Tinto Brass, 1967
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Ewa Aulin, Roberto Bisacco
Bernard spies an attractive blonde, Jane, in a nightclub, but is warned away from her because her father recently died in a car accident. He follows her through the club, only to discover her standing over the body of the club owner. She claims she is innocent of his murder, but that he was blackmailing her family over a photo of Jane’s stepmother. Determined to help Jane, she and Bernard run through London, where they are pursued by a dwarf, the police, armed men, and more. As the corpses pile up, Bernard realizes that if he doesn’t find the killer, he could be next.
Cul cuore in gola, which translates to “With heart pounding” or “His heart in his mouth,” is a rare giallo from Italian erotica and exploitation director Tinto Brass. Also known as I Am What I Am, Deadly Sweet is based on a novel by Sergio Donati, though much more emphasis is on the film’s bold style than its plot. Brass uses the unusual technique of cutting back and forth between color and black-and-white film, split-screen imagery, quick editing, random inserts of footage from the Vietnam War, and swingin’ ‘60s costumes and set design. It would make an interesting double feature with Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik, as both films share a style borrowed from Italian comic books (Diabolik is of course based on the comic of the same name), and possibly also borrowed from the previous year’s Tokyo Drifter, another bold, colorful film that occasionally switches to black-and-white. Deadly Sweet was allegedly storyboarded by one of France’s most famous adult comic artists, Guido Crepax.
The film’s dizzying pop-art sensibilities override the plot at every turn. Bernard barely works at trying to solve the film’s winding mystery and instead uses it as a guise to seduce and spend time with Jane. There is little bloodshed, but plenty of comic and surreal moments in their time dashing across London, trying to outwit the police, find Jane’s brother – who may have the key to the puzzle – and evade the murderer themselves. Brass – who wrote the script – does keep you guessing until the end and manages to distract enough from the plot holes (or dead zones) that the films stays interesting throughout.
This Italian-French co-production stars French actor Jean Trintignant, who is a welcome presence here. Trintignant made his career with art house fare ranging from And God Created Woman to A Man and a Woman, The Conformist, Confidentially Yours, Trans-Europe Express, spaghetti western The Great Silence, and Haneke’s recent Amour. He’s certainly on the short list of actors who have worked with the most number of incredible directors, including Roger Vadim, Abel Gance, Georges Franju, Costa Gavras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Sergio Corbucci, Bertolucci, and so on. He is the grounding force of Deadly Sweet and provides with some much needed weight and depth, as the script – which doesn’t concern itself much with character development – is airy and whimsical. It is also Bernard’s carefree nature – he doesn’t seem too concerned that Jane might be a murderer, for instance – that ultimately gets him into trouble.
His love interest is played by Swedish actress and model Ewa Aulin (Candy, Death Laid an Egg, Death Smiles on a Murderer), who is (perhaps surprisingly) excellent in the role. Vapid and cunning in turns, Aulin uses her wide-eyed loveliness to her advantage. There is one particularly hilarious scene that either references or satirizes Blow Up. Jane and Bernard find themselves in a photographer’s studio and Jane quickly succumbs to the camera, modeling for some outrageous photos. This is followed by a fake music video where Bernard plays drums and then swings through the set, a la Tarzan, before they consummate their relationship.
I would be hard-pressed to really describe Deadly Sweet as a giallo, though it is certainly in a similar territory. The plot hinges on family dysfunction, a confusing murder mystery, blackmail, and has some wonderful Eurotrash elements. I have a weakness for films that depict a ridiculous, Austin Powers-like version of London in the ‘60s and ‘70s – such as Dracula A.D. 1972 and Psychomania – and I couldn’t help but succumb to Deadly Sweet’s charms. Tinto Brass fans will definitely find a lot to love, and though this is not the director at his most licentious, he is clearly having a great time experimenting with style and visual techniques.
Surprisingly, Deadly Sweet is actually available on a region-free DVD from Cult Epics, which includes a commentary track from Tinto Brass himself. It comes recommended, though some horror aficionados will probably be disappointed by its lack of blood or violence, and its sense of vibrant color and whimsical comedy. Deadly Sweet is certainly a product of its time and remains an interesting look at what the Italian thriller was before Dario Argento bloodied its shores just three years later with Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Deadly Sweet has far more in common with the colorful if silly krimi thrillers to come out of Germany at the same time, which were all set in London, populated with masked killers, diabolical gangs, intricate subterfuge, seedy nightclubs, and scantily clad damsels in distress. These films were based on the work of British writer Edgar Wallace, who interestingly also inspired a few giallo films.