Elio Petri’s mod twist on “The Most Dangerous Game” as social bloodsport is the original Survivor, where the bored, the ambitious, and the just plain violent can sign up for a deadly game of cat and mouse with fatal consequences. Based on Robert Sheckley’s short story “The Seventh Victim” (the script upped the body count), this 1965 feature is set in a sleek 21st century future where war has been replaced by “The Big Hunt,” a “necessary as a social safety valve,” explains one TV personality as he goes over the rules of the game for the audience. “Why control births when we can control deaths?”
Marcello Mastroianni is the womanizing playboy and rising game star Marcello Polletti, who apparently signed up for “The Big Hunt” out a mix of ennui and alienation. He hates his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Luce Bonifassy) and is bored with his exasperated, demanding mistress (Elsa Martinelli). The game is not just his escape, it’s his pleasure, as his smirking satisfaction attests in his opening kill. His target is a strutting German aristocrat whose arrogant airs and Prussian military precision carries the air of Nazi officer, which makes his ingenious booby trap all the more satisfying.
Ursula Andress is the reigning champion Caroline Meredith and his new nemesis, a New York Amazon with a wardrobe as deadly as it is chic (as her opening kill, which she unleashes in an art deco strip club, proves). If she can successfully make Mastroianni her tenth and last victim, she’ll win the $1 million prize and the title of “decaton,” which accords all sorts of privileges. On the side, she negotiates a deal to turn the deed into a live song-and-dance filled extravaganza at the Temple of Venus while he arranges a similar deal at a private villa with a swimming pool and an alligator: just one big killer commercial.