As I have been watching and reviewing more and more Italian films, I have come to realize that I tend to lump a couple of genres in together. Certainly, I use "giallo" and "Italian horror" interchangeably even though they aren’t always the same thing. "Giallo" literally means “yellow” in Italian and comes from a type of cheap mystery novel published in Italy that came in a yellow cover. Many of those stories were made into cheap Italian films, which started as fairly straight forward crime thrillers but over time became more lurid and graphically violent with increasing horror elements. It's these films that have now been dubbed as "giallo" while the more traditional crime dramas are considered "poliziotteschi", which translates roughly into “police-related drama”. There is plenty of overlap between the two genres as giallos often maintain a police presence in their stories, but they are different enough to make the distinction necessary. I make that distinction now because The Suspicious Death of a Minor is the odd film that straddles the fence on these two genres combining them in interesting ways (and throwing a little slapstick comedy in for good measure).
A young prostitute is brutally murdered forcing Detective Germi (Claudio Cassinelli) to go undercover into the Italian underbelly and search for the killer. What he finds is an underground network of underage prostitutes that might have connections to the upper echelon of society with plenty of political pull. But before he can make a real case, his witnesses keep getting murdered by a killer for hire in reflective sun glasses.
The story sticks pretty close to classic poliziotteschi material but the killer is straight out of giallo. There are murders our heroes try to solve only to be throttled by the higher-ups and put in increasing danger by the bad guys. The killer wears gloves and we get lots of his pov shots (plus many more strange angle shots and plenty of reflections from his glasses). Interestingly, pretty early on we see his face which is highly unusual in an giallo film.
Cassinelli plays it like a comedy as does his purse-snatching sidekick Giannino (Adolfo Caruso). They are positively goofy at times.There is a long scene towards the middle in which they are being chased by some policeman who doesn’t realize they are cops working undercover (neither do we, in fact, which is perhaps a good indication as to how tonally odd this film really is). The chase is zany madcap with Germi zipping his car around sharp corners, zigging around traffic while Giannino literally throws the car’s doors at the police. One expects “Yakety Sax” to start playing on the soundtrack.
Somehow Sergio Martino makes all of this (mostly) work. The crime elements work well, the killer is genuinely creepy, the deaths are pretty horrific, and Cassinelli walks through the film like he’s Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye. The comedic elements don’t work nearly as well and, at times, veer into the ridiculous but for the most part these disparate elements come together to make a really rather enjoyable film.
Audio and video are really quite good. In the liner notes, they indicate that the original negatives were faded quite a bit and while they tried to restore it to the original color, you can still see some of that damage, especially when looking closely at skin tones. None of the colors particularly pop, but it's still a good-looking print, all things considered.
Extras include a very informative commentary by Troy Howarth and a 42-minute conversation with Sergio Martino, who talks about this movie and several others he made during this period of his career. Both are well worth your time.
The Suspicious Death of a Minor is an odd little entry in Italy’s film history. Straddling two prominent genres that had grown quite popular in the 1970, it never quite hits a high mark for either (and the slapstick comedy almost completely derails it) but it's still quite an entertaining ride. Definitely recommended for fans of both giallo and poliziotteschi films.