Arrow, 2019. Region A.
Feature: 96 mins. Aspect ratio 1.85:1.
An Italian-French-German co-production, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (Italian title: L’iguana dalla lingua di fuoco) is a giallo from the heyday of the genre. The film opens with the murder of a woman in a stately house, acid thrown in her face (unconvincingly melting the skin of a dummy head) and throat slashed. The victim recognizes her killer, and the corpse is found in the trunk of a Rolls Royce that was about to receive Mrs. Sobiesky (Valentina Cortese), the wife of Ambassador Sobiesky, played by German actor Anton Diffring, who was often cast in villainous roles and was in another giallo, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye (1973). Homicide squad detective Lawrence (Arthur O’Sullivan) investigates, sporting a bizarre dubbed accent that seems to want to be Irish but never quite makes it.
The list of potential suspects gets rather crowded, with just about every character being not-entirely-pleasant. The Ambassador in particular has Diffring’s trademark cool, aristocratic aloofness, and is laying out money to his son and a former lover, a singer who also turns up dead, neck sliced like the first victim. A pair of sunglasses that it is hinted may identify the killer seems to make its way between a few different characters.
Though the stately houses and countryside of Ireland make for a unique and interesting backdrop for a giallo, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire is a fairly dull affair. Unfortunately the film is muddled and meandering, filled with red herrings and shots and crash-zooms of glasses, cigar stubs, burnt notes, and sharp blades that may or may not mean anything. There is also no clear protagonist for half of the movie, with the focus shifting several times before settling somewhat on ex-detective Norton (Luigi Pistilli, who looks nothing like an Irishman though his dubbed accent is relatively convincing).
The director Riccardo Freda helmed historical dramas, fantasy films, and horror. His most well-known horror picture is probably The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock (1962), which starred gothic cinema icon Barbara Steele. The film is one of Freda’s last as director; he only helmed three more movies before his last in 1981 and his death in 1999.
Here, Freda directs with little visual flair, and even the few set pieces are indifferently shot and cut. The murder and stalking sequences, usually where even the most tepid giallo will spring to life cinematically, are unremarkable here, not to mention sparse. There’s also several slayings that happen off camera, corpses with (unconvincingly) gashed throats found after the fact, including a decapitated cat in a fridge. A few splashes of gore aside, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire could almost pass for a mainstream drama. Directorially speaking, the film is rote and by-the-numbers, offering little of any particular interest. Freda’s direction is remarkably flat and sometimes segues into the amateurish, with crash zooms onto props to direct us to suspect someone of being the killer. These misdirections are crude and so frequent as to be ultimately irritating.
One of the problems with the film is that it has no flow. Scene follows scene in a disassociated, choppy fashion. At one point, when the movie appeared to randomly switch scenes to Switzerland, I had to rewind to see if I had missed a line of dialogue that explained the transition. Nope; one moment we’re in Ireland, the next in the Swiss alps. Admittedly the film livens up a bit towards the end with a chase across a bridge and the final attack and reveal of the slasher in Norton’s apartment. Thematically the climax brings home that the film is concerned with twisted familial relationships, mixed with a troubling strain of homophobia.
With no particularly likeable characters, a messy and muddled plot, poor makeup effects, and unremarkable filmmaking technique, there’s ultimately little to recommend The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire except to only the most ardent completists of giallo cinema.
The transfer is from a 2K scan of an original 35mm negative, and has been fully restored. The picture has light film grain and is remarkably free from blemishes. It is about as good as a modestly-budgeted film of this era can possibly look. Arrow have unquestionably done a terrific job on the transfer of this movie.
Audio commentary by Adrian J. Smith and David Flint — A lively and humorous yak track.
Of Chameleons and Iguanas (21 mins.) — “Cultural critic and academic” Richard Dyer talks about the movie, with a “warts and all” approach, frankly discussing many of the problems with the film as well as its strengths. Dyer is lively, humorous, and engaging, resulting in a breezy and informative short feature.
Considering Cipriani (26 mins.) — Lovely Jon (sic), a DJ and film score collector, discusses composer Stelvio Cipriani and his music for The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire. Very informative for those interested in Italian film music composers.
The Cutting Game (21 mins., Italian with English subtitles.) — An interview with Bruno Micheli, the assistant editor of the movie, which in truth is a bit of a slog to sit through.
The Red Queen of Hearts (20 mins., Italian with English subtitles.) — An interview with actress Dagmar Lassander, where she talks about her career in the Italian film industry. Lassander shares a wealth of interesting tidbits which makes this brief feature well worth watching.
Trailers – The international trailer and the Italian trailer.
Image galleries – A gallery of stills, posters, video sleeves, etc. and a gallery of the photo novel as featured in the magazine Cinesex.
Of the many giallos that followed in the wake of Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Riccardo Freda’s The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire is one of the weakest. Having said that, Arrow has gone above and beyond to deliver a beautifully restored transfer of this offbeat Euro thriller which should appeal to admirers of this film and to aficionados of giallo cinema.