|Review||Five Dolls for an August Moon||Director||Mario Bava|
|Writer||Mario di Nardo|
|Cast||William Berger, Teodora Corra, Howard Ross, Ira Von Furstenberg, Edwige Fenech, Helena Ronee, Ely Galleani, Edith Meloni, Mauro Bosco and Maurice Poli|
“It looks like…we’ll all wind up in this damned freezer” – Jack Davidson
Wealthy industrialist George Stark (Corra) has gathered a group of friends at a chic house on his island retreat. Among them are fellow competitors Nick Chaney (Poli) and Jack Davidson (Ross) and their wives. They all hope to coax out of Professor Gerry Farrell (Berger) a formula for a new type of resin that could revolutionize the industry. Farrell has no interest in gaining wealth and wants his formula to better the world. Soon a houseboy turns up dead and it’s clear there’s a murderer in their midst. The bodies pile up, are stored in the freezer and it’s apparent that no one is safe!
That’s a decent enough synopsis for the oddball “Five Dolls for an August Moon” by Italian maestro Mario Bava. Reportedly he considered this film the worst in his filmography and he did it, more or less, in protest to the film’s stingy producers who gave him no sort of leeway to polish up the script, hire actors of his choice or extend the little number of shooting days available to him. But like the consummate professional he was; he did deliver the film (even got to edit it himself but this was the only film of his were he performed that task) in time and at budget but the finished product was a little different than expected.
The story and setting obviously borrows heavily from Agatha Christie’s “And then There Were None” and couple that with the sheer number of beautiful “Dolls” on display the film undoubtedly promised a combination of cheap gory thrills and a healthy dose of nudity as was the norm for the Giallo’s that were littering movie theaters at that time (a genre Bava more or less instigated) but viewers got something else instead.
Bava had little interest in treating the film like a conventional thriller. The characters are mere caricatures of excess and debauchery, the murders are all off screen so there’s hardly a drop of blood spilled, there’s no nudity but it certainly is teased and the conclusion makes little to no sense. Bava was, in a sense, acting like a petulant child who willingly denied the audience everything they were expecting and delivered a different kind of an assault on the senses. Fortunately for admirers of the late director the film is anything but a waste of time and it’s certainly not the bad film Bava thought he had made.
The loungy and appealing atmosphere is in no small part thanks to a fantastic score by Piero Umiliani which is simply otherworldly to listen to and Bava’s incredible ability as a cinematographer captures images that are strikingly beautiful*. Bava also did a matte painting of the house on the island which is visible when viewed from a distance and this masterful illusion is only evident during a slight mishap when an actress is reflected in the glass before coming into the frame. Everything was done on the cheap here and Bava was more than up to the task and handed in a truly gorgeous looking film.
The story is treated in a simple manner, the set-ups for the reveals of the deaths range from headscratchingly bizarre to very visually pleasing and innovative to simply non-existent and character’s actions and motivations are quite perplexing. There’s a healthy display of dark humour (like the stacking of the bodies in the freezer next to a piece of meat) right down to the very end where a marvelous twist sheds a new light on everything but what little sense the plot had made by that point is completely out the window.
“Five Dolls for an August Moon” is a wonderfully entertaining example of massive style over substance. The gleeful Bava was peeved at not getting what he asked for so he delivered something entirely different than anyone expected. So much so that the movie tanked, had limited distribution and did very little to further his already criminally little known status as a first class director. Bava was most widely recognized some time after his death (he died in 1980 at the age of 65) and is today considered one of Italy’s top filmmakers of all time. “Five Dolls” is not prime Bava* but it solidly shows how he was capable of mustering something memorable and exceedingly stylish with a small budget and a crappy and unoriginal script.
- Cinematography is credited to Antonio Rinaldi but Bava more or less had full reigns on how his films looked and had years of experience as a cinematographer before becoming a director
- Several films by Mario Bava are undisputed classics and are hugely recommended: “Black Sunday” (1960), “The Girl Who Knew Too Much” (1963), “Black Sabbath” (1963), “Blood and Black Lace” (1964), “Planet of the Vampires” (1965) and “Kill, Baby, Kill” (1966) to name a few.