A maniac is murdering the unfaithful wives of prominent citizens. He leaves incriminating photographs of the women and their lovers, but removes the men's faces to protect / conceal their identities.
Being naked playing dead - the maniac's first victim
Inspector Capuano (a dubbed Farley Granger) is assigned the case. While pathologist Professor Casali (Chris Avram) offers useful information as to the killer's modus operandi and motivation, Capuano finds his investigations otherwise stalled at every turn by his superiors' insistence that he focus on the usual suspects and take a softly-softly approach in dealing with the lovers and husbands of the victims.
Prof. Casali offers his expert opinion as to the killer's method and motive; note the mirror / distortion
As the killer's depredations continue a number of suspects come to the fore, including a morgue attendant with an unhealthy enthusiasm for his work (Luciano Rossi) and lawyer Paolo Santangeli (Silvano Tranquilli).
A parade of the usual suspects; Capuano knows he is looking in the wrong place with them
“No woman is going to marry a man who works at my job, you see. Sooner or later they find out about the corpses, and it's finished before I can get started. ”
“Poor Serena. She may have lacked discretion but she certainly didn't warrant her awful end.”
“Why should we react like you? He only kills unfaithful wives.”
Though losing its way somewhat as it enters its second act, as Capuano's investigation is temporarily sidelined in favour of that undertaken by Santangeli's teenage daughter Bettina, this 1972 giallo redeems itself somewhat with a memorable final act; unfortunately this also makes it difficult to review without spoiling it for the first-time viewer.
What can be said is that the film as a whole operates at the sleazier and trashier end of the giallo spectrum, with the majority of the female roles, including those of Susan Scott and Femi Benussi, pretty much of the thankless get-naked-then-die variety.
Whether the film is actually misogynistic as often claimed is however debatable. I would tend to argue that, like many of its type, it is really more misanthropic, declining to present anyone in a particularly flattering light.
True, this is unlikely to satisfy anyone who feels that the female is more moral than the male, or that by merely reporting on the existence of a sexual double standard but not overtly critiquing it the film-makers were contributing in their own small way to its continuance.
Here, we have to remember that the social / cultural norm in Italy circa 1972 would have been that a man in a prominent position should have both wife and a mistress, and that if he did not then there was quite possibly something wrong with or suspect about him. The reverse of this, meanwhile, was that the the man could not admit to being cuckolded by his wife being another man's mistress.
Though the most obvious example of this within the film is Susan Scott's husband, a failed suicide who succeeded only in crippling himself instead – a symbolic castration if ever there was one – it also seems worth considering whether the fact that the Capuano's marriage is without issue says something about the Inspector's masculine potency – or lack thereof – and / or if his apparent fidelity marks him out as someone too idealistic for his chosen career. Indeed, by extension, we might question whether he is thus being positioned as someone who has more in common with the moralistic avenger than he might care to acknowledge.
Tellingly both the maniac and the police use the same technologies of surveillance
Besides the killer's archetypal garb, a number of other motifs provide points of interest for students of the genre. At one point, for example, the wives / mistresses of some of the local notables discuss the case at their regular visit to the beauty salon, reminding one of the role played by the same location in The Black Belly of the Tarantula and indeed suggesting an alternate blackmail based version of the same “forbidden photos” type scenario. At another Capuano has one of the victims' funerals caught on camera in the hope that catching some detail that will break the case open. Unlike the ill-educated and naïve populace of the southern village in Don't Torture a Duckling, however, these northern urban sophisticates are too clever – or blasé – to reveal themselves in this way.
Roberto Bianchi Montero's direction is the kind of hit-and-miss thing that might be expected from a 60-something film-maker whose undistinguished career had seen him dabble in a succession of filone over the decades, his suspenseful and stylish handling of a murder on the train negated by the laughably inappropriate use of slow-motion in the murder on the beach.
The black-clad moral avenger
The film's titles foreground archetypal giallo imagery and technology – the black gloves, the knife, the telephone etc.
Giorgio Gaslini's score comprises two repeated cues, one playing over the main titles and emotional high points like the funeral aforementioned funeral sequence thereafter and the other accompanying the killer's appearances. While the latter cue uses something similar to the “make a jazz noise here” approach of many of Morricone's contributions to the genre, it arguably functions in a fundamentally different way otherwise, more a leitmotif and less a tension-raising device, precisely because the pervading sense of cynicism prevents us from really caring about the next beautiful woman about to die.
All told, So Sweet, So Dead is a dubiously entertaining giallo whose view of the world might be summed up as through urine-coloured lenses at a half-empty J&B glass.