he sees before pulling over and falling asleep at the wheel.

In the blinding light of day, Marco stumbles deliriously through bleach-white snow. “I don’t know how to pray, but God forgive me,” he intones. The bag full of money becomes a meaningless burden. Another small figure in this endless landscape emerges, slowly walking closer and closer to Marco. It is the woman. She spreads out her hooded cloak and envelopes the screen in black.

"Help me God, don't let me die like this."

"Destiny...or was it Death?" Linda Christian descends upon the screen.

The economically plotted screenplay is credited to Glen Arenos and Carl Ferrero, with scenario and direction by first-timer Mario Gariazzo (The Bloody Hands of the Law, Play Motel). Its central concept, that of a man smuggling himself in a coffin, is irresistibly squirm inducing. The film's morbid and nightmarish imagery, and its downright condemning tone, make this one a unique ride, a rare combination of horror and noir. The final, icy, scene of divine justice reaches a crescendo with Marcello Giombini's score---a driving, spaghetti western-esque, mix of angelic chorus, organ, xylophone, and electronic stings---mixing with Marco's pleas to God. It's a wonderfully satisfying conclusion.


Anonymous said...

Saw this movie eons ago as a Saturday afternoon viewing. Loved it then and hope someday to find a copy on DVD and watch it all over again.

Adam said...

My copy is of pretty low quality. I'd definitely spring for a restored DVD of this one.