Friday, March 2, 2012

Review: THE FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION (1970)

I was pleasantly surprised by Luciano Ercoli's thriller THE FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION (such a long title!). While the giallo genre itself is fascinating and - in some ways - more innovative than American slasher films, it does occasionally crap out some stinkers. But Forbidden Photos is not one of those stinkers, but a smart addition to the genre that perfectly represents the earlier, classier giallo efforts before they fell into the world of underground sleaze (THE NEW YORK RIPPER, for instance).


When I read the NetFlix synopsis for the film, I thought, "Uh oh. This one could be like Lucio Fulci's A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN." Which, for me, is a bad thing considering that I found Lizard to be a psychedelic, overly-sexualized mess. Both films have similar basic premises - a beautiful woman believing she is going insane due to fantasies of sex and murder.  These ladies become increasingly convinced that a horrible crime has taken place... or that they are just crazy and are hallucinating the whole thing! Marvio Bava's THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (which I still need to see) also has a very similar plot, and that film is often credited to being the first giallo film to get produced.  I hope that The Girl Who Knew Too Much has more Forbidden Photos in it than Lizard.


Boy, it's great when that happens, though. You end up really liking a movie that you thought you weren't going to like.

The plot of Forbidden Photos is built on twists and turns, so I won't give away too much. Basically, Dagmar Lassander plays Minou, the beautiful and devoted wife to businessman Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi), who is deeply in debt. One night Minou is attacked by a perverted stranger (Simón Andreu) and blackmails her: he claims he has evidence that Peter killed a man, and to keep him from talking Minou has to act as his sexual slave. After agreeing and sleeping with the stranger, she learns that he made the whole "murder thing" up... but he now has photographs documenting their love-making session. And as she tries to come to terms with the whole thing, she enlists in the help of her best friend Dominique (Susan Scott), who is having an affair of her own with Peter. Yes, a whole lot of sleeping around occurs.


Of course, early on in the film, you learn that nothing is what it seems. And that's what makes Forbidden Photos a great film to watch, as it is a masterly crafted mystery that has the ability to flip the whole plot on its side! It's not quite as atmospheric as, say, DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING and the body count is not as impressive as DEEP RED, but Forbidden Photos is a great psychological thriller that still has the ability to move at a swift pace and entertain, over forty years since its conception.


Giallo enthusiasts and fans of Italian cinema in general should definitely check this gem out. The film, released in 1970, came out only a few months after Dario Argento's famed THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE took the world by storm, and a whole year before thrillers like Bava's THE TWITCH OF DEATH NERVE or Paolo Cavara's BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA. It marks the beginnings of the giallo movement, when much of the genre's cliches were still undecided. Because of this, Forbidden Photos seems a lot fresher than most of the movies that we as an audience have to come to identify with the genre. It may lack a huge body count and tons of gruesome killings, but it has the essentials and is just as suspenseful and entertaining.


Recommendations:
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1965)
A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971)
What Have You Done to Solonge? (1974)

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