Long before Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to evade killers in a dangerous game show in The Running Man, Italian director Elio Petri (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion) made this absolutely bonkers yet colorfully fascinating and thought-provoking science fiction film about a similar game show set in the not-too-distant future. The film begins with an Asian man with a gun chasing an attractive woman through the streets of New York in broad daylight, while being taunted by this woman at the same time as she tries to evade him.
Running concurrently is a scene in which a man explains the rules of this game show, which is called The Big Hunt, to a live audience. This is a government approved game and the reasoning for this game’s existence is simple: to prevent wars. The game provides a means to vent all your aggression and once you’ve eliminated your enemy, the world becomes a better place. How nice, eh? There are five sets of hunters and five sets of victims and they are all picked by a computer situated in Geneva. If either of these hunters or victims succeeds in disposing of the other nine, he or she’ll emerge as the winner. The prize includes money, fame and several other attractive privileges.
The woman in the aforementioned scene is an American named Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress) who happens to be one of the contestants. On a different part of the world is another contestant, an Italian named Marcello Polletti (a blonde-haired Marcello Mastroianni), who has just collected his reward after murdering a rival. Meanwhile, Caroline is approached by the executives of a tea company who intend to promote their brand on Caroline’s next hunt, which will be broadcasted all over the world. She agrees. It is then that Caroline receives information on her next target: Marcello. Caroline makes contact with Marcello in the guise of a reporter doing a documentary on the – wait for it – sexual conduct of Italian men.
When Marcello finds out that Caroline is his would-be assassin, he arranges to have her killed with the help of a – wait for it – crocodile. Things get complicated when both Marcello and Caroline fall for each other. Who are they going to hunt now? This is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is so much fun because of it. There are enough comical situations here to keep you amused for 90 minutes. While the tone may be light-hearted, Petri manages to find space for enough provocative gags and use it as a satire on a lot of things, such as mass media and advertising, New Age cultists and people’s obsession with fame and money.
The film rings true in this age of ridiculous reality shows and the attention seeking contestants that take part in them. In one scene, someone remarks that if Hitler had taken part in this game show, we could’ve prevented World War-II. The actors all seem to be having a good time. The scenes where Marcello’s character is pestered by his ex-wife reminded me of the roles he played in Marriage Italian Style and Divorce Italian Style. Ursula may not be a great actress but Petri makes full use of her sex appeal here. It was only two years earlier that she This is Italian cinema at its most unhinged.