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  Weapon, The Hour, The Motive, The Catholic guilt
Year: 1972
Director: Francesco Mazzei
Stars: Renzo Montagnani, Bedy Moratti, Eva Czemerys, Salvatore Puntillo, Claudio Gravy, Alcira Harris, Arturo Trina, Adolfo Belletti, Arnaldo Bellofiore, Francesco D'Adda, Maurizio Bonuglia
Genre: Horror, Sex, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Handsome Catholic priest Don Giorgio (Maurizio Bonuglia) ends his adulterous affair with married nurse Orchidea Durantini (Bedy Moratti) but continues sleeping with her also married sultry friend Giulia Pisani (Eva Czemerys). Shortly thereafter young Ferruccio (Arturo Trina), a sickly orphan boy under the care of the church, peeps through a hole in the floor above the empty chapel where he sees Don Giorgio stabbed to death! Assigned to investigate, uncouth and unconventional country cop Commissario Franco Boito (Renzo Montagnani) immediately butts heads with the local clergy led by Sister Tarquinia (Claudia Gravy). They are less keen to help Boito catch the killer and more anxious to cover up Don Giorgio's adulterous exploits. Boito turns to Orchidea for help ferreting information but their relationship rapidly detours down a more intimate route.

Exploitation genres have long offered left-leaning filmmakers the opportunity to sling satirical arrows at the conservative establishment. Italian giallo horror-thrillers are no exception. While the trashier examples work on the simple assumption that anyone rich, trendy or in a position of power is naturally a sexual degenerate harbouring homicidal tendencies, the best of their kind deliver pointed attacks on corrupt judges, politicians, businessmen and, yes, the Catholic church. Of course in Italy the church holds far greater status and influence than elsewhere in Europe, hence the satire packs extra bite. Interestingly L'Arma, l'ora, il movente (The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive) forgoes the familiar plot device of a killer clergyman and instead casts the 'corrupt' priest as the victim. The steamy love scenes admittedly cater to a certain kind of lurid fantasy, but the plot exhibits some sympathy for Don Giorgio. He is established as a tortured soul, full of guilt and anguish but drawn into adultery as much through loneliness as lust.

On the surface The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive draws from a well of themes similar to Alfred Sole's later, giallo-influenced Canadian slasher film Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) a.k.a. Communion but unfortunately dilutes satire by shifting blame entirely onto women. All the female characters are either wanton sluts or self-flagellating prudes. In his lone directorial outing Francesco Mazzei foregrounds nuns as the face of the church and seems more comfortable attacking their lapses than those of the more traditional patriarchal authority. Although silly scenes where nuns shower or self-flagellate in the nude come across more suited to the 'nunsploitation' genre they serve to underline Mazzei's point that the sisters' attempt to maintain impossibly high moral standards is perverse. Yet the plot offers no moral counterbalance and oddly excuses Comissario Boito for casually sleeping with a married woman and seeming coldly indifferent to the death of an innocent suspect.

Such inconsistencies keep The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive from matching the sharp anti-clerical satire of Lucio Fulci's masterly Don't Torture a Duckling (1972). Still it spins a compelling murder-mystery, subdued yet visually arresting in stark tones and driven by the intense performances of a solid ensemble cast. Most notably Renzo Montagnani, an actor whose lecherous roles in numerous sex comedies saw him dubbed the Italian Sid James! As the slightly chunky, hirsute, decidedly unconventional lead, Boito exhibits a surprising lack of respect for the clergy given he is a cop based in such a tight-knit rural community. Mere moments upon arriving at the crime scene he starts barking at priests and nuns but exhibits greater sensitivity in his dealings with regular folk like Orchidea and most notably young Ferruccio. Carlo Rambaldi handled the prosthetic effects, but one graphic throat-slashing apart, the film downplays murder set-pieces and gore, and is more character-driven despite an impressively eerie, quasi-supernatural tone. Mazzei, more active as the producer of a several films in the Mondo series in the Sixties (he later abandoned filmmaking to write historical novels) proves a more than capable director making masterful use of sound effects and wide angle lenses to lend a disorienting, nightmarish atmosphere to several sequences.

After a strong start the plot meanders and grows increasingly talky and lightweight. Bogged down in soap opera drama it is enlivened by a few offbeat visual conceits (a fight scene in total darkness with an amusing punchline) and, most interestingly, the third act twist that concentrates on mutually exploitative relationship that develops between the flawed, desperate character finally unmasked as the killer and young Ferruccio. He proves quite the calculating little creep. Rather than report the murderer to the police, he tries to blackmail the killer for toys and a more comfortable life. Which leaves the sentimental, slightly jokey coda with its implied 'bros before hoes' message that more disquieting.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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