Movies: The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971)

Sergio Martino, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, is a name that anyone with a passing interest in giallo films should know. He made movies in many different genres, but in the two years between 1971 and 1973, he directed five iconic examples of the genre, all of which are fantastic: The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, All the Colors of the Dark, Torso, and the film we’re discussing today.

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (La Coda dello Scorpione, 1971) was the second giallo film he directed in this incredible run, and it’s a tightly plotted and entertaining thriller with some gorgeous cinematography, a script with lots of surprising twists and turns, and some satisfyingly grisly kills.

At the beginning of the movie, we’re introduced to beautiful blonde Lisa Baumer (Evelyn Stewart, the pseudonym of actress Ida Galli), two-timing wife of jet-setting rich dude Kurt Baumer. While Lisa is busily banging her scruffy side-piece, she receives a phone call that informs her that her presumably Lego-sized husband has tragically perished in the explosion of his teeny toy plane (you’ll know what I mean when you see the effect). Into the phone, she’s all, “Oh yeah, I know all about thaaaaa…I mean, oh man, that’s a damn shame. I loved that guy more than life itself, yes indeedy.” Helping her through her terrible grief is the fact that poor ‘sploded Kurt had an insurance policy that will make Lisa a million dollars richer; all she has to do is fly to Athens, Greece to pick up the check in person, and cha-ching.

She tells the head of the insurance firm that she and Kurt were all but separated, and that she had no idea that she was the beneficiary of such largesse, but Mr. Insurance Man is no chump and isn’t quite buying it. Since the company suspects that maaaaybe Lisa had something to do with the plastic plane explosion that shuffled off Kurt’s mortal coil, they hire crack insurance investigator and rakishly suave motherfucker Peter Lynch (George Hilton) to follow Lisa’s tight ass around and see what dubious shit she might be up to.

Lisa groks to his game right away, but she’s got bigger problems than him to deal with, because it turns out that Kurt’s severe-looking mistress Lara (Janine Reynaud) and Lara’s lawyer/one-man brute squad Sharif (Luis Barboo) want to get their hands on some of Kurt’s sweet death-cash as well. They’ve already murdered Lisa’s former lover back in London, who was trying to blackmail her with a letter in which she talked about getting rid of her husband; Lara and Sharif stole said letter, and now they’re intent on killing the conniving Lisa after she refuses to buckle under their (admittedly pretty lame) threats of blackmail. Peter Lynch manages to save Lisa from getting stabbed by them, but it turns out that her troubles are just beginning.

Planning on getting her money as quickly as possible and getting the fuck out of Dodge, Lisa cashes her million-dollar check and makes arrangements to fly to Tokyo that very night with the money to meet her lover. Unfortunately, the security at her hotel isn’t quite up to snuff, and she is summarily sliced into ribbons and relieved of her ill-gotten gains before she can even finish stowing her slain-spouse money-bundles into her fetching carry-on valise.

Since Peter had been following Lisa around, the cops suspect he might know more about her murder than he’s letting on. He tells them he was just following her for work, and his alibi checks out; he also informs them about Lara and Sharif, and while the investigators are interviewing Lara at her apartment, someone tries to kill Peter with a hatchet right out in the damn hallway, which seems pretty bold, to say the least.

There then follows your standard giallo murder mystery, replete with world-weary, shit-talking investigators; a budding love story between Peter and Cléo (Anita Strindberg), a journalist assigned to the case; and a whole fisherman’s platter of red herrings. People who are suspected of some of the murders start to turn up dead themselves, and it becomes very clear that whatever it is that’s going on, it’s far more complicated than it seemed at first blush. Who is bumping off all these seemingly unrelated people? Is it the sketchy Interpol officer with the mysteriously injured hand? Did Kurt Baumer fake his own death to collect on his own insurance policy? Or is something even more convoluted and sinister going on? And why on earth do female characters in every single one of these movies insist on standing there and helplessly staring at the door while a murderer is busting it down? Honestly, ladies, you can run away; just because some dude goes to the trouble of breaking into your house doesn’t give you some kind of social obligation to allow him to stab you. You’re welcome for that tidbit of advice, by the way.

The key to the whole cannoli, as it were, turns out to be a filigreed cufflink in the shape of a scorpion, which is discovered in Cléo’s apartment after a man breaks in and tries (unsuccessfully) to kill her. There’s some really good misdirection in regards to who the actual killer is, and though I won’t spoil the ending, I will say that this film features an enjoyable subversion of some of the most common tropes of the genre. There’s also some added spice in the form of a fairly graphic eye gouging and the frequent appearance of two of Anita Strindberg’s boisterously bouncing…acting chops. All in all, this is a great, entertaining giallo with enough plot curveballs to keep you guessing, and definitely a stellar example of the form. Enjoy with a cappuccino and a nice biscotti, and call me in the morning.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s