"An Inventive, Witty Sci-Fi Extravaganza!" -- Pauline Kael, The New Yorker
"An Unhinged Chunk Of Satirical Sci-Fi Kitsch!" -- Mondo Digital
"There's A Real Chemistry Between Ursula Andress And Marcello Mastroianni, A Tension That Literally Beams Off The Screen!" -- PopMatters
(Five Stars) "Blessed By A Game Cast, Gorgeous Visuals And A Director Who Would Eventually Make It To The Oscars!" -- Time Out New York
The opening sequence of Elio Petri's 1965 Italian film "The 10th Victim" establishes Ursula Andress as a particular kind of femme fatale. Performing as an erotic dancer in a decadent New York nightclub of the not-so-distant future (where the white plastic décor could have been dreamed up only by a designer at Cinecittà) she is actually a professional assassin who claims her first victim by shooting him in the face with her double-barreled gun-bra: one way of deflecting the male gaze with a vengeance.
One of the countless films inspired, officially or unofficially, by Richard Connell's 1924 short story "The Most Dangerous Game," Petri's black comedy imagines the hunting of humans as a government-sanctioned, globally televised sport, a gladiatorial combat meant to relieve tension and settle conflicts in an otherwise anesthetized world devoted to mindless consumption. Contestants in the Big Hunt are chosen by a punch-card-shuffling computer in Geneva, which matches pairs of strangers (always a man and a woman, just to make things more interesting) and sends them out to kill each other. Whoever survives to make 10 kills receives a $1 million prize and the right to live to enjoy it. Having claimed her ninth victim, the American champion, Caroline Meredith (Ms. Andress), is now ready to move to the next round, where she'll face the ultimate opponent, an Italian (Marcello Mastroianni, his hair dyed blond to match his co-star's).
Petri won the foreign-language Oscar for his far superior 1970 film, "Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion," but it's "The 10th Victim" that lingers in the public imagination and has now been reissued by Blue Underground in an excellent Blu-ray transferred from the original negative. The playful production design, by Michelangelo Antonioni's regular collaborator Piero Poletto, probably accounts for much of the movie's continued appeal. His Rome of the future has been assembled out of the architecture of the Fascist past (Bernardo Bertolucci would return to some of the same locations for his 1970 period drama "The Conformist") and festooned with the fetish objects of the Op-Pop 60s: inflatable furniture, Trimline telephones. Several big themes are bruited about in the screenplay: how the mass media have turned violence into entertainment, how capitalism has commodified the most primal human urges, how the vacuity of modern life has obscured the riches of a mythic past. (The climax is set at the Temple of Venus in Rome, transformed for the occasion into a backdrop for a teabag commercial.) But at heart "The 10th Victim" amusingly remains a classic commedia all'italiana of the 1960s, with Mastroianni in his archetypical role as the castrated Casanova, struggling to maintain his inbred macho poise as he is assaulted, not only by Ms. Andress's gun-toting Amazon, but by a mercenary wife (Luce Bonifassy) and an impatient mistress (Elsa Martinelli), who have joined forces against him. In this Italy before civil divorce the battle of the sexes could, in the movies at least, become hilariously literal (as in Pietro Germi's 1961 "Divorce, Italian Style," with Mastroianni as a frustrated Sicilian aristocrat, married to a battle ax but in love with his doe-eyed cousin). In the end there is a 10th victim -- but just who it is and how are questions Petri leaves conspicuously unanswered. -- Dave Kehr, The New York Times, September 30, 2011