The Story (continued)
Don't Look Now (1973)
In the middle of the night, they are awakened by a phone call from Porton School Headmaster Anthony Babbage (David Tree) in England. He informs them of a minor accident during "fire practice" involving their son Johnny (seen in the room covered in a red blanket, with a glass of water next to him). Seeing this development as positive proof that Heather's prophesies were accurate, Laura decides to return on the next Alitalia plane - she leaves Venice in the early morning.
[A quick insert shot of John's nightstand reveals a photo of his two children with one of the faces obscured, red flowers, a glass of water with a symbolically-significant red bottom, and a paperback copy of the German-titled Der Stell-vertreter (translated The Deputy: A Christian Tragedy) by Rolf Hochhuth - a controversial 1963 play alleging that the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII ignored and failed to see the warning signs of The Holocaust. It is another example of the theme of failing to see - with dire consequences - and miscommunication.]
During work on restoring a damaged mosaic (with a half-completed face and only one eye) later that morning, John must climb high up to a rickety platform opposite a wall where the artwork is located. As he compares replacement mosaic tiles with the originals to try to create a perfect likeness, a wooden plank smashes a glass screen next to him on which pictures, transparencies, and photographs have been put. As a result, he has a near fatal accident when the dilapidated church scaffolding collapses beneath him and leaves him dangling on a rope. After being saved from death, John walks with the Bishop, who mentions: "My father was killed in a fall." John recalls that his wife warned that his life was in danger ("It was a kind of prophecy"). They pause in front of a Charlie Chaplin film poster (with red lettering) of the trademark Tramp character.
[Note: The Tramp is looking back over his shoulder. There are numerous instances of characters in the film quickly looking backwards. The poster is, appropriately, from the early Chaplin film Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), in California, however. The Italian translation is: Uno Contra Tutti or "One Against All" - a tagline for John's struggle in the entire film.]
The camera peers from behind a pair of red woolen bobble-hats worn by children, at a murder scene where a female victim-corpse is being hoisted and fished out of the canal. John is reminded of the gruesome drowning death of his daughter.
He begins to experience bizarre visions, once his wife has departed for England, and he must move out of the Europa Hotel to other accommodations at the Palazzo di Conte Barbarico when his hotel closes for the winter. As he cleans out his hotel room (touching the tube of toothpaste that figured into their love scene), he finds a crumpled up b/w photo of Laura in the trash. Then, he is certain that he sees Laura and the two sisters (staring defiantly ahead) traveling (moving right to left) in a motorized barge (a funeral boat) on the Grand Canal, although it is an illusory sighting. [Note: He believes it's a present-day vision, but it's actually a premonition of the future.] He wonders whether his wife has missed her plane. He rushes back to the hotel, in the throes of closing up. In a back room, he inadvertently interrupts the hotel manager Alexander (Leopoldo Trieste) having a secret tryst with a hotel maid. He asks whether Laura has returned, while the nervous man strokes the blades of his comb. Outside, John fishes a child's naked doll from the water's edge in Venice. John is an alarmist, believing that Laura may have been abducted by the two sisters, or that she has become the latest victim of the "killer on the loose, the murderer."
He has sketches made of his wife's likeness. He walks to the police station and proceeds down a long hallway with many doorways to choose from. Inside one of the offices, he shows them to Police Inspector Longhi (Renato Scarpa), who notes: "The skill of police artists is to make the living appear dead." The two sketches rest on his desk, covering a large black and white photo of a recent murder victim with damage to her eyes. As they talk, the Inspector spots the two sisters calmly walking arm-in-arm outside his window. Disbelieving, but not wanting to upset the worried husband, the seemingly-helpful Inspector asks: "Why should we criticize you for being worried?", and encourages him to continue searching for Laura. Just in case, the suspicious Inspector has John followed by Detective Sabbione (Bruno Cattaneo) of the "Murder Squad."
After a circuitous route, John unwittingly leads the detective to the empty room in the pensione vacated by the two sisters, who have left due to reports of "prowlers." (John was the prowling Peeping Tom!). While engaged in a futile search for his wife Laura, John also starts another fruitless search for his daughter after another sighting of the diminutive, child-like red-coated figure. When he calls England to check on his son (who is recuperating well after the slight bump on his forehead), he is bewildered to be speaking to his wife - she has been in England all along, and is planning to return to Venice for dinner with him later that day. He returns to the police station and speaks to Heather, who is being held in custody for questioning. He apologizes to her, and offers to escort her back to her new hotel. As he accompanies her out the door, the jail attendant gives them a twitchy smile. Heather speaks fondly about Venice and how she can safely walk around - almost more securely than sighted people:
It's so safe for me to walk...The sound changes, you see, as you come to a canal. And the echoes near the walls are so clear. My sister hates it...She says it's like a city in aspic left over from a dinner party and all the guests are dead and gone. It frightens her. Too many shadows.
Meanwhile, Laura's plane lands in Venice, and she is met at the airport by a mis-spelled sign: "Sig-ra Baster." Laura's water-taxi trip from the airport takes her, confusingly, to the police station to meet with Inspector Longhi rather than to John's hotel, and she complains they are going the "wrong way." (Obviously, John is being tracked by police, and at last notice, was at the police station.) Once John is in the sisters' new hotel room, Heather suggests a glass of whiskey for John, and Wendy remembers "the miniatures" (of Scotch) that they have, but then John opts instead for a glass of water. Wendy criticizes Heather for wearing mis-matched "odd" socks - although she is the one who put out Heather's clothes. As John hurriedly leaves, Heather has trance-like convulsions and begs for John not to go, but he has already left. She senses danger and sends Wendy after him ("Please, fetch him back! Let him not go!"). The red-coated dwarf is lurking in the alleyway nearby, although unseen by John. Laura arrives outside their hotel moments later and meets Wendy. When Heather claims she has seen Christine again, Laura races after John but cannot catch up to him.
At the same time, John sees the red-coated child-like figure again, reflected in the canal water. Wrongly recalling and thinking it is his daughter (John's major misperception and confusion that causes mortal consequences) who is fleeing from an attacker, he pursues what turns out to be his own nemesis. He chases after the fleeing diminutive figure through wrought-iron gates (that he locks behind him), up a staircase, and through many doorway frames, while a swirling foggy mist covers the ground. He ascends another swirling staircase, and comes upon the figure turned away from him - and cornered. [Note: Phenomena (1986) and a similar scene in The Blair Witch Project (1999) paid homage to this sequence.] He assuredly tells the individual:
I'm coming. It's okay. It's okay. I'm a friend. I won't hurt you. Come on.
It isn't his distressed daughter in the palazzo, however, but a murderous dwarf (4 foot, 2 inch Adelina Poerio) - the one pictured sitting in the pew in the slide in the film's opening. Next comes the bloody, shocking murderous conclusion in which John's neck is sliced by the red-hooded, wizened-faced female dwarf figure in the dark Venetian building.
The serial killer turns around, shakes her head enigmatically at him to indicate a response of "No," as John commands: "Wait." The red figure approaches and withdraws a long sharp knife from her right coat pocket, and deftly slices his throat with one quick swing. He falls onto the stone floor and bleeds to death - punctuated by the peals of bells, a swirling camera, and quick images flashbacked from earlier in the film. The fragmentary opening scene is briefly mirrored in the closing scene. The images capture the fleeting moments of his life flashing before his eyes - before his death. The flurry of rapidly-edited images, sandwiched within the death scene, include the following:
- a close-up of the face of cloudy-eyed, blind Heather
- Laura at the locked gate with her arms stretching through and crying out: "Darlings!" (two close family members are now to be lost)
- the slide of the interior of the church with the red-shaped figure in the pew
- the restless sleep of the bishop in his bedroom, moving his head side-to-side
- a zoom into Heather's mouth as she screams under an archway
- Johnny running to the English house to alert his father
- John struggling with a large gargoyle statue
- Laura's scream at the house - just before the jump cut
- John hugging red plastic raincoat-wearing Christine to himself in the pond
- the red and white ball splashing in the pond
- Johnny recuperating after an accident, under a red blanket at the boarding school, turning his head (with a red mark on his forehead)
- John dangling from the rickety scaffolding, with the concerned Bishop watching below
- a close-up of Christine's face
- Laura and John at a Venice restaurant in an early scene, holding hands
- a close-up of Wendy's mermaid-shaped brooch
- another close-up of Heather's milky-colored eyes, and a close-up of her constricted neck
- a glimpse of love-making in the hotel between Laura and John
- John comforting Laura and holding her hand as she is transported to the hospital on a water-ambulance
- a close-up of Laura smiling in the hospital
- a brief shot of Inspector Longhi writing at his police station office desk
- police authorities, including the Inspector, at the site of the Venice canal murder
- another view of John, in slow-motion, in the pond water with Christine
- the hoisting of a female corpse, upside down, from a Venice canal
- a close-up of Laura's crumpled black and white photograph retrieved from the trash
- the dresser in the two sisters' new hotel apartment, with framed photographs, a statue bust, the brooch, and a Scotch whiskey miniature bottle
- a close-up of the two police sketches, atop the gruesome black and white photo of a recent murder victim, on the Inspector's desk
- in a church, Laura lighting candles for the spirit of dead Christine
- Laura's ferry to the airport taking her away into the sparkling sunlight on the water
- sunlight and bare trees reflecting on the English pond
- a close-up of Laura in a rain-swept car, grim-faced (after Christine's death), as the car drives away from the house (on their way to Venice)
- a close-up of Johnny's front bike tire as it shatters a pane of glass
- another close-up of Heather's eyes
- a dissolve/zoom to the rain falling on the pond, the earliest image in the film
- Christine's back-side reflection in the pond water as she runs along the water's edge
- John's original view of Laura and the two sisters gliding by on a Venice funeral barge
- the slide transparency with the red globule covering the entire slide and destroying it
As the film ends, the funeral barge gliding down a canal (moving left to right) that John saw earlier is for his own funeral, held at a Venetian canal-side church in the rain. Red-capped Johnny has joined his mother. Laura steps off the barge, without assisting Heather (with outstretched arm) behind her - she has no more use for spiritual contact to contact loved ones in the afterlife. Wendy comes to Heather's aid.