Friday, August 28, 2015

Rosalba Neri Friday # 24 - IL SORRISO DELLA IENA 1972


More Rosalba Golden Age Giallo Goodliness With Murder, Blood & Treachery  !!

      I always thought it was a shame that Rosalba didn't do more giallo's during her career.  She appeared in handful of them including the very excellent AMUCK and the interesting TWO MASKS FOR ALEXA (along with the delirious TOP SENSATION if you count that as a giallo), but for the most part producers seemed more interested in sticking her in spaghetti westerns or peplums with the occasional horror or giallo mixed in. She really excelled in playing icy cold conniving bitches or black hearted murderesses (as she showed in the above titles) that when with combined with her exotic looks would seem to make her a natural for Euro thrillers.
     Written and directed by Silvio Amadio (who also was behind AMUCK the same year) SMILE BEFORE DEATH borrows a bit plot wise from the Sergio Martino's superior YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY from the same year (whether be design or not) and although the plot itself is standard giallo (long missing family member shows up and murder/treachery ensues) it throws in some interesting twists. Easy to dismiss as a standard example of 70's Italian gaillo, it does reward with some careful viewing.

     Teenage Nancy Thompson (Jenny Tamburi from THE SINFUL NUNS OF ST. VALENTINE & Lucio Fulci's THE PSYCHIC) returns home to her stepfather Marco (Silvano Tranquilli from CASTLE OF BLOOD) after the apparent (??) suicide of her mother Dorothy. She moves into the family cottage with her mother's best friend Gianna, a seemingly friendly fashion photographer played by Rosalba and soon discovers that her stepfather and Gianna are having an affair which they don't seem to worried about keeping secret. Soon Nancy begins to have suspicions about her Mother's death and revels herself to be not quite the innocent she seems as she begins to make advances toward her stepfather along with getting involved with Gianna.
      There is the standard stuff about inheritance and wills along with a suspicious housekeeper that most likely knows more then she's telling and it seems that Nancy mother also had a gigolo on the side. The movie starts off with the death of Nancy's mother in a terrifically staged scene (which doesn't give everything away) then goes bloodless until the final set of murders at the end. It's an entertaining example of the genre that maybe as a fault does try just a bit too hard to hold your interest through the somewhat boring middle section with numerous flashbacks. With that being said however the film does reward with some careful & attentive viewing as there is subtle little instances of plot twists with bits of thrown away dialogue here and there and even hints in performances and camera shots that reveal little details (and the ending throws a couple of twists in that are unexpected).

       Jenny Tamburi was extremely busy through the 70's and 80's appearing in dozens of erotica and giallo films and she's quite good here. Seeming as a wide eyed innocent at the beginning she inserts herself into the maybe (?) scheming couple's life and begins working each person against the other using her their sexual attraction to her as tool to manipulate them. Her slowly escalating seduction and manipulation of Rosalba's character is full of little nuances with gestures and facial expressions by both protagonists.
      With Nancy being the main drive of the narrative, in what at first glance would seem to be a secondary female role as the mistress is given a great range of shifting personalities by Rosalba as she goes from manipulative and seemingly in charge of the situation to realizing things are not all they seem (you almost feel sorry for her at the film's twisted climax). I know I'm bias, but she is quite wonderful here.
      Like many Italian thrillers the score would seem to be somewhat inappropriate to the plot as Roberto Pregadio's trippy lounge-like music (with wordless vocals by frequent Morricone collaborator Edda Dell'Orso) seems at odds with whats happening on the screen. I always feel like these scores do have a thematic hold to these films with their sets full of ultra modern furniture, mod clothes and bottles of J&B scotch and they help heighten the dream-like quality that permeates many of their plots. Although the main theme is played in what seems to be a continuous loop, it is a highly memorable score (you'll be humming it for days afterwards) and shows up on numerous 70's Italian lounge/soundtrack compilations along with a stand alone CD release from Beat Records.    
      Although not attaining the heights of decadence and delirium as AMUCK, this is still a decent gaillo and works well if don't go in with hopes of blood flying about and a quick moving plot. The original Italian title was IL SORRISO DELLA IENA which translates as THE SMILE OF THE HYENA (which to me is a lot more "giallo" sounding title) and unfortunately is one of those that's fallen through the cracks on home video with the only copies floating around in the collector circles (with the best one sourced from an Italian TV broadcast - complete with an annoying station watermark).

1 comment:

  1. A station watermark? Amazing. Of course, I'd love to see a real edition of this.