The 10th Victim

In the film’s near-future, the government has sanctioned legal killing through The Big Hunt, a game in which randomly selected citizens are chosen to play 10 games, alternately as hunter and hunted. The one left standing will score a cool million.

As “Victim” opens, Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni, “La Dolce Vita”) and Caroline (Ursula Andress, “Dr. No”) have dispatched with their latest opponents — Caroline, most memorably, shooting her chaser with the guns implanted in her silver bra (a gag lifted for the “Austin Powers” series’ Fembots). The computer then selects Caroline to hunt and kill Marcello.

Caroline attracts sponsors who wish to televise the assassination live during an advertisement for Ming Tea (another eventual “Powers” reference). Rather than off Marcello immediately, she attempts to play him for a fool using her feminine wiles. With him being quite the swordsman, it just might work. Or will it?

That’s the dance “Victim” playfully toes for its remainder, right in step with its satirical bent on the public’s thirst for TV voyeurism. Says one character, “Did you know this year it’s said to be in to kill girls? It’s not important who’s murdered, but how she’s murdered!”

The movie can’t keep it up for the entirety. The more real the Marcello-Caroline romance gets — or threatens to — you can feel director Elio Petri (“Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion”) ease his foot off the accelerator to idle for a bit. But only a bit; the movie is imperfect, but never dull. With such a concept — one that predated “Death Race 2000,” “The Running Man” and “Battle Royale” — how could it be?

While Andress radiates sex whenever she’s onscreen, her character allows her to be more than mere eye candy. She’s as potentially fatal as she is breathtakingly beautiful. Meanwhile, Mastroianni inhabits his cool-cat persona with ease. It’s no wonder he was one of international cinema’s brightest stars. Perhaps that’s why Blue Underground has included a feature-length documentary, “Marcello: A Sweet Life,” paying tribute to the legend, among the otherwise scant extras. —Rod Lott

Rod Lott

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