The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)‘These plans could revolutionise underwater breathing’

A beautiful woman is threatened with a knife on a lonely stretch of beach. However, instead of harming her, the stranger tells her that her husband is a murderer and leaves. Later on, she learns that one of her husband’s business associates has died under mysterious circumstances and the timing seems almost too convenient…

This Italian-Spanish Giallo was the directorial debut of Luciano Ercoli, who was better known in the industry as a producer. The project was born of necessity with a quickly delivered, commercial hit required to bail out the production comapny owned by Ercoli and his partner, Alberto Pugliese. The duo recruited screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, who had the appropriate experience and, better still, a script already in development.

Highly-strung Minou (Dagmar Lassander) finds her world beginning to crumble after she’s approached on a nighttime beach by a mysterious motorcyclist (Simón Andreu). Despite being armed with a blade and using it to cut her dress open, he doesn’t force himself on her. Instead he accuses her husband Pierre (Pier Paolo Capponi) of murder and rides away. Later on, she discovers that one of her Capponi’s creditors has died at sea, in circumstances that could have been replicated in the new decompression chamber being developed at her husband’s company which makes diving equipment.

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

‘No, I am not interested in unlimited free calls after six ‘o’ clock…’

Andreu contacts Lassander again, of course. By now, she’s struggling to bury her doubts about Capponi, especially when Andreu plays her an alleged recording of the murder over the phone. She’s seen the handsome young blackmailer in a pornographic photograph too, apparently bought in Copenhagen by her free-spirited friend, Dominique (the charismatic Nieves Navarro, appearing under her usual pseudonym of Susan Scott). Lassander agrees to visit Andreu’s art studio to pay him off but it turns out that his demands are sexual rather than financial. The rough sex is not nearly as unpleasant as she expects, but the experience pushes her further into a reliance on pills and liquor and, when it turns out that Andreu has photographed their encounter, the strain becomes almost unbearable.

This is a Gaillo where the emphasis is firmly placed on the ‘mystery’ element of the tale, rather than prsenting a procession of stytlised murders committed by an unknown killer. Instead, the audience is left to consider who is manipulating Lassander and what they hope to get out of it. Unusually for this type of film, she is not independently wealthy with Capponi reliant on her financial support, so the motive doesn’t seem to be money. Perhaps the conspiracy is the result of Lassander’s own neuroses; at one point she confesses to Navarro that Capponi has been her ‘husband, lover and father’ to her, a statement that raises a few red flags. And does she really need yet another drink?

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

‘These split ends definitely need a lot of work…’

It’s a credit to everyone involved in the film that, at no time, does it betray the cicrumstances of its hurried production. This is a smooth, efficient thriller with a decent level of intruigue and some cleverly ambiguous exchanges of dialogue. The resolution is a little underwhelming, however, and the audience may be left waiting for one last twist that never arrives. The performances are good, with a geat deal of the dramatic burden falling on Lassander’s shoulders. Victim roles can be a tightrope, characters can appear too passive and lose audience sympathy, but Lassander is never less than engaging as she struggles toward self-belief and positive action.

Terchnically, the most noteworthy scenes are the ones that take place in Andreu’s art studio. There are definite echoes of the work of horror maestro Mario Bava here, with lighting and gels used to create the splashes of bright colour often demonstrated in his films. This small set also features a selection of bizarre objet d’art, including statuettes, porcelain hands and wall masks, most memorably one fo the devil. These parts of the film are moody and atmosphere and the whole picture benefits from the classy cinematography of Alejandro Ulloa. His 30-year career included Eurospys like ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966), Spaghetti Westerns such as ‘Pistol for a Hundred Coffins’ (1968), Lucio Fulci’s classic Giallo ‘One on Top of the Other’ (1969) and Cushing-Lee’s elegant shocker ‘Horror Express’ (1972), as well as more than a hundred other credits.

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

‘Paging Mr Bava….’

Ercoli’s previous experience in differing roles within the industry were obviously helpful in his first stint behind the megaphone. He’d briefly worked as assistant director in a quarter of pictures in the 1950s and, as a producer, he’d been responsible for comedy Giallo ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Toto?’ (1964), comic book adventure ‘Fantômas’ (1964), a couple of episodes in the adventures of Spaghetti Western hero Ringo and Eurospy ‘OSS 117: Mission for a Killer’ (1965). Within a couple of years, he and actress Navarro had married and they went onto team up again with screenwriter Gastaldi on ‘Death Walks In High Heels’ (1971), ‘Cry Out In Terror’ (1972) and crime thriller ‘The Midnight Daredevil’ (1973). Ercoli retired from the business in the late 1970s after coming into a large inheritance but Navarro carried on, although career drifted more into the adult end of the exploitation market.

A brisk, efficient Giallo that is an engaging viewing experience, although it may not live too long in the memory.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)‘How easily one is deceived by appearances.’

A handsome young man who runs a bridal fashion house is secretly a serial killer, targeting young girls about to be married. Each killing brings him closer to unlocking a hidden memory from his childhood past, but the forces of law and order are closing in…

Somewhat hard to classify Giallo drama from legendary horror maestro Mario Bava that came out hard on the heels of Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969) in the early months of 1970. Argento’s film redefined the Giallo and established many of the conventions followed by the sub-genre, and provoked the craze which saw dozens of such pictures produced in the first half of the next decade. Bava’s picture helped reinforce some of these specific elements.

Good looking young man about town John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) has all the trappings of an ideal life. He’s head of a successful fashion business lives in a palatial house and drives an expensive car. However, behind the scenes, things are not so perfect. His marriage to the rich Mildred (Laura Betti) is in trouble, and she refuses to give him a divorce, reminding him that, although he may have inherited the fashion house from his mother, she’s the one paying all the bills. Being surrounded by beautiful models may provide plenty of opportunity for a bit of extra-curricular activity, but, instead, his taste runs to carving up prospective young brides with a cleaver. As he explains rather smugly in his voiceover, he’s completely mad.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)


Unsurprisingly, he’s a person of interest to Inspector Russell (Jesús Puente), especially after one of his models, Alice Norton (Femi Benussi) goes missing. She’s ended up in his greenhouse incinerator after a quick spin with him around the dancefloor of his private backroom. This is populated by mannequins in bridal gowns, which we quickly learn is the trigger that provokes Forsyth’s homicidal rages. Each murder provokes more memories of an event from his past, an event that he is desperate to recall, believing that this knowledge will free him of his madness.

This is a rather unusual entry in the ranks of Giallo, with some commentators considering that its inclusion in the sub-genre isn’t a valid one. After all, the only mystery in the film concerns the killer’s motivation, not his identity, and the climactic revelations when Forsyth regains his memories are hardly a surprise to experienced viewers. However, the notion of repressed childhood trauma as motivation for a killer did become a Giallo staple. Argento’s movie had touched on the idea, as had the Frederick Brown novel that was its initial inspiration, but it was Bava’s film that brought it front and centre. Of course, roots of this idea go back even further, to film noir such as Hitchcock’s ‘Spellbound’ (1945) and psychodramas like ‘The Spiral Staircase’ (1946).

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)


The oddest inclusion in the film is the element of the supernatural. Not surprisingly, nagging wife Betti ends up on the wrong end of Forsyth’s macabre hobby, but it’s not the last he sees of her. Instead, she pops up frequently, at first seen only by other people, then only visible to him. This was apparently an addition to the script made by Bava after close friend Betti expressed an interest in appearing in the picture. Yes, her ghostly presence can be interpreted as a sign of Forsyth’s unravelling psyche as he nears total recall, but it sits uneasily in the narrative, especially at first viewing. It helps that Betti is terrific, and her scenes with Forsyth are some of the best in the picture, but it still takes some getting used to.

As a Spanish-Italian co-production, for once Bava was persuaded to work outside his beloved homeland, and the primary location used for Forsyth’s home was a mansion once owned by General Franco. Of course, Bava took full advantage of these high-ceilinged, rich interiors, and displays his superb technique with camera movement and shot framing. Despite the affluence on prominent display, it’s an unsettling, haunted place filled with threatening shadows.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)


If it had taken Argento’s debut film to popularise the Giallo, it was Bava who had birthed it, with earlier films ‘The Girl Who Knew Too Much’ (1963) and ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964). The latter film was also set in a fashion house and, as perhaps as an in-joke, actor Luciano Pigazzi turns up for a brief appearance in this film, playing much the same role as he did in the earlier one. The selection of such a business also plays into the director’s undoubted obsession with the unreliability of appearances. Here, he’s ably assisted by Forsyth’s performance, flipping from handsome and bland in everyday life to manic and violent after the sun goes down. Apart from Betti, none of the rest of the cast gets much of a look-in, unfortunately. However, the scene where she is bleeding out on the stairs above the heads of the oblivious Puente and his sergeant is superbly played by all.

As per usual, it’s Bava’s startling technique that engages, whether it’s the startling transition from a murder to a seance or the misdirection of following the initial murder on a train to Forsyth playing with a model locomotive, it’s a constant delight. Better still, these flourishes are included not for the sake of mere cleverness, but, because they inform the story and its characters. Forsyth’s perfectly preserved childhood room where his movements throw a shadowplay of light and darkness across the faces of his old toys is a perfect metaphor for his character’s inability to move on from the hidden trauma rooted deep in his childhood. Similarly, the scene where he caresses the mannequins in their wedding clothes is more than enough to inform us that, despite his playboy appearance and seeming lifestyle, there’s probably more than a little lacking in his bedroom activities.
Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

This was Forsyth’s final film in a short film career based almost entirely in Italian and Spanish productions, including the lead in ‘Fury in Marrakesh’ (1966). He also worked as a photo-journalist during this period and found later success as a composer and choreographer. Some of his photographic work has a permanent place in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Harvard Film Archives as well as several other prestigious institutions.

Leading lady Dagmar Lassander is given far too little do in the film, but went onto to lead Gialli such as ‘The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970), ‘The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire’ (1971) and ‘Reflections in Black/Il vizio ha le calze nere’ (1975). She had leading roles in many pictures during the following decade, including comedies and crime thrillers, as well as somewhat notorious horror ‘Werewolf Woman’ (1976). Later work included featured supporting roles in Lucio Fulci’s controversial horrors ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) and ‘The Black Cat’ (1981).

Not one of Bava’s best, but still an absorbing psychodrama, touched by his usual genius.