The Tenth Victim (1965) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

Sheckley-10th-VictimRobert Sheckley’s ‘The Seventh Victim’, a prescient short story of murder as public spectacle, was first published in 1953, well before The Hunger Games. Elio Petri adapted it as the Ursula Andress movie, The 10th Victim, also the title of Sheckley’s 1966 novelisation. It is set in a near future where killing people is a competitive sport …

I submit this film & book review for: Carl V’s The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience at Stainless Steel Droppings; Katie’s 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey (for review links, click here); Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo; and Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme at his wonderful Sweet Freedom blog.

“A good kill will do you a world of good” - The Seventh Victim (1953)

Sheckley’s original short story, first published in the April 1953 edition of Galaxy Science Fiction, depicts a future in which the people of Earth hunt each other for sport, the ultimate victor being the one that survives ten rounds as ‘Victim’ and ten as a ‘Hunter’. Joining the ‘Tens Club’ is now the ultimate social accolade. The protagonist is ad executive Stanton Frelaine, who is alerted by the ‘Emotional Catharsis Board’ that he is to be the Hunter for the seventh time and that his designated victim is one Janet-Marie Patzig, the first time he has had to track down a woman. This makes him uneasy but he travels to New York and to his horror tracks her down with ease, finding her sipping a drink at a bar just waiting to be picked off. This initially infuriates him as the ease will rob him of the full cathartic effect that the kill is mean to provide – this is a future after all in which wars are over but where individual duels have taken their place, satisfying an atavistic desire that just won’t go away.

“Damn women, he grumbled to himself, always trying to horn in on a man’s game. Why Can’t they stay home?” - The Seventh Victim (1953)

But he finds himself unable to kill her and instead takes her out to dinner and slowly but surely falls in love as she admits that she doesn’t want to take part in the hunt anymore – what will they do?

Petri-10th_Victim

In adapting it for the screen, Elio Petri and his screenwriters expanded the story considerably, broadening the satiric element and making it much more of a swinging sixties kind of experience and a spoof on the media, advertising, celebrity culture and what we now call reality TV. We open in New York where breathtaking American beauty Caroline Meredith (Andress, here briefly donning a black wig) is being chased by a Chinese hunter (George Wang), ultimately disarming and dispatching him with a device that would later inspire Matt Helm (in The Ambushers  movie and later the Austin Powers fembots) – here is how Sheckley described it in his novelisation:

“Caroline’s was a more practical garment than that archetypal brassiere of yore; for, as she faced the startled Hunter, each breast fired a single shot”The Tenth Victim (1966)

Caroline is on the cusp of her tenth kill so the decision is made by advertisers to turn her next and final hunt into a major televisual event. Her designated victim is Marcello Pollitti (Mastroianni, in a blonde rinse), an Italian comic book fan (especially the strips of Lee Falk) who, despite a successful kill, seems to be enshrouded in a permanent state of lassitude. His European ennui, contrasted with Caroline’s predictably aggressive ‘can do’ spirit, can at least be partly attributed to his money woes as his ex-wife steals the winnings from his last kill and the oppressive attentions of Olga, his glamorous girlfriend (played by the ravishing Elsa Martinelli).

“She was an extremely attractive woman if you liked the type, which could best be described as homicidal schizophrenic paranoiac with kittenish overtones”  – The Tenth Victim (1966)

Sheckley-10th-Victim-signetThe movie thus inverts the sexes from the short story, with Caroline slowly coming to care for Marcello, who seems to not to care if he lives or dies. This kind of nihilism and lethargy is in fact super typical of Sheckley’s protagonists, as is the somewhat episodic plot. The plan is for the hunt to end at the Colosseum, its gladiatorial echoes seemingly apropos even in the new media age. But things don’t go according to plan. The Victim and Hunter get to know each other and, after a few attempts to knock each other off – including one delirious plan requiring crocodiles, ejector seats and a swimming pool found only in the movie but not in the novelisation – the potential for an actual relationship growing between the two seems to subvert the nature of the game. Will a third possible outcome be found this time, or will cynicism and the latent barbarism of a decadent, post-war society ultimately prevail?  My paperback edition from the 1980s (seen here on the right) comes emblazoned with appreciative encomia from the likes of Douglas Adams and John le Carré, which should give you some idea of both its generic affiliations (thriller and SF) and its general tone (satiric and anti-establishment).

“Tell me, my treasure,” said Pollitti, “do you have anything else planned for us?”  – The Tenth Victim (1966)

Sheckley’s work in the 1950s and 60s often displayed a sparkling wit along with a stinging sense of irony and this adaptation brings to it that political edge that we associate with the work of writer-director Elio Petri, best known for his Oscar-winning allegorical thriller, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. The film is certainly a product of its times but it presages much we would associate with later works such as Logan’s Run (a 10th-Victim-DVDsubplot involving Pollitti hiding his elderly parents who should have been handed over to the state due to their advancing years was also not included in the novelisation), Nigel Kneale’s TV play The Year of the Sex Olympics and the absurdly popular Hunger Games series. Sheckley and Petri’s iteration, a sardonic SF retelling of The Most Dangerous Game, got there first though and is very much worth a look – and a read. Sheckley’s novelisation, while sticking fairly closely to the screenplay in the sense that they have the same beginning, middle and conclusion, also adds much that is purely his own (including most of the dialogue and a whole subplot involving the bitchy and backbiting advertisers behind the event) while also removing all kinds of sequences as mentioned above as well as his version of scenes that may have been cut from the final edit. The finale takes various elements from the script but completely revises them, making it much shorter and succinct (let’s face it, speed of narrative remains one of the defining differences between European and American popular culture).

Incidentally, the original 1953 story was also adapted for radio by Ernest Kinoy (you can read his script here and listen to it here). Later Sheckley expanded his story with a pair of inferior sequels.

The Victim series

  • The Seventh Victim (1953)
  • The Tenth Victim (1966)
  • Victim Prime (1987)
  • Hunter / Victim (1988)

DVD Availability: Available internationally in various editions, in the US the film is has been released in region free DVD and Blu-ray editions – the latter has a remastered image that is streets away of the original DVD, which however was pretty decent to begin with. They both offer the film in either Italian or English – in the Italian version at least you can hear Mastroianni speak his own dialogue but otherwise both iterations were post-synced (Andress is not heard in either, which weirdly was often the case even at the height of her fame).

The Tenth Victim (1965)
Director: Elio Petri
Producer: Carlo Ponti
Screenplay: Tonino Guerra, Giorgio Salvioni, Ennio Flaiano, Elio Petri
Cinematography: Gianni Di Venanzo
Art Direction: Piero Poletto
Music: Piero Piccioni
Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress, Elsa Martinelli, Massimo Serato, Luce Bonifassy,Salvo Randone

I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge Bingo in the ‘Number’ category (for other participants’ reviews, click here):

mark5-vintage-silver-card

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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38 Responses to The Tenth Victim (1965) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

  1. Sergio – Interesting how the film builds on the story instead of being an more direct adaptation. With a short story of course you can do that. It sounds as though the film has a different sort of wit to the story, and that’s interesting too. That thin veneer of civilisation is very thin indeed at times, and stories like this one, The Most Dangerous Game, Lord of the Flies and others really explore that theme in interesting ways. Thanks as always for an excellent post and for the ‘food for thought.’

    • As you say, with a short story there is a lot more flexibility but I was surprised how well it fits in with Sheckley’s general approach – I think they must have read some of his other novels too frankly!

  2. Todd Mason says:

    I’ve yet to see the film (or read the novels), but I’ve read the story…and I’ve heard the X MINUS ONE adaptation scripted by Kinoy (the link up there wouldn’t work for me, but Archive.org has this one: https://archive.org/details/XMinus1B ).

    It’s notable, I think, that the film of the Sheckley wished to avoid confusion with the Lewton Unit/RKO suspense film THE 7TH VICTIM, so bumped it up by three…also notable, Stephen King admitting the degree to which THE RUNNING MAN was derivative, and paying for that privilege.

    And, you are too kind. (Also picked up the most recent issue of SIGHT AND SOUND over here…it was most amusing, having the WONDERFALLS producer blame my colleague on the “Network Desk” at TV GUIDE–he took care of Fox, CBS and the WB, and still does, only with the CW now in the slot, while I did and do take care of public broadcasting national networks–for the cancellation of WONDERFALLS…when my colleague was as enthusiastic a fan of the series as could be, and not in charge of the last-minute shuffling around on the schedule that Fox did with the series. But, of course, by blaming my colleague and TV GUIDE, the producer in question was burning no bridges in terms of future series sales. Amused, also, Sergio, that the fingernail-length matter was a revelation…after all, as with typing only moreso, lesbians have rather delicate and crowded matters to attend to, with as short a set of fingernails as possible, in most cases at least those that don’t involve rather specialized kink…)

    • I’m still laughing out loud, Todd – darn if that isn’t the longest bracketed aside this blog has ever had! I see I shall have to be much more careful with what I say in Sight & Sound in future – busted again! Thanks for keeping me ‘straight’. As for fingernails, well, let’s just say I hadn;t expected to hear it discussed ont he audio commentary and leave it at that! Thanks for the other link to the Kinoy and I’m going to recheck my link right now – as always, thanks for the help.

  3. Colin says:

    I’ve heard of this but have never seen it. The premise sounds interesting though it’s one we’ve seen in various forms over the years now. Both The Most Dangerous Game & The Running Man immediately sprang to mind as I read through your piece. I like the former a lot, the latter less so.

  4. Patti Abbott says:

    I have heard of neither the book nor movie. But I am reading dystopias right now so I am very interested. That swinging 60s attitude sure ruined a lot of films.

  5. I was expecting to see that you’d claimed this as your Book Made Into a Movie square!

  6. Jeff Flugel says:

    Very interesting comparison, Sergio! I’ve seen parts of the movie version (chiefly the Ursula Andress striptease scene you reference above), but have never read the story or novelization. I have sampled the transfer on the Blue Underground Region A Blu-Ray and it’s a stunner. It’s definitely on the “to watch” list.

    Thank you also for including that promo for PERFECT FRIDAY in the discussion with Colin and Todd…never heard of it before, and it looks utterly delightful.

  7. Sergio, I haven’t read the story/novel or seen the film but your review did have me looking for an online list of human hunting films before I saw that you’d provided the list in comments. I recall seeing a couple of human hunting movies involving convicts on the run in one and a rather poor and ordinary looking black in another. I wonder how many adaptations we’re going to read/see since “The Most Dangerous Game” made the theme ever so popular albeit in a rather tiresome way. I’d be interested in reading some of Robert Sheckley’s short stories.

    • Thanks Prashant (incidentally, you can download Sheckley’s original short story as a PDF from here). The story of two men chained together and on the run, one white and one black, is most famous probably as the Oscar-winning film The Defiant Ones starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis but it’s been used many times since (the most recent one I can think of is Fled, with Laurence Fishburne and Stephen Baldwin).

      • Sergio, thanks for the link to Sheckley’s short story. I saw THE DEFIANT ONES about a couple of years ago and recall enjoying it partly because I like Poitier while having also seen Curtis alongside Roger Moore in some comedies. I don’t think I’ve seen FLED, though. The film involving convicts that I mentioned is THE CONDEMNED with Steve Austin as the unlikely hero and the other one is SURVIVING THE GAME with Ice-T in the lead. Both these films are mentioned in the list you provided. Come to think of it, nearly every action-thriller has “human hunting” in some form or the other, such as the bad guys chasing the good guys and vice versa. Chase used it quite effectively in his novel THE VULTURE IS A PATIENT BIRD.

        • Thanks for all that Prashant – I haven’t seen the films you mention, but of course you’re right, one could generalise about what constitutes ‘human hunting’ though I think for these purposes it needs to be presented as some kind of sport. The Van Damme / John Woo collaboration Hard Target is another good example I think.

  8. Yvette says:

    Interesting post, Sergio – as usual. I lived through the actual ‘swinging sixties’ without seeing THE TENTH VICTIM or reading the book – but then I was not much of a sci-fi reader. I’ve added the film to my all purpose movie list so thanks for the intro. As I remember it, the ‘swinging’ done in the sixties (except for The Beatles) was of the annoyingly repetitive variety which tended to lose its allure very quickly, but maybe that’s just me. And the clothes were ugly. (Though never as ugly as in the 70’s) Even when young I tended to be a bit of a curmudgeon. Ha!

    I tried reading through THE HUNGER GAMES until the very end, but just could not bring myself to hang on. I simply cannot understand the undying devotion among this book’s (and its sequels) readers. From your review I’m thinking Collins might have been influenced by previous books and films, sure. Aren’t all writers? But the basis of her theme – children killing children – is irredeemably unpleasant, maybe even appalling.

    • Thanks Yvette – the 70s was definitely he decade that fashion sense forgot … I remember it well (I used to love my flared jeans!) I recently lent my DVD of Tenth Victim to my parents, who ment and married in the mid 50s in Rome but they turned it off after 20 minutes so I wouldn;t want to make too greater a claim for it!

  9. TracyK says:

    This is totally new to me, also, Sergio. Sounds very interesting. Especially the inverting of the sexes from the short story.

    • Thanks TracyK – Sheckley’s work from the 50s and 60s is always worthwhile and although the provenance of this one is a little skewed, I think it works well whether you have seen the film or not or even read the short story come to that.

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