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Ordine firmato in bianco (1974)
An obscure Italian giallo with political undertones
The Italian Mafia imports a New York gangster to spearhead an important heist but when an innocent bystander gets killed, he and his gang must hole up in a remote hunting lodge where a black-gloved killer starts taking them out one by one and painting their foreheads white.
Most murder mysteries end when the killer's unmasked but in this giallo- cum-political thriller, that's when the twists kick in. Made during "the leaden years" (an Italian term for the 1970s when political corruption, terrorism, and violent protests dominated the news), ORDERS SIGNED IN WHITE pulls no punches in its depiction of a venal judicial system in league with the criminals it's supposed to prosecute. One character's even referred to as "a citizen above suspicion" but as important as that guy was, he's only the tip of a rancid iceberg. What's interesting, too, is that there's really no "good guys" to root for since all the characters are morally bankrupt at best. Portly director Gianni Manera also stars (a bad choice) but other than that, it's very good and there's even a lesbian sex scene.
Ave Maria (1953)
A hoary story of mother love
Karin Twerdy (what a name) keeps her secret life as the owner of a sleazy German cabaret from teenage daughter Daniela by renting a mansion whenever the girl's home from convent school and putting on a respectable front. When Daniela brings her boyfriend and his wealthy father home for vacation, things go swimmingly until the boy's dad recognizes Karin and sanctimoniously tells her she should "disappear from this world" for the sake of the young couple's happiness. Karin takes it to heart and boards a train for Finland, sharing a compartment with Lisa Nilsson, a war widow who's alone in the world and enroute to a housekeeper's job sight unseen. In a sudden fit of despair, Lisa throws herself from the train and Karin impulsively swipes her documents and passes herself off as the dead woman...
There's more, of course, in a hoary story of mother love and sacrifice that was old when MADAME X was new and looks to be cobbled together from the Barbara Stanwyck starrers STELLA DALLAS and NO MAN OF HER OWN. A larger-than-life diva like Joan Crawford or Lana turner could probably pull off a preposterous tear-jerking "star vehicle" like this but Zarah Leander lacks the magnetism and professional polish those gals had in middle-age. That said, the lady sings divinely (once as a nightclub chantoozy and twice in church) and was as popular in Nazi Germany as Joan and Lana were in the free world. This film was the third in a come- back of sorts for Leander who was persona non grata in her adopted country after the war because, when the going got rough, Zarah got going -back to her native Sweden, that is. She's not a bad-looking woman but her figure can only be described as "matronly" and her acting as "somnambulistic". The songs, the outlandish plot developments, the nuns, the religious symbolism, and the carnival clown keep things lively and the camp value is undeniable. Not reely recommended but quite something to see, nonetheless.
Sister to Judas (1932)
Paltry Poverty Row pyrotechnics
Former silent screen actress Claire Windsor (nee Clara Cronk) stopped by Mayfair Pictures on her way down to play a poor but honest girl doing the best she can during the Depression. After she rejects a soon-to-be bestseller as being too trashy for the publishing house she works at, Claire's boss offers her a promotion but once he gets a gander at her grifter family, he changes his mind. This drives the girl to jump in a lake in Central Park where she's rescued by, who else, the novelist whose book she nixed. They get married but the guy's a weak sister and falls in with his wife's shady brothers which forces Claire to become "a sister to Judas" who sends her husband to prison.
There's more, too, in a fast moving 65 minutes that also includes guns, gas pellets, and a surprise happy ending. "The rocky road to love" certainly wasn't the road less traveled at Poverty Row but although Mayfair (with its one-room sets and facsimile of Central Park) made Monogram look like MGM, SISTER TO JUDAS made up for it with breezy lines like "Why do you always bet on horses with pansy names?" Within a couple of years, you wouldn't be hearing anything like that on screen.
The Scarlet Hour (1956)
A suspenseful '50s noir from Michael Curtiz
E.V. "Marsh" Marshall (Tom Tryon) is an up-and-coming sales manager for the Ralph Nevin (James Gregory) real estate empire but little does Ralph know that his top employee is having an affair with his slinky wife "Paulie" (Carol Ohmart). Parked in a lover's lane one night, Marsh and Paulie overhear plans for a quarter million dollar jewel heist and high tail it out of there but it does plant a seed. Paulie's husband beats her and she wants out but she came from the tenements and doesn't want to go back so she begs Marsh to help her break free by ripping off the jewel robbers...
There's twists and turns galore in Michael Curtiz' suspense-filled '50s noir that for some reason remains unsung. This was no B-movie, either; it's a Paramount film in VistaVison produced and directed by an Academy Award winner with a sure hand for this sort of thing from a story by Frank Tashlin, of all people. The film "introduces" Tom Tryon, Carol Ohmart, and Jody Lawrance and although none of them went on to major stardom, Tom and Carol had respectable second tier careers. Ohmart was a very sexy lady with the kind of cruel beauty that lent itself well to femme fatale roles and handsome Tom conveys "conflicted" convincingly. Elaine Stritch (her feature film debut, as well) adds heart as Paulie's floozy friend from the old days before she married well and E.G. Marshall's on hand as the investigating police detective. Nat King Cole croons "Never Let Me Go" in the Crystal Room of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Recommended.
Viele kamen vorbei (1956)
A tense, suspenseful cautionary tale
Sixteen year-old Sabine loves her boyfriend Jochen but she's afraid of sex which frustrates Jochen no end. Her parents are afraid of it, too, and forbid the girl to see her beau whose parents have sent him to stay with a country aunt. Undeterred, Sabine sets out on a hitchhiking odyssey to reunite with her sweetheart as a serial killer (Harald Maresch) prowls the freeways, raping and strangling young girls. He's doggedly pursued by Inspector Morath whose family life suffers because of his obsession with the unsolved murders...
Three parallel stories -the girl, the killer, and the inspector- converge at a roadside diner in a tense, suspenseful cautionary tale based on the true story of a sex maniac who used the German autobahn as a hunting ground for young female hitchhikers. The black & white photography is startlingly eerie at times, especially the scenes in the mist-shrouded forest. Recommended.
Handsome Harald Maresch fled the Nazis during WWII by emigrating to Hollywood where he changed his name to Harald Raymond and acted in a few films, most notably FRENCHMAN'S CREEK. He also began a passionate affair with Mexican Spitfire Lupe Velez but when she got pregnant, Harald got cold feet and called it quits. Abortion was not an option for the very Catholic Lupe so she killed herself and their unborn child with an overdose of Seconal and the resulting scandal drummed Harald out of Hollywood. He returned to Europe and resumed a modest film career with his best-remembered effort probably being the cult classic THE HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND. Unable to stay away, Harald died in Los Angeles in 1986.
El juego del adulterio (1973)
An enjoyably over-the-top giallo
Carlos, a business exec with a bum ticker, arrives home unexpectedly to find his heiress wife Alice (Erica Blanc) in bed with her lover Andrés (High Voltage's Juan Luis Galiardo) and nearly has a heart attack. When Alice, who owns the company, tells him she's leaving for good, Carlos slaps her senseless and entombs her in their rat-infested cellar. He suffers another attack a few days later when he goes down to the basement and finds Alice all chewed up by rats but still alive. That's when she rips off her mask and turns the tables on Carlos by burying him alive with the help of Andrés...
This is only the beginning of the nuttiness in yet another "bloodless" giallo that owes a huge debt to DIABOLIQUE. Ever-popular Eurobabe Erica Blanc is joined in the pulchritude department by platinum blonde Ágata Lys as Andrés vengeful ex-girlfriend. A couple of years later, Lys, a minor pop star, would make LA NUEVA MARILYN and get a lot of mileage in men's magazines posing as Monroe. Too plot-laden to have time for sex, THE DEADLY TRIANGLE lacks the erotic aspects generally present in any good giallo (save a coy "nude scene" for Erica) but that doesn't stop it from being enjoyable anyway, if only for the over-the-top antics.
Tod im November (1978)
Typical TV fare from the eco-friendly '70s
Sent to a small town in rural Germany to buy up land for a corporate conglomerate, a surveyor is warned by the locals not to disturb "the devil's bed"...
In the eco-friendly '70s, you know what happens when someone tries to "pave paradise and put up a parking lot" but this time there's a twist when the Devil is sold to the highest bidder. The witch standing in the way of satanic progress is played by Florinda Bolkan (in a role similar to the one she had in DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING) and both she and Law get naked but there's no frontal for gangly government gofer John Phillip Law which was no skin off my arse. I liked the premise but the body count could have been higher and if it wasn't for the nudity, I'd call it a "typical TV movie" from that era.
Masters of Horror: Pelts (2006)
A stylishly effective eco-allegory
A sweat shop furrier becomes part of a bloody chain reaction when he acquires supernatural pelts that have a horrifying effect on all those who come in contact with them...
Director Dario Argento lays the gore effects on with a trowel in this stylishly effective ecological allegory starring Meatloaf as the boorish fur-trader who's obsession with turning the raccoon pelts into a beautiful coat for the object of his affections exacts a terrible price. John Saxon guest stars as a greedy old geezer who unwisely traps his coons on sacred ground.
The premise is very similar to a Cornell Woolrich short story about an ancient Aztec ceremonial cloak that makes its wearers murderous. Tobe Hooper fashioned it into the 1990 TV movie I'M DANGEROUS TONIGHT with Madchen "Twin Peaks" Amick as a young woman who turns the accursed cloak into a ravishing red cocktail dress. When it's worn, watch out!
Due occhi per uccidere (1968)
Like Fabio Testi's trumpet, this movie blows
A ruthless racketeer (Jack Taylor) who uses his nightclub as a front for all kinds of crime suffers a drastic reversal of fortune after sending an innocent man to the guillotine for a crime he himself committed. The executed man donated his eyes after he died and now the club is being watched ...coincidence?
Closer to film noir than giallo, TWO EYES definitely had potential but the lack of suspense, scares, kills, or coherence pretty much made it a missed opportunity. Be that as it may, the movie was just weird enough to keep me watching. In a pre-credit sequence, the prisoner (an uncredited Fabio Testi) takes his trumpet with him to the guillotine which, of course, is why we're forced to hear it in the jazzy score for the rest of the film. There's also an adagio dance at the club featuring a belly dancer getting whipped by a man in a cat mask and later on, Taylor himself falls under the lash. TWO EYES TO KILL isn't inept, exactly, but, like Fabio, it still blows.
Yellow: le cugine (1969)
One of the last of its kind
Marta Garbini (Lisa Seagram), a premature spinster, has spent her life caring for her late grandfather so imagine her shock when she finds out the old man bequeathed his entire estate to her cousin Valentina. The newlywed Valentina and her husband Pierre are as free- spirited as Marta is uptight but when Pierre makes a play for her, Marta responds with long pent-up passion. Valentina photographs them in a compromising clinch and laughs it off but later that night, after a fight, Pierre runs off and Valentina chases after him. When she's found dead the next morning the lovers suddenly find themselves free to cross and double-cross each other 'til the bitter end...
As its title makes clear, YELLOW is a "giallo", of course, but not the kind usually associated with the popular horror sub-genre. The Italian giallo burst upon the scene practically full-blown in 1964 with Mario Bava's BLOOD & BLACK LACE and disappeared just as quickly until bouncing back with a vengeance in 1970 with Dario Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. But what happened between 1964 and 1970? A lot, if you consider the spate of films from directors like Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci that have come to be known as psychological or "bloodless" gialli. Films like ORGASMO, SO SWEET SO PERVERSE, and ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER were forerunners of today's "erotic thrillers" and depended on amoral themes, devious schemes, plot twists, and plenty of sex to carry the day. YELLOW, made in 1969, is one of the last of its kind before Argento changed the genre's face and the nudity (both male and female) is only briefly glimpsed but the same can't be said for product placements like Marlboro and J&B whiskey which is how a lot of these films got financed. There's also some pot and a bit of free love but the body count's low and spaghetti western director Baldanello isn't in the same league as Lenzi or Fulci who might have made something of this cold-blooded tale. The score's terrible, too.
One-time Hollywood sex bomb ("more bomb than sex" according to her critics) Carroll Baker turned "bloodless" gialli into a virtual cottage industry in the late '60s and YELLOW's lovely Lisa Seagram picks up the torch but, unfortunately, she didn't keep it long. Sexy Seagram was a raven-haired, green-eyed starlet who decorated any number of U.S. TV shows throughout the '60s (BURKE'S LAW, BATMAN, HONEY WEST) but, like Baker, she relocated to Italy at the end of the decade to star in feature films of dubious quality. Lisa soon retired but according to her IMDb trivia, she teaches acting in L.A. these days (!).