5/17/09

Tomb of Forgotten Film: Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970)

What do you get when you have an Italian movie featuring beautiful women, intrigue, and a title that runs between seven and ten words? A giallo of course and nothing whets my appetite for an Italian thriller more than a title that could double as a tongue twister. So when I saw the title of tonight’s film, I knew I had to give it a look. And who wouldn’t want to look at….
The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion [Italian: Le photo proibite di una signora per bene] (1970) starring Dagmar Lassander, Peir Paolo Capponi, Simon Andreu, and Nieves Navarro. Directed by Luciano Ercoli. 

While taking a walk on the beach, Minou (Lassander) is hounded by a man on a motorcycle. He corners her and she thinks he intends to rape her. He cuts open the front of her dress, but stops short, telling her that her husband, Peter (Capponi) is a murderer and a fraud. Days later, he calls her at home and plays a tape for her. On it she hears Peter planning to do in his business partner, and the man says he will give the tape to the police if she does not become his sex slave. She acquiesces and gets the tape, but the man shows up again, this time with photographic evidence of their tryst. With no other choice, she tells Peter the whole tale and they go to the police. When they arrive at the apartment where she had been violated, it seems to have been empty for many years, and with no one to believe her, Minou begins to believe she is losing her mind

The Bugg Picture

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion (heretofore referred to as Forbidden Photos) is the first film from producer turned director Ercoli. He would follow this film up with his two more popular films Death Walks on High Heels (1971) and Death Walks at Midnight (1972). Unlike those films which follow a more traditional giallo formula, Forbidden Photos dispenses with the traditional murder plots and instead turns an eye to blackmail. In some aspects, this film is not what many would consider a giallo seeing there’s no black gloves, little blood, and not a boob to be found (although there is some stunning side boob), but it’s still plenty sleazy and a pretty good mystery to boot. 

The script was written by the prolific scribe Ernesto Gastaldi who also penned such films as Hands of Steel, Scorpion with Two Tails, and 2019: After The Fall of New York (all for Sergio Martino). Gastaldi puts forth some engaging characters and a pretty fine twist that I did not see coming, but more than that he dared to break the formula. By steering the focus of the film from more traditional giallo themes, it kept me interested unlike so many in the sub-genre which can feel like carbon copies. 

Adding to my interest in the film was a duo of hot redheads. Dagmar Lassander, of House by the Cemetery, as Minou, seems the model of the bored, strung out housewife with her steady diet of tranquilizers and whiskey until  she is swept up into the blackmailers plot of perverse S&M sex. From there the confusion and shame play across her face beautifully, and when she must confront questions of her own sanity, she seems genuinely bewildered. Then there is Nieves Navarro as Minou's best friend Dominique. Navarro’s character is a perfect counterbalance to the staid housewife. She revels in her sexuality and owns a massive collection of pornographic pictures, something that must have seemed particularly shocking to an early 1970’s audience. After all, the sexual revolution might have been in full swing, but people are still scandalized by the thought of a woman enjoying pornography even in this day and age. The two characters compliment each other’s performances rather well, and this is only enhanced by the subtle lesbian undertones that are left to the imagination. 

Complimenting the performances of the ladies are the films two gents. Simon Andreu’s nameless blackmailer is suitably slimy, and each time he appears on the screen you know he’s going to say or do something horribly creepy. He was very interesting to watch, and for me, I always find men who revel in punishing women for sexual gratification rather disturbing. On that level, Andreu definitely worked for me as a villain. Unfortunately, the weakest character is Peir Paolo Capponi’s Peter. We never get to know the man or his motivations. Seeing as the plot revolves around his wife’s desire to protect him from being labeled a murderer, there is little reason given as to why she would be so protective. Peter comes off like a jerk, and as the film unfolds, there is good reason to believe that’s what he is. 

As with many of the Italian thrillers, this film also features an impossibly peppy main theme. This time the score is provided by Ennio Morricone, and while he provides some interesting tracks that harkens to his non-soundtrack experimental albums, there is nothing here that was particularly memorable or moving. In fact the music seemed so bland at points that I barely noticed its presence. However Alejandro Ulloa, the cinematographer who would also work on Fulci’s Conquest and Castellari’s High Crime, makes his presence known. There are many stunning shots that litter the film, and his choice of shots in the sex scenes makes them erotic without the use of graphic nudity. There is also some nice use of light and shadow, but unlike similar shots in the films of Argento or Bava, I found that some of them felt forced and unnatural.  

Forbidden Photos is not a classic film, but it is a good example of what a film can do when it reaches beyond the expectations of its genre. When you combine that with a color palette that pops, style that oozes from the screen, and a pair of female leads that command your attention, and you get an above average example of giallo cinema. So if you’re in the mood for a quirky thriller with a twisty ending that will leave you guessing, then check this one out. 

The Bugg Picture

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