‘Do you often spy on girls through shop windows?’
A rich woman decides on divorce after beginning a new relationship. She moves her young lover into her beach villa for the summer, but a couple of near-fatal incidents seem to suggest that her soon to be ex-husband is capable of murder…
Handsomely mounted, slow-burn Giallo from writer-director José María Forqué working off a script collaboration with Mario di Nardo. This Italian-Spanish co-production attempts a new spin on a setup that was in grave danger of over-familiarity during the early days of the Gallo craze.
It’s love on the rocks for wealthy Ruth (Analía Gadé) and Michel (Tony Kendall). She’s taken up with young stud Paul (Jean Sorel) and wants their marriage dissolved. Kendall is reluctant to accept that it’s over but leaves her to relocate to the beach with Sorel and think it over. The couple’s new romance seems idyllic at first; walks with the dog on the sand, working together on pottery in her private studio, meeting Sorel’s old friend Roland (Maurizio Bonuglia) and inevitable long nights of passion.
Then the brakes on Gadé’s car fail on a mountain road, almost leading to tragedy. It looks like an accident, but she gets into further difficulties scuba diving, thanks to a dodgy gauge on her oxygen tank. Gadé starts to believe that Kendall has murder on his mind and is targeting Sorel, whose absence from harm’s way on both occasions was just a lucky coincidence. Meanwhile, ravishing redhead Daniela (Rosanna Yanni) has moved into the bungalow next door and alternates sunbathing with throwing significant glances in the lover’s general direction.
The basic setup of the rich woman living in isolated splendour but surrounded by evil forces in motion had already been thoroughly explored by director Umberto Lenzi in his series of vehicles starring American actress Carroll Baker, a couple of which had prominently featured Sorel. Unfortunately, Forqué’s effort brings nothing very radically fresh to the table in terms of story, but a pleasing shift in principal relationships in the final act is quite pleasing.
Of course, Forqué’s main objective is to keep the audience guessing, so the cast must work hard to give their characters any shading. Sorel had assayed so many similar roles in a very short space of time that he could have been forgiven for just phoning it in, but, as usual, he provides his usual mixture of handsome boyish charm with a slightly sinister edge. Yanni’s role is almost entirely one-dimensional, but she certainly performs it well when she gets a chance to shine in the final stages. But the stand-out here is Gadé, whose powerhouse performance keeps the audience invested, which is vital as events unfold very slowly at times. Her journey from neglected wife, to carefree lover, to victim and beyond is never less than engaging, thanks to her skillful work.
Fortunately, Gadé’s talent finds its match in the visuals conjured by Forqué and his cinematographers, Giovanni Bergamini and Alejandro Ulloa. The film never looks anything less than superb, with thoughtful, beautifully framed shot that often convey as much of the emotional states of the protagonists as they sometimes uninspired dialogue. The film opens with the estranged Gadé and Kendall, and the status of their relationship is perfectly reflected in their surroundings, a dark room cluttered with antique pieces placed as if on display in a museum. Contrast this with the beach villa in the following scenes, a pastel landscape of bright light and open space dotted with plants and a casual informality echoed in the haphazard arrangements of Gadé’s pottery studio. Such visual metaphors are common throughout the film, and Forqué’s use of splashes of colour in an empty nightclub sequence compares with the work of horror maestro Mario Bava. A superbly understated score by Piero Piccioni completes a high-quality technical package.
Forqué became involved with film through theatre at university, where he was initially studying to be an architect. His debut feature was ‘Niebla y sol’ (1951), a drama set in the world of ballet, which was nominated for an award at the Venice Film Festival. His greatest success followed shortly afterwards when comedy ‘When God Forgives/Amanecer en Puerta Oscurav’ (1957) won multiple awards, including the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. His output of films was prolific until 1980, when he moved into television. Along the way, his credits included Eurospy ‘The Balearic Caper/Zarabanda Bing Bing (1966) and horror ‘Tarot/Autopsy/Game of Murder’ (1973), which starred Sue Lyon, Gloria Grahame and Fernando Rey. He also directed films starring Jon Finch, David Hemmings, and Juliet Mills. The long-running Forqué Awards were established in 1996, honouring the best in Spanish film and television.
Gadé was born María Esther Gorostiza Rodríguez in Argentina in 1931 and reportedly ‘escaped’ from a convent school to win a Buenos Aires beauty contest at the age of 15, debuting in films the following year. She appeared in a dozen or so more projects and married director Juan Carlos Thorry before relocating to Madrid, taking the lead in León Klimovsky’s comedy ‘Honeymoon/Viaje de novios’ (1956). Remaining in Spain, she appeared across multiple genres in leading roles for two and a half decades. One of these projects was a horror film about cats in which she starred alongside Hollywood’s Gene Tierney and Dan Dailey called ‘Four Nights of the Full Moon/Las cuatro noches de la luna llena’ (1963). Unfortunately, financing collapsed during the shoot, and the film remained unfinished. The existing footage was released in an abbreviated version at one point but is now considered lost. When her big-screen career began to wind down in the 1980a, she became a familiar face on Spanish television. She passed away in 2019.
The lack of a compelling story prevents elevation of the film into the top rank, but the technical aspects and the leading lady are all first class.