Theories abound as to why Dario Argento decided to save The Doll for the fourth and final episode of his 1973 TV series, Door Into Darkness. Some say it’s due to the experimental nature of the story; others point out it’s the episode that Dario had the least involvement in. Me, I think they put it last because it’s a bit rubbish. Would anyone have tuned in the following week after this?
Let’s see why The Doll doesn’t really work as a mini suspense movie. Two reasons:
- It’s padded... Boy, is it padded. If I’d had to sit through one more scene of someone walking down a street, I swear I would have flicked off the TV and gone outside to play Frisbee. With the DVD. In traffic. The Doll could easily have made a half-hour Tales of the Unexpected episode, rather than the 60-minute slog here.
- It cheats... Boy, does it cheat! And not like the forgivably amusing, clever-clever misdirections of an M. Night Shyamalan movie, either. This story cheats so bad it gets caught cheating, lies to cover up its indiscretions, gets caught lying, then buys you a bunch of flowers to throw you off the scent... but none of that changes the fact that it cheats. Shamelessly. To the point that it barely makes sense when it’s all over.
Our story starts with that trusted cliché: the mental hospital break-out. Someone with a handheld camera and wobbly POV has escaped from the Rome Home for the Criminally Deranged to become, as Dario Argento himself puts it in his introduction, “a sick mind wandering a small town, apparently normal, in matter of fact incandescent... Its aim: to kill.”
Soon after, we’re introduced to a moustached stranger-in-town (played by Robert Hoffman) who’s checking into a local hotel along with his mysterious attaché case. While he’s out roaming the streets a little later, a redheaded fashion designer meets a sticky end when, after some enjoyably giallo-esque spooky stuff involving multicoloured mannequin heads, she’s killed by an unseen assailant.
Back on the street, Moustache Man spots another redhead (Mara Venier) in a doll shop and decides to make her acquaintance by embroiling her in a bit of unwitting shoplifting à la Twisted Nerve. Not only that, but he manages to invite himself round to her house... and that’s where the nastiness begins.
And it’s about time, too, seeing as how we’re over halfway through The Doll and much of the running time so far has been taken up by people just walking along. What follows is fairly tense – although you’ll likely find it a little hard to swallow that our heroine not only lets Creepy Moustache into her home, but quickly agrees to get changed and go to the movies with him. Still, that’s nothing compared to the ending, which is harder to swallow than a saucepan full of wasps.
As with some other gialli, the problem with The Doll isn’t the way it’s made, it’s the way the plot’s contrived. There’s plenty of intriguing camerawork and the basic idea is sound, but I’m all for renaming it “The Dull”... The Cheating, Lying Dull!