Written by Ernesto Gastaldi, Mahnahen Velasco
Directed by Luciano Ercoli
Starring Dagmar Lassander, Pier Paolo Capponi, Simon Andreu, Osvaldo Genazzani, Nieves Navarro
Released November 27, 1970 (Italy)
RT 93 min.
Home Video Arrow Video (Blu-ray)
Classic Horrors rating = 8 (out of 10)
With the exception of a leather-gloved hand reaching out from under a table to grab the lovely Minou’s (Dagmar Lassander) ankle, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion doesn’t feature the common trappings of a giallo film. Perhaps by only flirting with these trappings, the movie seems smarter and more organically complex than many movies I’ve seen that are categorized in the subgenre. In fact, this one does almost everything right to create a solid, suspenseful mystery-thriller.
The screenplay by Ernesto Gastaldi and Mahnahen Velasco depicts Minou as a troubled woman from the very beginning. As she bathes, we overhear her inner monologue thinking and overthinking specific possibilities for a future interaction with her husband, Pier (Pier Paolo Capponi). High strung, she pops pills to relax. It comes as no surprise that when a mysterious man (Simion Andreu) attacks her outside her beach home, no one believes her.
Minou needs to get out of her own head. When she tells Pier what happened, she’s more concerned about whether or not he would still love her if the man who attacked her had gone further and actually raped her. Based on his response that, well, nothing really happened to her (because she wasn’t raped), she becomes more reluctant to confide in him when the man blackmails her. He doesn’t want money to keep secret the tapes implicating Pier in a murder; he wants her to become his sexual slave.
It may not be good for her that Minou’s only confidante is Dominique (Nieves Navarro), her liberated best friend that used to be in a relationship with Pier. This is particularly true when showing pornographic photos to Minou, she gives her one in which “The Blackmailer” appears; and, it’s even more problematic when she later denies that she gave Minou the picture. This contradiction in Dominique’s behavior is a compelling aspect of The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion.
In her audio commentary, Kat Ellinger chooses to focus on the stylistic choices of Luciano Ercoli, making his directorial debut after a long history of being a producer, rather than the “sadistic romantic relationships” of the story. With its “wonderful widescreen format,” she says that there’s “always something interesting to look at.” “Saturated with beautiful color,” she says that Ercolo constructs a “decadent, stylish world” that’s almost art house. She believes this movie tends to be overlooked.
Bonus features on Arrow’s brand new 2K restoration of the film include a 44-minute, newly-edited, documentary compiling archival interviews with Navarro and Ercoli with new interview material with Gastaldi, as well as a 44-minute video recording of a Q&A with Lassander at the 2016 Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester. The most compelling bonus feature for me, though, is a 47-minute interview with musician and soundtrack collector Lovely Jon.
Although Ennio Morricone is credited for the score of The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, Jon says you should never underestimate the other musicians who worked with the maestro, particularly Allesandro Allesandroni and Bruno Nicolai. “The Big 3” often worked together and it’s often unclear who really did what for a score when they were literally spending the night in recording studios “knocking out soundtracks every day.”
The soundtrack for this movie is strong. Familiar with its sometimes light and airy themes and vocal performance by Etta Dell’Orso, the music is particularly unique and effective in the climax. The Blackmailer terrorizes Minou in the house while Pier attends a business meeting. However, Pier forgets some important papers and slowly drives back home. Will he arrive in time to save his wife? (I wonder if one detail later influenced Brian De Palma for Dressed to Kill.)
Speaking of influences, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is familiar with its main plot of a woman experiencing horrifying things, but no one believing her. I can’t count the number of similar movies I’ve seen. However, perhaps because of its style and foreign setting, it feels fresh and exciting. Finally, as sordid as it sounds, this apple again falls far from the giallo tree by not offering any nudity or gore. Subject matter aside, it’s execution is almost family friendly.