Though it wasn’t really planned this way, a few days later Netflix sent me Luciano Ercoli’s earlier giallo “Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion” (1970) that shares a director, writer (Ernesto Gastaldi) and two cast members (Susan Scott and Simon Andreu) with the two other features. It stars Dagmar Lassander, a copper-haired beauty who’s been in several intriguingly-titled gialli that I’ve yet to see including “Hatchet for the Honeymoon,” “The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire” and “Vice Wears Black Hose.”
The film opens with Minou (Lassander) wandering around her fashionable house kicking back whiskey and popping tranquilizers while mentally vowing to give up both. She meditates on mild schemes to make her husband jealous and sadly notes to herself that she dresses too conservatively. Judge for yourself:
Shortly thereafter she goes for a stroll along a sketchy stretch of beach and is assaulted by a creepy dude with a blade-cane (Simon Andreu, up to his usual inexplicable knife-throwing). He accuses her husband of murder and almost rapes her, but says they won’t have sex until she begs for it. On that disturbing note, he leaves.
The story starts to evolve into a typical giallo when the assailant calls Minou with recorded evidence of Peter murderous behavior. Minou realizes just how much she loves Peter and agrees to pay blackmail which, of course, must come in the form of sexual favors. Afterwards, the villain reveals that the recording was faked (Dominique: “Well if he went through all that trouble just to sleep with you, he deserves something.”) and proceeds to blackmail her again, this time with photos of her indiscretion. By the time she finally gets Peter and the police involved, no evidence can be found and everyone thinks she’s crazy (the alcohol/tranquilizer combo isn’t helping her case).
Minou is somewhat unconvincingly presented as a naïve homebody (remember when the opening scene tried to tell use she dressed conservatively?). She is mildly scandalized by Dominique’s sexually free lifestyle, and furtively curious about it. With Peter frequently away on business, one could almost (given a better screenplay) believe that her experiences were the product of repressed fantasies.
The blackmailer’s apartment is first introduced to us by (1) a disembodied plaster hand on the wall; distinctly creepy and even a bit sexual in its languorous pose. This will be made quite explicit during Ercoli’s excellent post-coital shot, which tilts downward through (2) a series of beckoning and caressing sculpture hands to (3) Minou’s, which the camera follows across her (4) non-unsatisfied expression. The conflict between her sexual pleasure with an anonymous pervert and her honest love for the more conventional Peter creates the mental schism that leads her towards insanity.
The sequence with the plaster hands in stylish way of communicating the dark side of Minou’s world, made easy by the seamy and exotic mise-en-scene. It would presumably be much harder to bring out her day-to-day bourgeois existence through virtuoso camerawork, but Ercoli does so in a simple sequence I quite enjoyed. Returning to the party scene with Peter and Dominique we find Minou (with her hair worn up, of course) and the others sipping soup. The camera again follows hands, this time cutting between the characters and moving up and down from bowl to mouth throughout the delicate and civilized ritual of fine dining. It’s a neat touch bordering on subtlety (for Ercoli) to have the camera’s memory (it’s fixation on hands) mimic the operation of Minou’s memory (plagued by unbidden recollections of the affair).
As for hilarious red-herring, I could have done with more, but “Forbidden Photos” does include one of my all time favorites. Minou and Peter get out of bed during a storm after hearing a noise in the other room. They enter to find a glass door open with a wet trail leading into the house. Tension mounts. Peter goes to investigate and… it turns out to be a turtle. Stupid? Maybe, but in Ercoli’s defense he’d actually forshadowed it early in the film.
I’ve saved the best for last, the moment in the giallo review where I sit back and let a montage of the outrageous fashion choices do the talking for me:
[Image: (Bottom) Italy may have a long tradition of elegant backless dresses, but it takes a giallo to come up with a sideless dress. In case the resolution isn’t high enough, it’s kept together by a few gossamer silver chains.]
“Forbidden Photos” is a notch below Ercoli’s two follow-up films, but still quite a bit of fun in much the same spirit. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack should have given this one a slight edge, but it’s really one of his least impressive scores. Working out more elaborate screenplays and moving Susan Scott to the lead definitely puts “Death Walks at Midnight” and “Death Walks on High Heels” ahead, but they all share the amusing dialog, flamboyant fashion and excessive style that mark these as some of the most entertaining gialli ever made. Fans of the genre should scale up the scores below accordingly.
Walrus Rating: 6.0
Death Walks on High Heels : 6.5
Death Walks at Midnight: 7.0
Oh, and in case the title strikes you as confusing, it’s a play on the 1970 Italian film “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion,” perhaps meant to capitalize on the latter’s foreign film Oscar-winning success. Today, however, the reference seems rather obscure.