George Dumurrier runs the Dumurrier Medical clinic and is continually scamming for financial backers. His wife, Susan, really hates their marriage together and has terrible asthma. When George heads to Reno to meet with a possible investor, a nurse is entrusted to help Susan take her medicine. But Susan dies while he is away and he learns she had a $2 million life insurance policy naming him the beneficiary.
Later, at a strip club, he meets a stripper named Monica that resembles Susan tremendously. The cops finally name George as the responsible party for Susan's murder when we realize that Monica really is, Susan and she is leaving the country. George's brother, Henry, arrives and fills him in on the whole set up of how he is going to take the Hospital and Susan and get rid of George who is scheduled for the gas chamber in the next few days. Henry then heads to Paris to meet Susan. Ironically, a man who was in love with Monica recognizes her in the Paris cafe with Henry and kills them both out of rage. The Paris police phone with an identification on the two just as George is being sent to the gas chamber.
This is a very early giallo feature (basically being the second after IL DOLCE CORPO DE DEBORAH and then followed by Argento's BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) and the first for Fulci. I must admit that somebody overdosing on too much asthma medicine is not very frightening as opposed to a faceless gloved killer like the majority or these films featured later on. The set up is interesting but you knew it already and the twist ending had a very nice touch though seemingly unbelievable. This is a pretty standard offering from Fulci who appears briefly as a handwriting specialist. There was a couple really funny scenes that hint at Fulci's sense of humor. A detective is questioning Susan dressed as Monica and his mouth moves behind a large water bottle giving it an expanded duck bill look. To her, he is quacking a bunch of nonsense since she isn't listening. Another scene features a police dispatcher sarcastically telling a lady they will send all police cars out to look for her lost dog. Not to be confused with another 1969 film PERVERSION STORY (a.k.a. Las Trompetas del Apocalipsis) directed by Julio Buchs and featuring future Fulci star, Brett Halsey.
ONE ON TOP OF ANOTHER a.k.a. Una Sull'Altra (Perversion Story)
1969, S/P-Fulci, Robert Gianuiti, Music: Riz Ortolani. Cast: Jean Sobiesky, George Riaud, Bill Vanders, John Douglas, LBX, 98 min.
Lucio Fulci will never be accused of being subtle. His place in cinema history depends more on being in the right place at the right time than in any inherent filmaking ability. His ZOMBIE, NEW YORK RIPPER, and DEVIL'S HONEY all bent their respective genre conventions at the exact time audiences seemed to want it. The inescapable fact is that none of these films are very good. Just memorable.
ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER is a giallo-style thriller made before the genre had quite been codified by Argento, in BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1969) through DEEP RED (1975). Bava had dabbled in the arena with supernatural overtones, but Fulci here has taken the now standard tropes of a mysterious murder, tangled motives, and a non-linear approach to the narrative, and gone (perhaps inadvertently) father than anyone had up to that time.
ONE ON TOP OF ANOTHER ends up being a template for the style, in spite of Fulci's rather conservative, blundering direction. He may not have understood that he was inventing a genre, but broke the rules in a combination of boredom or ineptness that makes this another Fulci film brimming with more stylish touches and narrative opportunities than it can quite handle.
The talky, overly complicated plot is a clockwork of twisted relationships. Jean Sorel, as handsome and wooden here as ever, plays Dr. George Dumurrier, the owner of a seaside medical clinic with his brother Henry. He's burdened by a shrewish, asthmatic wife Susan (narisa Hell), but that doesn't prevent him from conncocting wild schemes for funding, and flirting with the new nurse, even hinting to her which medicine would kill his wife, were she to accidentally ingest it.
George's mistress Carol wants to leave him, and just at the wrong time, because soon the new nurse has indeed "accidentally" given Susan the wrong, deadly, medicine.
Now Susan's dead, but there's no love lost, and George stands to collect on Susan's $2 million insurance policy, but now his troubles start - the cops accuse him of murdering Susan for the money, and then he meets a stripper who's the spitting image of Susan, except she has blond hair.
This is very suspicious to the insurance company, who first thinks Susan is in disguise to share the fortune, then figures Monica (the stripper, also played by Marisa Mell pretended to be Susan when she signed the insurance policy a scant few weeks before.
We (and George) first see Monica in a San Francisco strip clup doing a sleazy bump-and-grind, with heady organic 60s graphics projected behind her; George is immediately enamoured with her, but can't help thinking it's Susan - or someone who knew Susan. When he finally beds her, he keeps flashing on images of his dead wife, giving the scene a strange, and potent sense of necrophilia. This George is one screwed-up puppy.
The police soon discover that Monica once knew the nurse that poisoned Susan, and might have put her up to it. But then the nurse turns up missing...
And on and on. The film follows George for a while as he tries to unravel the increasingly complicated tangle of motives, then switches to the police doing their investigating. The outlook switches from us thinking Monica is really Susan, to us figuring out who best benefits from her being mistaken for Susan. The story becomes more and more convoluted, and every apparently unrelated fact or casual comment comes back, meaning something and pointing in a new direction.
A lot of thought was actually put into the story's construction and the details, but Fulci's narrative dynamic wanders aimlessly rather than drives compellingly. The film is by turns confusing and obvious. Yet this technique (whether it was his strategy or not) aids the film, by keeping it unpredictable.
Fulci's visual style is another matter. He favors long establishing shots and disorienting composition, the close-up of the detective shot through a water cooler, distorting his face being the most famous and ridiculous. Fulci also feels compelled to use unexplained zooms, emphasizing things that don't need it, for no apparent narrative reason. He may be trying for a feeling of unease in the viewer, but instead generates frustration.
Still, his mise-en-scene is effective. Mirrors abound, in a perhaps obvious metaphor of the characters' duplicity, and Fulci's use of San Francisco locations for the exteriors adds an authentic touch. The scene in which Carol calls Monica into an impromptu photo-shooting session uses light and close-ups well, and generates a nice sexual lesbian heat.
The nurse does turn up (although not as you'd suspect) and all the loose ends are finally tied together. It's all an elaborate set-up, and nothing was left to chance. (It seems the only person not in on it is some guy who keeps visiting Monica's house, who's smitten by her strip act, and wants to make an honest woman out of her).
George finally figures out the complete scam, but after he's in jail for the murder, and set for execution the following day. His story is so convoluted and unbelievable, the authorities won't believe him.
I won't give you the details, as once you know the secret to any mystery, the house of cards seems to collapse. But in ONE ON TOP OF ANOTHER seeing all the loose ends tied up so neatly, even down to how the bad guys get their commupance, shows a workmanlike, admirable skill. It is actually more enjoyable watching the second time around. Suceeds in spite of itself.
(Reviewed by Roger Leatherwood)