A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)

A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)‘Shooting pigeons helps free us from our subconscious feelings of aggression.’

A racing car driver cracks up during a practice lap, and barely escapes death in the flaming wreckage of her car. She takes up a surprise offer to stay with her ex-husband after recovery, only to find that the invitation came from his new wife. Not long after she arrives at their villa, the conversation turns to murder…

Intricate Giallo thriller from director Umberto Lenzi and star Carroll Baker, who had previously teamed up a year earlier for similar mysteries ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) and ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969), the first of which, like this film, also bore the alternate title of ‘Paranoia’. All three featured the shifting dynamics of a small cast of main characters and their murderous interplay with each other.

Helen is a lady in trouble. Badly in debt after her racing circuit smash-up, she receives a telegram apparently sent me her ex-husband. On impulse, she decides to accept his offer of a place to take a breather, only to find when she arrives that the invite came from his wife, Constance (Anna Proclemer). Ex-hubby Maurice (Jean Sorel) hasn’t changed in the years since his divorce from Baker and Proclemer is expecting him to start straying soon, realising that he only married her for her money.

A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)

‘You’re supposed to stab him in the back.’

Together, the two women hatch a plot to get rid of him for good, Proclemer buying Baker’s help with a hefty cheque. However, their principal motivation is that Sorel is like a drug to both of them, and it’s the only way they can kick the habit and move on with their lives. If this reason for murder does need a little work with the suspension of disbelief, then we have already had to accept Baker as a hot-shot racing car driver, so it’s not that hard.

The plan is to off Sorel with a spear gun on a yachting trip, but Baker freezes at the moment of crisis, having already tumbled into bed with him earlier. Proclemer tries to grab the weapon, the trio struggled, and Sorel stabs his wife to death. Moments later, they realise that the yacht of local judge and family friend, Albert (Luis Dávila) is heading their way, so they weigh down the body and fake an accident, pitching her overboard during a sudden sailing manoeuvre. Dávila is convinced, and the authorities can’t find the body, so everything looks like it’s working out fine. Then Sorel’s step-daughter, Susan (Marina Coffa) arrives unexpectedly from school, an and begins poking around, disbelieving their version of events from the first.

A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)

‘Is that drink for me or your new friend?’

This is a good, solid crime thriller and probably the best of the loose trio of films Baker and Lenzi made in quick succession that began with ‘Orgasmo’ (1969). Yes, there is a sense of familiarity, and Baker and Sorel are certainly not required to do anything very challenging or depart from their screen personas of the time. Baker being the usual on edge, self-medicating nervous wreck who loses her clothes from time to time, and Sorel the smarmy, handsome playboy with a nasty edge. It’s little more than a slight variation of the roles they played together for director Romolo Guerrieri in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968), and both had repeated in other projects afterwards. Still, they are convincing and ably supported by Proclemer and Coffa.

The film scores most heavily with the screenplay, which was credited to four writers: Marcello Coscia, Bruno Di Geronimo, Rafael Romero Marchent and Marie Claire Solleville. Perhaps the number of authors goes some way to explain the multiple twists and turns the story contains before the fadeout. There is uncertainty about where events are heading throughout, and Lenzi’s fast pace ensures that the drama remains interesting. Of course, if you take the time to think about the plot afterwards, it’s highly implausible, to say the least.

It was time for some more subtle product placement.

Lenzi was a journeyman of Italian cinema, following trends even more slavishly than most directors of his era. He began his career with historical dramas and swashbucklers in the late 1950s before graduating to Peplum when that became popular with pictures such as ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ (1963) and ‘Messalina vs the Son of Hercules/L’ultimo gladiatore (1964). The inevitable Eurospys followed, such as ‘SuperSeven Calling Cairo’ (1965) and ‘Last Man To Kill’ (1966). His excursion into the Giallo included a fourth film with Baker (‘Knife of Ice’ (1972)) and was preceded by Spaghetti Western ‘Pistol for a Hundred Coffins/Una pistola per cento bare’ (1968). By the mid-point in the decade, he was making the inevitable ‘Godfather’ knock-offs and, in the 1980s, he followed splatter king Lucio Fulci into zombie horror with ‘Nightmare City’ (1980). Perhaps he is best remembered though for delivering the controversial ‘Cannibal ferox’ (1982) which the poster art would later proclaim was ‘banned in 31 countries.’

An enjoyable thriller; nothing special, but the performances are good, and the plot should keep you engaged until the final twist.

So Sweet…So Perverse/Così Dolce…Così Perversa (1969)

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)‘Don’t get yourself so upset. You see corpses everywhere…’

A philandering playboy, caught in a loveless marriage, becomes intrigued by the mysterious blonde who has taken the apartment upstairs. Before long, they are having a passionate affair, but she is still seemingly in thrall to her abusive ex-boyfriend…

In many ways, this is the archetypical late 1960s Giallo thriller. This cocktail of death and sex is served up by journeyman Italian director Umberto Lenzi, who had just come off the similarly themed ‘Orgasmo’ (1969). Why is it so typical Well, there’s a small cast of principals whose loyalties and alliances are continually suspect. There’s a low body count, no blood to speak of, and the nudity is kept mostly under wraps. There’s also a twisting plot more reminiscent of a ‘mystery of the week’ than the kind of borderline horror picture that helped to inspire the American Slasher craze of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Our less than perfect protagonist is Jean-Louis Trintignant, already experienced in this kind of picture. Here, he’s a casual businessman approaching a mid-life crisis. Why is a little hard to understand. After all, he’s hitched to the beautiful and wealthy Erika Blanc, and they live in a wonderfully gothic old building in the centre of Paris. But Trintignant is a serial player with a roving eye and other wandering parts of his anatomy, and his various infidelities have left him at loggerheads with Blanc. Enter beautiful blonde Carroll Baker, who takes the apartment upstairs. Blanc had wanted to rent it for expansion purposes (or perhaps as a retreat from Trintignant), so the couple has a key. Trintignant finds a dropped earring in the elevator, which seems to belong to Baker, and well, you can guess the rest.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘This is the last time I let the boss drive me home from work..’

As usual, the game is to guess who’s in league with who and what they might be planning to do to someone else. The wild card is the last member of our featured quartet; violent bully Klaus (Horst Frank), who runs a photography studio. He still has some hold over Baker despite their relationship being over. Or is it?

Baker was getting quite experienced at playing out these kinds of scenarios, and she’s the stand out here. Her character turns on a dime so many times that it sends Trintignant into a complete spin, and constantly wrong-foots the audience. Is she victim, or perpetrator? Damsel in distress or cold-hearted femme fatale? Elsewhere, Blanc gets a bit of a thankless role as the cast-aside wife, but there is a nice piece of business where she walks around her flat staring up at the ceiling, following the sounds of Baker and Trintignant making love in the flat upstairs. There’s also some casual exploitation with stripper Beryl Cunningham in a ‘swinging’ party scene, and Helga Liné is completely wasted as a family friend. It may have been a nothing role, but at least it was another credit for the hardest working actress in 1960s Europe.

Probably the film’s greatest asset is that Lenzi resists a lot of the tricks and flourishes he’d employed on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), although there is one sequence where he throws the camera around and puts coloured filters on the lens. But it’s brief, and most of the time he chooses to shoot in a way that serves the story, rather than distracts from it. The twists are better executed too, happening more organically throughout the film. This helps to keep the audience interested, even if the final resolution isn’t particularly satisfying and the end product is ultimately a little bland.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘Thank you, but I’m not interested in a new set of vacuum cleaner brushes.’

The film’s most remarkable feature is the presence of so many people on both sides of the camera who became closely associated with the Giallo film. Behind the scenes are co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi and producer Sergio Martino, both of whom leant their talents to many similar outings.

Baker had only just finished working on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) with Lenzi and went on to star in half-dozen or so similar projects into the 1970s. Here, she is dubbed by another actress in the English language version; presumably, her voice-track not being available after the original Italian dub. It’s not as disconcerting as similar instances involving actors such as Christopher Lee, as her voice is not as distinctive, but it’s still a little distracting.

A solid thriller. Not a bad example of the genre, but a little unmemorable.

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969) 

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969)‘You’ve got an unusual bellybutton; just like the Botticelli Venus.’

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).

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969)

The last pint was always a mistake…

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.

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969)

‘Just a small one…’

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.

The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il Dolce Corpo Di Deborah (1968)

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)‘And now watch out, I like to eat little girls.’

A bridegroom takes his American wife to his old home town of Geneva on their honeymoon. When they arrive, he discovers that his ex-lover has committed suicide and it’s not long before the couple are being subjected to strange happenings and mysterious threats…

The ltalian ‘Giallo’ movie is now recognised as a precursor to the American slasher craze kicked off in earnest by John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ (1978), but the term originally simply referred to a ‘murder mystery’ and this film falls squarely into that category. So there’s a notable absence of the familiar tropes we expect when viewing films from that sub-genre today, but nevertheless this was an important steeping stone in their development, although not so much for what actually appears on the screen.

Handsome Swiss hunk Jean Sorel is showing new wife Carroll Baker the sights of Europe when they stopover in his old stomping ground on the shores of Lake Geneva. A seemingly chance encounter with old friend Philip (Liugi Pistilli) turns nasty when Pistilli informs him of the suspected suicide of Sorel’s ex-girlfriend Suzanne (Evelyn Stewart) in a car accident.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

‘Shake it Baby!’

At Stewart’s abandoned old home, they hear spooky music and Baker gets a phone call threatening her life. Believing Pistilli was in love with Stewart and is seeking vengeance, the couple rent an isolated villa in the country, but it seems they can’t escape Sorel’s shady past. And what’s their dangerously handsome next door neighbour George Hilton got to do with it all?

The film starts rather slowly with Sorrel and Baker as loving newlyweds. The intention is to establish character and get the audience invested, which is a fine idea. Unfortunately, both Baker and Sorel seem disengaged with the material and there is little chemistry between them. After their visit to the spooky old house, suspicion raises its ugly head on both sides and the cracks in their relationship begin to show. Their quiet sense of distrust in each other is nicely played and these are probably the film’s best scenes.

So, after a somewhat rocky opening, toward the half way point things seem to be building up nicely. But then there’s no more story development until the last 15 minutes when all the threads come together. It’s this lengthy and very dull second act that really derails the film. To its’ credit, we still not exactly sure of what’s happening until pretty near the conclusion but when the pieces fall into place it’s not exactly a surprise and an attempt at an additional twist at the end is rather ambiguous and makes little sense.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

 In the 60s people really knew how to party… 

Director Romolo Guerrieri is keen to catch that 1960’s zeitgeist by dressing Baker in funky outfits and employing some ill-advised (if pretty) slo-mo in some of the romantic flashbacks. The musical soundtrack by Nora Orlandi is very much of its time and there’s a slightly odd sequence where Baker and Sorel play ‘Twister’ in their back garden to the sound of a marching band!

Considering all this is a fairly tepid experience, then why is it an important step in the development of the ‘Giallo’ as we know it today? Because of the people that were involved – on both sides of the camera. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi (who co-authored the screenplay) was already becoming the ‘go-to guy’ for these kind of convoluted thrillers and co-writer/producer Luciano Martino went onto fulfil the same roles on several notable examples, including ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969) and ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wrath’ (1971). That last film was directed by his brother Sergio who served as production manager on this film and actually starred Hilton who top-lined several other similar projects in subsequent years. And the same can be said of Pistilli and Sorel! Perhaps it just shows how tightly knit the Italian film industry was at the time.

Baker was a Hollywood actress who had fame almost as soon as she stepped in front of the camera with a featured role in the James Dean epic ‘Giant’ (1956) and an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the title character of Elia Kazan’s ‘Baby Doll’ (1956). Partly due to the nature of that role and the national controversy which the film provoked, she found it hard to get decent roles afterwards and often argued with producers and studios to escape type-casting. When big budget biopic ‘Harlow’ (1965) was a box office disaster (and her performance in the title role panned by critics) her stateside career was effectively over and, after a short break, she relocated to the continent. Subsequent to this film, she made a string of ‘Giallo’ pictures: ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969), ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘The Fourth Victim’ (1971) among others.

This is not a bad thriller by any means, but a dull middle section betrays the lack of an interesting plot and there’s not enough suspense or surprise to satisfy mystery fans. And those familiar with the more extreme elements of later ‘Giallo’ pictures are likely to be severely disappointed.