Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Forbidden Photographs of a Lady Above Suspicion

The Forbidden Photographs of a Lady Above Suspicion
Original Title: Le foto prohibite di una signora per bene

Directed by: Luciano Ercoli

Giallo, 1970

Italy, 96 min

Distributed by: Blue Underground

A young woman, Minou is lured into a fiendish web of blackmail and extortion as she tries to protect her husband. Slowly but surely she is tangled up in a terrible game which forces her to engage in lurid sexual activity while the Blackmailer shoots photographs of her. When she finally tells her husband all, and they together with the police breakdown the door to the sex fiends’ apartment, it is empty and Minou’s sanity is questioned. But guess who shows up outside their house in the middle of the night in the pouring rain… The Blackmailer. Minou confronts him and the horrific truth is finally revealed in a plot twist that you never saw coming…
…if you never saw a Giallo before that is.

Me: Luciano Ercoli’s first attempt at directing a Giallo proves that you don’t need a bunch of violent killings to keep the story going. All you need is to delicately plant your red herrings here and there along the way to keep your audience guessing where the movie is going. The Forbidden Photographs of a Lady Above Suspicion is a great example of this, and although it’s not my favorite of Ercoli’s Gialli, I found it to be a damned fine and entertaining movie.

Having produced a few dramas, some comedies and three movies for among others
Duccio Tessari [both his Ringo Spaghetti Westerns and the action/comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang from 1966 ] it is no surprise that Luciano Ercoli wanted to get himself behind the camera and direct a few movies. And you have to give it to the man, of the eight movies he did direct, there are at least half of them really fabulous genre pieces.

The absurd ending to
Ercoli’s career is as enigmatic and strange as the Gialli he directed. His final movie, the Poliziotteschi The Rip Off [La Bidonata 1977] was shelved after the producer Niccolo De Nora was kidnapped! De Nora was held captive for an amazing 524 days, and the ransom was supposedly well over four million. Not long after Ercoli came into a large inheritance, packed up his offices and retired from the movie industry. With a mind filled of red herrings and warped plots makes it easy to fantasize about the strange events and their conclusions. Ercoli obviously had nothing to do with the kidnapping, but it’s a fantastic story. Thanks to the age of restored movies on DVD, Ercoli’s The Rip Off, just like Mario Bava’s last shelved project, Rabid Dogs has finally been able to be presented to it's audience.

Often critiqued for his Gialli first and foremost being vehicle for his girlfriend (or wife, nobody knows for sure)
Nieves Navarro aka Susan Scott, I still can’t help to find myself feeling that there is indeed more to these movies in Ercoli’s Giallo suite than just showcasing his fabulous wife. Navarro was a decent enough actress even before Ercoli started directing his own movies, and in some way that kind of diminishes the craft that the rest of the crew put into these pieces. I can certainly understand that one may like to claim that Ercoli only made the movies to show off his marvelous partner, but in all honestly there’s no way they could assemble the casts and crew if that where the case.

All three of the Gialli,
The Forbidden Photographs of a Lady Above Suspicion 1970, Death Walks on High Heels 1971 and Death Walks at Midnight 1972, where all written by the master of the genre, Ernesto Gastaldi (Midnight was co-written by the great Sergio Corbucci). And, The Forbidden Photographs of a Lady Above Suspicion is a great script which definitely has an engaging narrative, wonderful plot twists, even if there are no genre typical killings. It builds empathy for Dagmar Lassander's Minou character as she is lured deeper and deeper into a sinister blackmail scheme set to force her into bed with the stalker. Friend and ally Dominique, played to perfection by Nieves Navarro (as Susan Scott) uses her emancipation to trick the viewers into never quite knowing who’s side she is on, is she really concerned for Minou or is she in cohorts with the blackmailer. The sleazy Blackmailer played by Simón Andreu is excellent, (Andreu returned in all three of the Giallo movies) and Minou’s husband Peter [Pier Paolo Capponi – no stranger to the Giallo genre or the Nunsploitation genre for that part…] once again prove that in an Italian Gialli you can’t trust any man at all, unless it’s the old reliable police commissioner of course. The shock surprise end doesn’t really come as a bombshell after seeing a reasonable amount of movies in the Giallo niche, but at the same time it doesn’t really take all that much away from the story as the final twist is held for an as late as possible reveal, and there’s plenty of red herrings along the way to keep you guessing who masterminded the plan against Minou. It’s pretty common Gialli ground, and entertaining enough to keep the steam going all the way through.

The editing on both
Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight was performed by Angelo Curi. Ercoli himself edited The Forbidden Photographs of a Lady Above Suspicion, with Curi as his assistant, and Curi stayed on as first editor on all the films Ercoli directed from there on. The Cinematography by Alejandro Ulloa on The Forbidden Photographs of a Lady Above Suspicion is probably the simplest of the three Gialli, but brooding sinister reds and deep dark blues create some wonderfully lit scenes. Fernando Arribas on the other hand used the frame much better on Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight, setting the camera at low angles and using wide lenses for some really delicious shots that can’t be found in The Forbidden Photographs of a Lady Above Suspicion.

Then there’s the soundtrack.
Ennio Morricone’s score for The Forbidden Photographs of a Lady Above Suspicion is standard Morricone fare, which is easily summed up in the word fantastic. The music of Morricone does wonders to add to the lush feeling of the Gialli and this one is no exception.

Finally a small reflection on the actors, I’ve never been much of a fan of
Dagmar Lassander. She has the same two, three facial expressions in her repertoire and never does much to surprise. (With perhaps Piero Schivazappa’s The Frightened Woman being the exception) and there’s not really any surprises here either, she just get’s the job done. Navarro is almost always fabulous as she constantly wears clothes that look dazzling on her (contrary to Lassander who looks like she got makeup and dressed in the dark), perfect makeup and that stunning smile. I think that if Ercoli had flipped the parts here, had Navarro in the Lassander part, put in Anita Strindberg, Edwige Fenech or Marisa Mell in that ferocious part I'm positive that the movie would have become a classic of the genre. Not taking anything away from The Forbidden Photographs of a Lady Above Suspicion, it is a great movie, and it really keeps you trying to figure out who is in on the scam and how far they are going to go with it. But a re-shuffle of the cast would have been beneficial. This could possibly have been in the mind of Ercoli too, as this is exactly what he did with the next two installments of his Gialli suite, giving Navarro the lead, Andreau the male lead, and probably what ignited that reputation of his movies only being a vehicle for Navarro. But if you are married to a woman like that you’d be insane not to have her lead your movie.

One of the things that intrigues me about
The Forbidden Photographs of a Lady Above Suspicion is that the opening sequence is terrible! The movie opens on Lassander in the bath, she gets out and ponders around her house talking to herself how she’s going to seduce Peter when he get’s back from work. Not until she gets outside and Andreau starts stalking her on the beach does it start to pick up pace. But that opening is just so ridiculous, and it would have been much better to start with her on the beach, roll the credits over shots of her walking and then start straight off with the attack instead of that meaningless five minute blotch at the start.

Widescreen, 2.35:1 [16x9 Anamorphic]

English Dubbed version. Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. No subtitles.
Forbidden Screenplays. A short interview with Ernesto Gastaldi on the script and movie and the Theatrical Trailer.

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