Review Date: March 12, 2006
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 3/28/2006
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
In its formative years, the giallo was almost exclusively masculine in its focus and perspective. Inspired by David Hemmings’ iconic swinger in Blowup
, the leads in gialli were predominately males trying to piece together the convoluted details of a mystery thrust upon them. Argento’s Animal Trilogy, Bava’s late-60s work and even the early gialli from Aldo Lado all demonstrate the early thrust of the genre into an all-male focus. Later, of course, we’d see the giallo adopt a more feminist perspective as the years went on, from Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
to Argento’s Phenomena
, but it wasn’t always like this. There was a shift to permit the presentation of women in the genre as subjects rather than mere objects.
While Argento, Bava and Lado were all hung up on men’s issues, Luciano Ercoli was busy mining new territory with the woman in his early gialli: Death Walks at Midnight
, Death Walks on High Heels
and most importantly his first feature, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion
. Although largely forgotten, it is nonetheless a landmark film of the genre in its focus on female issues in light of woman’s lib. Blue Underground has unearthed this important film from obscurity, and hopefully with this new DVD release will help to redefine how we all look at the genre and how it was shaped throughout the early-‘70s to become the longstanding genre we all remember today.
The film begins with a shot of an ornament of a child hanging on the wall. This is to symbolize the self-imposed rebirth that Minou (Dagmar Lassander
) is to embark on for the remainder of the film. “I’m going to give up cigarette’s today…” she begins, pontificating in the bathtub of how she will start to assert herself with a do-gooder attitude. The important thing is that she wants to do it for herself, and not out of duty to her cold, adulterous husband, Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi
). Minou’s motivations quickly change when, later that night, she is sexually attacked by a prowler (Ercoli stalwart, Simon Andreu
) during a late night stroll. Helpless and vulnerable, she realizes she is nowhere near strong enough to become the independent woman she desires. She cowers back to her husband, but still things are not right.
Peter is having an affair with Minou’s close friend, Dominique (Ercoli’s wife, Susan Scott
), but that is the least of his sins. He also has some shady scientific work that he does behind closed doors…or so it seems. While he’s at work, Minou begins receiving threatening phone calls from the prowler, telling her that Peter has killed a man and that unless she performs sexual favors for him, he’ll notify the authorities. Looking to protect her husband, but implicitly wanting to step out of her husband’s shadow and do good on her own, she obliges to the sexual games. The sex is troublesome for her, since on one level she the freedom and catharsis it provides her, but at the same time she still holds ties to Peter. Quickly however, the sex becomes a catalyst to her seductive self-discovery.
Minou begins spending more time with Dominique, and finds she’s not the only one seeking sexual liberation. Dominique is a voyeur, she shows Minou her stash of sexual pictures (the Forbidden Photos
of the title). Although the two pictures unite the women in some liberating fashion, they also help move forward the plot, since the man in one of the photos is the same prowler to which Minou has been granting sexual favors. It is clear that Minou is involved in one labyrinthine web of sex and deceit, but will she come out liberated or obliterated?
Luciano Ercoli made three gialli in succession during the time when the genre was just beginning to get its footing. While Argento and Lado were unflinchingly obliged to the male gaze, Ercoli, and to a lesser extend Umberto Lenzi, was busy exploring the genre from the other side of gender. While Lenzi’s films were feminine more on the surface (they dealt with female characters at the center, but did not really explore them), Ercoli’s had a deep-rooted desire to explore the nature of female repression during a time of supposed liberation.
All three of Ercoli’s gialli, Forbidden Photos
, Death Walks at Midnight
and Death Walks on High Heels
, all present women who are dehumanized as sexual objects. Nicole is a stripper in High Heels
, Valentine is a model in Midnight
and Minou becomes a sex toy for her male stalker in Forbidden Photos
. What is worse, is that in all films the woman is almost always right in her suspicions, but yet is deemed mentally unstable each time by demeaning male detectives. They are victims to the male perpetrators of each film, but what is more scathing is that the people they go to for help are just as heartless. There is little place for women to go in Ercoli’s films other than in their own mind, for they are a victim in the greater chauvinist male system.
Ercoli remains committed in all three of his gialli to the feminist perspective, always placing the view of the narrative through his female lead. Oftentimes, we see more than just the story, as the dreams and flashbacks of the female characters (the murderous hallucination in Midnight
or the remembered sex games in Forbidden Photos) are often shown firsthand. Ercoli makes it easy to see that there is much more to women than there mere to-be-looked-at-ness. In a time when women’s lib was just beginning to take hold, Ercoli’s films were showing the rare flipside of the male centric giallio genre. His The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is his first, best, and most unequivocally female of the lot.
Calling the film a giallo is somewhat of a misnomer. Instead of beginning with a murder (like his next two gialli, and basically every other giallo post-Plumage), Forbidden Photos
instead begins with a woman fantasizing about becoming someone new. Right from the first frame it centers on female lifestyle issues rather than male-oriented depictions of murder. So instead of being centered around a crime or a mystery, like most gialli, it is instead centered on Minou’s own self-discovery. The fact that there is a murder, a cover-up and a threat is all just matters in the periphery that help Minou to really find herself. Instead of ending with the solving of a case, Forbidden Photos
ends with the rebirth of Minou into a woman freed from male domination. Although the film has all the surface gloss of a typical giallo, from the dark scope cinematography to the trademarked Morricone music, its ties to women’s issues make it a transcendental picture in the entire giallo cycle.
It is tough to imagine lauded female centered gialli like The Strange Vice or Mrs. Wardh
had it not been for the influence of Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos
. Brian De Palma’s feminist pics of the seventies, Sisters
, The Fury
, all seem to take more than a little from the early Ercoli mold of filmmaking as well. Although not overly remembered, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion
has no doubt left and influence as one of the most focused female horror movies of the seventies. It holds up still today, too, with strong performances, an involving story and a pace much quicker than Ercoli’s subsequent films. With every snapshot of femininity, Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos
still resonate today.
Presented in luscious 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, these Forbidden Photos
have never looked better. Colors are brilliantly vibrant here, almost Technicolor in their deep saturation. Any dust or specs have been completely filtered out here, although black scratches still pop up subtly throughout the picture down the vertical axis of the frame. There is still some grain present, but for the most part this is a very clean and sharp picture. Again though, the most commendable attribute are the colors, still looking as vibrant as ever after 35 years. I don’t know where they do their transferring, but Blue Underground continues to prove that they have the best lab in the business. Another beautiful transfer.
Perhaps we’ve been spoiled with NoShame’s dual-language giallo dubs, but the English only sound options here seem incomplete. The English mono track is solid, without any of the dropout found on some of NoShame’s releases, but at the same time it doesn’t sound quite right. Ercoli’s Death films played out much better in Italian, and I have a feeling Forbidden Photos
would too. It is a shame there isn’t an Italian track, since the female voices here, particularly Lassander’s, sound oddly out of place in context with the emotions portrayed on screen. Still, what is offered here is fine, it just would have been nice to have had the option to hear it in the more natural Italian as well.
As per usual with most gialli on DVD, there is a trailer and a small interview contained on the disc. The trailer is a snoozer, way too long and not nearly as stylish or psychedelic as the trailers used for Ercoli’s subsequent film. The 9-minute interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi though, is a very good list. Gastaldi has been flaky in the past, often not remembering anything about the films he’s worked on (understandable, since he wrote about 5 films a year in his heyday), but here he is very vocal about the film and his collaboration with Luciano Ercoli. He explains his original aspirations to be a novelist, and how he ended up getting trapped in the giallo genre for many years. He has no problem in pointing out it was often just for the money, although the quality of many of his films demonstrate he is to an extent humbling himself. He ends off the interview with an interesting bit about the fate of Luciano Ercoli, which makes you wonder what could have been had he stayed in the game longer.
The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion
is a mouthful of a title and a pleasure of a movie. Unique in its female perspective, the film is tense, clever and provocative, despite the absence of much nudity or violence. Its presentation of the woman-in-peril was unique for its time, and it still holds up surprisingly well today. The video quality holds up too, although the audio suffers from a lack of an Italian language track. Finished off with a nice little interview extra, this is yet another quality giallo DVD from Blue Underground. There’s nothing suspicious with this release, this is a lost gem worth seeking.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - C
Supplements - B-
- Running time - 1 hour 36 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Mono
- "Forbidden Screenplays - Interview with Co-Writer Ernesto Gastaldi"
- Theatrical trailer