The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970)
By: chrysalis on May 10, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Blue Underground (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 1.0. 96 minutes
The Movie
Director: Luciano Ercoli
Starring: Dagmar Lassander, Pier Paolo Capponi, Simón Andreu, Osvaldo Genazzani
Screenplay: Ernesto Gastaldi, Mahnahén Velasco
Country: Italy
AKA: Le Foto proibite di una signora per bene

While the giallo genre of the late 1960s and 1970s frequently revelled in over-the-top violence as much as it did kinky or taboo sex and innuendo, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is proof that even without the core violence element the genre is highly effective if properly created – although upping the sex quotient doesn't hurt.

As it unfolds, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion almost entirely avoids bloodshed; in an opening incident which sets the remainder of the film the fragile Minou (Dagmar Lassander), wife of high-flying industrialist Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi), is subjected to a knifepoint attack on a night-time beach, the offending stranger (Simón Andreu) – who unusually for the giallo genre reveals his face and identity from the beginning – stunning Minou by informing her that Peter is a murderer, the alleged victim subsequently revealed to be a creditor of Minou's money-strapped husband.

Minou's best friend Dominique (Susan Scott), a man-hungry vixen and former lover of Peter, further stuns Minou by parading her new erotic portfolio for our fragile victim and then further confusing matters by showing Minou a series of pornographic photos purchased in Copenhagen, one of which stars Minou's attacker – who has been simply dismissed as a "sex maniac" by the local constabulary.

When the beachside attacker returns, now armed with an audio recording of the murder, Minou is forced to give herself sexually to the protagonist to secure its exchange. With the tape in her possession it should be all over – but alas more forbidden photos, another tape recording, an about-turn by several main characters and the continued eerie presence of the almost apparitional knife-wielding maniac, all combine to drive Minou further into an abyss of tranquilizer-fuelled mental disarray.

Minou and Dominique – as smartly portrayed by Lassander and Scott in two fantastic roles – are almost the antithesis of each other in so far as 1970s giallo cinema is concerned, Minou a tender, easily wrecked eggshell of a woman who is heavily dependent on husband Peter (even her doctor is forced to comment on her reliance) while Dominique is an assured, confident but promiscuous female who even with her limited screen time is portrayed as almost "mannish" in some respects due to her interest in pornography, carnal desires and deviousness.

While occasionally dismissed as simply the first of director Luciano Ercoli's three giallo vehicles (the others being Death Walks At Midnight and Death Walks On High Heels, recently issued as a No Shame double DVD set) for then lover Scott – whose character ultimately provides the key to unlocking the mystery of Minou's torment – the fact is that this stylish, sleazy effort packs an extremely well-written story where virtually every piece of the plot ultimately assists with its stunning conclusion with some great nudie shots of Scott and a, for the time, rather daring and continued use of sexual references. It's obvious that Scott was a more than competent actress but even in this film her opportunities are limited (as they were in the fantastic All The Colours Of The Dark), with her giallo career never really seeing her assume the dominance within this brand of Italian exploitation cinema as enjoyed by the likes of Florinda Bolkan, Edwige Fenech or Anita Strindberg.

That the violence is kept to a minimum and the sex often implied or only fleetingly witnessed is probably a reflection of the year, 1970, in which this film was made. While within only a few short years the blood and black lace were all flowing freely, 1970s Italian film productions were still grappling with censor restrictions. Despite these shackles The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion rises to the challenge and is a definite winner for all those with more than a passing interest in the giallo genre.
The print for this DVD is superb, the colours impeccably bright and the contrasts well rendered. Once again Blue Underground has ensured the best available source has been used for their product where previously fans were used to inferior import or bootlegged productions. The film is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. You couldn't ask for more.
The audio track is a little quiet but otherwise equally A grade with no noticeable imperfections in the dialogue and Ennio Morricone's subtly erotic score retaining its energy and vibrancy. Only English language dialogue is available, which is somewhat surprising given a tendency with the recent DVD reissuing of Italian genre cinema to include a native tongue audio track, but I have no idea if one exists or is otherwise available. The audio is mono only but 5.1 mixes were hardly the rage in 1970.
Extra Features
Blue Underground is a bit light on in the extras department this time around, the only bonuses being a theatrical trailer and a mini featurette built around an interview with screenplay writer Ernesto Gastaldi who has been busily providing in recent years interview segments for pretty much every DVD release of films he was in any way involved with. His interview this time is actually a little more insightful than usual, and his comments regarding director Ercoli and actress Scott explain why perhaps these two were not found to contribute in any way to this release. While meagre it's better than nothing.
The Verdict
The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion proves that an emphasis on dialogue and plot, and a hefty dose of kink, can drive a film without the heavy-handed excess of violence so common to the giallo genre. The film's lead female actors drive proceedings with two above-average performances amid a sea of failing, shortsighted or unbalanced male characters who succumb to more baser instincts and miss what is going on around them. While some of the plot steps are to 21st century eyes and ears a little simplistic – particularly the quick psychoanalysis of the "sex maniac" (perhaps merely a device so that the character is labelled absent a name) – the film overall still retains its edge to this day and was a stepping stone for careers which later revealed such gems as Torso, The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh and Death Carries A Cane.

Giallo fiends who have failed to pounce on this one yet will appreciate that while there is no doubt The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion sits firmly within the Italian thriller genre it avoids many of the more usual giallo trappings – endless killings, blatantly deceptive red herrings – to provide a viewing experience which is familiar yet surprising at the same time.
Movie Score
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