The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh/Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh (1971)

‘And I was afraid I’d have to do without any bratwurst.’

A neglected diplomat’s wife returns to Vienna with her husband during a series of unsolved murders of young women. She takes a lover but gets a phone call threatening to expose the affair. She suspects the culprit maybe her old boyfriend with who she had a violent sexual relationship…

High-quality Italian-Spanish Giallo thriller that launched the career of director Sergio Martino and took leading lady Edwige Fenech to the next level. Previously Martino had delivered a little regarded Spaghetti Western and a trio of documentaries, and Fenech was best known for her beauty rather than her acting chops. She had primarily appeared in sexy comedies, although she’d made an undeniable impression in supporting roles in Giallo pictures ‘Top Sensation’ (1969) and Mario Bava’s ‘Five Dolls For An August Moon’ (1970).

Returning to Vienna, diplomat Neil Wardh (Alberto de Mendoza) is immediately rushed from the airport into a top-level meeting, leaving bored young wife Julie (Fenech) to go home in a taxi. On the way, she has a vivid flashback to her affair with the handsome but sadistic Jean (Ivan Rassimov). It’s a striking scene and the first sign that the audience is in for something special. It’s almost operatic in the way it combines slow motion, dissonant music and sexual violence as the two wrestle on the ground during a rainstorm.

‘Go away, my flashbacks are far more interesting than you…’

With hubby almost permanently absent at work, there’s little for Fenech to do now she’s back home but hang out with cynical, liberated BFF Carol (Conchita Airoldi). Apart from the usual round of shopping and afternoon tea, this involves attending a vaguely naughty party with the smart set where girls wear paper dresses and tear them off during a catfight. Here, she meets Airoldi’s cousin, the ruggedly handsome George Corro (George Hilton) who’s in town to claim an unexpected inheritance that he’s sharing with Airoldi. Fenech attempts to resist his charms, but Hilton is persistent, and self-restraint is not her forte. Unfortunately, Rassimov is still in town and sending her flowers, although his intentions could hardly be described as romantic. Meanwhile, young women are being brutally murdered with a razor by an unknown killer.

After her first night with Hilton, Fenech gets an anonymous phone call demanding money in exchange for silence about the affair. She suspects Rassimov is behind it and confesses all to her best friend. Airoldi goes in her place to deliver the blackmail payoff in a public park at sunset, but she is attacked with a razor and murdered. Fenech suspects Rassimov is the serial killer, of course, but the police find he has an unshakeable alibi. As events twist and turn, Fenech starts to believe she is marked for death.

‘A blackmail payoff? No problem, afterwards we can talk about men some more.’

An excellent mystery coupled with some beautiful visuals, an unflagging pace and good performances make for one of the finest examples of the Giallo sub-genre. Director Martino handles the material with flair and style, and the screenplay by old hand Ernesto Gastaldi is tight and well-disciplined. In terms of credibility, the complex plot takes one twist too many at the end, but it makes for a satisfying resolution. It’s also been such a highly enjoyable journey to get there that it hardly matters. The dubbing in the English language version is not great, and the viewing experience improved significantly by watching the subtitled original.

The film was a watershed moment for Fenech as an actress and a tricky assignment. After all, our weak-willed heroine takes almost no positive action throughout, even on her own behalf; perfectly happy to abdicate responsibility for her actions and let Airoldi deliver the blackmail payoff, even though it’s likely to be a dangerous task with a mad killer on the loose. She also needs constant validation from her relationships with men, and usually in a physical sense. There’s little attempt to address her character’s psychology or analyse her sexual needs, particularly concerning her violent relationship with Rassimov. This is showcased in another memorable flashback where the couple has sex in a blood-soaked bed filled with glass fragments from a broken wine bottle.

‘And they told me there was a wardrobe budget this time…’

It’s a challenging task to keep an audience onside with such a passive, flawed character, and it’s a testament to Fenech’s increasing skill as an actress that she remains sympathetic throughout. The poise and personality she displays is a marked improvement on her showing in previous roles. It proved a stepping stone to a remarkable cult film career that included starring roles in several notable Giallo films. She worked with Martino again on ‘All The Colours of the Dark (1972) and ‘Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key’ (1972). Other examples were ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972) and ‘Strip Nude for Your Killer’ (1975). She also continued to appear in many sex comedies throughout the 1970s and early 1980s and eventually began a second career as a highly successful producer for Italian television.

The male members of the cast also deliver strong turns here, with all three principals displaying an economy of performance and quiet charisma that serves their characters and the story. Airoldi also makes something out of the ‘best friend’ who keeps her undies in the fridge; world-weary and carefree on the one hand, but also practical and loyal at heart. The scene where she is stalked at the payoff rendezvous is one of the film’s highlights; a tense and unsettling sequence where Martino’s camera deftly captures the isolation and vulnerability of the victim as she walks through the public grounds of Vienna’s famous Schönbrunn Palace.

‘Just because he forgot our anniversary last week….’

After the Giallo craze subsided, Martino carved out a long career in Italian cinema. He teamed with Fenech again for some of her sexy comedies, as well as delivering such cult titles as the controversial ‘Slave of the Cannibal God’ (1978), Dr Moreau knock-off ‘Island of the Fishmen’ (1979) and that glorious slab of sci-fi cheese ‘2019: After The Fall of New York’ (1983). Like Fenech, Hilton became primarily associated with the Giallo, appearing with her again in ‘All The Colours of the Dark (1972) and ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972). He also appeared in Martino’s ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971), Tonino Valerii ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972), and Luigi Cozzi’s ‘The Killer Must Kill Again’ (1975).

As a side-note, if the spelling of the title character’s name seems a little odd, then it was allegedly because a woman approached producer Luciano Martino and asked that it be changed to spare her embarrassment! If this seems a little far-fetched, it isn’t easy to come up with an alternative explanation.

A highly accomplished, entertaining Giallo delivered by a fine cast and a talented director who displays a fine visual sensibility and storytelling prowess. Highly recommended.

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.

Oasis of Fear/Un Posto ideale per uccidere (1971)

Oasis of Fear/Un Posto ideale per uccidere (1971)‘She’s just expressing youth’s innate rebellion against authority figures in general.’

A young, free-spirited couple fund their international travelling by selling pornography. Getting into trouble with the police in Italy, they are told to leave the country but travel south instead. Subsequently, misidentified as bank robbers, they go on the run, taking refuge with a Colonel’s wife who offers them sanctuary. But is her offer of help as selfless as it seems?…

Fourth in a quartet of Giallo thrillers from prolific director Umberto Lenzi who also co-wrote this French-Italian co-production with Lucia Drudi Demby & Antonio Altoviti. Sadly, the law of diminishing returns had set in and yet another thriller centred around the machinations, and sexual interactions of two beautiful women and a handsome man holed up in a luxury villa can’t help but feel a little stale and over-familiar.

Feckless Dick (Raymond Lovelock) and wild child Ingrid (Ornella Muti) are hitting the glamorous hot spots of Europe, living hand to mouth by selling pornography which they obtained legally in Copenhagen. They make a fortune, blow it on the high life, fall in with a biker gang and sell naked pictures of Muti taken in a photo booth. Eventually, they run afoul of the authorities in Italy and are told to leave the country.

Travelling south, they are misidentified by a gas station attendant as suspects in a bank robbery and forced to go on the run. Temporary sanctuary arrives in the unexpected shape of military man’s wife, Barbara (Irene Papas) who catches them siphoning petrol from her car. Rather than report them to the police, she invites them to stay instead and the younger couple are only too happy to agree to another slice of the good life.

However, when the Colonel fails to come home, Papas asks them to spend the night to keep her company. The evening turns into an impromptu drinking session and party with the older woman putting the moves on Lovelock. This doesn’t bother Sixties Child Muti too much until she discovers the two naked in bed later on. In the morning, Lovelock wakes up alone with a wad of cash in his pocket and a nasty surprise waiting in the garage when he and Muti decide to blow town.

This is a rather underpowered Gaillo from writer-director Lenzi that fails to bring anything new to the table and suffers in comparison with his earlier entries into the sub-genre ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) which it most closely resembles. The plot is a little thin, and it’s not that hard to see what’s coming before the twists arrive. Similarly, although Papas is excellent, the script gives none of the principals all that much to work with to develop fully-rounded characters. This is particularly unfortunate for Muti and Lovelock, although Muti does take advantage of the limited opportunities she is given.

Lenzi might have given the younger characters a far stronger introduction if he hadn’t chosen to deliver the first twenty minutes of the film in a scattershot, almost cinema verite style. The action jumps rapidly from one scene to another in an almost bewildering, over-busy collage of images and camera zooms. Many tiresome counter-culture boxes are ticked; including acid rock, dissing the Man, a gang of bikers upsetting the ‘straights’ and some typically vague hippie philosophy about the outlaw lifestyle. Some commentators consider that the film is making a statement concerning youth versus the establishment but, given the lack of sub-text in Lenzi’s other outings, it would seem that it was probably unintentional if it’s present at all.

Lovelock was born in Rome to an Italian mother and a British father and took his first steps into the film industry with a notable supporting role in Giulio Questi’s odd Spaghetti Western-horror hybrid ‘Se sei vivo spara/Django Kill!’ (1967) and worked his way up quickly to more prominent roles, such as the lead in Sergio Capogna’s ‘Plagio’ (1969). He followed this film by joining the cast of hit musical ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ (1971) and, although this did not open the door to Hollywood, he enjoyed a long, successful career in Italian cinema. His most significant projects were probably cult horror ‘The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue’ (1974) and crime drama ‘Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man’ (1976).

This was only Muti’s third film, having made a sensational debut at 14 years of age opposite actor Alessio Orano in ‘La moglie più Bella/The Most Beautiful Wife’ (1970), which means she was barely 16 when this film was released. Given the number of nude scenes she has here, her age would have been a definite issue if the film had been made in certain countries. International recognition eventually followed as the irrepressibly sexy Princess Aura in Mike Hodges’ revisionist version of ‘Flash Gordon’ (1980) and later years brought a long line of starring roles in Italian cinema and multiple award nominations and wins.

Lenzi returned to the Giallo for ‘Seven Blood-Stained Orchids/Sette Orchidee macchiato di Rosso’ (1972), ‘Knife of Ice’ (1972), and ‘Eyeball’ (1975) before jumping on the horror bandwagon in the 1980s. This came with questionable jungle adventures like ‘Eaten Alive!’ (1980) and the controversial ‘Cannibal Ferox’ (1981) which featured actual animal killings and was banned in 31 countries.

Ultimately a disappointment, this is a passable thriller that may well try the patience of fans of Giallo who expect a little more bang for their buck.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l’ariete (1971)

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)‘Don’t bother to express your sympathy; poor Sofia was a living corpse.’

A handsome young teacher at a language school is brutally attacked and hospitalised on his way home from a New Year’s Eve celebration. The following month another party-goer is found strangled to death and thrown down the stairs in her home. A black leather glove is discovered next to both victims, leading the police to suspect the same culprit…

Smooth, professional Giallo from director Luigi Bazzoni with some fine technical credits and a standout performance from star Franco Nero. Under the influence of Dario Argento’s international smash ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1970), the sub-genre was beginning to conform more closely to the template it’s recognised for today. Specifically, a serial killer with black gloves, a twisted plot lining up a series of suspects and the big reveal of the killer’s identity and motivations at the climax.

It’s just another New Year’s Eve, and drunken journalist Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) is propping up the bar trying to catch the eye of ex-lover Helene Volta (Silvia Monti). Lovers Edouard Vermont (Edmund Purdom) and Isabel Lancia (Ira von Fürstenberg) wrestle each other across the dancefloor, and Doctor Riccardo Bini (Renato Romano) tries to ignore his invalid wife Sofia (Rossella Falk). Meanwhile, John Lubbock (Maurizio Bonuglia) is headed for the vomit comet in the Gentleman’s facilities. And it gets worst for Bonuglia from there as he’s beaten with a length of pipe in an underpass on the long walk home, an attack interrupted by track driver Walter (Luciano Bertoli) who’s been racing the engine of underage prostitute Giulia (Agostina Belli) nearby.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘Half a gallon of whiskey is not a working expense…’

The police are no closer to finding the culprit a month later when Falk is murdered in her home, but link the cases due to the single black glove left at each scene. Nero begins to investigate the situation, using it partly as an excuse to spend time with old flame Monti. His initial enquiries reveal that brand new widower Romano is paying off Bertoli for unknown reasons and that Bonuglia was upset by the announcement of von Fürstenberg’s engagement to Purdom. It also turns out that Bertoli’s sister is none other than Nero’s sometime live-in girlfriend Lu (Pamela Tiffin). Worse still, after another suspicious death, Police Inspector Haller (Wolfgang Preiss) has the journalist pegged as his prime suspect.

This is a complex scenario with events focused on this small, intertwined group of acquaintances, and moving quickly throughout the film’s tight 91-minute running time. However, after the final reveal, audiences could be forgiven for concluding that most of these complications and blind alleys are little more than meaningless diversions. The core mystery is pretty simplistic, to say the least, and not particularly creative. In short, the plot is a little messy, and the killer’s motivations, such as they are, are thin and barely explored. Elements in the final act such as astrology and a young child in danger seem to have been almost thrown in at random with no foreshadowing, adding to the vaguely shambolic feeling.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘This Blade Runner sequel is bound to be great…’

But while the story may not be the best, the film scores very highly in many other departments. Director Bazzoni and award-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro combine to create a highly atmospheric visual package, highlighted particularly during the climactic confrontation on an abandoned factory site. There’s another classy score from Ennio Morricone, and a selection of striking locations, including the overgrown wasteground beneath the road bridge where the killer stalks Belli. This is one of the film’s outstanding suspense scenes, only surpassed by the early sequence where the invalid Falk is trapped in her house, which Bazzoni turns into a real tour de force.

However, it’s the outstanding Nero who catches the eye, giving a performance of rare intensity and conviction. His drunken journalist is a man on the edge of disintegration, battling the bottle with a weary fatality that’s ever-present in his eyes and drawn features. His chemistry with Tiffin is also terrific, playful and caring for the most part, but with the potential to explode into sudden violence without warning. Again, it’s played just right, providing insight into his fractured state of mind without compromising his role on the side of the angels or overshadowing the mystery. It’s a balancing act and one that Nero seems to accomplish without effort.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘I’m sorry, this is not the beginning of a beautiful friendship…’

Bazzoni had less than half a dozen feature credits in his short career. However, these included outstanding early Giallo ‘The Possessed’ (1965) (a co-directing credit with Franco Rossellini) and the potentially stunning ‘Footprints On The Moon’ (1975) a film fatally compromised by its dreadful twist ending. Storaro also worked on the latter before picking up Oscars for ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979), ‘Reds’ (1981), ‘The Last Emperor’ (1987) and ‘Dick Tracy’ (1990) as well as many other international awards. He has created a new 35mm film format with the intention of its adoption for both television and film as a universal aspect ratio and developed a series of custom colours gels for cinematographers that bears his name.

Nero was no newcomer to the Giallo, having appeared in early example ‘The Third Eye’ (1966) but was launched to international stardom of the back of his title turn as ‘Django’ (1966). He played Lancelot du Lac in Joshua Logan’s all-star musical ‘Camelot’ (1967), where he met wife-to-be, Vanessa Redgrave. He’s appeared in such diverse projects over the years as Luis Buñuel’s ‘Tristana’ (1970), ‘Enter the Ninja’ (1981) and ‘Die Hard 2’ (1990) with Bruce Willis. When working on this film, he flew to England and back on weekends to shoot his scenes for Otto Preminger’s ‘Saint Joan’ (1972). He has recently won several prestigious ‘Best Actor’ awards for his role in ‘La Danza Nera’ (2020).

Technically, a Giallo out of the top drawer, but all those qualities are somewhat undermined by a weak mystery and untidy story development.

Ringo, It’s Massacre Time/Giunse Ringo e… fu tempo di massacro/Ringo arrive le temps du massacre /The Revenge of Ringo/Wanted Ringo’ (1970)

Ringo, It's Massacre Time/Giunse Ringo e… fu tempo di massacro/Ringo arrive le temps du massacre /The Revenge of Ringo/Wanted Ringo' (1970)‘Guess there are just too many things I don’t understand.’

After his brother goes missing in a remote small town, a notorious gunman rides in looking for him. He soon finds out that the missing man had hired out to protect a local rancher and his daughter. There’s been a string of mysterious deaths in the area, and the cattle baron believes that he will be next…

Bizarre cross-pollination of the Spaghetti Western and the Giallo with an added helping of witchcraft thrown into the mix for good measure. If mixing such disparate elements sounds like an intriguing concept, sadly the finished film is a chaotic, incoherent mess, its shortcomings the result of significant production problems.

Gunslinger Mike Wood (Mickey Hargitay) is a man with a price on his head. He’s wanted for murder, bank robbery and stealing a horse. South of Tuscon, he finds work at the ranch of Don Alonso (Omero Gargano). The cattleman needs protection; people in and around the local town have been dropping like flies, foaming at the mouth as they die. No-one can explain it, and everyone is running scared. Hargitay agrees to help, influenced by his growing romance with Gargano’s daughter, Pilar (Lucia Bomez). One morning, when he wakes, he finds a strange clay doll in his room.

Ringo, It's Massacre Time/Giunse Ringo e… fu tempo di massacro/Ringo arrive le temps du massacre /The Revenge of Ringo/Wanted Ringo' (1970)

‘Just seeing if the production could afford any bullets…’

Sheriff Sam Carroll (Giovanni Ivan Scratuglia) arrives on Hargitay’s heels but discovers that the gunman has disappeared without a trace. All he can track down is the gunslinger’s younger brother, Ringo (Jean-Louis) who is also following the family trade. The two reluctantly join forces to find out what has happened to Hargitay and explain the strange and deadly plague that has stricken the town.

Examining the finished film, it’s easy to conclude that this was likely a troubled production in more ways than one. The problem we do know about involves the participation of Hargitay. The film had not been shooting long before he abruptly quit to return to the States. His son Zoltan had been seriously injured by a lion during a photo-opp with his wife, Jayne Mansfield. He did not return, leaving director Mario Pinzauti with about only 20 minutes of footage. Eventually, this ended up forming the film’s first act, accompanied by some fruitless attempts to provide plot coherence by our old friend, VoiceOver Man.

Ringo, It's Massacre Time/Giunse Ringo e… fu tempo di massacro/Ringo arrive le temps du massacre /The Revenge of Ringo/Wanted Ringo' (1970)

‘It’s ok, Jayne doesn’t need to know…’

Casting Jean-Louis as Hargitay’s brother allowed production to continue, but the finished results have all the earmarks of a film that ran out of money. For a start, the director still had access to the rest of the cast, the locations and the sets. Given that, why not reshoot the Hargitay scenes with Jean-Louis instead? Obviously, in the final film, Hargitay just abruptly disappears, and this is only resolved by a passing reference to his probable death. It’s incredibly clumsy and could have easily been avoided if reshoots had been possible. On the other hand, maybe he had some marquee value in Europe, and the producers wanted his name to stay attached. 

But that’s the least of the film’s issues. The narrative is all over the place, skipping from one scene to the next with no sense of natural story development. Jean-Louis meets with Gargano at his ranch in an early scene and asks him about the family coat of arms on the hacienda wall. The camera lingers on it for almost ten seconds. Obviously, it’s going to be important to the story. No, it’s never mentioned again. Similarly, in a later scene, the cattleman promises to come clean and explain everything that’s going on. This explanation? His wife went mad, sees ‘visions’ and ‘some people have died.’ That’s it. That’s everything. Later on, he makes the same promise and, again, doesn’t tell anyone anything. In addition, production values are very low with only a limited number of interiors, including a threadbare saloon that has no windows and is always shot from the same side. 

Ringo, It's Massacre Time/Giunse Ringo e… fu tempo di massacro/Ringo arrive le temps du massacre /The Revenge of Ringo/Wanted Ringo' (1970)

‘If you buy enough drinks, maybe I’ll be able to make a downpayment on the other two walls of this tavern…’

The highlight of the picture is probably a scene in the ranch-house between Jean-Louis and Bomez. The first time he met her was five minutes before when he’d shot a man (I don’t know who!) attempting to climb in her bedroom window. She screamed, and he leapt in with his trusty six-gun to save her. Now she’s come to his room to thank him. They speak for a minute, with Gomez following her father’s lead and providing gloriously vague and non-specific explanations about everything. Another woman screams somewhere close by. ‘Don’t worry, it’s just my mother, she’s mentally sick,’ says Bomez, providing the obvious cue for the couple to start kissing and have sex. Was that the actor’s original dialogue? Somehow, I doubt it. The scene where Jean-Louis and Gargano meet for the first time is also noteworthy. Jean-Louis’ side of the conversation takes place in perfect daylight, but Gargano seems to be speaking at night!

Some obvious conclusions can be drawn here. Firstly, the filmmakers had to use every scrap of footage that they had, whether it informed the story or not. Also, attempting to impose some kind of a plot on these mismatched bits and pieces probably involved assembling scenes in a different order from what was initially intended and dubbing on dialogue not in the original script. This contention is further supported by the facts that the finished feature runs only a scant 73 minutes, with opening credits delivered over a black screen, and a release date five years after the beginning of principal photography.

‘If I understood the script, I’d tell you exactly what was going on…’

Writer-director Pinzauti did not go on to a long career in the Italian film business, but he did co-direct well-regarded Spaghetti Western ‘Let’s Go and Kill Sartana’ (1971). He also delivered unofficial addition to the ‘Emanuelle’ adult film series ‘Emmanuelle Bianca e Nera/Passion Plantation’ (1976). In the same spirit, it’s worth mentioning that this film has nothing to do with the two popular ‘Ringo’ Spaghetti Westerns directed by Duccio Tessari. This film was simply an attempt to cash in on their success.

Given the mixture of genres, there might have been an interesting story to be told here, but production difficulties condemned the finished product to an abysmal fate.

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)‘Only animals and Americans get washed standing up.’

A rich old man dies, and the relatives gather at the family estate for the division of his fortune. However, most of them receive nothing; the bulk of the estate going to his niece due to a new will. Jealousies and bad feelings run high and then, inexplicably, the family butler is found stabbed to death in the greenhouse…

Knowing, black comedy Giallo from director Michele Lupo, who sends up the English Country House murder mystery with obvious delight and a little bit of style. Of course, the greedy relatives start dying off one by one after the will is read. Of course, everyone acts as suspicious as hell. Of course, the dim Scotland Yard copper blunders about without a clue and, of course, the solution is wonderfully convoluted and improbable.

The action begins on the golf course with heiress Barbara (Anna Moffo) trying to make a difficult shot out of a bunker. Sadly, she gets more than she bargained for when her swing uncovers the corpse of her cousin’s wife Pauline (Beryl Cunningham). But, never fear, the police are already on the spot as she’s not the first corpse to turn up in the previous 48 hours. Unfortunately, the forces of law and order are represented by arrogant, but dim, Superintendant Grey of Scotland Yard (Lance Percival) and bumbling local plod Sgt. Aloisius Thorpe (Gastone Moschin). From here, we flashback to the relatives arriving at the house, the reading of the will and the mysterious death of Peter, the butler (Ballard Berkeley).

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘You know our film’s got a really misleading poster, don’t you?’

Much to everyone’s surprise, the estate has ended up in the hands of naive Moffo, who acted as the old man’s housekeeper in his final years. There’s nothing for daughter Isabelle (Evelyn Stewart) because of her unpopular marriage to Anthony (Peter Baldwin). Also finishing out of the money are chronic gambler Ted (Giacomo Rossi Stuart), bitchy Aunt Gladys (Maria Fabri) and her stupid teenage son Georgie (Christopher Chattel). Numbers are made up by pompous Uncle Lawrence (Quinto Parmeggiani) and a mysterious, handsome stranger (Franco Borelli) who seems to have his eye on Stewart. When the bodies start piling up, it’s a real three-pipe problem for our hapless lawmen.

This is a deliberately familiar setup, of course, harkening right back to silent classic ‘The Cat and the Canary’ (1927) and making obvious reference to works of detective fiction, such as those of Agatha Christie. But writers Sergio Donati, Massimo Feli Satti and Fabio Pittoru choose a refreshingly satirical approach, focusing their attention on poking fun at tried and true English stereotypes. We get Chittel’s hopelessly repressed teenager, still a nasty little schoolboy at heart, even (very convincingly) faking his own suicide for a joke and then running for the hills when his leering approach to pretty parlourmaid Evelyn (Orchidea De Santis) ends with an offer of sex. Rossi Stuart is the typical English sportsman in tweed and flat cap, and Stewart is the English Rose with hidden passions.

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘Can I go back to helping old ladies across the road and getting cats out of trees?’

Best of all, however, is the crimebusting team of Percival and Moschin. Sensibly, they are the focus of the story, and the interplay between the two actors really helps bring the film to life and is a constant source of wry amusement. Initially, the superior Percival is utterly dismissive of his country colleague and no wonder; Moschin seems little more than an amiable oaf, blundering his way through the case with one shame-faced apology after another. But when Percival’s obvious lack of investigative abilities comes to the fore, it’s Moschin who starts coming up with the required insights with the former reluctantly coming to rely on the latter’s brainpower. It may not be tremendously original dynamic, but the two actors play it to the hilt and display excellent chemistry.

As well as some of the cast members being British, the film was partially shot in England; specifically at Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk. Imagine this reviewer’s delight when the opening shot of an Italian Giallo picture features the village sign of a place less than 25 miles from where he grew up! A surreal moment if ever there was one. Most of the cast were Italian, of course, but British audiences of a certain age will recognise Percival and Berkeley. The former was a comedian-actor who was almost a fixture on UK TV in the 1960s and 1970s, and Berkeley found everlasting fame at the age of 71 as the dotty Major on classic sitcom ‘Fawlty Towers.’

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘I tell you, Officer, I was only doing 35…’

There are some other notables in the rest of the cast. Rossi Stuart studied at the prestigious Actors Studio in New York before launching into a more than 30-year career in the Italian film industry, often appearing as a leading man. Initially, he plugged away in small roles but had worked his way up to more substantial supporting parts by the time he appeared in Robert Aldrich’s ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ (1962) with Stewart Granger and Stanley Baker. Some work with maestro Mario Bava followed, notably the lead in ‘Kill, Baby…Kill’ (1966). There were also appearances as Commander Rod Jackson in two episodes of Antonio Margheriti’s quartet of science fiction pictures about space station Gamma One. Later notable projects included Gialli ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave’ (1971), ‘The Crimes of the Black Cat’ (1972) and ‘Death Smiles On A Murderer’ (1973). His career went into decline after that, but there were still appearances in poorly regarded horror ‘The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance’ (1975) and one of Alfonso Brescia woeful quartet of ‘Star Wars’ knock-offs ‘War of the Robots’ (1978).

Stewart got her first big break playing Persephone in Mario Bava’s ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961) and then had a supporting role in Luchino Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ (1963), appearing under the name of Ida Galli on both occasions. Bava also used her in ‘The Whip and the Body’ (1963) before she worked her way up to the female lead in Spaghetti Westerns. Her first notable Giallo was behind Carrol Baker and Jean Sorel in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968), but it was only after this project that she became closely associated with the sub-genre. ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail’ (1971) was followed by ‘The Bloodstained Butterfly’ (1971), ‘Murder Mansion’ (1972), ‘Knife of Ice’ (1972) and ‘A White Dress for Marialé’ (1972) by which point she was often playing the lead. When the craze for the horror thrillers began to wane, she made several pictures in the organised crime genre, although there was still a late-career appearance in Lucio Fulci’s horror mystery ‘The Psychic’ (1977) to come. Although she made a handful of appearances afterwards, she effectively retired at the end of the 1970s.

A fun comedy Giallo that may not be a world-beater, but still delivers a thoroughly well-crafted and entertaining 90 minutes.

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)‘The sea had always been his idol, and it became his tomb.’

An escaped convict on the run from the police witnesses a woman burying a body at a coastal villa. When he’s apprehended a few minutes later, he keeps his mouth shut about what he’s seen. When he’s released thirteen years later, he returns to blackmail the family involved but finds that he’s picked the wrong people to victimise as he gets far more than he bargained for…

Wild and wacky Giallo/horror mash-up from director Sergio Bergonzelli that almost defies description. The audience is treated to a barrage of bizarre, fragmentary plot points and some incredibly melodramatic over-acting from his cast, coupled with a heavily stylised and distracting filming technique.

On the run jailbird, Pascal (Fernando Sancho) has just enough time to see governess-housekeeper Lucille (Eleonora Rossi Drago) digging a grave in the family garden before the cuffs are back on and he’s dragged back to prison. The police don’t notice what Drago has been up to and Sancho isn’t about to grass her up. He’s got another plan in mind. However, the coastal villa happens to belong to notorious mob boss André (Alfredo Mayo).

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

The wardrobe designer should have probably checked their medication.

By the time Sancho is released from prison and returns to demand money from the family, the gangster’s been missing in action for many years. Ever since that night when Drago was doing her spot of midnight gardening strangely enough. Worse still, there’s more than one skeleton in the mansion’s closest. Or more accurately in the acid bath in the outhouse. Most of them have been put there by daughter, Falesse (Pier Angeli) but cousin Colin (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) is just as likely to be responsible. Drago seems happy to help clean up any inconvenient consequences. The vicious Sancho doesn’t realise he’s on borrowed time, of course, and begins his reign of terror.

This sounds like the formula for a dark, blackly comic thriller with Sancho and the family plating a cat and mouse game of treachery and murder. But that wouldn’t be an accurate description of the film. By the time Sancho returns to the scene, director Bergonzelli, who co-wrote with Fabio De Agostini, has already assaulted the audience with a bewildering and apparently random, series of events. These have mostly involved Angeli flirting with any male visitors to the house, and then killing them. Caba also has some fun hobbies: feeding the pet vulture, keeping in the front garden and strangling dogs. On the other hand, Drago just has recurrent flashbacks to naked women being gassed by the Nazis at Belsen.

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

‘I’m sorry, but I can’t go any further over the top.’

Not weird enough for you? Well, all this action is punctuated by crazy camera angles, black and white still photographs, split-second inserts of a speeding train and some of the worst decapitation FX in movie history. If the intention was to demonstrate our main characters’ fragmentary states of mind, this scattershot technique is understandable. However, Bergonzelli pursues it so remorselessly over the first half of the film that it’s likely to have induced a similar mental state in his audience. Many will check out early and just turn off the film, believing it to be 90 minutes of meaningless self-indulgence. But, surprisingly enough, they’d be wrong.

It turns out that the first hour or so of the film is just a curtain-raiser to the main story and the film suddenly settles down to tell it. Godfather Mayo, who was supposedly the victim of the first murder at the start of the film, comes back alive and well. He’s been in hiding for the last 13 years, but with a brand new face courtesy of plastic surgery. Now he’s back to reconnect with his family, but he’s in for a surprise or two. And so are we. Because what follows is a series of such outlandish plot twists and reveals that they take the suspension of disbelief to a new level. Does everything make sense now? Yes. Is it even remotely believable? Not a chance. If Bergonzelli was trying to make the point that traumatic events in the past can turn anyone into a mad killer, well, any fan of the Giallo could have told him that!

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

‘You don’t really expect me to believe that, do you?’

At the distance of half a century and with little production information on the film available, it isn’t easy to know what the filmmakers intended.
Were the final plot developments supposed to be so insanely ridiculous? Was it a black comedy? That would certainly explain the overcooked performances. After all, Angeli was a very capable actress who was on the cusp of stardom in the 1950s after her breakthrough appearance opposite Gene Kelly in ‘The Devil Makes Three’ (1952). She appeared in ‘The Silver Chalice’ (1954) and ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ (1956) with Paul Newman. She could act, even if she never made it to the top of the tree. Well, you would never know it from her turn here as she unmercifully chews the scenery in a cheap blonde wig and too much makeup.

It’s not just Angeli either. This was Drago’s final film before retirement, and she had over 20 years of experience in Italian cinema, going straight into leading roles with almost her first picture, ‘Altura’ (1949). She’d acted with big-hitters such as Claudette Colbert in ‘Love, Soldiers and Women’ (1954), Orson Welles in ‘David and Goliath’ (1960), and Jack Palance in ‘Sword of the Conqueror’ (1961) but, again, you’d question her ability on this evidence. It seems likely then that the cast just gave the performances that the director wanted.

This is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly is an interesting one. It’s likely to polarise opinion and, as such, it might be worth your attention, but fans of the more familiar Giallo formula would be advised to stay away.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)‘She looked up to him like he was St Peter with the voice of an ant.’

After the death of his father, a young man returns home from Switzerland. He begins to suspect that his demise was no accident and that his older brother may have killed him to assume control of the family business. But is the conspiracy just a product of his twisted imagination?

Slow burning, arthouse drama that also comes with an element of mystery. The film has been categorised as a Giallo by some, but that’s probably as much to do with its Italian origin and cast of performers as its actual content. It’s plain that director Salvatore Samperi, who also co-wrote with famous Italian novelist Dacia Maraini, had something else on his mind rather than just delivering a conventional thriller or whodunnit.

Prodigal son Enrico Merlo (Maurizio Degli Esposti) arrives home on a livestock truck bound for one of the slaughterhouses operated by his family’s business. Rather than enter the old homestead the conventional way, he goes in via a first-floor window and witnesses older brother and sister Cesare and Verde (Jean Sorel and Marilù Tolo) giving his father’s corpse a surreptitious injection of something. Naturally suspicions of such shenanigans, he touches base with private detective Pier Paolo Capponi, convinced that his father was murdered.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

‘Did she just fart?’

Sadly, Esposti investigations consist primarily of going to see deranged housekeeper Talia (Alexa Paizi) at the local asylum and right out accusing Sorel of the crime. He also spends a worrying amount of time listening to his dead mother’s voice on a tape recorder. Yes, he might be young, pale and interesting, but he’s also got some serious issues. The film’s most memorable scene finds him creating a shrine to his mother by hanging up her old clothes while playing one of those tapes. Tolo comes in, wordlessly puts on the clothes and then offers him her naked breast. Fortunately, they are interrupted before the situation develops any further. Yes, this is one peculiar family, with a history of mental instability and the phantom of incest ever hovering in the background.

Sorel tries to straighten out Esposti by getting him to lose his virginity with prostitute Gabriela (Bernadette Kell), but the teenager is not interested. Sorel is intimate with her already, of course, even though he’s engaged to marry the lovely Ottavia (Noris Fiorina) and is quite probably sleeping with Tolo as well. The nature of the family business is no coincidence, either. Dead animals are a recurring motif throughout the film, with the family’s idea of a fun afternoon out involves a rifle and a dead dog in the river. As you’ve probably gathered by now, any thriller or mystery elements are taking a back seat.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

Her face was beginning to hurt…

The film does have its advocates, but this kind of project will always be an acquired taste. The cast makes no real effort to emote; Tolo remaining stone-faced throughout, and Sorel fading into the background. Given that both actors gave perfectly capable, and sometimes charismatic performances in other films, this seems to have a conscious artistic choice by director Samperi. What is he trying to say? Obvious the title’s a biblical reference, but, considering the way the story comes out, any comparison to the parable of the prodigal son must have been deliberately ironic. This notion is supported by Ennio Morricone’s score, which is often quite jaunty at times, especially considering the subject matter.

Perhaps what we have here is another critique of the idle rich, which were so common in Italian cinema of the time. It’s worth noting that the family’s successful business is down to the father’s hard work. Sorel already seems to be mismanaging its affairs, either through laziness or incompetence. More simply, of course, it might just be the story of one hell of a twisted family.

Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo (1970)

Nick Cave’s new album was a bit of a downer…

Samperi was active in the Italian film industry from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, almost always directing his own screenplays. Comedy romance ‘Malicious’ (1973) collected acting awards for some of its cast, and gay love story ‘Ernesto’ (1979) which told of love between an adult man and a young boy was highly controversial on release. Both Sorel and Tolo made several other, far more straightforward, Giallo pictures, with Sorel in appearing in some notable examples, including the Lucio Fulci films ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) and ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ (1971). Esposti had a very brief career, comprising only four features, although these included Giulio Questi’s experimental horror drama ‘Arcana’ (1972).

Likely to divide audiences, this is a very strange entry in the Giallo sub-genre if it belongs there at all. There’s plenty to talk about, but that’s not always necessarily a good thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Paging Mr Bava….’

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

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

Il tuo dolce corpo da uccidere/Your Sweet Body to Kill/A Suitcase For A Corpse (1970)

Il tuo dolce corpo da uccidere/Your Sweet Body to Kill/A Suitcase For A Corpse (1970)‘I’ll take you so you can finish your wonderful story about the protozoans on the way.’

An unhappily married diplomat has dreams about killing his domineering wife. He can put up with finding out that she is having an affair with a family friend, but when she gets rid of his beloved aquarium, he is pushed dangerously close to the edge…

Sly, black comedy Giallo that features a low body count, but compensates with a subtle and witty script loaded with irony. The sub-genre hadn’t yet cleaved too closely to the ‘whodunnit’ serial killer format, and there was still room for an unexpected outing such as this, which should please those aficionados prepared to entertain something a little different.

Diplomat Clive (George (Giorgio) Ardisson) finds it hard to sleep. His dreams are filled with just one thing: killing his rich wife, Diana (Françoise Prévost). Theirs has been a marriage of convenience: his aristocratic status and her money, but now he’s had enough. She dictates his every move outside the office; even down to the clothes that he wears, so when he receives an anonymous note that she’s having an affair with neurologist Franz Adler (Eduardo Fajardo), he can’t be more pleased. His joy is short-lived, however, when he’s told in no uncertain terms that a scandalous divorce will ruin his career.

Il tuo dolce corpo da uccidere/Your Sweet Body to Kill/A Suitcase For A Corpse (1970)

The latest sequel in the Piranha franchise decided to go in a different direction…

Things get even worse for our henpecked hubby when Prévost has his beloved tropical fish tank removed, and it’s occupants flushed away down in a sink in the greenhouse. A lover he can accept, but not the death of little Nemo and his buddies. She’s got to go! Luckily, he has the dirt on Fajardo, who worked as a medical doctor under the Nazis in the Second World War, so a little blackmail as all that’s needed to get the deed done. Ardisson collects the two suitcases containing the evidence, and flies to Tangier, meaning to dispose of the corpse in the acid vats of the tannery that Prévost owns. It’s from there that his scheme, and psyche, begin to unravel as circumstances combine time and again to upset his plans.

The success, or not, of a project like this principally hangs on two elements: the script and our leading man. Fortunately, screenwriter Antonio Fos delivers a wry and intelligent plot, leading the audience astray with some imagination and skill. Even twists that the audience sees coming sometimes develop in different ways than expected. Director Alfonso Brescia lets events play out without trying to impose any distracting stylisation or attempts to reflect the pop culture of the time.

Il tuo dolce corpo da uccidere/Your Sweet Body to Kill/A Suitcase For A Corpse (1970)

‘Am I supposed to be able to see right through to the other side?’

None of it would work, however, if it weren’t for a superb performance by Ardisson, who is on screen almost throughout. At first, he’s almost robotic, beaten into a blank slate by Prévost’s constant verbal barrage. However, we’re already familiar with the nearly psychotic glee he demonstrates in his murderous dreams, one of which introduces the action. From there, he’s alternately, nervous, charming, distraught and then desperate and paranoid as it seems everything, and everyone is conspiring against him. Early on, he’s sitting on the plane to Tangier when the flight attendant announces that one of the passenger suitcases has been opened by mistake and quotes the number on the claim check. For a heart-stopping second, Ardisson thinks it’s one of his bags before he realises that he’s reading his number upside-down. It’s a wonderfully inventive moment and the first of several suspenseful sequences that have a faint echo of Hitchcock’s dry sense of fatalism. This is one of the reasons the film works; we start to want Ardisson to get away with it; not because of his wife’s obnoxious behaviour, but because the poor guy just can’t catch a break!

It’s a terrific showcase for Ardisson, who had begun his career in the sword and sandal arena in the late 1950s, first registering significant in work for director Mario Bava: the title role in ‘Erik The Conqueror’ (1961) and, as Theseus, in ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961). After the Peplum’s popularity waned, he transferred to playing James Bond wannabees in Eurospys ‘Agent 3S3: Passport to Hell’ (1965) and ‘Operation Counterspy’ (1965), and played leads in Spaghetti Westerns such as ‘May God Forgive You… But I Won’t’ (1968) and ‘Django Defies Sartana’ (1970) opposite Tony Kendall. He was very much an action star, so finding him playing totally against type, and doing it so well, is an added bonus for those familiar with his work.

Il tuo dolce corpo da uccidere/Your Sweet Body to Kill/A Suitcase For A Corpse (1970)

‘You can’t get down from the table until you finish it all.’

Elsewhere the rest of the cast also deliver, particularly the women. Prévost’s character may be one-dimensional, but she plays it to the hilt. Yes, it is exaggerated, but it’s undeniably funny when she strictly timetables her adulterous trysts with Fajardo. There’s also a brief, but surprisingly affecting performance from uncredited singer Enriqueta Serrano as a middle-aged woman Ardisson is obliged to seduce and additional good work from Orchidea de Santis playing fashion model Elena Saunders. It’s another of the quiet ironies built into the script that, despite the signs that she’s sending, Ardisson is entirely disinterested in this beautiful woman until he finds out that she shares his obsession with tropical fish!

If you’re familiar with director Brescia’s other work, you’ll likely be surprised at the quality of the finished film. To an English-speaking audience, he’s probably most familiar as Al Bradley, the bane under which he delivered a quartet of woeful ‘Star Wars’ (1977) rip-off’s, the last of which, ‘The Beast In Space’ (1980) would more accurately be described as a porno. Before that, he worked in many different genres, including Peplum, Westerns, Crime thrillers, comedies, sex movies, war dramas and family films. He also directed a pair of poorly-regarded Gialli ‘Naked Girl Murdered in the Park’ (1972) and ‘Murder In A Blue Light/Omicidio a luci blu’ (1992).

A change of pace for the Giallo but worth seeking out if your taste runs to the blackest of comedy.