A millionaire’s widow takes an isolated villa in the country after her husband’s death to settle her nerves. One day a handsome young man’s car breaks down outside her gate, and she invites him in to use the phone. They strike up a friendship, which quickly tums physical, but is it all as innocent as it seems?
Late 1960s Giallo picture from journeyman director Umberto Lenzi featuring American star Carroll Baker, who had already appeared in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968) and would go on to make half a dozen such thrillers on the continent in the first half of the 1970s. Here, she’s joined by handsome Lou Castel and quirky Collette Descombes in a three-handed psychodrama that mixes drugs, sex and murder.
After her ﬁlthy rich husband expires in a car accident, high society widow Baker
wants out of the limelight and relocates to Italy, dodging paparazzi on the way. A
quiet life dabbling with oil paints seems the way to go and lawyer Tino Carraro fixes her up with a beautiful house in a beautiful spot. She looks all set, but her nerves have taken a beating by recent events, and she’s self-medicating with alcohol and pills. Enter Castel; a roguish, fly-by-night sort of a chappie, who fetches up at her front door after a spot of car trouble. He’s dreadfully forward in a devil-may-care kind of a way, but she’s having none of it, playing the outraged lady of the manor to the hilt. At least to begin with. But it’s not too long before he’s a permanent houseguest, and the two are fooling around in the shower. He seems to be just what Baker needs, but trouble in paradise isn’t long in coming; this time in the form of Castel’s fun-loving sister Eva (Descombes).
From there, the trio begins what seems to be an extended holiday; throwing crucial shapes at a hipster hangout, drinking to all hours, playing the record player really, really loud, and generally living it large. Of course, Baker and Castel are having lots of sex too, but she’s still self-medicating, with the suspiciously enthusiastic support of Descombes.
One morning after involves waking up in bed subsequent to an apparent threesome, and it’s not long afterwards that the fun takes a far more sinister tum. Verbal abuse becomes physical, and Baker is on the wrong end of a series of increasingly sadistic mind games. These include repeatedly spinning a 1960s pop record at ear-splitting volume; one listen of which would probably be enough to send any self-respecting music fan round the twist anyway.
Baker appears naked for her tussles with Castel, and, although the nudity is not exploitative by today’s standards, a ‘name’ Hollywood actress appearing in the altogether probably raised some eyebrows at the time. But, if Baker’s decision to
relocate to Europe and tackle such material seems a little strange, then the
explanation is remarkably simple. She was broke, and there was no work available back home. That was principally due to her soon to be ex-husband, director Jack Garfein. His activities might have been overlooked if Baker was still a box office draw, but the disastrous ‘Harlow’ (1965) had pretty much taken care of that.
There are two principal problems with the film, which both ﬁx it ﬁrmly in the era when it was made and doom it to a kind of watchable mediocrity. The major issue is the story. More plot is badly needed, especially during the glacial second act, where the evil actions of Castel and Descombes lack any real invention and become swiftly repetitive.
There are some twists in the tale, and, although these aren’t bad, they do arrive all at once. It’s also very late on in proceedings by then, so these developments don’t lead anywhere. Instead, they just come across as a handful of cheap tricks thrown in at the last minute to try and convince the audience that the film is a lot cleverer and more accomplished than it really is.
This shortfall in the script department may have had a knock-on effect on director Lenzi, who favours a lot of zooms, swift pans and large close-ups of the faces of his cast. This last stylistic tendency proves unfortunate as it tends to exaggerate the performances at times. This kind of approach was in vogue at the time, but there’s a suspicion here that the director may have lacked faith in the project and was trying too hard to keep his audience interested.
Lenzi and Baker went back to the well almost immediately with ‘So Sweet. ..So Perverse’ (1969) and reunited again for further adventures in Giallo with ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘Knife of Ice’'(1972). Baker immortalised her own story in the excellent autobiography ‘Baby Doll’ and exhibited such a natural talent for writing that you wish she’d turned her hand to fiction.
A fair time passer but a little weak in the script department.