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November 30, 2021

Giallo Essentials - Red Edition


The Possessed / La donna del lago
Luigi Bazzoni & Franco Rossellini - 1965

fifth cord.jpg

The Fifth Cord / Giornata nera per l'ariete
Luigi Bazzoni - 1971


The Pyjama Girl Case / La ragazza dal pigiama giallo
Flavio Mogherini - 1978
Arrow Video BD three-disc set Region A

To title this three disc set as essential may be a bit of hyperbole. What we have does chart some of the ways the genre developed over the years. Also the three films in question have in various degrees attracted more critical attention than at the time of their respective releases. I should also note that the three films were previously issued by Arrow and do not have the booklets that accompanied the original separate releases of each film.

The Possessed might be more accurately described as proto-giallo. The violence is suggested by very quick shots of knives and dead bodies. I tend to agree with film historian Richard Dyer that The Possessed is closer in style to the European art films of the mid-1960s than to a more typical murder mystery, which in turn may explain why the film was a commercial failure in spite of the well known cast. A novelist returns to a hotel in a small, unnamed town in winter in hopes of reuniting with a maid who worked there. It is revealed that the maid was murdered under mysterious circumstances. The hotel is on the verge of closure, run by a family that is on the brink of disintegration.

The film itself was something of a family affair with director Luigi Bazzoni's feature debut, with brother Camillo as camera operator. Franco Rossellini, also credited for direction, was the son of the film's composer, Renzo Rossellini. Here is where the family connection gets truly strange, Pia Lindstrom, the daughter of Ingrid Bergman, has a small role. Franco and Renzo were the nephew and younger brother of famed director Roberto Rossellini. Ingrid Bergman abandoned Hollywood to live with and eventually marry Roberto, causing bad feelings between daughter and mother. That in a very brief acting career of three films, Pia Lindstrom would work with members of the Rossellini family might be the film's biggest mystery.

While in his commentary track, Tim Lucas identifies Bazzoni as "the primary director", the proof is in viewing Bazzoni's other films. There are lone figures dwarfed in an empty landscape, the sound of wind in several of the exterior shots, the use of point of view shots, and the protagonist trying to navigate his or her way in a situation that is not fully understood. Lucas explains why he considers The Possessed to be giallo, even though the tropes are not lurid as they would be with other directors. Also covered in the commentary are the film's literary and real life sources, as well as notes on the cast and crew.

In The Fifth Cord, several people who have connections with alcoholic reporter Franco Nero are murdered in mysterious circumstances. The victims are also interconnected in other ways as well. The film is more clearly within the conventional definition of giallo. The cops think Nero is the killer, but solving the mystery almost seems besides the point.

The nudity and violence is still relatively restrained although it does reflect the recent freedom following the end of the old Hollywood production code. Seen back to back with The Possessed, one gets a clearer sense of Bazzoni's visual style and themes, also part of his third giallo, Footprints on the Moon. Several times, characters are visible as silhouettes, at one point literally behind a screen, but usually as black figures on the run. Bazzoni also likes to use lateral tracking shots, most notably in a shot of the mid-century office buildings in Rome. Nero's reporter seems out of place even though he lives in Rome. He is virtually not welcomed wherever he is. The alienated protagonist is also part of The Possessed and Footprints. Voyeurism is also part of Bazzoni's films, with shots of eyes peering through cracked spaces, the act of photography, or simply looking at someone through a window. Nero's character has the Germanic surname of Bild which translates as image. The name of Bild is fitting for someone who is not certain who he is looking for or why the victims are connected.

Travis Crawford points out the use of reflected images and windows in his commentary track. One bit of information of interest is that Bazzoni and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro were cousins. The presentation comes off a bit disorganized. While it makes sense to review the career of star Franco Nero, the rest of the supporting cast gets ignored with the exception of Edmund Purdom. And with the research involved in the cast and crew members, Crawford incorrectly identifies the two movies Pam Tiffin made with James Darren in the mid-1960s as being from A.I.P. (This is where I admit that I have seen For Those Who Think Young twice theatrically, and can tell you the theaters and the co-features.)

The Pyjama Girl Case was made during the waning of giallo as a popular genre. What is of interest is that the film was partially shot on location in and around Sydney, Australia with a story inspired by a true crime history. The real crime took place in Australia in 1934 with the victim still not conclusively identified. Other documented events such as the public exhibition of the body for identification purposes have been included and updated in this contemporary fictionalization. Unlike many of the Australian films produced during this time, Flavio Mogherini presents a country populated by immigrants and outsiders. Ray Milland's retired police inspector is Canadian. An Italian and a German man both compete for the affections of a Dutch woman. Among the people the inspector encounters as part of his investigation are a midget, members of Sydney's Asian community, and a reclusive voyeur living off the grid. The film also is something of documentary of Sydney at the time of production with several shots filmed in or near the famous opera house as well as the Chinatown area.

Pyjama Girl is comprised of two seemingly parallel narrative strands, the investigation of the murder of an unidentifiable young woman, and the story of a waitress wavering between several lovers. The horror is in the victim's face burned beyond recognition. The inspector takes on an unofficial role, a break from retirement, and also a way to prove that some old fashioned pounding of the pavements is more effective than psychological profiling to resolve the mystery.

Definitely the way to watch Pyjama Girl is with the English language track as Ray Milland and Mel Ferrer, one of the waitress' lovers, dub their own voices. Even at age 70, one could see glimpses of the actor who was Paramount's top male actor thirty years earlier. Certainly starring in several film noir classics including Ministry of Fear and The Big Clock makes Milland's appearance here fitting.

I enjoyed Troy Howarth conversationally presented commentary track. Howarth discusses how the film goes against the usual giallo tropes as well as covering information on the prime cast and crew members. What I also liked was that the commentary was addressed in such a way that Howarth assumes the viewer is already familiar with gialli, generally dispensing with explanations and history of the genre or rattling off a bunch of titles. He also points out to the fallibility of IMDb, in this case misnaming several of the characters, as well as not identifying some of the actors listed with their respective roles.

As usual with Arrow, there are loads of supplements on each disc. The interviews cover in part the three films, but as one with interest in film history, what I found more interesting is learning more about the process of making Italian co-productions in the 1970s. One takeaway - it seemed like almost everyone interviewed had worked at least once with Pier Paolo Pasolini. Each disc could have easily received a longer, more detailed review.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 30, 2021 06:17 AM