If The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971) is truly considered a giallo, then it’s the smartest one I’ve seen. It features a killer dressed in black with leather gloves that commits a series of grisly murders, but it also offers an actual investigation by authorities that give a darn. If not for its fine details, I’d consider the movie to be a simple mystery-thriller. If so, though, is it as smart being part of the latter genre as it is part of the former?
We aren’t delivered an actual murder until 30 minutes into the film’s 90-minute running time. Prior to that, it seems like a potboiler about a possible life insurance scam that Lisa Baumer (Ida Galli) might be running in order to inherit a million dollars when her husband dies under suspicious circumstances. This murder suddenly changes the direction of the movie. (Spoiler alert: screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi turns Lisa into a Marion Crane character, if you know what that means.)
Inspector Stavros (Luigi Pistilli) and Interpol agent John Stanley (Alberto de Mendoza) are hell bent on indicting insurance investigator Peter Lynch (George Hilton), even as they continue to discover him in situations that seem to eliminate him from being a suspect. There are plenty of other suspects. In fact, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail does a credible job of making you guess whose responsible for the carnage until (almost) the very end.
In The Scorpion’s Tale, a 47-minute bonus feature on the beautiful (as always) Blu-ray from Arrow, director Sergio Martino calls the movie “a tale well told” and the “best giallo” that he ever made. He credits the screenwriter for being fond of making suggestions that stimulated him. (This is a new interview with Martino, recorded exclusively for Arrow in 2018.) The love for Gastaldi continues in The Case of the Screenwriter Auteur, a 15-minute essay by author Troy Howarth.
I’m familiar with Howarth from his commentary tracks. Here, the honors belong to Gastaldi himself, moderated by filmmaker Federico Caddeo. Howarth’s comforting voice and expansive knowledge are nevertheless present in his essay, which plays over scenes from the film. In his history of the career of Gastaldi, he comments that his gialli don’t sacrifice story for style. He gives us characters worth caring about and surprising twists that aren’t so improbable that they take you out of the story.
These bonus features, the commentary, and the story for the film itself convey the message that Ernesto Gastaldi was, as Howarth calls him, a “prolific and important” screenwriter.” I haven’t even mentioned the character of Cleo Dupont (Anita Strindberg), a smart, independent reporter who joins forces with Lynch to find the killer, as bloody bodies of red herrings keep appearing. Except for the predictable romance she has with Lynch, the role feels somewhat unique for a female in 1971.
I enjoyed The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, regardless of which genre we assign to it. Since the giallo tropes come few and far between, they could almost be eliminated. In its most graphic scene, the killer takes a broken bottle to the eye of the victim. Based on the rest of the movie, it seems out of place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great giallo murder, but here, for once, the story is strong enough to carry the movie without it.
Arrow Bonus Materials:
Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
Audio commentary with writer Ernesto Gastaldi, moderated by filmmaker Federico Caddeo (in Italian with English subtitles)
New interview with star George Hilton
New interview with director Sergio Martino
New analysis of Sergio Martino’s films by Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film
New video essay by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Rachael Nisbet and Howard Hughes, and a biography of star Anita Strindberg by Peter Jilmstad