Luciano Ercoli, 1970
Starring: Pier Paolo Capponi, Simon Andreu, Dagmar Lassander, Susan Scott
The lovely, young Minou is a bored housewife constantly waiting for her busy husband. One night, she’s attack by a man who also warns her that her husband is a murderer. She brushes it off, but soon learns that a business associate of her husband’s — a man he owed a sizable amount of money to — has been found dead. The attacker calls Minou and plays her a recording of her husband admitting his part in the murder and he soon blackmails her into having sex with him. Soon Minou isn’t sure if there are a conspiracy against her, or if she is losing her mind.
Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion was the first collaboration between director Luciano Ercoli and writer Ernesto Gastaldi, the team that would go on to make Death Walks on High Heels (1971) and Death Walks at Midnight (1972). Like the earlier giallo films of Umberto Lenzi, these are all essentially erotic thrillers — Ercoli focused on tales of sexual paranoia, threesomes, the danger of promiscuity, and relationships gone wrong. Like star Dagmar Lassander’s earlier giallo-like exploitation film, The Frightened Woman, Forbidden Photos critically examines female desire. A woman’s desperate longing for her husband’s attention turns into blackmail, sexual extortion, and — somehow worst of all — rumors that he is a ruthless killer. The innocent, young-looking Minou has something akin to a rape fantasy involving her husband, where he becomes sexually aggressive after she teases him that she’s in love with another man.
Like The Frightened Woman, this film, which would be considered horribly sexist today, imagines the titular female character as naive, even emotionally stuck in the role of a young girl. Minou is a strangely perverse character. While giallo is host to a bevy of female backstabbers, murderers, prostitutes, promiscuous teens, and demanding upper class divas, there is something unsettling and almost prudish — a Victorian sensibility more often found in German krimi films than giallo outings — about Minou’s inherent victimhood, passivity, and helplessness. Minou entertains herself by dabbling in pharmaceuticals, drinking a good deal, and practicing dressing more scandalously (in case she looks too much like a housewife). The dialogue is hilarious, particularly her voice overs where she ponders how to be more appealing to her husband.
For all Minou’s helplessness and the film’s sexist attitudes, it’s hard to be offended, as its misogyny seems like a joke. In this way, it’s again similar to The Frightened Woman, which turns movie sexism on its head. Unlike the standard giallo, the film’s core mystery is not a question of finding the identity of a psychosexual killer, but it’s more subtle and Hitchcockian. Is Minou going mad? If not, who is conspiring against her? Her innocence and naiveté works hard for the film’s plot, making it easy to believe that everyone could be against her and red herrings abound almost effortlessly. Ercoli refuses to resolve this until the film’s conclusion and it is genuinely difficult to be sure whether we are dealing with an unreliable narrator (popular in giallo films with a sexually repressed woman in the protagonist’s role) or an elaborate plot.
Forbidden Photo’s sexual tension is another major point and acts to fuel Minou’s hysteria. Ercoli’s frequent star Nieves Navarro (as Susan Scott) had her first role in a giallo here as Minou’s bestfriend, Dominique, a woman who participates in and collects pornography. She is having an affair with Minou’s husband and attempts to pursue Minou herself. When Minou tells her about the assault and subsequent blackmail, it excites Dominique and she admits that she would like to be in a similar situation. When Minou later tells her plight to the police — at her husband’s command — they believe she has invented the entire thing to get (sexual) attention from her absent husband. There are many striking erotic moments, particularly between Minou and her attacker. For those not interested in the rape-revenge subgenre or overt moments of sexual assault, there is nothing really threatening about their interactions — which are generally the most stylized parts of the film and are beautifully lit.
Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion may not be a must-see in the giallo universe, but it is plenty entertaining and will especially please anyone who enjoys erotic thrillers. In addition to some pleasing twists and turns, there are plenty of great shots, including a scene reminiscent of Jean Cocteau (and Roman Polanski) which features an eerie wall of sculpted hands. There’s also a wonderful score from Ennio Morricone, which features some vocals from the wonderful Edda Dell’Orso. Pick it up on DVD from Blue Underground. If you like Lenzi’s giallo films or the later work of Ercoli, you’ll definitely want to check this one out.