Starring Dagmar Lassander, Pier Paulo Capponi, Simon Andreu, Susan Scott
Directed by Luciano Ercoli
Distributed by Blue Underground
My second exposure to the giallo sub-genre was a bit more daunting with this flick, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion. Apart from the terrible title, I went into this with a pretty open mind. I’d watched The Black Belly of the Tarantula and rather enjoyed it. But this one was something slightly different. Not being an expert in the genre, I don’t know which is a better example, but I hope it’s not this one.
Dagmar Lassander stars as Minou, the very sexy and devoted wife of Peter (Pier Paulo Capponi). As the film begins, Minou is in the bath and, in a very Bridgette Jones moment, swears off smoking and drinking and taking pills – and yet continues to do so for the remainder of the film. She then proceeds to ready herself for a night out while thinking of several ways to tease her husband by doing silly things like refusing to have sex with him and telling him she’s in love with another man and wants a divorce…presumably to drive him crazy with lust before she lets him have her. Next, as she strolls down the beach in her sexy little outfit (not looking at all like a housewife, despite her earlier musings to the contrary), she’s menaced by a man on a motorcycle, the rather unsettling looking Simon Andreu. He runs her to ground near the docks and tosses her down, using his handy blade-tipped walking stick to further intimidate her (which has to explain why she doesn‘t even attempt to get up and run away as he cuts open her bodice). First he tells her that he will not force her, but that he wants her to beg for his dubious attentions, then goes on to say her beloved Peter is a fraud and a murderer and that she’ll soon learn the truth, before abruptly leaving her alone.
Instead of calling the police – who according to Minou only make you fill out forms – she calls her husband from a local bar and has him come to her rescue at what is apparently a weekend home. She patiently waits for him of course – her nearly slavish obedience to the male gender further underlined as one of the two patrons of the bar, a complete stranger, tells her to sit down with him and his card-playing buddy…and she DOES! She tells Peter what happened, and naturally, being a loving and devoted husband, he tells her that the chap was most likely just playing around and makes jokes about her putting him out by being attacked. Don‘t miss the line she drops on him about knowing now (after her harrowing experience, one presumes) how much his love means to her, to which he responds in a rather flatly serious tone “Better late than never.” It kind of made me want to kick him in the shins. However, now that the dashing Peter is on the scene to take her home safely, Minou feels safe enough to go out to the local disco in an awful wig and enjoy herself.
While waiting for the erstwhile knight-in-tarnished armor at the aforementioned disco, she runs into her friend Dominique (Nieves Navarro aka Susan Scott from Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, oozing all kinds of sultry sex kitten pheromones). During a game of some kind (who plays cards at a disco?!!?), Minou apparently loses…something. Dominique laughingly tells her not to do anything stupid “like Jean DuBois.” The news that Jean DuBois has committed suicide by drowning himself in the river is apparently significant to Minou, who immediately recalls the menacing man’s words about Peter being a murderer. However, she soon learns that DuBois (a financier) didn’t drown himself or fall in the river by accident either; he was indeed found in bed…dead of an embolism caused by “the bends,” which is how divers refer to the condition that occurs when someone submerged deeply underwater rises too quickly to the surface without decompressing. How the police are able to determine the embolism was caused specifically by that was a bit niggling, but that could just be me. The method of death seems to disturb Minou even more, though why is a mystery. Still, it becomes clear that she does have reason to wonder when Peter mentions that he owed the stiff a good deal of money before his untimely demise. She’s not worried enough to cease her whining about not being able to see him enough and teasing him about going to see Dominque, who is really the only really interesting character so far. She tells Minou to stop worrying about the attack – though she says she’d love being violated – and takes her back to her place to look at artistic but sexy nude photos of herself and pornographic photos from Copenhagen of other people, too. Apparently, this is completely normal – or she’s maybe hitting on Minou – or maybe she used to be Peter’s lover – it’s all pretty unclear.
Amidst the porno pics is one of Minou’s menacing man, which she takes with her (but doesn’t give to the police or anything sensible like that). Slowly – oh god, so slowly – we learn that Peter has something to do with designing some sort of skin-diving apparatus, which includes a decompression chamber at this place of business, used to simulate the effects of deep sea pressure on the suits. Dun-dun-dun! Despite her growing suspicions, Minou continues to beg Peter to confide in her and pours it on honey thick with her constant declarations of everlasting love, making it clear she doesn’t really care if he killed DuBois as long as he TELLS her he killed DuBois. Her menacing man finally pops up again, calling in the middle of the night to play her a recording of her husband and another man presumably having just killed DuBois and coming up with the idea to pass it off as a drowning suicide (by leaving him in his bed???). Minou is blackmailed into rendezvousing with her villain at his creepy apartment. She tries to pay him off, but he demands she sleep with him in return for the tape, which after a small bit of struggle and protests, she does. Of course, that’s not the end of it. Unfortunately. No, now he’s got pictures of her – Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion…natch…wink-wink. He steps up the heat with his menacing as well, though the motive now doesn’t seem to be blackmail. This drives her into a downward spiral. Is Peter really a killer, or did the blackmailer make it all up? Is there something going on between Peter and Dominique? Or between Dominique and Minou? Or is Minou just going crazy? Maybe it’s all the drinking and drugs.
I wish to hell I had gone crazy or had some substance-induced fortitude. Something, anything to make this molasses in January, threadbare story move along more quickly. The only character I could stand at all was Dominique, and her role had woefully little screen time, comparatively. Minou’s simpering, whining, and crying made me wish an embolism on her. Peter is teeth-grittingly irritating. And the blackmailer is just kind of…flat. Or maybe they just come across that way in English since the movie is unfortunately dubbed with no option of listening to it in the original Italian with subtitles. And the dénouement? Don’t even get me started. The ending does, however, get a little more interesting if you watch the 9-minute interview with co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi (who apparently wrote the screenplays for a good number of giallos). He makes a few little comments that make the end of the movie very nearly the most interesting part of the flick, which isn’t hard considering the pap that precedes it. I almost wished I had watched the extras, of which there are two, the interview and a theatrical trailer, first. But be warned: The interview, brief as it is, contains spoilers for the flick.
As a fan of the warmth and often gorgeously artistic composition of Italian cinema, this movie was pleasing. But it’s excruciatingly slow. Though it only clocks in at 93 minutes, it feels twice that; and the lovely ladies, beautiful shots (Minou’s entrance into the blackmailer’s apartment, as she steps through the heavy velvet curtain, is delicious), and vibrant colors are not enough to bring this one up to a watchable level. I suspect this may be a movie only a dyed-in-the-wool fan of giallo would love. For the rest of you, if you want to watch it, my recommendation would be to do so with it muted, and make up your own storyline.
Forbidden Screenplays – Interview with co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi
Discuss The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion in our forums!