DRIVER’S SEAT, THE (Identikit) (Psychotic)(director/writer: Giuseppe Patroni Griffi; screenwriters: Raffaele La Capria/from the novel by Muriel Spark; cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro; editor: Franco Arcalli; music: Franco Mannino; cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Lise), Ian Bannen (Richard), Guido Mannari (Carlo), Mona Washbourne (Mrs. Helen Fiedke), Luigi Squarzina (Lead Detective), Maxence Mailfort (Bill), Andy Warhol (English Lord), Nadia Scarpitta (Johannesburg Woman at the Airport); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Franco Rossellini; AVCO Embassy Pictures; 1974-Italy-in English)
“A must see for Liz Taylor fans and for those who love bad movies.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This overcooked and overlooked bizarre thriller is based on a novel by Muriel Spark (author of “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”) and directed in a goofy manner by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi (“Tis Pity She’s A Whore”). Many critics consider it to be Liz Taylor’s worst film ever, which is saying a mouthful. From 1968 on Liz made one bad film after another (totaling some 8 disasters) starting with such stinkers as “Boom!” and in 1972 ” X, Y and Zee” and in 1973 “Night Watch.” But this 1974 film like all Liz’s bad films is entertaining; that is, in an odd sort of a way. What makes those films so bad depends on what you mean by bad. Despite The Driver’s Seat being laden with a murky narrative, terrible acting, fluff attempt at being arty, tacky fashions, Eurotrash stage sets, bad dubbing, horrible piano score, ridiculous dialogue and an unfathomable plotline, the film had an hypnotic effect as if this viewer was drugged and had no choice but to watch this cheesy campy thriller. It’s a must see for Liz Taylor fans and for those who love bad movies; I loved it all the more for all the insidious pleasure it gave me in seeing a noted big-time star make an ass of herself in such a thankless role. Why she signed on to be in this film is anyone’s guess, since I doubt if she needed the money. But Liz isn’t the only famous person in this B-film, as celebrity artist Andy Warhol has a cameo and noted character actors Mona Washbourne and Ian Bannen have small parts that are almost as absurd as Liz’s.
The film opens as a mentally unbalanced spinster named Lise (Elizabeth Taylor) buys a psychedelic dress for her trip to Rome, from some undisclosed location in the north, where she says she’s to meet her boyfriend on her vacation. The airplane flight has a shrill Lise give the security personnel a hard time as they search her, telling them “This may look like a purse, but actually it’s a BOMB!” While seated on the plane, she has a word duel with an obnoxious businessman (Ian Bannen), as she fends off his overt leers and his obvious sexual intentions by sarcastically saying in a sneering tone “You look like Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, Do you want to eat me?” The wolf counters that he can’t because he’s a vegetarian on a macrobiotic diet who must have one orgasm a day. Lise’s rebuttal states: “When I diet, I diet! And when I orgasm, I orgasm!” The film doesn’t get any more enjoyable than this ill-tempered conversation. It’s that kind of a pic. Meanwhile the quiet handsome young man (Maxence Mailfort) seated next to Lise, whom she likes and thinks is her type of man, gets turned off by their vulgar conversation and abruptly changes seats. Lise comments “He must be crazy. I wonder who he is. He must be nutty.”
Keeping things murky, the film veers back and forth from the present to the past. Interpol agents are tracking down all those who had contact with Lise on the flight and her brief stopover in Rome, as they are on a serious investigation that we don’t know what it is about until the conclusion.
Warning: spoiler in the following paragraph.
At the Rome airport the police are chasing a man and shooting at him. In the turmoil, Lise loses her cheap pulp novel and it’s returned by Andy Warhol. He’s supposed to be an important English lord, who both puts her off and attracts her. Lise in Rome hooks up with a nice old lady named Mrs. Helen Fiedke (Mona Washbourne) and shares a taxi with her as they both go shopping. Helen who recently became a Jehovah’s Witness is in town for the convention. She’s shopping for slippers for her nephew (the same young man on the airplane). Liz deserts Helen when she knocks on the dressing room door and there’s no answer, but manages to tell the attendant someone’s in there (it’s later learned she only fell asleep). The film then shows the cops interviewing a group of salesladies about their two foreign lady customers. Back to the timeline, and Lise is in the middle of a car bomb attack on a visiting Middle-East dignitary. This leads a frightened Lise to find comfort in a nearby garage, where the greasy mechanic in a white jumpsuit (Guido Mannari) agrees to drive her back to the Hilton Hotel. But he takes the back road and attempts to rape her, which she thwarts and steals his car. After a few more minor incidents, Lise meets the young man from the morning plane in the hotel lobby and after caressing his face says “Ever since I saw you this morning, I knew you were the one! You’re my type!” What this means is that we learn that Lise came to Rome to find just the right person to kill her and I guess she lucked out, as she takes her man to the park and shows him how to fatally knife her. Anyone who could think up such a story and anyone not needing the bread who is in such a film, can either be congratulated for being so daring or ridiculed for being so foolish. Take your pick.
REVIEWED ON 2/28/2006 GRADE: D
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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