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June 07, 2011

What Have They Done to Your Daughters?

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La Polizia Chiede Aiuto
Massimo Dallamano - 1974
Shameless Films Region 0 DVD

The original Italian title translates as "The Police Ask For Help" according to Jasper Sharp's notes at IMDb. This is a more accurate title, reflecting the emphasis on the narrative spending more time following the detectives and the district attorney in their investigation of the death of a teenage girl. There are the giallo elements, primarily an unknown killer clad in black leather, wearing a full helmet, and carrying a meat cleaver. There's also just enough blood and nudity to satisfy genre expectations, mostly in very quick shots. While the premise regarding a ring of teenage prostitutes is salacious, Massimo Dallamano is more interested in the adults, especially his two lead characters.

There is a flashback of teen victim, Sylvia, nonchalantly explaining to her alarmed mother that the birth control pills were bought at a pharmacy. Dallamano unintentionally anticipates Taxi Driver with Jodie Foster's teenage prostitute, Iris, justifying her life by telling a bewildered Robert DeNiro if he has ever heard about "women's lib". Neither Iris nor Sylvia are adult women, and any concepts they may have of liberation are subject to question. Both girls can be said to simultaneously exploit themselves and allow others to exploit them. The difference between the two films is that Scorsese has greater interest in Iris, while in Dallamano's hands, Sylvia is an under developed character who serves as a plot

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What little Dallamano might have to say about feminism is with the character of the female district attorney, Vittoria Stori. As played by Giovanna Ralli, Stori is just a few days into her job, and determined to prove she's as capable as any of the guys, especially when some gory murders are involved. Ralli is a classic Roman dark eyed, dark haired beauty, who in this film is nothing but business. At one point, Stori is pursued by the unknown killer, gripped in fear, the damsel in distress. The effect is contradictory, as if Dallamano wanted to be contemporary, progressive even, with a female lead, yet was pulled back by more traditional instincts.

When Farley Granger dies a couple of months ago, this was one film not mentioned, and for good reason. Granger's appearance is limited to a couple of scenes as the concerned father of Sylvia. Most of the dramatic heavy lifting is done by Claudio Cassinelli as the main detective, and Mario Adorf, who discovers the investigation hitting himself personally.

There is a blackly humorous scene involving the identification of a victim, a private detective, in the autopsy room by an angry ex-wife who wants to know exactly what happened to her former husband. Most of the film is devoted to following a trail of photographs and an audio tape in piecing together the mystery. One of the other high points is a chase, with several police cars, lead by Cassinelli, attempting to follow the mystery killer on his motorcycle, through some empty streets and alleys, eventually onto a highway and into a train tunnel. Had Dallamano spent as much time tying up the loose ends of the script as he had on the logistics of his intriguing chase, this might have been a better movie.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 7, 2011 08:51 AM