Tuesday, May 04, 2010

So Sweet… So Perverse

So Sweet… So Perverse
Original title: Così dolce… così perversa
Directed by: Umberto Lenzi
Italy/France/West Germany, 1969
Thriller, 88min

For each Umberto Lenzi interview I see in documentaries, supplement material or on stuff like Mike Baronas' excellent Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered Vol1, I get the feeling that he’s becoming (or perhaps is already) something of a Gene Simmons of the Italian genre-flick scene. There’s an ”I invented that, I was first” “I’m the prime innovator” tone to him – not that I’m going to argue him – it’s just that I’m always amused by people who claim to have invented, shaped and broke the mould for so many various areas. Just like Gene Simmons, who still to this day can’t see that the hard metal he thinks they invented was only makeup and disco at it’s worst.

Never the less, where Kiss music is complete tripe and could possibly only appeal to ten year old kids who didn’t have their own identity during the seventies and never once interested me no matter how hard I tried to see what’s supposedly so great about them, Umberto Lenzi did indeed stand amongst the forerunners of Italian genre cinema, and on many occasions did try out new terrain. It’s ironic that he’s so strongly associated to those gut munchers and tacky zombie flicks (not that there’s anything wrong with them) because I still seem to find myself becoming more and more impressed by his Gialli, and has a hard time forgiving myself for never quite taking the time to check out these impressive pieces back in the day.

But back in the day meant waiting almost a month for Greek Ex-rentals to fall through the letterbox, or gambling with Dutch imports or trading umpteenth generation copies with your mates and rarely stretching far enough to find these rare delights, but sticking close to the good old gut munchers and gore fests that initially drew me into the world of Italian genre cinema. Thank god for DVD and Internet traders, making all these fascinating films available in excellent or at least something that resonates as third-generation VHS dupes once again. It’s a thrill to settle down on the couch and get into a piece of forty-year-old Italian cinema for the first time.
Like many of the titles that get sold off as Gialli, Umberto Lenzi’s So Sweet... So Perverse is unquestionably not a Giallo. And even though is has a great title, it’s neither sweet nor perverse. But it is a pretty entertaining little movie that stays safely inside the thriller sphere and comes off more like an extended twist on the Boileau-Narcejac novel Celle qui n’était plus (The Woman who Was). Yes just like Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterpiece Les Diaboliques 1955 and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo 1958 and many, many more. Which makes Jean-Louis Trintignant’s choice of doing this movie odd as he’d starred in Giulio Questi’s La morte ha fatto l’uovo (Death Laid an Egg) 1968, a movie which plays of the exact same premise, just the year before. A movie that just like So Sweet… So Perverse adds a fair amount of the Italian seasoning that story which the original lacks.

Jean Reynaud [Trintignant] is a player kind of bloke who runs a chemical plant – but jus like most other movies of this kind, he never actually works – instead he spends time between his many mistresses and his depressed wife Danielle [Erika Blanc]. On several occasions he hears strange sounds from the apartment above his and Danielle’s. He also see’s a blonde woman rushing to the elevator and taking it up to that flat above theirs, but she’s dropped a piece of jewellery. One night he hears a woman screaming and goes up to investigate; finding blood outside the door he uses the key the previous tenant has left him. Inside he first finds a series of instruments, well knives, handcuffs and a good old cat o’nine tails that obviously make up someone’s kinky fetish, before surprising Nicole [Caroll Baker in her second of four movies directed by Lenzi] She tells him a sad tale of despair and how photographer Klaus [Horst Frank] holds her as a sadistic sex toy ever since raping and tormenting her during a photo shoot years ago. All shown in a great boldly coloured surreal flashback. Jean, being stupendously gullible falls head over heels in love with her and they take off for a few days to get Nicole away from the fiendish Klaus.

But their love escapade quickly goes sour when Nicole during a moment of serenity decides to spill the beans and reveals that she’s merely bait in a sinister plan to lure Jean into an affair with her and then kill him. Her former lover Klaus has been paid 25.000 to get rid of Jean, but she has no idea of who paid the killer. Jean comforts her and says that he lays no blame on her. Later that night in the one scene that has any Gialli quality to it Klaus wanders the flat, flips the switches on the power and tries to kills Nicole. Returning home, Jean tells his wife Danielle that he wants’ a divorce as Nicole is the one he really loves, at the same time he’s interrupted by a desperate phone call from Nicole who claims to have proof of who wants’ Jean dead.

Jean waits until midnight and then goes upstairs to Nicole’s flat only to find Klaus waiting for him. A fight starts that even wakens Danielle, who obviously also goes up to the flat and get’s there just in time to see what looks like Klaus knifing Jean.

So with Jean presumably dead and his body disposed of, the plot tightens, and even Danielle receives some wonderfully stylish death threats which all seem to be coming from Jean! There’s the Boileau-Narcejac novel coming back to make itself reminded. Danielle the wife is left to inherit nothing as Jean decided to leave it all to his new mistress Nicole. But as there’s still a third of the movie left, there’s a snag, and Klaus wants’ more money not to expose their deadly liaison.

From there on though it takes off in a complexly new direction, which isn’t part of the original source, but unfortunately not original enough to break new ground. You will find that you are triggered to solve the plot and figure out who’s playing whom for the wealth of Jean Reynaud, as it could be anyone of the three suspicious characters behind the fiendish plot. But that’s about it and when the climax has been reached it’s somewhat unsatisfying. Sure there is a decent twist to the end, but as mentioned not one that stands out but one that had already been done before and would be done again.

So why do I say that this isn’t a Giallo? Well first and foremost it holds no traits from that genre, and where there’s no red herrings in the shape of masked murderer or strange characters sneaking around, no cryptic devices or visual keys either, and it becomes more of a classic thriller than anything else. With that said though it’s definitely one of those movies that easily could have become a Gialli and does use a few convention gimmicks such as Trintignant’s snooping around in the first two thirds, which automatically designates him as an amateur sleuth of kinds. But that’s as far as it goes, and like I mentioned above the one single scene to be reminiscent of Gialli is the one with Klaus in the apartment, but Lenzi chooses to reveal that it’s Klaus before one has a real chance of starting to ponder who it may be. If it where to qualify into Giallo territory, he should have kept Klaus hidden and indicated that it might have been Danielle, or someone else who was stalking the couple.

There are several of these small scenes that make me feel that the movie misses the ball on some occasions. The first woman that we see Trintignant in bed with is his “rival” Mr Valmont’s [Giovanni Di Bendetto] wife Helene [Helga Liné], there’s an obvious tension between them, and even in the scenes where Reynaud’s family socializes with the Valmont’s. There’s even a scene where the two men shoot clay pigeons and Mr. Valmont “accidently” fires off a shot that just misses Jean’s head. So in that minor subplot there is a great source of red herring material that I feel is completely unused. They could have easily used one or both the Valmont’s as a possible suspect for wanting Reynaud dead, but unfortunately don’t.

But keep in mind that the Giallo was still not defined in any concrete way at this time, and So Sweet… So Perverse certainly does explore images and lines of narrative that are close to the Giallo. It is a movie that undoubtedly is delicately moving towards the Giallo area, but Lenzi still needed a few years to get all the pieces into place before perfecting his Giallo traits.
The masterful Ernesto Gastaldi wrote his screenplay from a story by producer Luciano Martino and Massimo D’Avak. D’Avak who would together with Francesco Barilli script Aldo Lado’s Chi l’ha vista morire? (Who Saw Her Die?) 1972 and Lenzi’s first cannibal flick Il paese del sesso selvaggio (The Man From Deep River) 1972. Two years later D’Avak and Barilli would write the script to Barilli’s debut feature, Il profumo della signora in nero (The Perfume of a Lady in Black) 1974 at which time the Giallo had found it’s tricks and traits.
Executive producer Sergio Martino may have worked side by side with Ernesto Gastaldi on some great movies previous to this one, but it would be the string of magnificent movies that they would make between 1971-1975 with Martino directing that would be their landmark pieces together. In only a few years the genre had become more firm in its language and most of the classic devices and visuals that So Sweet… So Perverse lacks had become standard.

One of the main things to irritate me with this movie is the opening sequence. It starts off with Ortolani’s great score, this time in its’ theme version with lyrics by Norman Newell who wrote the lyrics to Ortolani’s hit More off Mondo Cane 1962, and sung by J. Vincent Edwards. The tempo is fast, showing Trintignant’s Jean Reynaud driving his yellow car through along the roads of Paris – so once again the movies plot space is shown through the opening credits.

Editor Eugenio Alabiso throws in some random images as the scene moves forth, and this is where I start to question what’s going on, as these seemingly random images – the hunting rifle in the back seat and a close up on Helene Valmont’s earring – and having seen a couple of these vehicles, you know that there’s always indicators and referents to important stuff being flashed at the audience every now and then… but these things have absolutely nothing to do with the movie or it’s plot! It’s irritating as it instead leads thoughts off on a trail that never is intended, and possibly another reason why I feel that the Valmont's are underused too...

And what about that Riz Ortolani score? Well it’s a real wonderful piece, especially the suave and lush croonery vocal version, but unfortunately the rest is mostly a variation on the theme that returns in various forms. The track Why? is so lush that Lenzi reused it three years later in the movie which may possibly be his best Gialli of them all, Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso (Seven Bloodstained Orchids) 1972. Never the less it’s once again a testament to the great Ortolani who sadly still hasn’t really received the recognition he should be having. Where Morricone still can pack the likes of the Royal Albert Hall in London, UK, I’d happily pay money to see Ortolani conduct a full orchestra playing his great scores.

Even though I say that So Sweet… So Perverse isn’t a Gialli, it is an important movie in the evolution of Lenzi’s filmography that lead up to those great Gialli and Poliziotteschi films he made only a few years later. It’s an entertaining piece, that definitely get’s you involved, even though you may be able to foresee where it’s going at an early stages. And despite the fact that it’s more of a thriller than Giallo it’s still a neat piece of stylish cinema that you should check out if you are into Umberto Lenzi’s great movies.

2.35:1 Anamorphic

Mono – English dialogue presumably lifted from separate source as there still is not a widescreen, English language version officially released yet.

None. But instead you get a splendid presentation of the movie, as this is one of those great FanDubs where one enthusiastic genius has taken the audio from one source and used the great widescreen image so that we can all enjoy this film without the shitty cropping that most old video tapes used to present the movies in.

Here's that annoying opening for you, and that grand vocal track by the great Riz Ortolani and Norman Newell featuring J. Vincent Edwards.

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