ON DVD & BLU-RAY
The Pyjama Girl Case (1977) starring Ray Milland Blu Ray (Arrow)
A corpse found on a beach in Sydney
This Italian-made murder mystery is set in and around the city of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. It was inspired by a real-life crime which took place in the same area in 1934. The film begins as two siblings - a young girl and her older brother - find the hideously burnt corpse of a woman wearing yellow pyjamas inside a wrecked car on a beach. As her face is disfigured beyond recognition, the possibility of the police identifying her - let alone catching her killer - proves to be a significant challenge. A young inspector named Ramsey (Ramiro Oliveros) is officially assigned to the case. However, the retired Timpson (Ray Milland) also takes a particular interest in this incident and decides to pursue it on a voluntary basis.
One main narrative strand of the film follows the investigations and intermittent clashes in working methods between the elderly, more experienced Thompson and the younger Ramsey with his more modern outlook. The other strand focuses on a young woman named Linda (Dalila Di Lazzaro) who works as a waitress on a river cruise boat and spends most of her free time juggling a number of lovers, including Italian immigrant Antonio (Michele Placido), his best friend named Roy Conner (Howard Ross), a wealthy elderly professor named Henry Douglas (Mel Ferrer) and a mysterious girlfriend who is seen in flashback. Inevitably, the two story strands will link up later on. How? Well… watch to find out.
Watch a trailer:
(Loosely) based on a true story
The Pyjama Girl Case is a 1970s Italian-made mystery which has been lumped in with the giallo cycle despite there being relatively few of the typical tropes beyond its country of origin and the fact that the plot involves people being murdered. If there’s one key feature which characterises giallo movies in comparison with other murder mysteries, it’s that the emphasis is placed mainly on the viewer becoming something of a voyeur as various victims are stalked, pursued and brutally killed in a series of protracted setpieces - an aspect which is mostly absent here. The fact that it is loosely based on a real case could, arguably, place it more overtly in the “true crime” subgenre. It should be noted, however, that a number of facts have been conspicuously altered - not least the time period (it has been moved from the 1930s to the then-contemporary 1970s, presumably to save the filmmakers the necessity of splashing out on period props, costumes and vehicles) and a number of details surrounding the murder itself.
What we basically get here is a something of a drawn-out, arty cinematic puzzle which deceives and confounds before gradually coming together in the third act. That said, I’m entirely in two minds about how I’d rate it as a film. It takes a long time for the story to really go anywhere, none of the characters come across as being particularly appealing human beings and its conclusion is pretty downbeat. Near the end, the film does suddenly attempt to lend some sympathy to one particular character (whom I won’t mention for fear of spoiling things) via lots of slow-motion histrionics and heart-pulling string music. However, this moment feels utterly bizarre and jarring because it arrives in such an out-of-the blue-manner when, just a few moments beforehand, we’ve seen the character in question perpetrating a pretty horrific act. There are also a couple of Euro-pop songs composed by Riz Ortolani and sung by Amanda Lear which, to be honest, aren’t that great and certainly don’t warrant being repeated multiple times throughout. All in all, it’s not exactly (for want of a better phrase), an entertaining time at the movies.
On the other hand, the unusual narrative directions which the story takes, particularly during the second half, are rewarding enough to offset sitting through the slightly tedious police investigation stuff leading up to then. It’s also an undeniably good-looking film with some stylish scenes. One of the best is a wordless, chilling sequence where the victim’s body is put on public display in a glass case in the hope that someone may recognise some small physical detail about her - a ploy which elicits an amazing variety of visible reactions from the passing crowd. A flashback to a lesbian relationship manages to be tastefully erotic, the act of a candle being blown out to ensure that the lovers are seen subsequently in silhouette coming across as a particularly neat touch. A later “gang bang” sequence, by contrast, is a singularly queasy and uncomfortable affair which focuses heavily on telling facial expressions and the humid haze of the sunlight radiating through a hotel window. There’s also a hilarious moment where Linda goes on a dinner date with her elderly suitor Henry inside a club filled with wrinkly old ladies who are seen openly staring at this conspicuous May-to-December coupling.
Italians Down Under
The Pyjama Girl Case is particularly worthy of note for being one of the few Italian films to have been filmed, at least partially, in Australia. Great use is made of the locations, with some particularly beautiful shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. However, there is a conspicuous lack of any Australian-accented characters here; everyone here sounds either Italian, English, American, or a fluctuation between two or more of these. Ray Milland, a former Hollywood big name who had long since past his career peak (his Oscar for Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend in 1945), walks away with the acting honours as the crotchety, seasoned old detective who pretty much assigns himself to the case. Mel Ferrer, another fallen Hollywood star who was popping up in quite a few Italian productions around this time, seems to be treating his role as little more than a frivolous paid vacation. Amongst the numerous Euro actors here, Dalila Di Lazzaro is the most impressive as the sultry, yet clearly troubled, central female protagonist. The rest of the cast is pretty much par for the course in Italian genre cinema supporting actor terms, i.e. they pantomime and mouth a few lines of dialogue, allowing the multilingual dubbing teams to do the rest.
If I were to sum up The Pyjama Girl Case, I would say that it is more intriguing than great. It’s strange, baffling, stylish, disturbing, overly slow-paced and populated with characters who are too fundamentally flawed to root for. It probably won’t appeal to people who are looking for a straight-ahead giallo. However, if you enjoyed something like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, then it might well be up your dark alleyway.
Runtime: 102 minutes
Dir: Flavio Mogherini
Script: Flavio Mogherini
Starring: Ray Milland, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Michele Placido, Mel Ferrer, Howard Ross, Ramiro Oliveros, Rod Mullinar
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
This 2K restoration is one of the most visually stunning prints which I have seen in a long time. The skyline shots look particularly stunning here. Some of the dialogue sounds a bit faint but otherwise the restoration does about as much as it can, considering that everything was dubbed in post-production.
Italian genre film buff Troy Howard gives a lively, nerdish commentary about the film. He goes through the respective careers of many members of the cast and crew in tireless detail. Of some curiosity, while the production was partially shot in Australia, the main cast features only one actual Australian citizen: Rod Mullinar. Even he, however, was born in England before emigrating to the country. Howard also talks about the true crime story upon which the film was based. Amazingly, the sequence where we see the murder victim’s body being put on public display was not one of the details fabricated for the film; during the real-life case, the local police took this unprecedented step due to the fact that the unidentified corpse was decomposing at an accelerated rate due to the sheer heat!
Author and critic Michael Mackenzie discusses the inherent internationalism of the Italian giallo genre in this fascinating interview. In order to provide production values comparable to Hollywood, many European films of this period (including giallo) utilised multinational co-production finance deals and tax breaks which made it attractive to shoot in different countries. The advent of international airlines, which made travel more glamorous and accessible, was an aspect which was also worked into the storylines.
Mackenzie also touches upon how the films were packaged and sold in different territories. In English-speaking locations (and sometimes even in domestic markets), Italian and Spanish actors were given Anglicised pseudonyms because it was perceived that they would appear to be more respectable. Characters were dubbed in different languages according to each market and sometimes even given different names. Some of the earlier giallo films were repackaged to fit into the West German krimi cycle when they were released in that country.
In the final third of the interview, Mackenzie talks about how this internationalism manifests itself in The Pyjama Girl Case. Tellingly, most of the main characters in the film are immigrants and the story touches upon their precarious position within a land that is not their own.
A Good Bad Guy
An entertaining 31-minute interview Howard Ross, who is immeasurably more likeable in the flesh than his is in this film and others such as the notorious New York Ripper. He talks about his time working on The Pyjama Girl Case and some of his other films. He also discusses his wider career; he started out as a photographic model and fell into the film business after being spotted, by chance, by Mario Bava when he dived into a river to rescue a young girl from drowning. His first role was in the 1963 mythological adventure Hercules Against the Mongols, a part for which he was required to shave his head. After a spell in the peplum cycle, he briefly moved on to the prevailing spaghetti western trend. The shift was particularly difficult for him because he had to lose 10 kilos to adjust his physique from the more muscular body aesthetic of the former genre to fit in with the slender gunslinger figures of the latter.
He also reveals that, understandably, he isn’t a big fan of the dubbed voices with which he has been saddled on his films. However, the nepotism within the Italian dubbing industry at this time has often prevented him from being able to dub his own lines, despite him often requesting to do so in his contracts.
A Study in Elegance
An interview with Alberto Tagliavia, who worked on nearly all of Morgherini’s films. If you can avoid being too distracted by the fact that it is being conducted in a bar with the Ghostbusters theme playing in the background (!), then his words hold a good deal of interest. He explains that The Pyjama Girl Case was edited three times - the first being as a linear giallo. The final edit relied heavily on a flashback structure and used a few additional newly-shot scenes, thus transforming it into an entirely different film. Tagliavia also reveals that Morgherini had an obsession with elegance and an aversion to the number 13. However, since his lucky number was 17, he referred to the date “Friday the 17th” in all of his films as a sort of in-joke.
Inside the Yellow Pyjama
While we’re at the risk of getting interview fatigue here, assistant director Ferruccio Castronuovo still brings enough of interest to the table. While the film is famed for being the only giallo-type Italian film to have been shot in Australia, a large proportion was filmed in Spain as part of a financing co-production deal. Since British-American actor Ray Milland was then spending part of his time living in the country’s Costa Brava region, he took some film work in the country. Castronuovo also reveals that actor Michele Placido is the great-great-grandson of a famous Italian brigand (having looked this up via a Google search, I can confirm that the historical figure in question went by the name of Carmine Crocco).
The Yellow Rhythm
Riz Ortolani, who created the film’s love-it-or-hate-it musical score, discusses his career. His actual given name is Rizziero but it became abbreviated to Riz once he started working with Italy’s national broadcaster RAI. However, he admits that he prefers his original name because his nickname sounds like a famous hotel! He once played at Italian Communist Party gatherings but hated their behaviour so much that he always did so while sitting facing the wall.
He looks at some of the many movies which he scored, briefly discussing his work in Hollywood (we see a photo of him with Robert Redford) as well as the controversial Mondo Cane and Cannibal Holocaust. He also discusses the time when he discovered that the Chemical Brothers had used part of his soundtrack for the 1975 film Paolo Barca, Schoolteacher and Weekend Nudist for the 2007 song We Are the Night.
The other extras here are an image gallery, Italian theatrical trailer, reversible sleeve and collector’s booklet.
This Italian genre oddity won’t appeal to everyone. However, it’s undeniable that we get yet another superb-looking print from Arrow and a lengthy set of extras, most of which are new and exclusive to this release.