Continuing their investigations into the skeletons in the closets of the wealthy families of Italian descent marked giallo, Arrow Films’ latest expedition has taken them to the fabulous yet little discussed loungecore years of Dubin to be licked by The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire.
Directed by “Willy Pareto,” in Italy the film was known as L’iguana dalla lingua di fuoco while he was known as the Riccardo Freda, a prolific director from the forties through to the sixties whose career would slow down remarkably in the seventies, and so displeased was he with the end result of this feature that his name was removed from it.
Where Eagles Dare‘s Anton Diffring is Ambassador Sobieski, a man caught in a tangle of marital misdeeds and murder when the body of his lover is discovered in the back of his chauffeur’s car by his young son Bernard; protected by diplomatic immunity, Sobieski cooperates with Inspector Lawrence’s investigation, but only so far as it does not compromise his position.
When another of Sobieski’s lovers is murdered, a nightclub vocalist (All the Colors of the Dark‘s Dominique Boschero), Lawrence takes the unorthodox approach of engaging former detective John “the Brute” Norton (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail‘s Luigi Pistilli) to gain insight from within the family by seducing the Ambassador’s stepdaughter Helen (Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion‘s Dagmar Lassander).
Presented in both dubbed and subtitled versions and restored from the original camera negative, both the blood and the herrings are very red as false leads and a plethora of pointless clues emphasised by soundtrack stings courtesy of Stelvio Cipriani collapse into an overwrought mess devoid of coherent structure.
The attempt to import the giallo style to the damp cliffs of Ireland occasionally magnificent but largely baffling and misguided, blackmail and bribery are constants but few attempts at forensics; her face destroyed by sulphuric acid, the first victim is identified from her anonymously delivered passport but no effort is made to check for fingerprints or postmarks.
Admittedly, with Norton apparently receiving his mail at the local pub that chain of evidence might have proved difficult, and his world and family are a contrast to the perfect hair and glamourous attire of the lofty circles in which the Sobieski’s exist, but the ultimate reveal of the killer arrives as if spliced in from another film entirely.
Norton living with a loving daughter and an eccentric mother who solves crimes solely from newspaper clippings and dotes on her cat, despite their wealth and position the Sobieskis are the focus of the film yet less interesting in their drunken indulgences and selfishness, prodigal son Marc (The Cat o’ Nine Tails‘ Werner Pochath) almost peripheral in the narrative despite being the key to one of the twists.
In his video appreciation, Richard Dyer is aware of the flaws of The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, describing it as “a prestigious production” but admitting that “with gialli often the best thing is the title,” while soundtrack collector Lovely Jon is effusive in his adoration of Cipriani, though largely absent of excerpts his enthusiasm exists in a vacuum.
Adrian J Smith and David Flint’s entertaining and informative commentary confirms the Swastika Cleaners was a genuine Dublin establishment, and in her interview Lassander is frank and honest about the ups and downs of her career and the expectations of the industry.