A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin/Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (1971)

‘Carol, there were no red-haired hippies in the park today.’

The daughter of an eminent politician dreams of having a lesbian affair with her promiscuous next-door neighbour, eventually stabbing her to death in a final nightmare. Then the police find the woman killed in just such a way after a drug-fuelled orgy in her apartment…

High-quality Giallo from director Lucio Fulci, who was one of the first to exploit the opportunity created by the international success of Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969). It was probably inevitable as he’d already delivered the excellent Giallo ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) before Argento’s breakthrough hit. This project would prove to be another winner.

Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) is a troubled woman and feels abandoned by the men in her life. Father Leo Genn is a prominent barrister whose time is taken up with his move into politics, and husband Frank (Jean Sorel) is also focused on his career. To make matters worse, she’s tormented by dreams of neighbour Julia (Anita Strindberg), a tall, statuesque blonde whose wild parties and uninhibited lifestyle have earned the disapproval of all the other residents of Belgravia Square.

Bolkan’s fantasies of lesbian sex with Strindberg progress into a vision of murder, but analyst Dr Kerr (George Rigaud) takes this as a sign that she has overcome her repressed desires. Unfortunately, police inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker) is called to Strindberg’s apartment after she’s stabbed to death in precisely the same way. Bolkan’s fingerprints are on the weapon, but suspicion falls on other family members as Baker tries to solve the puzzle and apprehend the killer.

Fulci teamed with four other writers to thrash out the film’s complex screenplay, including Roberto Gianviti and José Luis Martínez Mollá, veterans of ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969). Nearly everyone becomes a viable murder suspect, including Sorel, who is playing away with Bolkan’s best friend Deborah (Silvia Monti) and his teenage daughter Joan (Ely Galleani), who may have read the notes Bolkan made about her dreams.

Matters are further complicated by two hippies; red-haired Hubert (Mike Kennedy) and knife-wielding artist Jenny (the excellent Penny Brown). They appeared as silent witnesses in Bolkan’s murder dream and seem to know more than they are telling about the night in question. After Bolkan is bailed and Baker comes to doubt her guilt, the investigation begins to focus on them, particularly after Kennedy pursues a frightened Bolkan into an empty church. This sequence is one of the film’s high points as our heroine takes refuge behind the pipe organ, gets attacked by bats and flees across the roof with Kennedy in hot pursuit. Cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller assists with some wonderfully contrasting lighting here, with Bolkan as much in danger in the bright sunlight as when she’s hidden in deep shadow. The excellent use of the London locations is enhanced by another masterful score from composer Ennio Morricone.

There are some other memorable set-pieces too, and even the more commonplace scenes are delivered with genuine panache. The work of Fulci’s technical team is excellent throughout, but it’s the combination of Bolkan and Fulci that truly delivers. The combination of the director’s restless camera and off-kilter visuals married to Bolkan’s commitment to the role allow the audience a doorway into the living nightmare of a neurotic woman on the edge of collapse. Screen veterans Baker and Genn provide the necessary grounding, and there’s a nice contrast between Baker’s virile charisma and Genn’s sly wit. Sadly, Sorel can’t do much with the philandering Frank, and Monti is somewhat wasted, although, like Strindberg, her finest hour in the Giallo was yet to come.

The film is also notable for its escalation within the Giallo of both nudity and gore. Argento’s debut had bloodless for the most part, and genre pioneer Mario Bava had generally employed heavy restraint in such matters. Here, the stabbing in Bolkan’s dream is pretty explicit, and there’s a notorious scene involving some disembowelled dogs at the clinic where Bolkan is sent to rest. Animal lovers are likely to find this scene genuinely upsetting, and its presence in the narrative makes no sense at all. The effects were so flawlessly executed that SFX technician Carlo Rambaldi had to produce the canine props to defend Fulci over accusations of animal cruelty.

Fulci directed two more examples of the Giallo: ‘Don’t Torture A Duckling’ (1972) and ‘The Psychic’ (1978). The former starred Bolkan, and both were written in collaboration with Gianviti. However, his lasting fame rests on the series of horrors he delivered during the early days of the video home rental boom. In the United Kingdom, titles such as ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979), ‘City of the Living Dead (1980), ‘The Beyond’ (1981) and ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) were targeted for heavy cuts and censorship during the ridiculous, media-created ‘Video Nasty’ circus. Kuveiller teamed with Fulci again on ‘The New York Ripper’ (1982) and was the cinematographer on Billy Wilder’s ‘Avanti!’ (1972) but it’s probably best celebrated for his work on Dario Argento’s ‘Deep Red’ (1975).

Bolkan was a Brazilian actor who was playing leading roles soon after debuting in all-star hippie romp ‘Candy’ (1968) with Richard Burton and Marlon Brando. She acted opposite Peter Falk and Britt Ekland in ‘Machine Gun McCain’ (1969), with Franco Nero in ‘Detective Belli’ (1969) and in Luchino Visconti’s acclaimed production of ‘The Damned’ (1969). That same year she won an Italian Golden Globe for her role in ‘Metti, una sera a cena/Love Circle’ (1969) and starred in Elio Petri’s Oscar-winning ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970). More acclaim followed throughout the decade, but her career slowed in the 1980s. However, she remained active in the local industry, writing, directing and starring in the feature film ‘I Didn’t Know Tururu’ (2000). She has also spoken of an alleged affair with US President John F Kennedy.

Although he fails to make much of an impression here, Sorel was almost a permanent fixture in Giallo. His credits include ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968), ‘A Rather Complicated Girl (1969), ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘Short Night of The Glass Dolls’ (1971), as well as finding time for a supporting role in Fred Zinnemann’s Oscar-nominated ‘The Day of The Jackal’ (1973).

Baker had been a mainstay of British cinema since the 1950s after his breakthrough role in ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower RN’ (1951). His intense personality found the perfect showcase in ‘Zulu’ (1964), a film he also co-produced. He died far too young in 1976. Genn brought poise and dignity to many authority figures on the screen from the 1930s onwards and was Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actor for ‘Quo Vadis’ (1952). He typically played Brigadiers, Generals, barristers and cabinet ministers over the years, but occasionally tackled something different, such as Starbuck in John Huston’s problematical ‘Moby Dick’ (1956).

An outstanding Giallo that brings together a complex, satisfying story with excellent filmmaking technique and a superb leading performance.

A Rather Complicated Girl/Una ragazza piuttosto complicata (1969)

A Rather Complicated Girl/Una ragazza piuttosto complicata (1969)‘Suppose I have an indifferent expression whilst you peel the fruit.’

By accident, a young teaching assistant intercepts a steamy phone call between two women. He tracks one of them down and becomes her lover. The other woman who was on the line turns out to be the girl’s attractive older stepmother, and the two seem to have an involved and difficult relationship, but is everything as it appears to be?

Offbeat Italian Giallo thriller from director and co-writer Damiano Damiani, which emerges as far more of a character study than a conventional murder mystery. The motivations of the principals are largely left unexplored, and differing interpretations of the events on screen are possible, even after the final wrap up.

The handsome Alberto (Jean Sorel) is cruising through life on a wave of good looks, charm and family riches. However, there is one cloud on his bright horizon; his brother is terminally ill. Superficially, it’s of no real consequence to him; he avoids dealing with it, leaving all the organisation and heartache to his sister-in-law, Marina (María Cuadra). In a revealing scene, he even taunts her about her future plans; accusing the grieving widow-to-be of already fantasising about her next lover, at the same time that her husband, (and his brother, don’t forget!), is dying slowly in the room next door.

A Rather Complicated Girl/Una ragazza piuttosto complicata (1969)

‘Do you come here often?’

So it’s no surprise that, when on an errand to pick up an oxygen tank at the start of the film, he doesn’t know what to buy. A quick phone call home would seem to be in order but, instead, he gets a crossed line and a front-row seat to a risque conversation between two women. He tracks one of them down (how, exactly?) and finds that she is pretty young brunette Claudia (Catherine Spaak). Although she already has a boyfriend, Pietro (Gigi Proietti), she’s not shy about taking other lovers. After all, the first time they meet, she’s trying to use her feminine wiles on a priest (Gino Lavagetto), so he’ll give her a deal on some antiques!

The only fly in the ointment would seem to be Spaak’s stepmother, Greta (Florinda Bolkan). The two share a luxurious house some of the time, but Spaak hints that the two had an inappropriate relationship when she was underage which has left her emotionally traumatised. Nevertheless, the two young lovers then embark on the sort of romantic shenanigans that most young lovers do. They have sex in a room in a brothel where a young girl hung herself and pretend to be TV producers so they can humiliate virginal schoolgirl Viola (Gabriella Grimaldi). This is a particularly cruel and heartless act and, although things don’t go very far, director Damiani makes this a very uncomfortable scene for the audience.

A Rather Complicated Girl/Una ragazza piuttosto complicata (1969)

His fate was to be trapped forever in a late 1960s movie…

It’s plain through all these developments that Spaak is quite the puppet master, using whatever she has to hand to push Sorel’s buttons, including the presence of her on-off boyfriend Piroletti. She provokes him into defending her honour with his fists, plays with his voyeuristic tendencies and soon has him firmly on the hook. Having said that, Sorel needs little persuasion to go along with everything. At first, it seems that he may be using the new relationship as a distraction from his brother’s impending demise. However, it’s soon taken centre stage in his life, and he always prepared to listen to Spaak talking about her seeming hatred for Bolkan.

So this is all straight film noir 101, right? The femme fatale convincing the hapless hero to do her murderous bidding and then leaving him in the lurch. He ends up behind bars, and she reaps the financial rewards of their crime with her real lover. Only it’s not. For a start, we get no concrete information about anyone’s financial circumstances, and no-one seems exactly short of cash. Sorel’s teaching job is only ever mentioned in passing, and he seems to have all the free time in the world. Spaak has an apartment where she paints as well as living with Bolkan, and, again, spends her days as she pleases. Perhaps Bolkan’s death would make her a rich young woman, but that’s never inferred by anything that’s said or done.

A Rather Complicated Girl/Una ragazza piuttosto complicata (1969)

‘Love me, love my hat.’

Instead, there’s another way to read the film. Sorel is ever-present on screen, and we see events through his eyes. And, by the end of it, I think it’s fair to say that he’s a pretty unreliable narrator. At the start of the film when he listens into Spaak and Bolkan’s phone call, he imagines both of them naked and daubed in body paint in a series of pop art tableaux. All very dated and 1960s, of course. As a modern audience, we tend to accept that approach as just an affectation of the era’s style, but what if it’s actually present for a narrative purpose? Is the intention to demonstrate Sorel’s tendency to over-romanticise and fictionalise everyday life? There are certainly some scenes towards the end of the picture where Sorel seems to be mentally unravelling.

Interpreting the film in this way gives us a different angle on Spaak’s character as well, and she comes across more like an emotionally stunted child-woman; impulsive, chronically selfish and demanding. A little unstable, but nowhere near beyond redemption. A couple of scenes in particular support this reading, including the one where she shoots her image in the mirror in a sudden fit of self-loathing. There’s also the climax of the sequence with schoolgirl Grimaldi. Sorel wants to continue with the young girl’s humiliation but Spaak seems to realise that they’ve gone too far and, just for a moment, seems genuinely upset about what they’ve done. This develops no further, but only because they are interrupted by the arrival of Grimaldi’s teenage boyfriend and his crew.

A Rather Complicated Girl/Una ragazza piuttosto complicata (1969)

‘Which one of us is supposed to be complicated?’

It’s often a sign of quality when a film can provoke such analysis, but, unfortunately, the results here are a little bit of a mixed bag. Spaak is genuinely terrific in her part, and she’s well-supported by Giallo mainstays Sorel and Bolkan, although the latter gets too little to do. And that is a problem with the film in general; it’s a very slow burn, although repeated viewings help. The dialogue is also borderline pretentious on occasion, and we get an implied critique of the lifestyle of the idle rich, which was a very common theme in Italian cinema of the era. That might account for the fact that the film had some problems with domestic censorship because there’s nothing else here that would explain that somewhat baffling circumstance.

Those expecting a typical Giallo kill ride may well check out on this film early on. For everyone else, it’s a mildly intriguing experience boosted by a strong cast.

Footprints/Footprints On The Moon/Le Orme (1975)

Le Orme (1975)‘Must attempt operation alpha on the next one’s brain to totally neutralise his emotional circuits.’

A translator has a vivid dream of an astronaut being left to die on the moon and finds a mysterious postcard in her kitchen when she wakes up. Going into work, she discovers that she has lost two complete days out of her life. Trying to recover her missing memories, she travels to the destination on the postcard, but the visions of the astronaut just keep getting stronger…

Atmospheric and intriguing mystery from Italian director Luigi Bazzoni that stars Brazilian actress Florinda Bolkan. Proceedings open with the first of Bolkan’s dreams; a monochromatic vision of a lunar module touching down, an astronaut being dragged across the moon’s surface and the craft leaving. lt‘s weird, but not as weird as things are about to get. She thinks it’s a Tuesday morning, but it’s actually Thursday and a torn-up postcard of the island of Garma is the only clue as to what’s been happening. She’s gripped by a strong sense of déja vu as soon as she gets to this beautiful holiday destination and interaction will the locals seems to prove that she spent her missing time there hiding out in disguise from mysterious forces…

Technically, this is quite the tour de force. Director Bazzoni and cinematographer Vittorio Storarro create a dream-like atmosphere, perfectly reflecting Bolkan’s increasing isolation and apparent paranoia. Invaluable assistance comes from the striking locations, with the white stone architecture of the island’s old buildings a perfect contrast to the desolate beach and sinister woods. Interiors are gorgeous as well; the hotel providing a sense of faded glamour and timelessness, and handsome islander Peter McEnery’s house all large, open spaces, wide stairways and stained glass. Visually, the film is stunning.

The story itself seems to be an intricate jigsaw puzzle, with Bolkan tracking down clues that just won’t fit together. Ambiguous conversations hint she’s the victim of a strange conspiracy, but just what do her visions of the moon and mission controller Klaus Kinski have to do with anything? Could her work as a translator at a scientific conference be involved? As more and more questions pile up, the audience is truly invested in Bolkan’s plight and its resolution. And then, in the last few minutes, it all falls apart. To call the climax ‘disappointing’ is about the kindest description that can possibly be applied. It was plainly a situation where scriptwriters Bazzoni and co-author Mario Fanelli created a mystery and then had no idea how to solve it. It really is a massive let-down, especially when you consider their script was actually based on an original novel by Fanelli. I hope that had a better ending.

Le Orme (1975)

Not all planets turn out to be ‘M’ class…

This was Bazzoni’s final international feature, after which he had a couple of ‘assistant’ gigs in the 1980s. His brief filmography with the megaphone comprises a couple of unusual spaghetti westerns, including ‘Man, Pride & Vengeance’ (1967) which starred Kinski along with Franco Nero, and a couple of giallo thrillers; ‘Possessed’ (1965) and ‘The Fifth Cord’ (1971) which again starred Nero. He had co-writing credits on those projects as well.

Storarro subsequently worked on many more features, including higher profile projects such as ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979) for Francis Ford Coppola, ‘Reds’ (1981) for Warren Beatty and ‘The Last Emporer’ (1987) for Bernado Bertolucci. He won Academy Awards for all three.

Bolkan starred in notorious ‘nunsploitation’ picture ‘Flavia the Heretic’ (1974) but is probably best known as co-star of well-reviewed crime drama ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion’ (1970). She was still a fixture in ltalian cinema over 30 years later, although her last credit to date was in 2005. UK actor McEnery was familiar to British audiences from such films as ‘The Moon-Spinners’ (1964), ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ (1970) and the title role of ‘The Adventures of Gerard’ (1970), which was based on stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. By the latter part of the 1970s, he had mostly switched to television, taking the leads in both historical drama ‘Clayhanger’ and unusual thriller ‘The Aphrodite Inheritance.’ Kinski began as a henchman in German crime thrillers before forming a toxic partnership with director Werner Herzog, which led to international acclaim for ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’ (1972), ‘Nosferatu The Vampyre’ (1979) and the infamously troubled ‘Fitzcarraldo’ (1982).

In the final analysis, this is a very frustrating film. lt’s a high quality piece of work until the last five minutes. Then all the intricate plot threads are tied up with a terribly banal and lazy denouncement.

What could have been a minor classic falls on its face at the last hurdle.