Before Italian directors Dario Argento and Mario Bava made their now infamous marks on the giallo film scene with the likes of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Bay of Blood, there was another series of films that made their mark on Italian cinema: melodrama gialli. This sub-genre relied more on psychological tension and suspense than it did blood and body counts; and Luciano Ercoli’s 1970 feature, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is a prime example of this. It might seem lame or even boring to those fans of giallo that expect a knife wielding killer stacking up bodies in a fast-paced and gory manner. In fairness, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion doesn’t exactly fill you with the type of excitement you’d want from this type of film despite having the necessary elements.
It starts in the house of Minou (Dagmar Lassander), a clearly wealthy and pampered woman but also lonely. Her husband, Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi), is often away with work commitments leaving Minou on her own. The set up is pretty simple and easy to follow. The first bit of excitement happens when Minou is followed and accosted by a mysterious stranger (Simon Andreu) that informs her Peter is a murderer and he will reveal everything unless she gives in to everything he wants from her. Yep, you guessed it: sex. But as Simon and his demands become greater and more sinister, something will have to give before Minou loses her mind.
Although easy enough to follow, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion never seems to ignite into the more fast paced horror-thriller you might be expecting. Instead, it stays at a level just simmering enough to keep the viewer interested. Especially with the arrival of the beautiful and mysterious Dominique (Nieves Navarro) to get pulses racing and people thinking: “Is there more to her than meets the eye? Is she involved somehow despite being Minou’s best friend?” Dominique is definitely an interesting character despite the little knowledge of her motivations ultimately being somewhat frustrating. Navarro puts in probably the most memorable performance in the film, which is odd looking back as you’d expect it to be at least one of the main three characters, Minou, Peter or Simon. As well as Dagmar Lassender does as the unfortunate victim, Minou, it’s an example of the film’s overall mediocrity that these characters and their actions don’t stick in your mind for long after it has finished.
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That being said, it does contain a few exciting moments as it builds to its conclusion. But when the inevitable twist does arrive, it’s more “Oh ok then… but why?” instead of “Shit, I didn’t see that coming!” The reasons for the twist are never really explained in any way nor are they that well thought out; it just is and we have to accept that. Maybe in 1970 that would have worked out fine, but now in a climate where twists and turns are everywhere, this one didn’t feel right or worth the time, which is a shame. Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion does have some promising moments and, generally speaking, is a decent example of the ‘melodrama gialli’ genre as it seems to follow the template well enough, it’s just the overall execution of the piece that seemed lacking.
Featuring a score by the legendary Ennio Morricone (A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and written by Ernesto Gastaldi (great 1973 giallo slasher Torso), Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion certainly has its plus points so will be worth a look for hardcore fans of the genre. Arrow Video have done their usual job of giving fans a nice, new restoration with extras including an audio commentary, a documentary featuring interviews with Nieves Navarro and Luciano Ercoli, a new interview with Ernesto Gastaldi, a Q&A with Dagmar Lassander filmed in 2016 and more in another decent package for fans of this interesting, sometimes gripping but ultimately flawed film.