Giallo films had been around for several years before Dario Argento revolutionized and popularized the genre in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. These early films tended to be less lurid, much less graphically violent, and had plots that actually made some sense. Such it is with Luciano Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion. But enough genre talk, the real question is does the movie work? The answer actually depends on which parts of the genre you like. It is surprisingly bloodless, has no black-gloved killer, does have some interesting camera work, and a wonderfully baroque set. The plot is pretty straightforward and it has a nice little twist ending.
Minou (Dagmar Lassander) is a wealthy housewife who spends most of her nights alone because her husband, Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi), is often out working. One night, she takes a little stroll and is attacked by a man (Simon Andrei). It feels as if he is going to rape her, but he stops and warns her that her husband is a killer. Then he leaves. At first, she ignores his warning but when a man that Peter owed a significant amount of money to shows up dead, she starts to believe. When the attacker calls and plays a secret recording of her husband plotting to kill that man, she is certain. The blackmailer says that he will relinquish the tapes only if she sleeps with him, otherwise it goes straight to the police. She agrees, does the deed, and gets the tapes only to find out that the blackmailer secretly photographed their tryst and now demands even more sexual degradation in order to get them back.
She enlists her friend Dominique (Susa Scott, aka Nieves Navarro, aka Ercoli’s soon-to-be wife) to help. The two pull together $20,0000 and offer it to him for the tapes but he wants only her body. The plot then takes a few twists and turns that I won’t spoil here. It's easy to follow unlike other giallo where the plots tended to need a road map to be understood.
Ercoli gives it plenty of mood and some stylish cinematography. The set design is excellent especially the blackmailer’s apartment which is lit in red and filled with utterly bizarre objects including several plaster hands curled into a point. There is a wonderful scene in which the camera pans down a pier on which several of these hands are nailed and then one of the hands moves and we realize it is Minou’s own hand tied to that pier. Ennio Morricone delivers one of his finest scores filled with jazzy bossa nova numbers. The cast is uniformly excellent. Or as excellent as one can expect from such affairs.
It was filmed around the same time as The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and released just a few months later. It's fascinating to see what a difference Argento made in the genre. One hesitates to even call The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion a giallo it is so starkly different from what one generally considers falling into that genre post-Argento. Ercoli fell in line soon after as his next two films, Death Walks in High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight, which came out the following two years are very much of the Argento style.
Whether you call it a giallo or simply a psychosexual thriller, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is a really enjoyable piece of genre filmmaking. Well worth a watch.
Arrow Video’s release comes with a new 2K restoration from the original film elements. It looks really good. Colors are bright and warm, blacks are consistent, and the details are sharp. I didn’t find any compression issues or instances of debris or scratches. Audio likewise is good. Dialogue (which comes in both English and Italian) comes in clear and the scores sounds fantastic.
Extras include an audio commentary Kat Ellinger, editor-in-chief of Diabolique Magazine, plus an interview with Dagmar Lassander covering her entire career, an interview with Lovely John about the soundtrack, and a very nice 44-minute documentary on the movie. It also comes with the usual full color booklet with a nice essay on the film.
Definitely recommended for genre fans.