L’uomo senza memoria (1974) opens in London with the amnesiac Ted (Luc Merenda) confronted with an old criminal accomplice who is convinced that Ted is faking his condition to rob his partners of one million dollars. Ted, without any memory of who he was, is manipulated into going to Italy to see his estranged wife Sara (Senta Berger). Reunited, Ted and Sara must come up with the money in one week or face certain death.
L’uomo senza memoria is a mystery of deceptions, manipulations and murder that employs repetition to signal duration. Every time Jorge (Bruno Corazzari) appears the scene plays out the same with idle threats and intimidation. Jorge is the ticking clock, marking the time that Ted and Sara have left to either solve their problem or escape with their lives. It isn’t subtle device, but it suits the broad stylistic gestures of the giallo genre.
Director Duccio Tessari, best known for Zorro (1975) starring Alain Delon, is quite adept at putting characters at the forefront of his mystery-thriller. Like Hitchcock, Tessari creates an insular world out of the relationships between characters and invites the audience to be a part of that micro-community. Ted and Sara could easily be Roger and Eve in North By Northwest (1959) as they play their game of cat and mouse with thugs and dubious friends.
Yet, stylistically, Tessari is not beholden to the mast of suspense. Tessari took what was most useful from Hitchcock and applied it to the pulpy sensationalism of the giallo. The slow-motion duel between Sara and her lover Daniel (Umberto Orsini) is distinctly oriented towards the giallo spectacle of fetishized violence and sexualized mutilations. It’s the balance between these stylistic flourishes and the classicism of Tessari’s storytelling that make L’uomo senza memoria unique.
But the best part of L’uomo senza memoria is the wild card that the little boy Luca (Duilio Cruciani), Sara’s companion, represents. Luca is the surrogate for the filmmaker; a semi-reflexive device that is grounded in the narrative world of L’uomo senza memoria. Luca, a child, sees things as no one else can and literally photographs what is not meant to be seen. Luca enjoys the kind of privileged gaze reserved for the audience and as such becomes the essential instrument in blowing the mystery around Ted wide open.
L’uomo senza memoria is not one of the great giallo pictures but it is a solid little mystery-thriller. L’uomo senza memoria was released towards the end of the genre’s heyday and clearly benefits from the films that came before. With its lack of explicit gore and its aesthetic ties to Hitchcock, L’uomo senza memoria may be an ideal introduction to the giallo tradition for the uninitiated and the squeamish.