‘Traveller repose and dream amongst my leaves.’
A handsome young priest is the toast of his parish. However, his relationships with some of his congregation are more than just professional. When he’s found brutally slain in the church, a veteran detective tries to track down his killer…
Well-mounted and effective Giallo from writer-director Francesco Mazzei. Renzo Montagnani plays the policeman whose investigation unearths a hotbed of lust and deception in a seemingly innocent diocese.
All seems quiet and tranquil in the rural parish, ministered to by a young priest, Don Giorgio (Maurizio Bonuglia). Aside from the usual duties, most of his time seems to be taken up by alfresco dining with community leaders, such as engineer Aristide (Arnaldo Bellofiore), his wife Orchidea (Bedy Moratti) and their friends Pisani (Francesco D’Adda) and his wife, Giulia (Eva Czemerys). The ancient, crumbling church is in the safe hands of a chapter of nuns led by Sister Tarquinia (Claudia Gravy), who have adopted a young orphan boy, Ferruccio (Arturo Trina).
However, things are not as innocent as they seem. Bonuglia is having a crisis of faith, routinely whipping himself after illicit sex with Moratti. When she goes to her best friend Czemerys for a card reading, the advice is to give up her secret lover. Probably because Czemerys knows full well who he is and is sleeping with him too. Then, in the early hours of the following morning, the wayward priest is found murdered in the church.
Enter swaggering detective Commissario Franco Boito (Montagnani), who rides up on a motorcycle and takes charge, berating the nuns for moving the body and his assistant Moriconi (Salvatore Puntillo) for generally being an idiot. Montagnani cuts a confident swathe through the tangled situation, blissfully disregarding the most significant clue, a marble dropped by orphan Trina, who witnessed the killing. To make matters worse, he starts an affair with Moratti after they visit an isolated inn, which seems to double as a motel that rents rooms by the hour.
Mazzei’s Giallo may break no new ground in any sense, but it is a solid thriller with its fair share of suspense and an unusual resolution. The entire production benefits enormously from mostly shooting in actual locations rather than the studio, and cinematographer Giovanni Ciarlo captures a real sense of place and atmosphere. There is a little too much playing about with different lenses, which can be distracting, but it’s effective in small doses.
There are also some very inventive moments, with Trina’s collection of marbles making a particularly memorable appearance in the final act. There’s also a clever scene where the young orphan opens a closet in the ruined part of the church, only to have a naked arm fall out. It looks like he’s stumbled across a body for a second, but then he casually pops the mannequin back on its shelf. What it’s doing in a church cupboard is probably a question for another day, but it’s still an amusing touch.
The most interesting aspect revolves around Montagnani’s detective. He’s brash, confident and charismatic. He gets things done. But, after the dust settles and you start thinking about it, you could be forgiven for concluding that he’s not very good at his job at all. Ok, so he’s not the first screen detective to have an affair with a beautiful murder suspect, and he surely won’t be the last, but leaving that aside, how does he rate? Well, he ignores a significant clue at the start, accepts straightforward explanations too readily when they’re offered, arrests Sacristan Anselmo Barsetti (Adolfo Belletti), who may as well have ‘red herring’ tattooed across his forehead, and fails to prevent a second murder, which Mazzei delivers in a strikingly sudden and brutal manner. Montagnani’s quarterly employment review probably won’t look very good.
Although matters are generally somewhat restrained, a couple of scenes definitely pitch the film into the exploitation arena. When Belletti is arrested while the nuns are using their shower room, it’s not too forced, but a later sequence where the naked sisters flagellate themselves in ‘tribute’ to their fallen priest might have come straight out of Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’ (1971). It goes on for a very long time and doesn’t advance the plot one centimetre. Bet it looked good in the trailer, though.
Given some of the story elements, it’s a little surprising that the film doesn’t seem to have stirred up any controversy in its native Italy when it was released. The similar themes explored in Lucio Fulci’s ‘Don’t Torture a Duckling/Non si sevizia un paperino’ (1972) had proved a tad unpopular with church authorities and had led to some unofficial blacklisting. Mazzei’s project, however, seems to have flown under the radar.
This film was Mazzei’s only outing as a director, and his other professional credits are limited. He first entered the business in 1960 as the producer of a series of ‘Mondo’ documentaries, such as ‘This Shocking World/Il mondo di notte numero 3’ (1963), for which he also wrote the original commentary. He has story credits for Tonino Valerii’s ‘A Girl Called Jules/La ragazza di nome Giulio’ (1970) and Sergio Grieco’s World War One drama ‘Il sergente Klems’ (1971). His only other work would seem to be as co-author of obscure Western ‘Convoi de femmes’ (1974).
A well-made and satisfying thriller. Nothing earth-shattering, but a solid bet for fans of the Giallo.