It takes a great deal of effort for a production in Rome to not feature any ancient Roman buildings. All a director need do is turn the camera slightly to the right or the left and get rewarded with a shot of impressive architecture and fantastic sculpture. “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion” doesn’t want to belong to Caesar, Nero, or the Borgias though. It’s Mussolini’s echoes you’re supposed to hear in the jack-wingtipped stomp of its elite civil class.
In this the film goes above and beyond. So well chosen are sets and costumes that even after four decades the film looks fresh, something that only gets applied to the stray Kubrick film.
The film concerns the murder of the beautiful Augusta Terzi by Il Dottore, her clandestine lover. He’s a big fish in the government. Head of Homicide in Rome with 500 men at his disposal. The act seems premeditated, and almost expected by the woman. “How are you going to kill me tonight?” she asks after greeting him with a kiss.
He’ll slit her throat with a straight razor, he replies somewhat distantly.
So it goes. He slashes her after bedding her. It’s a stylish death. Silent and indistinguishable from an orgasm. It’s not until she falls to the ground and he is revealed, covered in her blood, that we realize what has transpired.
Rather than run from the act, Dottore takes the time to shower. He goes through her fridge slathering his fingerprints over all the bottles and glasses. He steps in the pool of blood and leaves clear footprints of his escape. He makes sure threads from his unique tie are found under her fingernails. Before leaving the scene, he makes sure to be seen by one of her neighbors.
Dottore then drives straight to the police station to begin his last day as head of homicide, he’s moving up in the food chain due to be promoted to head of the Political Bureau. In a country whose clumsy, blunt government inspires constant communist uprisings, this is an necessary position of maintaining the Italian status quo.
When Terzi’s murder is reported, Dottore barks at his policemen to fly to the scene, breaking them away from a prisoner interrogation/framing. Afraid the case may lose focus, Dottore leaks details to the press. Terzi didn’t keep any underwear, instant front-page status.
Why would Dottore set up himself up for murder? How is he to know how truly powerful he’s grown unless he tests his position? This was the game that Terzi played with him. She sought him out directly with a phony story about a stalker. It worked. Soon Il Dottore was personally visiting her. Terzi’s motivation was an attraction to power. In practice though, her aims were predatory. She sought an emotional domination, challenging Dottore’s character and inner will.
Terzi wins, revealing just how shaken Dottore becomes when directly confronted. You get the impression in Italian civil service, the men that shout the loudest and demand the most respect are those that are free to rise. Dottore is just such a man, adopting a persona that bulldozes his coworkers. Many of whom adhere to the religion of maintaining the status quo at all costs. Everyone seems keenly aware of how close they are to retirement and collecting pensions. Agitators and confrontationalists will find themselves unopposed. They rise through the ranks until finally sequestered in a posh office to themselves at which point there’s nothing more to say.
Terzi may have been the first person to directly confront Il Dottore, corner him, in decades. Under this little bit of stress his whole ego collapses. Only Terzi’s blatant murder will prove once and for all Dottore’s great position and put to rest his humiliation.
It’s a shock to see Gian Maria Volonte in a modern context. Clean shaven, well coifed, and speaking with his own voice, completely undubbed. He couldn’t be further from El Indio from A Few Dollars More.