If a giallo has a tight script, logical action, and decent acting, Judge Paul Corupe wonders if it should still be classified a giallo.
Le Foto proibite di una signora per bene
Blue Underground has been one the leading DVD outfits devoted to uncovering the hidden giallo gems of Italian cinema. Their latest four releases, The Black Belly of the Tarantula, The Fifth Cord, The Pyjama Girl Case, and this film, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, pick up where their earlier box set, The Giallo Collection Vol. 1, left off. Thanks to a steady stream of DVD releases like these, sexy Italian thrillers have emerged from obscurity to take the a prominent place in Euro-cult fandom and horror cinema in general, and The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is another interesting contribution to this stylish legacy.
Facts of the Case
The beautiful Minou (Dagmar Lassander, Hatchet for the Honeymoon) leads a charmed life with her husband Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi, Cat O' Nine Tails). But when a knife-wielding photographer (Simon Andreu, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) approaches her and says he has evidence that the financially-strapped Peter has killed a business partner, Minou's world is thrown into turmoil. With counsel from her sexpot friend Dominique (Susan Scott, All the Colors of the Dark), Minou tries to buy the an incriminating cassette tape from the man, but he's only interested in tying her to his bed and violently making love to her. Even though she finally submits to his carnal desires, her torment is far from over-the man has taken photographs of the tryst, and proceeds to blackmail her even further. When she breaks down and tells her husband, the police can find no trace of the man, and Minou worries she may be going insane.
Producer-turned-director Luciano Ercoli only directed a fistful of gialli: this film, plus the later Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight (recently collected on NoShame's superlative The Luciano Ercoli Death Box Set). Yet his unique style looms large in the Italian thriller genre. Unlike some of the more sadistic and sleazy gialli which seem to exist only to fetishize the act of murder itself with a complete disregard for story or logic, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is a well-plotted film that makes excellent use of intense imagery anchored by a tightly-wound plot.
Purists would probably disagree that The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion should even be classified as a giallo, at least as we have come to understand them today. Though the film features a constantly winding path of blackmail, torture, and hidden motives, it still notably departs from the expected formula. Most importantly, this thriller is carefully and logically scripted, a nice change from the many nonsensical, visuals-obsessed gialli which seem to dominate the genre. Though it's not among the famed Italian screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi's best work, with the final few twists easily sussed out by experienced viewers, it's still nicely paced, and leads up to an appropriately tense finale which finally (if predictably) pits a terrified Minou against her blackmailer. The film eschews much of the nudity and violence that has become synonymous with the giallo. Even the scenes of torture, which a weaker giallo would be entirely scripted around, are kept rather demure, with far more brutality implied than ever seen.
It works incredibly well as a perilous thriller, though. Susan Scott, perhaps better known as Mrs. Luciano Ercoli, starred in her husband's next two films. Here she's cast merely as a supporting player, a bisexual temptress with a fetish for pornographic snapshots; quite different from the heroines she would play later. Instead, Dagmar Lassander is the put-upon titular housewife, who spends most of The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion downing a steady diet of pills and booze, though she carries off the role even if she doesn't quite look the part. The villainous Simon Andreu, who was featured alongside Scott in both Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight is again fantastic as the kinky photographer who wants to turn Minou into his own personal love doll.
The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is handsomely captured by cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa. Though it's not as striking as the cinematography on Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight by Fernando Arribas, there are several dynamic compositions of note, with characters framed by modular Italian interior designs, and in one case, by a the jagged edges of a broken window. This is complimented by Ennio Morricone's wonderful score, a soundtrack full of jazzy Italian pop that presents a lesser-known side of the composer.
No surprise here: Blue Underground has outfitted The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion with a sharp, vibrant 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Colors are strong and deep, and the images pop right off the screen. The only sound option is a mono English track, so forget about catching this one in its original language. It's a fine dub, though, and both the dialogue and the soundtrack are crystal clear. Besides the expected trailer, the only extra feature is a nine-minute interview with writer Ernesto Gastaldi, who talks about working with many of the giants of Italian genre cinema, and reveals that he doesn't know if elusive director Luciano Ercoli is still alive! It's a good supplement, even if this brief set of features is not up to the big Blue's usual generous specs.
Ercoli's directorial debut isn't his best film, and it may not satisfy hardcore giallo fans, but I consider it a fine (if somewhat restrained) spaghetti thriller that is certainly worth a watch.
This film is not above suspicion, but it is free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
• Forbidden Screenplays: Interview with Co-Writer Ernesto Gastaldi
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