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.

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.

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.

One On Top of The Other/Perversion Story/Una Sul’altra (1969)

One On Top of The Other (1969)‘You drop in for a few bumps and grinds, or maybe a few kicks?’

After the sudden death of his invalid wife, a handsome young doctor finds himself suspected of murder by the police. There seems no evidence of his guilt, beyond a financial motive and his playboy lifestyle. Then a mysterious phone call takes him to a club where he meets a stripper who looks almost exactly like his dead wife…

This is one of the best of the early Giallo films, that species of horror thriller that helped to inspire the American Slasher movies that took the world box office by storm in the early 1980s. Although this example bears little resemblance to the knife-wielding antics of that generation of masked killers, it’s still an engaging and excellent mystery that comes complete with a satisfying denouncement. That’s quite a surprise considering there are not only three credited writers, including director Lucio Fulci, but another three who don’t receive acknowledgement. So many cooks can make for an uneven result, and, although it is true that the film does ramble a little over the 108-minute length, for the most part, it remains tightly focused on its central puzzle and is a fine exercise in audience misdirection.

Doctor Jean Sorel runs a private clinic with his brother Alberto de Mendoza. Whilst the latter does all the actual medical work, Sorel is the public face of the business; a ruthless self-promoter and publicity hound. He spends most of his time tapping up investors with unrealistic promises and screwing around with photographer Elsa Martinelli. Yes, he has a wife at home, played by Marisa Mell, but it’s a marriage in name only; she’s a virtual recluse who suffers from chronic asthma. When she dies, he’s surprised to discover that she’s taken out some heavy insurance policies and made him the sole beneficiary. Of course, that puts him in the crosshairs of police inspector John Ireland, but there’s no evidence of murder and he was out of town on the night in question anyway.

One On Top of The Other (1969)

Rushing the costume fitting had not been a good idea.

Things begin to unravel for our leading man when an anonymous telephone call takes him to a local night spot. Naked girls hang from the ceiling on swings covered in flowers (it was the 1960s) and the floor show features a motorbike and a stunning blonde. The odd thing is that stripper Monica (Mell, again) is the spitting image of Sorel’s dead wife.

Compelled to investigate, he ends up sleeping with her (not creepy at all!) before he’s satisfied that it’s all just a coincidence. But is it? The insurance company have remained suspicious of Sorel and, when their investigator gets a look at his new girlfriend, he goes to see flatfoot Ireland. A quick toss of Mell’s swinging pad turns up a scrap of paper where it looks like she’s been practising the signature of Sorel’s dead wife, and the plot has more than its fair share of twists and turns before it reaches its conclusion.

If this sounds like the template for dozens of erotic thrillers that went direct to video in the 1980s, then there is a definite resemblance, but it owes more to the work of hard-boiled thriller writer James M Cain, who created ‘Double Indemnity’ and ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’. Yes, we have the handsome, morally flexible alpha male and the seductive femme fatale, and a cash prize at the end of it. But who is playing who? And is it really all that simple? Pleasingly, when the answers come, the solution is both surprising and credible.

One On Top of The Other (1969)

The ‘Hart To Hart’ reboot was taking a slightly more adult tone…

However, it is worth mentioning that the film is very rooted in its era, and is a little dated in some respects. It’s not just the fashions and occasional psychedelic trappings, but some of the story developments wouldn’t hold water in more modern times, but it’s fine if you’re prepared to suspend a little disbelief.

It’s also an interesting signpost on the Giallo’s developing journey for a couple of reasons. Here, we get two American stars, even if neither was no longer at the top of their game. Ireland had notable supporting roles in some of the biggest movies of his day; working with John Ford on Oscar-winning westerns like ‘My Darling Clementine’ (1946) and ‘Red River’ (1948) and was nominated for the Academy Award himself for classic noir ‘All The King’s Men’ (1949). Faith Domergue, who plays Sorel’s sister-in-law, had a less stellar career but is fondly remembered for a trio of cult items made around the same time: ‘Cult of The Cobra’ (1955), ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ (1955) and ‘This Island Earth’ (1955).

Perhaps a more significant sign that the Giallo was growing in stature is that a large part of the film was shot on location in San Francisco, a fact which director Fulci seems keen to remind us of at every possible opportunity! He was a typical member of the Italian film community, making musicals, comedies, crime capers, Spaghetti Westerns and whatever other commercial product was required at any given moment. Inevitably, there were further Giallo pictures after this, including ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ (1971) and ‘Don’t Torture A Duckling’ (1972). Greater fame, and notoriety, came his way at the end of the decade when he unleashed the controversial ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979), and followed it with continued attempts to bother the British Board of Film Classification. Stylish horrors such as ‘City of the Living Dead’ (1980), ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) and ‘The Beyond’ (1981) may not have made a lot of narrative sense, but they certainly delivered on the gore and possessed a strange, nightmare-like quality all their own.

This is a fine thriller and a step-up in quality for the burgeoning Giallo movie. Somewhat ironically, however, it would prove to be one of the last of the bloodless ‘murder-mystery’ examples; a touch more horror was just a few months around the corner.

Murder In A Blue World/Una Gota de Sangre Para Morir Amando (1973)

Murder In A Blue World:Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973)‘I can always be sure of myself with my new gold Panther underwear.’

In the near future, pioneering doctors are carrying out medical research to subdue agression in delinquents after a crimewave involving gangs of youths. Meanwhile, a serial killer is at work, targeting young men and leaving the police few clues…

Unsatisfying, unfocused social satire that was a French/Spanish co-production from writer-director Eloy de la Iglesia. Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) was obviously the principle inspiration/touchstone here, but whereas that film was a shocking examination of the nature of youth and violence, this film is likely to provoke yawns more than anything else.

Prize-winning nurse Anna (Sue Lyon) has a secret. She likes to take young men back to her big house, have sex and then perform a non-regulation heart operation with a scapel. Oblivious colleague Jean Sorel would like the first part of that experience, but she’s not interested and he’s busy curing teenage hoodlums with extreme electo-shock therapy anyway. Destined for the operating table in one way or another is Chris (son of Robert) Mitchum who has fallen out with his gang mates over some missing money.

Murder In A Blue World/Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973)

‘Hang on a second…Jack’s just chased Danny into the maze…’

The film begins with some heavy-handed satire on advertising and consumerism, courtesy of some fake TV ads. Of course, there’s comic potential in that but the humour is broad and obvious. One of following scenes sees Mitchum’s gang pull a home invasion much in the manner of Malcolm McDowell’s Droogs in some other film I could mention and with pretty similar (if not so graphic) results. In case we miss the Kubrick reference, the family on the wrong end of it were about to sit down and watch ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) on their big screen TV. Subtle. 

Later on, we see Lyon don a series of disguises so she can hang around in hotel bars and pick up men in the finest 1970’s lounge suits. When she takes them home, she plays cassette tapes of Strauss waltzes (‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) – nudge, nudge, wink, wink) before she seduces them. In case it happens to have slipped your mind, Lyon was also Kubrick’s ‘Lolita’ (1962) and to make sure you remember that, on a couple of occasions we see her reading Nabakov’s original novel and the book gets a nice big close up. Subtle.

Surprisingly, having said all that, there are a couple of moments of actual quality here. A shot of Lyon walking through a storm of leaves in a blood-spattered white dress is terrific, and there’s a wonderfully prescient auction scene. What’s on the block? Some of Alex Raymond’s original ‘Flash Gordon’ artwork from the 1930s! In a time when film merchandising had yet to create a collector’s marketplace, it’s a spot on prediuction. Unlinke the continued use of cassette tapes. 

Murder In A Blue World/Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973)

‘Do you want my eyes wide shut or what?’

The main problem here, however, is the story; a real hodgepodge of ideas and plot threads. They do come together in the film’s final act but, by then, it’s far too little too late. The cast seem strangely detached from the material (perhaps that was intentional), but none of them are vaguely interesting or sympathetic so the audience has no reason to care. Just pity the unwitting audience member who thought they were getting the Kubrick film when this was marketed in some territories as ‘A Clockwork Terror’!

Given the right material, Lyon could deliver a fine performance. See that little Kubrick film and John Huston’s ‘Night of The Iguana’ (1964) if you need proof. However, she looks all at sea here. Sorel, a veteran of many a Giallo film, is merely smug and Mitchum so laidback that he’s almost horizontal. Fair enough, that worked for his Dad, but Mitchum Jr doesn’t have anything approaching that level of natural charisma. At least this was a step up from ‘Bigfoot’ (1970) though. But then again what isn’t? Mitchum twice ran for Congress; in 2012 and again in 2014. On both occasions, he was unsuccessful. Rumour has it that his poor record on Sasquatch rights was a significant factor.

Blunt, obvious satire which tries the patience more than the funny bone.

The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il Dolce Corpo Di Deborah (1968)

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)‘And now watch out, I like to eat little girls.’

A bridegroom takes his American wife to his old home town of Geneva on their honeymoon. When they arrive, he discovers that his ex-lover has committed suicide and it’s not long before the couple are being subjected to strange happenings and mysterious threats…

The ltalian ‘Giallo’ movie is now recognised as a precursor to the American slasher craze kicked off in earnest by John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ (1978), but the term originally simply referred to a ‘murder mystery’ and this film falls squarely into that category. So there’s a notable absence of the familiar tropes we expect when viewing films from that sub-genre today, but nevertheless this was an important steeping stone in their development, although not so much for what actually appears on the screen.

Handsome Swiss hunk Jean Sorel is showing new wife Carroll Baker the sights of Europe when they stopover in his old stomping ground on the shores of Lake Geneva. A seemingly chance encounter with old friend Philip (Liugi Pistilli) turns nasty when Pistilli informs him of the suspected suicide of Sorel’s ex-girlfriend Suzanne (Evelyn Stewart) in a car accident.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

‘Shake it Baby!’

At Stewart’s abandoned old home, they hear spooky music and Baker gets a phone call threatening her life. Believing Pistilli was in love with Stewart and is seeking vengeance, the couple rent an isolated villa in the country, but it seems they can’t escape Sorel’s shady past. And what’s their dangerously handsome next door neighbour George Hilton got to do with it all?

The film starts rather slowly with Sorrel and Baker as loving newlyweds. The intention is to establish character and get the audience invested, which is a fine idea. Unfortunately, both Baker and Sorel seem disengaged with the material and there is little chemistry between them. After their visit to the spooky old house, suspicion raises its ugly head on both sides and the cracks in their relationship begin to show. Their quiet sense of distrust in each other is nicely played and these are probably the film’s best scenes.

So, after a somewhat rocky opening, toward the half way point things seem to be building up nicely. But then there’s no more story development until the last 15 minutes when all the threads come together. It’s this lengthy and very dull second act that really derails the film. To its’ credit, we still not exactly sure of what’s happening until pretty near the conclusion but when the pieces fall into place it’s not exactly a surprise and an attempt at an additional twist at the end is rather ambiguous and makes little sense.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

 In the 60s people really knew how to party… 

Director Romolo Guerrieri is keen to catch that 1960’s zeitgeist by dressing Baker in funky outfits and employing some ill-advised (if pretty) slo-mo in some of the romantic flashbacks. The musical soundtrack by Nora Orlandi is very much of its time and there’s a slightly odd sequence where Baker and Sorel play ‘Twister’ in their back garden to the sound of a marching band!

Considering all this is a fairly tepid experience, then why is it an important step in the development of the ‘Giallo’ as we know it today? Because of the people that were involved – on both sides of the camera. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi (who co-authored the screenplay) was already becoming the ‘go-to guy’ for these kind of convoluted thrillers and co-writer/producer Luciano Martino went onto fulfil the same roles on several notable examples, including ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969) and ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wrath’ (1971). That last film was directed by his brother Sergio who served as production manager on this film and actually starred Hilton who top-lined several other similar projects in subsequent years. And the same can be said of Pistilli and Sorel! Perhaps it just shows how tightly knit the Italian film industry was at the time.

Baker was a Hollywood actress who had fame almost as soon as she stepped in front of the camera with a featured role in the James Dean epic ‘Giant’ (1956) and an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the title character of Elia Kazan’s ‘Baby Doll’ (1956). Partly due to the nature of that role and the national controversy which the film provoked, she found it hard to get decent roles afterwards and often argued with producers and studios to escape type-casting. When big budget biopic ‘Harlow’ (1965) was a box office disaster (and her performance in the title role panned by critics) her stateside career was effectively over and, after a short break, she relocated to the continent. Subsequent to this film, she made a string of ‘Giallo’ pictures: ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969), ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘The Fourth Victim’ (1971) among others.

This is not a bad thriller by any means, but a dull middle section betrays the lack of an interesting plot and there’s not enough suspense or surprise to satisfy mystery fans. And those familiar with the more extreme elements of later ‘Giallo’ pictures are likely to be severely disappointed.