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.

Naked Violence/The Boys Who Slaughter/I Ragazzi del Massacro/Sex In The Classroom (1969)

Naked Violence/The Boys Who Slaughter/I Ragazzi del Massacro/Sex In The Classroom (1969)‘Yes, it’s true; this strong alcohol causes powerful psychic erythrism.’

A teacher is stripped naked, raped and murdered by teenage delinquents after they get drunk in class. At first, the case seems straightforward enough but the investigating detective begins to believe that their actions were prompted by an outsider, who had their own reasons for wanting the teacher dead…

Late 1960s borderline Giallo picture from director and co-writer Fernando Di Leo. He began his career as an uncredited writer on Sergio Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy and graduated to the megaphone in 1968. Here, he delivers a poorly paced and rather flat take on the mystery genre, whose approach is more in keeping with the police dramas that he directed later on in his career.

Superintendant Duca Lamberti (Pier Paolo Capponi) is having a bad day. Called in to investigate a murder at night school, he finds that the victim is a pretty young teacher (Anna Maria La Rovere) and the culprits are her class of teenage boys, obliged to attend due to various run-ins with the law. Someone brought in a bottle of strong booze and things got way out of hand. Back at headquarters, he interviews all the suspects who weren’t detained at the scene but were picked up later on. None will co-operate, although Fiorello Grassi (Giuliano Manetti) seems ready to crack. The others are all blaming him for bringing in the alcohol anyway.

Naked Violence/The Boys Who Slaughter/I Ragazzi del Massacro/Sex In The Classroom (1969)

‘I am sooo going to buy you some new ties…’

The investigation stalls and Capponi becomes increasingly frustrated by the restrictions placed upon him because he’s dealing with minors. Why he’s not even allowed to slap them around during interrogations! Pretty young social worker Livia (Nieves Navarro, appearing under her usual alias of Susan Scott) brings him around a little by pointing out the disadvantages of the kids’ home lives. However, the fact that his edge starts coming off is probably due as much to the fact that she is pretty, rather than the awakening of any social conscience. Eventually, the two take young Carolino (Marzio Margine) out of detention for a week to play happy families and convince him to talk. Standard police procedure, I guess.

This is an odd little thriller in several ways. The movie opens with the rape and murder scene, albeit shown under the credits. Although Di Leo resists the temptation to make it too exploitative, it is repeated in a lengthy flashback later on, and it’s still unpleasant and very disturbing. That’s how it should be, of course, but the problem is that there’s nothing else remotely like it in the rest of the film; the tone elsewhere is not nearly so dark, although Capponi does his level best to bring as much intensity to his performance as possible. It’s an effort matched by Silvano Spadaccino’s heavy-handed classical soundtrack which lumbers in now and then to considerably less effect.

Naked Violence/The Boys Who Slaughter/I Ragazzi del Massacro/Sex In The Classroom (1969)

‘You mean, my scene is completely pointless?’

The most prominent issue, however, is that the drama is all talk. There’s nothing wrong with taking a realistic approach to a criminal investigation in a film, but that investigation needs to develop in surprising and interesting ways. Instead, Di Leo chooses to spend almost the entire first half-hour of his story in the interrogation room with Capponi quizzing delinquent after delinquent and getting little back but sullen silences and smart-aleck remarks. Of course, they are all played by actors in their early twenties, which doesn’t assist credibility. It is a good touch that Capponi deliberately spills the alcohol everywhere to try and make them feel sick, but none of these characters even look remotely hungover. That’s quite an achievement considering they were necking 85% proof the night before! Booze that strong might not kill you, but there’s a good chance that it would!

After that, there’s just more interviewing as Capponi and his colleagues go out and about, talking to friends and family. A lot of these conversations are just marking time as they do nothing to advance the plot and seem to exist solely as half-hearted attempts to set up possible suspects. Then the film comes to a screeching halt in the last half an hour when Capponi, Navarro and Margine start passing the marmalade at the breakfast table. Eventually, the kid takes a powder, of course, and the cops follow him to the villain’s hideout. Yes, the final reveal is a surprise, but it’s not a very clever twist, and the concluding action is underwhelming at best.

Naked Violence/The Boys Who Slaughter/I Ragazzi del Massacro/Sex In The Classroom (1969)

‘Come back, and finish your sprouts!’

Director Di Leo took another turn at the Giallo a couple of years later with the dreadfully slapdash ‘Slaughter Hotel/The Cold Blooded Beast’ (1971). However, he finally found his groove with a series of police procedurals and mob thrillers which came out in the wake of ‘The Godfather’ (1972). Particularly notable are the loose trilogy of films comprising ‘Manhunt in Milan’ (1972)‘Milano Calibro 9’ (1972) and ‘The Boss/Murder Inferno’ (1973) which demonstrate Di Leo’s flair for tough thrillers and action scenes. Amazing the difference it can make when a director is fully engaged with his material.

Like many actors working in Italy during the period, Capponi appeared in several Giallo films, usually as a detective. There was ‘The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion’ (1970), ‘Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It’ (1970), Dario Argento’s ‘The Cat O’Nine Tails’ (1971), and ‘Seven Blood-Stained Orchids’ (1972) directed by Umberto Lenzi. He went onto work with Di Leo again on ‘The Boss/Murder Inferno’ (1973) and had previously appeared as the lacklustre, costumed crimefighter ‘Mister X’ (1967). Navaro also appeared in ‘The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion’ (1970), and as the female lead in ‘Death Walks on High Heels’ (1971) and ‘Death Walks at Midnight’ (1972), all of which were directed by her then-husband, Luciano Ercoli. She also took major supporting roles in other notable Giallo films ‘So Sweet, So Dead’ (1972) and Sergio Martino’s ‘All The Colours of the Dark’ (1972).

A Giallo thriller with little suspense or interest, partially redeemed by the efforts of its leading man.

Mister-X/Avenger X (1967)

Mister-X:Avenger X (1967)‘A woman with a brain is like two women without one.’

Career criminal Mister-X is framed for the murder of a drug courier in Rome and sets out to catch the real culprits while staying one step ahead of the law. On the way, he discovers that his opponents are planning to flood the continent with a large amount of narcotics, courtesy of a foreign government…

The cultural impact of Sean Connery’s appearance on the big screen as Agent 007 is hard to underestimate. Within a couple of years, almost every square-jawed handsome leading man in Europe was running around the continent with a gun in one hand and a blonde in the other. But, as well as the more obvious cheap ‘Bond’ knock-offs, it helped to resurrect another movie archetype; the mysterious villain with the secret identity. But, this time, instead of simply fulfilling the role of the hero’s antagonist in American movie serials, European filmmakers put him front and centre as the main character.

This all began back in France in 1911 with master of disguise ‘Fantômas’ but really took off in the early 1960s due to Italian comic book character ‘Diabolik’ who was so successful that he birthed a whole sub-genre of the form called ’Fumetti neri’ (‘black comics’). These featured similar villains like Kriminal, Killing and Satanik, as well as lots of graphic sex and violence. The edgy content helped to make them hugely popular, but led to public outrage in some quarters and eventual legal proceedings! Anyway, it was probably no coincidence that the first Diabolik story hit newsstands in the same year that ‘Dr. No’ (1962) came out. One of the lesser examples of this merry band of master villains was gentleman thief Mister-X, created by Cesare Melloncelli and artist Giancarlo Tenenti in 1964. Like most of the others, a movie adaptation was inevitable.

Mister-X:Avenger X (1967)

‘Do you know where we are? I can’t see a bloody thing…’

For a change, there’s a refreshing lack of back-story about Mister-X (Norman Clark: real name Pier Paolo Capponi). All we know is that he’s a notorious criminal, whose skill with the makeup box is such that no-one in authority knows his face. He’s apparently in a monogamous relationship with it-girl Gaia Germani and still on the radar of Inspector Rooux (Franco Fantasia), even though the policeman seems to have retired.

We never get any details of his past brushes with the law so we have no opportunity to form an early opinion as to his moral code and likely behaviour. One thing we find out early, though; he won’t play the patsy for anyone. Oh, and out of costume, he’s a world champion professional golfer! Making the mistake of trying to put Cappponi in the frame is international businessman (and drug dealing kingpin) Armando Calvo, whose busy hatching a once in a lifetime deal with mobsters Umberto Raho (apparently British) and Renato Baldini (apparently American).

What follows is a series of half-baked action set pieces with a smattering of gadgets, a fair amount of gun play and little in the way of fight choreography or stunt work. lt’s a pity as the film opens with a pretty good credit sequence featuring lots of colourful comic book panels, which raise expectations for a fast-paced, stylish thriller with a cool 1960s vibe. Sadly, it appears director Donald Murray (real name Piero Vivarelli) had only limited resources at his disposal, and we’re left with a rather flat and uninvolving adventure that often appears to be little more than a standard crime picture with a comic book character attached. Vivarelli had better luck-with the more inventive ‘Satanik’ (1968), but that project still suffered from some of the same shortcomings.

With a distinct lack of action, we’re thrown back on the cast to provide what entertainment there is and they do a decent job. Capponi is not over-blessed with screen presence, but it’s nice to see him injecting the character with a pleasingly ruthless edge to counterbalance the general smarm offensive. Germani rocks a series of funky 60’s outfits (there’s one hat in particular which is an absolute triumph!) and provides a similar blend of cuteness with a good left hook.

Mister-X:Avenger X (1967)

Can’t you hurry ? I’ve got another dozen films to be in before the end of the year.’

Appearing in the rather thankless role of Calvo’s main squeeze is the statuesque Helga Liné, who makes the most of what she’s given to work with here, even though it’s precious little. She was probably the hardest working actor in Europe in the 1960s and early 1970s, running up an impressive list of credits, which include the similar ‘Kriminal’ (1966) and its sequel, Spaghetti Westerns, Eurospys, Giallo thrillers and several horror pictures with the likes of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Paul Naschy and Barbara Steele.

Unfortunately, the film isn’t helped by a seriously careless English dub track. The dialogue is exceptionally banal, zero effort is made to match it to the actor’s mouth movements and Raho’s gangster sounds as if he comes from a strange place located somewhere vaguely between the Scottish Highlands and the banks of the Emerald Isle.

An adequate time passer if you’re interested in the genre, but it’s probably best to keep your expectations fairly low.