Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)‘Should we take bets on who dies first? The dead person wins.’

A weekend party on a private island turns deadly when the guests are murdered one by one. The motive would seem to revolve around the secret formula that several of the party want to buy, but it appears that someone will stop at nothing to obtain it, even murder…

Somewhat nonsensical but beautifully crafted Giallo from horror maestro Mario Bava. It was another last-minute call to save a troubled production for the director, who delivers on the assignment thanks to his technical expertise and filmmaking genius. Earlier involvement, however, would undoubtedly have made for an even better result.

Multi-millionaire industrialist George Stark (Teodoro Corrà) is determined to buy the secret formula for a new revolutionary manufacturing resin from scientist Professor Farrell (William Berger). The boffin has just lost his business partner in a lab accident, so some rest and relaxation on Stark’s private island seem to be in order. Berger brings along wife Trudy (Ira von Fürstenberg) but the weekend party isn’t just a foursome with Stark’s marriage partner, artist Jill (Edith Meloni). Also present are Nick and Marie Chaney (Maurice Poli and Edwige Fenech) and Jack and Peggy Davidson (Howard Ross and Helena Ronee). Poli and Ross are also business tycoons interested in Berger’s new process, and the three have arranged to join forces to buy it from him. The list of potential suspects and victims is rounded out by houseboy Jacques (Mauro Bosco) and game warden’s daughter, Isabel (Ely Galleani).

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

The business triumvirate delivers their pitch to Berger, but he proclaims that he has no interest in money and quietly burns his notes. Fenech is busy enjoying the services of the hired help, while Meloni and von Fürstenberg try to keep their hands off each other, with the latter also the target of the amorous Poli. In short, if you’re looking for a murder motive other than financial, it’s probably best to assume that all the eight principals are likely spending quality time with each other in whatever combinations they fancy. And murder is afoot when Bosco turns up dead on the motorboat where he’d arranged another tryst with Fenech and later on, after the vessel disappears, as food for the crabs on the beach. Cut off from the mainland; one killing follows another, and the walk-in freezer starts to fill up with dead bodies.

Ultimately, the film is a triumph of technique over content. Bava’s visual sensibilities combined with the eye-catching sets, location, soundtrack and performances elevate a relatively poor screenplay to a level of entertainment the material does not merit. The director conjures beautiful images in both the studio and on location, the lighting, colours and framing of shots inside the beach house being particularly effective. The sets of Giulia Mafia and the production design of Giuseppe Aldrovandi allow Bava the space to position his actors, props and furniture into beautiful and striking compositions. The look is very much of its era, but it’s tasteful and economical. Less accomplished filmmakers of the period tended to overload their sets with pop art, objet d’art and clashing colours in a self-conscious effort to appear modern and relevant, but Bava and his team knew that less is more.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

Conversely, Pietro Ulimiani delivers a score that delights in confounding expectations. Rather than supply music to create suspense, the composer favours a bizarre stew of electronic melodies, jaunty tunes and occasional flourishes of rock music to counterpoint the action on the screen. It’s a very bold choice, but it makes sense. These are not characters the audience is supposed to invest in emotionally; they are shallow, greedy and selfish. So an element of gleeful comedy in their imminent departure from the action is entirely appropriate.

The location filming was done on the beach at Tor Calendar, south of Anzio and featured in many of Bava’s films. He uses it brilliantly here, the camera prowling around the rocky shore, shooting through plants to suggest potential victims under surveillance, and showcasing some beautiful shots of the beach house on the cliff and the pier running out into the sea. Neither house nor jetty existed, of course; Bava painted the structures on a sheet of glass, lined it up in front of the camera and shot through it, creating an almost perfect illusion.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

There are also some terrific set-pieces. Two men fight, knocking over a sculpture constructed from transparent, plastic spheres of different sizes. These balls bounce and tumble down a spiral staircase and across a tiled floor before falling into a bloodstained bubble bath containing a new victim. As the corpses pile up, they are hung up in polythene bags in the walk in-freezer beside sides of beef, apparently one of Bava’s ideas. There’s the almost wordless opening sequence where he introduces the entire cast of characters, not by telling us who they are, but by establishing something far more important: we’re not going to like any of them.

Unfortunately, Mario di Nardo’s slapdash script and the hurried production undermine a lot of Bava’s excellent work. The director turned the project down initially as he hated the screenplay, mainly because it was a thinly-disguised rehash of Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Indians.’ Ironically, Christie was one of the authors published in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s in the wave of popular, cheap paperbacks that gave rise to the term ‘Giallo’ in the first place, so, in a way, she was an appropriate choice for adaptation. But Bava was not interested, and only agreed to consider the project if he was paid upfront. The producers went elsewhere, but their eventual choice pulled out at the eleventh hour, and they went back to Bava with a cheque. He accepted, even though the film was already cast and ready to begin shooting the following Monday morning; just two days away. As a result, Bava had no opportunity to rewrite the script or make any other significant changes.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

At least that’s the way that Bava told it. Whether his account is entirely accurate is open to debate. He was known to exaggerate somewhat in interviews and always claimed that this was his worst picture. It’s clear that the production did come together very quickly, but not so fast that he couldn’t get previous collaborators Aldrovandi and cameraman Antonio Rinaldi on board. He was also able to achieve some remarkable optical effects with his matte paintings. Perhaps he could have got all this in place over a weekend, or even during production; the man was undoubtedly a genius, so anything is possible. One change he was able to make was to the end of the picture. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the details of di Nardo’s original conclusion, but Bava’s coda is unsatisfying at best.

So, what is wrong with the script? Simply put, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. For a start, there’s the setup. Industrialist Corrà invites Berger to the island getaway so he can get his hands on the secret formula. The businessman’s relationships with Poli and Ross are never clearly established, but the trio makes an initial combined offer of $1 million each. Poli attempts to double-cross his partners almost immediately by offering $6 million for the exclusive rights in secret, and Ross also wants the formula for himself. It’s clear that the three men know each other well, and, later on, Corrà is unsurprised by their treachery. Which begs a very obvious question: why invite them along in the first place?!

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

Sadly, that’s just the beginning of the script’s unsuccessful struggle with logic and clarity. Without delving too much into spoiler territory, we do seem to have more than one killer on our hands, but, if we do, then they seem to be acting independently of each other, which is amazingly convenient. Also, commentators reviewing the film have fingered different characters as the killer, or killers! It’s not because the film is deliberately ambiguous or clever, it just not well-written. The first killing is a complete mystery; whoever might be responsible. The only explanation provided is that everyone has to die to eliminate all potential witness, but it’s a pretty weak justification.

The most plausible explanation is that Bava was not interested in the plot’s mechanics but was more focused on the visual presentation. He had rewritten scripts during filming before, so it’s possible that he did the same here and the story just got away from him. But he can’t have disliked di Nardo’s work too much; he was the sole credited screenwriter on Bava’s next film; the comedy-western ‘Roy Colt and Winchester Jack’ (1970). Of course, too much time has passed to allow definitive answers to these kinds of questions, but it’s fun to speculate. Another interesting point is that very few characters die on-screen, and then almost bloodlessly. The discovery of each corpse is memorable, though; be they crab food washed up on the shore, tied to a tree in their underwear or shot in the forehead mid-conversation on a balcony.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

What helps to keep the audience on board with the story and its contradictions is the cast’s performances. There are no real stand-outs but a solid ensemble, even if the characters are little more than roughly-sketched stereotypes. Von Fürstenberg was a real-life Italian princess who had married into Spanish royalty at just 15 years of age, divorced five years later and began her acting career in 1967. She starred in unusual Eurospy ‘Matchless’ (1967), caper movie ‘The Vatican Affair/A qualsiasi Prezzo’ (1968) with Walter Pigeon and Klaus Kinski, and was under-used in notable Giallo ‘The Fifth Cord’ (1971). Galleani was also born to the purple; the daughter of an Italian Count, she acted under several different names, most notably in Lucio Fulci’s trippy Giallo ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ (1971).

Sit back, relax and prepare to enjoy an example of a director displaying his creativity, invention and skill. Just don’t try and work out exactly what’s going on. You might hurt yourself.

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.

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.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage/L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage:L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970)‘How many times do I have to tell you that Ursula Andress belongs with the transvestites, not the perverts?’

A struggling writer is about to leave Rome and fly back to the United States. On the way back to his apartment one night, he witnesses a woman being stabbed in an art gallery. She survives the ordeal, but the police inspector assigned to the case is convinced that it’s connected to the murders of three young women in the city over the past few weeks… 

Writer-director Dario Argento’s debut film redefined the Giallo picture and turned into a marketable international commodity, provoking a avalanche of similar Italian pictures over the next five years. These edgy, stylish and violent horror thrillers are considered the precursor to the American slasher craze, which began with John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ (1978) and is still producing new movies almost half a century later.

Author Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is a cynical, defeated man. His sojourn in Italy has produced only a factual book about rare birds, rather than the Great American Novel that he had intended to write. Tickets are already booked for a flight home with girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall) when he goes to pick up his final paycheck with friend, Carlo (Renato Romano). On his way home alone, he passes by an art gallery and witnesses two figures in the mezzanine of an art gallery struggling with a knife. The woman is stabbed, and her assailant escapes with Musante trapped between the automatic glass doors that open onto the street.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage:L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970)

Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi) survives the attack, to the relief of worried husband Alberto (Umberto Raho) who owns the gallery. Police Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) believes the violent assault is linked to the recent murders of three young women in the city. The victims were not connected, and Salerno is keen to keep eyewitness Musante close at hand, especially as the writer is convinced there was something odd about what he saw, although he can’t quite put it into words. Salerno encourages Musante to investigate the case himself, and the American needs little encouragement.

Groundbreaking films can be difficult to assess once a great deal of time has passed. Whatever innovations they brought to the table will often have become familiar with their use by other filmmakers in subsequent years, sometimes almost to the point of cliché. It’s refreshing, then, that the dynamic cutting, pace and abundance of exciting technique ensure that Argento’s film still holds up remarkably well today, even though its impact has inevitably lessened a little with the years. Rewatching does expose some weaknesses in the narrative and story structure, but these are not major enough to compromise the suspension of disbelief or affect the entertainment value.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage:L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970)

Argento got the inspiration for his story from Frederic Brown’s noir novel ‘Screaming Mimi’. It had already been filmed by director Gerd Oswald under that title in 1958 but, despite being mostly faithful to the decent source material, the results were a disappointment. Argento elected to use the book only as a jumping-off point; specifically the notion of a psychotic triggered by an object of art. Like the novel, the film does open with an assault visible from the street through glass, but Brown’s original has it in a hotel lobby, and his protagonist only witnesses the aftermath. The only other similarity is a passing reference to Musante’s character having a drinking issue, the reporter in Brown’s story being a (barely) functioning alcoholic. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Argento chose not to credit Brown’s novel.

One of the film’s great virtues is its pacing. The script sets up Musante’s character very quickly. The quick, potted history of his unproductive time in Rome is covered in casual conversation with friend Romano, and he’s across the street from the art gallery less than five minutes into the movie. This scene is rightly celebrated as a masterful example of concept, production design, editing and execution. Musante getting trapped between the two sliding glass doors may be a somewhat unlikely development, but it’s an important touchstone for his character that helps to inform his later actions. All he can do is watch Renzi bleeding out on the carpet, reflecting his own artistic impotence and failure.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage:L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970)

These circumstances help explain why Musante stays to investigate the killings, rather than getting out of Rome on the first plane after Salerno returns his passport. Similarly, the script may give the talented Kendall little to do, but her presence is essential in how it softens Musante’s character. Without her, the writer would come across as almost entirely self-absorbed and more than a little arrogant. It helps enormously with audience investment and sympathy that the two actors have good chemistry together and present a convincing romantic couple. 

But what takes the picture to the next level are Argento’s attempts to do something interesting with every scene, either visually or by use of Ennio Morricone’s masterful score. The music is particularly effective in elevating potentially generic scenes such as the one where Musante questions antique dealer (Werner Peters); the wordless chorus of female singers performing almost in a half-whisper providing a unique ambience. Just as importantly, the young director never allows technique to overshadow the drama, avoiding the self-conscious showboating that many directors of the period favoured.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage:L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970)

There’s also outstanding use of locations. Instead of the Eternal City as seen through a tourist’s eyes, this is a Rome of crumbling plasterwork, broken light bulbs and run down, abandoned buildings. Again, it’s not overplayed, it just serves to give each scene a visual identity, and ground the more stylised aspects in a solid, tactile reality. This attention to detail is ever-present on many levels; for example, there’s an almost playful scene where Musante and Kendall discuss the previous murders. She is almost laughing as she reads out the details from newspaper clippings. Argento intercuts this banter with black and white photographs of the murdered victims at the crime scenes, a device which would raise few eyebrows now, but wasn’t something you expect to see in a film of this vintage.

Similar care is taken with most of the supporting characters, with some sly comedy courtesy of stuttering pimp Garrulo (Gildo Di Marco), the contradictory patter of snitch Faiena (Pino Patti) and the dietary habits of artists Consalvi (Mario Adorf). Again, these could have been very generic roles in very generic scenes, but they are made memorable, thanks to the quirky traits Argento bestows on these minor characters. There also an effort to show the police at work, both with new forensic methods (very dated now, of course) and with standard, routine procedure. Nothing unusual when viewed today, of course, but not a common aspect of the films of the time.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage:L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970)

Those watching the film for the first time today, expecting buckets of gore are likely to be disappointed. Proceedings aren’t entirely bloodless, but the kills are not very explicit although Argento’s camera does linger and emphasise some of the more lurid aspects. We see the killer’s hands (Argento’s own) in black leather gloves, fondling the tools of their deadly trade. It’s almost fetishistic. The director breaks up the rhythm of the violence too, with the razor attack in the elevator swiftly delivered with multiple slashes of the weapon straight into camera. Familiar now, of course, but not the done thing at the time.

The film isn’t without some flaws, however, and these lie in the story development. For a start, we’re supposed to buy into the notion that seasoned copper Salerno not only grants Musante an inside view of the police investigation, he also encourages his only eyewitness to dig into the case himself. This is especially hard to swallow when the killer has already targeted Musante. Later on, an unknown assassin (US actor Reggie Nalder) is hired to deal with Musante and, although this leads to an excellent action scene and a fine gag, it doesn’t ring true in terms of the plot. This is explained when you learn that Argento ran into the holidaying Nalder on the street one day and wrote him a part in the film at the last minute.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage:L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970)

Also, it’s more than a little puzzling why the killer intends to rub out Musante in the first place. Why is he a threat exactly? His investigation hardly seems to be getting closer to the truth (despite what he says!), and the fact that the author is still struggling to recall something that he witnessed at the gallery isn’t news that’s likely to have escaped police headquarters. Sure, he’s been going around asking a lot of questions, but if that’s a valid criterion for being on our murderer’s hit list then why isn’t he after the entire police investigative team as well?

But the main issue is that no-one thinks to check out the origin of the painting. After all, it was sold by the first victim to a mysterious customer on the night she was killed. Musante stares at it off and on for most of the movie (he has a copy of it on their apartment wall!), and it’s only on the same day that he and Kendall are finally due to fly back to the States that he thinks it might be a good idea to look up the artist! In Brown’s original novel, the reporter is always aware of the importance of the little black statuette in the case (the ‘Screaming Mimi’ of the title) but keeps his knowledge from the police. Here, however, Inspector Salerno knows all about the painting from day one, but somehow never considers it as an appropriate line of enquiry.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage:L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970)

These are minor quibbles, however. The virtuosity of Argento’s framing, the superb cinematography of Vittorio Storaro, the editing of Franco Fraticelli and the production design of Dario Micheli (check out those fantastic pieces in the gallery!) combine to create an unforgettable experience. Despite a slow start at the box office, the film became a massive hit, both critically and commercially, playing for three and a half years in one Milan cinema. By 1971, the Italian film industry had gone Giallo crazy, and more than 60 similar pictures were delivered in the next couple of years.

Musante was an American actor who’d made a significant impact with a showy supporting role in ‘The Detective’ (1968), an unusual vehicle for Frank Sinatra which had played more as much as a character study than a conventional thriller. He never went onto to become a star but played second leads in a few significant pictures such as Robert Aldrich’s ‘The Grissom Gang’ (1971)and excellent crime drama ‘The Last Run’ (1971) starring George C Scott. He transitioned quickly into television and split his time between Italy and the US. Kendall had an uncredited bit in ‘Thunderball’ (1965) before making a big impression in a supporting role in ‘To Sir, with Love’ (1967). The female lead in social drama ‘Up the Junction’ (1968)followed, and she enjoyed another big hit in the title role of ‘Fraulein Doktor’ (1969). After leading roles in Sergio Martino’s ‘Torso’ (1973) and Umberto Lenzi’s ‘Spasmo’ (1974), she retired from the screen in 1977. 

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage:L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970)

The film launched Argento on a celebrated filmmaking career, of course, as he followed up with further Gialli The Cat o’Nine Tails’ (1971) and ‘Four Flies On Grey Velvet’ (1971). An unsuccessful side-step into historical drama with ‘The Five Days’ (1973) was followed by arguably his most significant works; ‘Deep Red’ (1975), and the astounding ‘Suspiria’ (1977). Further projects such as ‘Inferno’ (1980)‘Tenebrae’ (1982)‘Phenomona’ (1985) and ‘Opera’ (1987) kept the bar high for many years, but his subsequent output is generally regarded as disappointing.

A daring piece of work that helped to define an entire sub-genre of film and was the calling card of a major new filmmaking talent. However, you can push all that historical importance to one side if you want and just revel in a cracking horror thriller. An essential Giallo.

Yellow: The Cousins/Yellow: le cugine/Die Muhle Jungfrauen (1969)

Yellow: The Cousins/Yellow: le cugine/Die Muhle Jungfrauen (1969)‘Keep your vulgar lewdness for girls who apparently can’t get enough of it.’

The two granddaughters of a rich man come into his mansion and estate after he dies. One of the girls is an uninhibited, wild child with a brand new husband, the other a repressed but beautiful spinster who has spent her life looking after the old man. Tensions and jealousies soon erupt among the trio, leading to murder…

Obscure and somewhat predictable Giallo from director Gianfranco Baldenello. The story treads a very familiar path without enough incident or drama to keep the audience truly engaged, events rarely escaping the confines of the mansion and its grounds. Almost the entire running time is occupied with the interactions of the three principal cast members, and their shifting relationships and intrigues are never really compelling.

The funeral procession of a wealthy old aristocrat is interrupted by the arrival of his blonde granddaughter, Valentina (Caterina Barbero). She comes complete with miniskirt, red sports car and brand new husband, handsome artist Pierre (Maurizio Bonuglia). Her loud entrance doesn’t go down well with older cousin Marta (Laura Seagram). She has been running the house and looking after grandpa all the while Barbero has been gallivanting around Europe, spending the family’s money. When grandpas’ will leaves Barbero the estate but stipulates that Seagram is to continue looking after it, the two are forced to co-habit, and Bonuglia comes with Barbero.

Yellow: The Cousins/Yellow: le cugine/Die Muhle Jungfrauen (1969)

‘Are you sure this is the way to the shower?’

This isn’t an incredibly inventive setup, but one that does have possibilities, and there’s a potentially interesting culture clash. Ice-queen Seagram represents the old world: frigid, proper and repressed, the slow decay of her womanhood reflected in the splendid yet crumbling house with its doors locked and furniture covered in dust sheets. Barbero, on the other hand, is the new order: wilful, selfish, fun-loving and irresponsible. In one of the film’s few memorable scenes, she and Bongulia make love on the dead man’s bed immediately after his funeral. When challenged later on by Seagram about her lifestyle, she replies: ‘You’re right, I left all the morals to you, I wouldn’t know what to do with them.’

But the new world intrudes on the old and Seagram’s iron control begins to crack. Barbero and Bonuglia bring some of their groovy friends back for a party one night and all the drug smoking, casual snogging and hammering on the sitar starts getting her hot on the collar. Bonuglia has already been putting the moves on her too. Initially, Barbero seems to find that amusing, but a few glasses of wine soon loosen her tongue. Unsurprisingly, Bonuglia has been less than faithful in the past, and this is just one fling too many. He storms out of the house after they argue and she follows, only to be found dead in the grounds the next morning, apparently the victim of a tragic accident. The police are initially satisfied, but was it murder instead?

Yellow: The Cousins/Yellow: le cugine/Die Muhle Jungfrauen (1969)

‘If you ask for ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon’ one more time, I’m going home.’

Before the Giallo was redefined in the first few weeks of 1970 by the international success of Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1970), the form was far more wide-ranging. Giallo had begun as a series of pulp paperbacks in the later 1920s that were typically Italian translations of mainstream thrillers by the likes of Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace and Raymond Chandler, among many others. The word was simply a ‘catch-all’ term for a ‘murder mystery’ and, in its later stages, the film does start to resemble something that might have come from the pen of, say, James M Cain. Another comparison would be an episode from a 1970s TV anthology suspense programme. There simply isn’t enough of a story to sustain its 90-minute running time, and the twists and revelations at the climax are somewhat less than surprising. 

Undoubtedly, the best aspect of the production is Seagram’s performance. She’s convincing as a conflicted and desperate woman struggling with her long-caged desires for sex and love. On the other hand, Bonuglia and Barbero can’t do much with their one-note characters and the late addition of Commissar Saccara (Renato De Carmine) doesn’t add a great deal of dramatic weight. Director Baldenello mostly shoots in a very matter of fact way which doesn’t infuse events with any real energy. It’s to be applauded that he resists some of the more self-indulgent flourishes of his contemporaries, but a little more style would probably have gone a long way.

Yellow: The Cousins/Yellow: le cugine/Die Muhle Jungfrauen (1969)

‘Bring me another bunch of lilacs and you’re asking for it.’

Seagram’s screen career was surprisingly undistinguished, consider the showing that she makes here, this being her only significant lead and her last notable credit. Previously, she had guest-starred on several US network TV shows of the early and mid-1960s including ‘Bewitched’, ‘The Beverley Hillbillies’, ‘Honey West’ and ‘The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.’. Although probably her most visible performance was as Lila, the sidekick of arch-villain Louie, the Lilac who took on Adam West and Burt Ward in Season 3 of ‘Batman.’ Barbero’s screen appearances were in supporting roles, with an occasional second lead, but she accumulated only nine credits in 14 years. 

Bonuglia was only active for a couple of decades, but his resume contains some notable pictures and several leads. His rugged good looks and charm saw him swiftly rise through the ranks to play the amoral Aldo in Giallo ‘Top Sensation’ (1969), an almost identical role to the one he plays here. Featured supporting roles in comedies, Westerns and Luigi Bazzoni’s notable Giallo ‘The Fifth Cord’ (1971) followed. Then he snagged the male leads in period romantic drama ‘Sepolta viva’ (1973) and Giallo ‘The Perfume of the Lady In Black/Il Profumo della signora inner’ (1974) but stardom did not result. Two years later, he was way down the cast list of ‘Holiday Hookers/Natale in casa d’appuntamento’ (1976), top-lined by the imported Ernest Borgnine!

Yellow: The Cousins/Yellow: le cugine/Die Muhle Jungfrauen (1969)

‘Hey, baby, how about it?’

Baldenello had served his apprentice as an assistant director since 1952 and graduated to helming his own projects with ‘Gold Train/30 Winchester per El Diablo  (1965), a Western that he also co-wrote. Most of his work mined similar outlaw territory, but he did take a detour with tedious Eurospy ‘Danger! Death Ray/Il Raggio infernale’ (1967) and there were some comedies in the latter part of the next decade, closing out his career with uncredited work on ‘Very Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind’ (1978).

Resolutely unremarkable tale of familial tension and violence. Giallo completists will want to track it down, but it’s unlikely to have a broader appeal. 

Top Sensation (1969)

Top Sensation (1969)‘You can’t think, you don’t have the equipment for that.’

A rich businesswoman with a son who has the mind of a child takes him for a trip on her private yacht. She has employed two beautiful women to join them in the hope that if they can awaken his sexual desires, he will become a normal adult. But when they run aground on the coast of a remote island, events take a very dark turn…

Sleazy Giallo drama that combines plenty of sea and sun with an unapologetic obsession with sex. Writer-director Ottavio Alessi’s film may be taking the usual potshots at the lifestyles of the international jet set, but it’s fair to say that he seems just as interested in the considerable charms of his, often naked, leading ladies.

What is business tycoon Mudy (Maud Belleroche) to do with her ‘problem’ child, Tony (Ruggero Miti)? At his age, he should be a man, but he still acts like a child, playing with toys and refusing to speak. Even the expensive clinics in Switzerland have failed to cure him. Belleroche’s latest scheme involves taking him for a trip on her private yacht. Along for the ride are two of her employees; ruthless husband and wife Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia) and Paola (Rosalba Neri) who are both only too happy to warm Belleroche’s bed as and when required.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘It’s ok, I saw it on a YouTube tutorial.’

The grand plan was to have Neri seduce Miti, thus making him a man and curing all his problems. It seems unlikely that this is approved clinical procedure, but it doesn’t matter because he has refused her advances anyway (he certainly does have issues!) Hired prostitute Ulla (Edwige Fenech) has also struck out, and the quartet is at a loss to know what to do next. It’s a particularly trying situation for Neri and Bonuglia as they are ‘on the promise’ of an ‘oil concession’ from Belleroche if they can succeed.

Just when all seems lost, the yacht runs aground on a sandbank. Bonuglia was supposed to be steering, but he wasn’t looking where he was going because he and Fenech were too busy having sex on the cabin floor. And, yes, there’s no need to worry about the complexities of the group’s interpersonal relationships. Apart from Miti, everyone is having sex with everyone else, and most probably in all the combinations that you can imagine.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘What do you mean, you want to talk about your motivation?’

While they are stranded, Miti makes his escape to the bleak island off the port bow and meets lonely young goatherd Beba (Eva Thulin). The others should be in hot pursuit, but Neri takes the opportunity to shoot some goats with her rifle instead (no reason, really, just a bit of harmless fun) and Belleroche has to offer to pay off disgruntled farmer Andro (Salvatore Puntillo). Meanwhile, Fenech is having intimate relations with one of the goats while Bonuglia takes some photographs of their romantic tryst. It’s hard to see why the British Board of Film Classification refused to give the film a certificate for 36 years, isn’t it?

When they finally catch up with Muti, they find him talking with the innocent Thulin and seemingly interested in her. Forming a new strategy, they invite her back to the boat where the clueless Fenech and Neri give her a ‘glamorous’ makeover, completely missing the point of why Muti was attracted to her in the first place. However, the session does provide an excuse to trap the young girl into a lesbian threesome, and that was far more important. However, there is another problem. Thulin is Puntillo’s child bride, so Neri and Fenech must provide a distraction when he comes on board. Drink proves the answer rather than sex as they can’t have it off with him obviously; he’s loud, sweaty and belongs to the lower orders. Meantime, Thulin and Muti get the chance to spend some quality time below decks.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘These split ends are a disgrace.’

It’s not hard to see why this film has quite the reputation in certain circles. It’s not pornographic by any means, but it certainly pushes the envelope, with our central foursome taking almost every opportunity to indulge their physical desires. And no, Fenech’s intimate liaison with the goat is not shown explicitly, although the naked actress and the animal seem to get fairly friendly! (I can’t help but wonder if she spent the rest of her life getting asked about that scene at respectable parties).

The subtext of the amoral rich living with no regard to societal or behavioural limits isn’t exactly subtle, and Alessi’s lingering camerawork somewhat undercuts any attempt on his part to take the moral high ground. On the one hand, he seems to be asking the audience to condemn these characters but, at the same time, revel in their excesses. But, before you dismiss the entire thing as tasteless exploitation, it’s worth noting that Neri has gone on record in recent years to praise the collaborative process on location. In fact, Alessi was so impressed with her suggestions, that he insisted she received an ‘Assistant Director’ credit.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘I know he’s your husband but he’s a bit of a dick.’

And this is a drama where the women are very much in charge. Maybe Thulin and Fenech are a little passive, but it’s Belleroche and Neri who lead the action and call the shots. The handsome but dim Bonuglia just takes orders, and Puntillo is portrayed as an ineffectual and stupid drunk. Of course, Muti remains the loose cannon on the male side of the equation with his limits never defined and the history of his ‘troubles’ left mostly ambiguous. It’s this uncertainty that provides the story’s element of suspense, although those expecting a more traditional Giallo are likely to find this a little half-hearted.

Alessi was primarily a writer who worked in both comedy and drama and was one of a half a dozen scribes who contributed to the Peter Ustinov family fantasy ‘The Man Who Wagged His Tail’ (1957). He also worked on the historical drama ‘The Mongols’ (1961), a US-Italian co-production which starred Jack Palance and Anita Ekberg and on the screenplay for jokey Eurospy ‘Dick Smart 2.007’ (1967). His only other assignment in the canvas chair was as writer-director of uneven Giallo comedy ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Toto?’ (1964), a showcase for the Italian comedy legend of the same name.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘All ahead full.’

Listing Neri and Fenech’s genre credits would take a whole separate post, but, suffice to say, both women appeared in numerous Gialli, sex comedies and horrors throughout the 1970s and Neri’s career went back to the Peplum craze of the early 1960s. Bonuglia virtually reprised his role here in ‘Yellow: The Cousins/Yellow: le cugine’ (1969) and later played the male lead in notable Giallo ‘The Perfume of the Lady In Black/Il Profumo della signora in nero’ (1974). Despite a decent showing in this, her screen debut, Thulin’s career never went anywhere, and this is Belleroche’s only screen credit. Her participation is a bit of a puzzle as she was already an award-winning, best selling novelist!

A different kind of Giallo that’s a little short on darkness until the final act but has a good pace and delivers a decent level of entertainment. And admirers of its leading ladies will need no other reason to check it out.

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.

Psychout For Murder/Salvare la faccia (1969)

Psychout For Murder/Salvare la faccia (1969)‘All must die…but daddy’s got to go by inches.’

A rich industrialist’s daughter has an affair with a gold digging photographer. Concerned with her somewhat erratic behaviour, her father has her placed in an asylum. When she is released back into his custody, she begins tp hatch a campaign of deadly revenge…

Late 1960s Giallo from writer-director Rosano Btazzi, who is far better known as an actor, particularly for his starring role in famous musical ‘South Pacific’ (1958). Here he delivers a competent thriller despite alleged interference from the film’s producers that left him deeply unhappy with the finished product and may account for a few of the rough spots in the final article.

Btazzi is businessman Marco Brignoli, rich and successful, but burdened with flighty young daughter, Licia (Adrienne Larussa). She’s head over heels for paparazzi Mario (Nino Castelnuovo) but he’s more interested in her father’s money than a long term relationship. Her infatuation with him is shown in an early scene of quick cuts and somewhat hyperactive behaviour. This was probably designed to display her unbalanced psyche but, being a late 1960s film, it can just as easily be interpreted as an affectations of the era’s signature style. The scenes in the asylum which follow were apparently the ones inserted at the insistence of the producers (probably to provide Larussa with clearer motivation for her later actions) but she’s only confined, rather than mistreated in any way, so their presence seems pointless at best.

Psychout For Murder/Salvare la faccia (1969)

‘You didn’t say anything about another guy.’

The action really begins when Larussa gets back home, and begins to plot her revenge. This is mostly low key at first but rapidly escalates, focusing partly on Brazzi’s long term daliance with politician’s wife, Giovanna (Paola Pitagora). Her husband Nestor Garay is right on the verge of important public office, his campaign bankrolled by a willing Brazzi. The adulterous couple are planning to make a killing when their puppet approves a new motorway project, but Larussa overhears their plans.

Larussa is also flirting outrageously with good guy Francesco (Alberto de Mendoza)  who is happily married to Brazzi’s sister, Giovanna (Paola Pitagora). There is no real mystery to all this; it’s clear that Larussa’s machinations are the film’s focus, and it’s just a question of how far she’s prepared to go and how the principals will be affected by the outcomes of her schemes. 

Psychout For Murder/Salvare la faccia (1969)

‘I do not like your Happy Talk.’

Given the nature of the story, an awful lot of the burden of the drama rests on Larussa’s young shoulders. She was only 21 at time of filming and very inexperienced, especially for a role of this prominence, but it’s pleasing to report that she’s rather good here. It’s a difficult and, to some extent, contradictory character, but she convinces as someone potentially unbalanced and the audience is never entirely sure what she is going to do next. Unfortunately, the script does not provide her with a great deal of assistance. Without any examination of her personal history, beyond Brazzi breaking up her fling with Castelnuovo, there’s little context to inform her behaviour and no significant insight into her psychological makeup.

There’s also some rather dated filmmaking technique from Brazzi, with some cutting within scenes that is so fast, it’s hard to be sure which character is speaking. It doesn’t serve the story in any way and quickly becomes rather tiresome. There are a few other good points, apart from Larussa’s performance, though. Pitagora and de Mendoza are given a refreshingly happy and positive relationship, which is rather unusual in the film about the idle rich from this period. Of course, de Mandoza starts thinking with an organ other than his brain when Laruzza starts playing Lolita, but this has far more impact than usual because we know the significance of what he’s throwing away.

Psychout For Murder/Salvare la faccia (1969)

HIs facial cream was just not up to the job.

A significant career might reasonably have been expected for Laussa on this evidence but, after taking the title role in Lucio Fulci’s historical drama ‘Beatrice Cenci’ (1969), she took a four year break. Then she turns up in obscure Canadian comedy ‘Keep It In The Family’ (1973) before the first of a couple of dozen guest slots on US network TV shows, gigs that became steadily more sporadic until her last appearance in 1991. These included ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, ‘Logan’s Run’ and ‘Project UFO.’ A rare big screen outing saw her in a minor supporting role in Nicolas Roeg’s science fiction epic ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ (1976) with David Bowie. She was briefly married to action star Steven Seagal in the 1980s and later became a real estate agent.

A little more plot would have helped but, when the camera calms down and the story is allowed to develop its own pace, at times this is a well played and quietly effective little thriller if nothing very special. 

No Man’s Island/Twisted Girls/Island of the Swedish Girls/L’isola delle svedesi (1969)

No Man's Island/Twisted Girls/Island of the Swedish Girls/L'isola delle svedesi (1969)‘What do you want me to do? Show you my Chinese stamps or my butterfly collection?’

Fleeing from an abusive boyfriend, a beautiful young woman joins on an old friend on a remote island. She is also on her own after ditching her social-climbing husband. The two enjoy an idyllic life until the boyfriend arrives, determined to win back his former lover…

Obscure Giallo thriller from co-writer and director Silvio Amadio that boasts little to recommend it beyond a beautiful location. A paper-thin plot, unsympathetic characters and some dubious gender politics don’t help, but it’s mostly the snail’s pace and absence of drama that results in a dull and lifeless experience.

Manuela (Ewa Green) has had enough of the controlling behaviour of boyfriend, Maurizio (Nino Segurini) and walks out. Fearing reprisals, she also leaves town, joining old friend Eleonora (Catherine Diamant) on her small, private island. The two bond over shipping trips to the mainland and days on the beach. They have plenty in common too, with Diamant having also suffered at the hands of men, specifically the husband who only married her for her money. Their mutual appreciation starts to unravel, however, when Segurini arrives and attempts to patch things up with Green. By this time, the girls are more than friends and passions erupt into violence.

No Man's Island/Twisted Girls/Island of the Swedish Girls/L'isola delle svedesi (1969)

There wasn’t a lot to do in the afternoons.

There isn’t a lot more to Amadio’s story than that, and there is an awful lot of padding in the first half. Many of these early scenes are devoted to the friendship of the two beautiful young women, and it is refreshing to see that kind of supportive relationship on the screen. However, it’s a long time before anything else happens. And, of course, being an Italian genre film of the 1960s, you can probably guess what that next development is: Diamant begins to have a different kind of feeling for Green, which the younger girl eventually reciprocates.

But this does bring up some issues. Diamant seems initially confused and even repelled, by her new feelings, even hooking up with local stud Franco (Wolfgang Hillinger) to try to reassert her heterosexuality. Of course, she may be having a late sexual awakening, but this stretches credibility when we are supposed to believe precisely the same about Green. It might be stretching a point a little, but it is possible to draw a ‘Garden of Eden’ parallel here, with Segurini as the serpent in paradise, tempting Green with forbidden fruit. However, given that this is a borderline exploitation flick made by Italian men in the late 1960s, that’s probably giving the filmmakers way too much credit.

No Man's Island/Twisted Girls/Island of the Swedish Girls/L'isola delle svedesi (1969)

‘He’s really not very good at picking up signals, is he?’

The film’s most significant problem, though, is with its three main protagonists. Segurini is a one-note character: a repulsive and exasperating boor who cannot accept the concept of ‘no means no.’ But, just at the point where you have him pegged as the villain of the piece, Green suddenly reveals that she can’t choose between him and Diamant. This development comes entirely out of left-field and, with no foreshadowing whatsoever, looks incredibly forced and has no credibility. Up to that point, Green was giggling her way through the film (presumably in an effort to look cute), but the character now appears to be really, really stupid. Diamant reacts to the problem by assuming the cliched role of ‘predatory lesbian with a firearm’. Most of the audience probably lost sympathy with her anyway, realising that she’d fallen for such a vacuous airhead as Green.

The problem here is not with the actors or their performances; it’s with the writing. This is a film that leaves you with the impression that shooting may have started without a finished script. Scenes don’t appear improvised as such, but many sequences serve no dramatic purpose and lack sufficient weight to inform the character’s motivations in the final third. It’s difficult to understand why either Segurini or Diamant would want to be with the vapid Green, let alone fight over her. 

No Man's Island/Twisted Girls/Island of the Swedish Girls/L'isola delle svedesi (1969)

‘Nope, he’s still not getting it.’

On the plus side, the island is a beautiful location and Amadio utilises it well in some of the climactic scenes where his actors stalk each other through some abandoned ruins. It was also probably quite a challenge to get some of the shots, given the topography of the landscape. There’s also some critique of the privileged lifestyle of our principals. This was par for the course with Italian films of this period, so we see Green leafing through a magazine while a news report about Vietnam plays on the radio. One moment, she is staring at pictures of starving children, the next she has flipped the page to the latest fashions. It’s not subtle, but it’s an effective moment. 

There are a couple of unanswered questions too. Why does Diamant light up a cigarette almost every time that she appears on screen? She does it so often that it almost gets to be funny, and would make a good (if quite dangerous!) audience drinking game. Perhaps the actor was just looking for something to do with her hands. Also, there’s the film’s original title which roughly translates as ‘Island of the Swedish Girls.’ Although there is little biographical information on either actress (this was Green’s only screen appearance), it doesn’t appear that either was Scandanavian and the Swedish nationality is never mentioned in the film. Perhaps ‘Swedish Girls’ were a box office draw in Italy at the time?

No Man's Island/Twisted Girls/Island of the Swedish Girls/L'isola delle svedesi (1969)

‘Maybe this will help him understand.’

Given the film’s lack of quality, it’s surprising to find that Amadio was a screenwriter and director with more than a decade of experience, previous projects including the dreary borderline Giallo ‘Assassination In Rome’ (1965) with Cyd Charisse. What is more surprising is that he went onto the favourably regarded Gialli ‘Amuck’ (1972) which starred Farley Granger, Barbara Bouchet and Rosalba Neri and ‘Smile Before Death’ (1972) which featured Neri again. His subsequent career mainly involved a series of sex comedies starring Gloria Guida, Miss Teenage Italy 1974. 

A thin story, unlikeable characters and a lack of story development make this a rather tedious experience, and one for Giallo completists only.

Dirty Angels/Vergogna schifosi (1969)

Dirty Angels/Vergogna schifosi (1969)‘Attention, there’s a slippery area six square metres large on my right.’

Three young professionals get their kicks playing sex games with casual pickups from bars. However, when one of them dies in the throes of passion, they dump his body and cover up the death. Six years later, they receive an incriminating photograph of the night in question and a blackmail note…

Obscure Giallo thriller from co-writer and director Mauro Severino that seems just as concerned with social commentary as delivering any significant levels of mystery or suspense. Presenting critiques of the ‘smart set’ seems to have been ‘flavour of the month’ in Italian cinema at the tail end of the 1960s, and several examples of Gialli take this approach.

Another night means another menage a trois with a stranger for career girl, Lea (Marília Branco) and up and coming designer, Vanni (Daniël Sola). But, when their voyeur friend, Andrea (Roberto Bisacco) pops up to watch and take the usual dirty pictures, they discover their latest conquest has expired. Panicked, they cover up the mishap and go on with their lives. Six years go by and each his progressed well in their chosen career, and spend their leisure time hanging out with the local branch of the young and idle rich.

Dirty Angels/Vergogna schifosi (1969)

‘Oh, that pose is so 1969…’

The blackmailing letter throws them into another state of panic, of course, as they see all their aspirations slipping through their fingers. They decide to pay up, but, after a midnight rendezvous to drop off the money, all they get is a note demanding more. At first, they suspect each other, but the aborted money drop confirms that another party is involved. They begin to suspect old friend Caletto (Lino Capolicchio). He’s an artist who flirts with radical political causes and has just returned to Madrid after some time away. They renew their friendship within him and invite him into their circle, all the while trying to satisfy themselves that he is the culprit they seek. When they become sure of his guilt, the question of murder raises its ugly head.

The Giallo was still an ill-defined beast at the end of the 1960s. Initially, a series of paperback books first issued in the 1930s that reached new heights of their popularity in the post-war period, these were generally mainstream murder-mysteries and thrillers. Later on, the movie iteration became far bloodier and more stylised, and a form that is now generally regarded as the forerunner of the American Slasher film. That distillation of these elements didn’t begin, however, until the release of Dario Argento’s international critical and commercial hit ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1970) almost a full year later.

Dirty Angels/Vergogna schifosi (1969)

‘Was your card the Ace of Spades?’

So here we have the Giallo format appropriated for social commentary, rather than horror or thrills. Our central trio is only concerned with retaining the status that their success and money has brought, even though Severino takes pain to show the emptiness and superficiality of this lifestyle. These beautiful people spend most of their time in a weary, listless stupor, their privilege having brought them little but an existence of endless boredom. So when Branco and Sola invite Capolicchio to one of their get-togethers, it’s the artist who shakes up the scene with some silly and nonsensical party games.

Unfortunately, the audience is unlikely to be engaged by any of these characters. On the one side, we have our humourless protagonists and their indolent gang, most of whom are just there to fill out the frame. We do get introduced to the bearded Filippo (Ivano Davoli) who is apparently Branco’s husband, but his presence is barely more delineated than any of the other members of the group. This may have been the intention, of course, to present its members as subservient to the collective and their standards of conformity, but it doesn’t make them attractive or interesting. The wild card is Capolicchio, but his quirkiness is so overdone that his antics and tiresome dissident posing pale very quickly. Is he assuming the role of the sacrificial lamb here in a kind of significant statement? If so, then the audience is far more likely to be eagerly anticipating the flash of the blade rather then concerning themselves with any message that the filmmakers are trying to convey. If any of the audience is still awake by the latter stages, that is.

Dirty Angels/Vergogna schifosi (1969)

Luca’s new band needed some better instruments.

Severino had a career of about a quarter of a century in the Italian film industry but did not amass an exhaustive amount of credits. After a solitary acting gig on television, he moved behind the camera as an Assistant Director on just over half a dozen pictures, including historical drama ‘Queen of the Nile’ (1958) starring Vincent Price and horror-sci-fi mash-up ‘Hands of A Killer’ (1962). This picture was his debut as a feature director. Afterwards, he moved into television, mostly as a writer, taking on both roles for the 5-episode mini-series ‘Una città in fondo alla Strada’ (1975).

Of the cast members, the real success story is Capolicchio who went onto a long and award-winning career, although he had already nabbed an Italian Golden Globe as ‘Best Breakthrough Actor’ a year before this production hit theatres. Shortly afterwards, he toplined Vittorio De Sica’s acclaimed ‘Il Giardino dei Finzi Contini/The Garden of the Finzi-Contains’ (1970) and went on to star in Antonio Bido’s above-average Giallo ‘The Bloodstained Shadow’ (1978). He is still working in the industry as of 2019.

Dirty Angels/Vergogna schifosi (1969)

‘I couldn’t afford a bunch of roses.’

Perhaps the most surprising element though is the participation of world-famous composer Ennio Morricone on soundtrack duty. He delivers a decent score as you would expect, although the nursery rhyme chanting is a little overdone and does become a bit distracting. His presence is easily explained when you consider the man’s almost unbelievable productivity. In a 60-year career, he racked up over 500 soundtrack credits, everything from the iconic ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ (1968) to pulp science- fiction like ‘The Humanoid’ (1979), Arnold Schwarzenegger’s encounter with ‘Red Sonja’ (1985), and Dario Argento’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ (1998). He finally won a belated Oscar for Quentin Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’ (2015) after previously being nominated five times. He passed in July 2020, and the world is a poorer place for his departure.

A slow-burning drama which is likely to frustrate fans of the Giallo as we understand it today. The social commentary may have been an accurate reflection of its time it’s likely to be lost on a modern audience.