ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970) Blu Ray (Arrow)
Intrigue and sado-masochism
Dagmar Lassander plays Minou, the beautiful and loyal wife of businessman Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi). One evening, while she is awaiting his return from a business trip in Munich, she decides to go out for a walk. However, as she strolls around the docks, she is assailed by a mysterious sex maniac (Simón Andreu) who wields a cane with a retractable blade. He pins her to the ground and uses the implement to rip open her dress. During this ordeal, he claims that her husband is a murderer. After a while, he abruptly leaves the scene.
Following Peter’s return, Minou hears the news that one of his associates has died after rapid decompression following a dive. Peter then remarks that this occurrence is something of a blessing in disguise since he was due to repay a large business loan to the latter - a statement which makes Minou begin to believe that her attacker’s claim was right.
One night, she suddenly receives a phone call from the pest, who plays her a tape recording which seemingly provides evidence that her husband did indeed contrive the other man’s death. Furthermore, he tells her to meet him at his flat the following day, otherwise the recording will be passed on to the police. This results in her becoming embroiled in a forced sadomasochistic relationship with the man - and a twist-filled tale of intrigue where she begins to doubt her own sanity.
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Giallo with less murdering
As with the later Footprints on the Moon (1975) and The Pyjama Girl Case (1978), Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is one of those 1970s Italian mystery thrillers which has inexorably come to be lumped in with the giallo cycle, despite the fact that it doesn’t really fit into the stereotypical template i.e. that of emphasising hyperreal depictions of brutal murders. Okay, so it does tip its hat in that direction by featuring a few stalking/peril scenes involving an antagonist who possesses his own signature murder weapon. However, he only uses it for intimidation rather than actual murder. The story features just three deaths in total, one of which is only referred to in conversation rather than shown, while the other two occur in rapid succession during the climactic sequence.
Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion could, more accurately, be categorised as a psychological thriller with a mild erotic angle. As such, while it’s a decent enough time-killer, viewers with a fair amount of experience in movies of this ilk will doubtless be able to see the “surprise” plot twists coming from some distance away. To be fair, part of their overfamiliarity may derive from the fact that screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi pretty much recycled the same storyline and characters (albeit with a few extra bloody murders thrown in) in the somewhat better-known The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh which was released during the following year. Nonetheless, since the revelations are basically variants on well-established tropes from classics like Gaslight (1944) and Les Diaboliques (1955), they probably wouldn’t have been all that startling even back in 1970.
Added to this, the script’s sexual politics are hardly progressive by any stretch of the imagination. Minou remains doggedly loyal to her husband despite the implication that he may have committed murder. She also repeatedly provides a creep who blackmails her with various sexual services, albeit to significant personal discomfort on her part.
Still, the film manages to offset these shortcomings due to its abundant audio-visual flair. There is some neat storytelling, such as a bit of first-person narrative at the start which helps to lend some much-needed depth to Minou’s standard imperilled wife character. There are occasional interesting editing choices, including an overhead shot of a woman imagining committing suicide by falling into the sea segueing effortlessly into another where a sugar cube is dropped into a cup of tea. Alejandro Ulloa’s cinematography makes inspired use of colour and composition. The 1970s decor is suitably wild, especially the sex maniac’s flat with the devil statue and all of those porcelain disembodied hands and faces. Ennio Morricone’s score cements the overall dreamlike atmosphere via eclectic cues ranging from atmospheric female crooning to nightmarish clock chimes.
The other element of note here is the red-headed German-Czech actress Dagmar Lassander, who became an Italian genre cinema icon due to her roles in such cult favourites as Piero Schivazappa’s The Frightened Woman (1969), Mario Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970) and this one. As with fellow Euro scream queen Edwige Fenech, she combines a precious physical beauty with undeniably solid acting chops. It’s a pity that (unlike in the subversively eccentric cult favourite The Frightened Woman) she has been saddled with such a thankless part but, nonetheless, she does her best with what she has been given to work with.
Runtime: 96 mins
Dir: Luciano Ercoli
Script: Ernesto Gastaldi, Mahnahén Velasco
Starring: Dagmar Lassander, Pier Paolo Capponi, Simón Andreu, Osvaldo Genazzani, Nieves Navarro
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
Arrow’s disc really plays to the film’s strengths. The restored Technicolor colours are retina-searingly beautiful, the image sharp and clean. The sound is equally impressive; Ennio Morricone’s score is fantastically resonant in this lossless mono presentation.
Audio Commentary by Kat Ellinger
Kat Ellinger, the author of All the Colors of Sergio Martino and editor of Diabolique Magazine, gives us yet another great, genre-literate commentary. Unlike some Italian cinema buffs, she is quite happy to classify Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion as a giallo, albeit of an early variety known as the “f-giallo” or “female giallo”. As the name suggests, this particular subgenre focuses on female protagonists and generally revolves around psychological and sexual aspects rather than bloodletting. She also points out that these films were generally aimed at working-class Italian audiences who, at that time, harboured seething resentments towards the social elite. To this end, the characters in this film (and others of its ilk) tend to come from a decent, shallow and greedy affluent class.
Ellinger also looks at the various talents involved in the making of the film. While it was Luciano Ercoli’s first film as director, he had enough experience under his belt as both a producer and assistant director that he evidently knew what he was doing. Nieves Navarro (who, credited under her anglicised pseudonym Susan Scott, plays Minou’s wily female friend in the film) was Ercoli’s wife. This being Italian cinema, she frequently received choice roles in his productions.
This 44-minute documentary contains interview footage from 2012 with director Luciano Ercoli and actress Nieves Navarro, plus some brand new material with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. According to Gastaldi (who fully admits that he was inspired by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic Les Diaboliques). Navarro recalls that lead actress Dagmar Lassander was loud and good-humoured, quite the opposite of the mousy, serious character which she plays in the film. She also mentions that most of the cast and crew went out and had a good time after filming with the notable exception of Pier Paolo Capponi, who tended to keep himself to himself.
Ercoli talks a bit about the conundrums of Italian-Spanish co-production funding. While the agreement necessitated that it had to be filmed in both countries, everything was shot on location in Catalonia because it was cheaper to do so. However, Ercoli pretended that some scenes were shot at Italian studios. By the same token, while assistant director Mahnahén Velasco was credited as a co-writer alongside Gastaldi, he never really had any involvement with the script. His name was added in order to fill up the necessary quota of Spanish credits.
Towards the end, they also briefly discuss working in cinema under the Franco regime which ran Spain at the time. Ercoli and Navarro maintain that the dictatorship never caused them any issues when working in the film industry. However, the latter also describes how she viewed him as “the father of the Spanish people” and just accepted that you had to follow his rules.
The Forbidden Soundtrack of the Big Three
An engrossing, brand new 47-minute interview with DJ and cult film writer Lovely Jon, who talks in depth about the film’s soundtrack and its effective use in various scenes. He also looks at the musical trinity of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and Alessandro De Rosa who created a vast number of scores over the years. Apparently, their workload was such that they used to have beds in the studio and rarely saw their families. While Morricone was always the credited composer, Jon notes that Bruno Nicolai and Alessandro De Rosa were great unsung talents in themselves who brought just as much to the table. Indeed, in some cases, Morricone’s actual contribution was fairly minimal.
Later on, he also takes a dig at an old BBC documentary which jumped from Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) to The Mission (1986) and dismissed his work between these two films as “his wilderness years”. However, this was from a time when critics came from strict academic backgrounds and tended to regard horror, giallo and many other Italian genre cycles as trash.
The Forbidden Lady
It’s another lengthy extra (44 minutes) featuring a recording of a Q & A with Dagmar Lassander at the 2016 Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester. She takes the opportunity to discuss her work on the various cult favourites which she appeared in. Arguably the most memorable bit here is when she described an on-set accident which occurred during the filming of Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat (1981). She almost got burnt to death for real after a set wall fell on her when she was performing the scene. Luckily, there were firemen on hand who pulled her out in time.
Trailers, an image gallery and a collector’s booklet round out the extras.
Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion might disappoint some giallo fans due to its low death quotient. However, wider Italian genre cinema fans will enjoy its sense of style, even if they remain underwhelmed by its predictable mystery plot. It has been presented in a beautiful print with a solid package of extras.