Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The sexy slasher mysteries known as Giallos that officially began with Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage more or less supplanted the Spaghetti western as the popular Italian genre for the 1970s. This sex-oriented suspense thriller is atypical in that it deals not with a serial killer but a "female in distress" situation. Working in its favor are a glossy visual surface and a slick Ennio Morricone music score.
Trendy housewife Minou (Dagmar Lassander) is upset that her husband Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi) is growing more distant. Then she is stalked by a dangerous but attractive young man (Simón Andreu) with a spiked cane, who tells her that her husband is a murderer. News reports and a visit to her husband's business deepen Minou's suspicions, but she keeps them to herself. The blackmailer returns, and in a humiliating session uses a compromising audio recording of Peter to extort sex from Minou. She turns to her best friend Dominique (Nieves Navarro, a.k.a. Susan Scott), a libertine who may know more about the plot against Minou than she lets on. The blackmailer's only goal seems to be to force Minou into sexual slavery, and the poor woman doesn't know where to turn.
The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is a passable thriller that uses threats of violence and a constant flow of provocative scenes to keep its audience from boredom; for a movie fixated on a sexy woman in peril, it never really tries to be anything but a mechanical who-dunnit. Giallos seem to alternate between slasher films and sexy murder mysteries; the slashers invite us to watch black-gloved maniacs torturing and killing in 'creative' ways, and mysteries such as this one plunge characters into bizarre plots full of macabre twists and turns.
Or at least they try to. Forbidden Photos looks and sounds great, with attractive settings and cinematography. But its unconvincing sexual blackmail story isn't engaging, and we keep watching mainly to find out if there are going to be any surprises. There really aren't.
This was a first directing job from Luciano Ercoli, a producer of mid-range Spaghetti westerns. The inconsistent script is by the veteran Italo screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. Excess dialogue spells out every step of the non-mystery, and additional voiceovers are added in case our attention wanders. The forbidden photos of the title are a pornography collection owned by the ambivalent Dominique, a single swinger obsessed with sex. She's presented as a 'naughty' red herring and we suspect her immediately. The average Giallo takes a conservative view of females who enjoy promiscuous sex -- if they aren't punished as victims, they often surprise us by turning out to be depraved killers.
Our heroine Minou is a thoroughly confused housewife. Her dominating husband tells her nothing and expects instant obedience in all things. Minou allows a blackmailer to take outrageous advantage of her with only a rough audio recording "proving" that her husband has murdered a business associate. If Minou thinks Peter is innocent, why does she let the blackmailer humiliate her? If she thinks her husband is guilty, why is she protecting him? The movie indulges the fantasy that the "nice" housewife can be forced to have consentual sex with another man. She claims she hates it, but we can see that she's obviously in rapture. The film is an infantile rape fantasy.
The rest of the complicated plot uses murder mystery clichés to drive poor Minou to near-madness. A corroborating photo that could prove that the blackmailer is real suddenly disappears. Minou leads the police commissioner (Osvaldo Genazzani) to the blackmailer's lair, only to find that it's been emptied of furniture. Dominique refuses to back up Minou's story about the blackmailer showing up in a pornographic photograph. Faced with mounting evidence of her insanity, Minou takes too many tranquilizers and suffers a nervous collapse. Writer Gastaldi had better luck with unstable females in his horror work, such as Riccardo Freda's The Horrible Dr. Hichcock.
All the time and effort in The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion seems to have lavished on the attractive camerawork and the smartly designed interior sets. The female leads concentrate mostly on looking good in their mod fashions. Fresh from Mario Bava's Hatchet for the Honeymoon, the beautiful Dagmar Lassander maintains a constant vacant expression. Susan Scott repeatedly declares her interest in sex, which boils down to a few wanton smiles. Perhaps the biggest factor keeping the characters from coming alive is the dubbed English audio. The actresses' voices sound especially "canned."
Blue Underground's DVD of The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is another of their fine presentations of an obscure horror title. Alejandro Ulloa's cinematography has rich, saturated colors and warm flesh tones that remind us of original Technicolor prints. Ennio Morricone's attractive score was conducted by Bruno Nicolai and features the singing of Edda Dell'Orso.
There are two added value extras. The first is director David Gregory's slickly-edited 9-minute interview documentary with Ernesto Gastaldi, the writer of dozens of classic Italo horror films and quirky giallos. He states that his directors didn't want artfully written scripts and that most every reasonably competent movie did well at the Italian box office. Gastaldi reminisces about getting started with director Renato Polselli and tells us that Riccardo Freda rendered the story of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock incomprehensible by eliminating ten pages of explanatory dialogue. He then laughs, adding that the Freda film probably became a cult classic for that very reason. Eliminating a reel of dull psychological explanations might have helped The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion as well.
An attractive and talky trailer rounds out the attractive package, which boasts provocative cover artwork
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion rates:
Movie: Fair +
Supplements: Trailer, interview featurette with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 8, 2006
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2006 Glenn Erickson
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