Oliviero Ruvigny (Luigi Pistilli) is a burnt-out, alcoholic, mother-fixated writer who has not written a line in three years and survives by selling off the furniture from the crumbling family mansion. His main pleasure in life is taunting his beautiful wife Irina (Anita Strindberg) who also attentions of her dead mother-in-law' cat, a malevolent creature that more than live up to its name, Satan, as far as she is concerned.
Yet another picture that holds a power
An early appearance by Dalila Di Lazzaro, later the lead in Flavio Mogherini's The Pyjama Girl Case
Visiting the village for much-needed supplies after hosting another party for the hippies at the nearby commune, Oliviero arranges a rendezvous with the girl from the bookstore, Fausta (Daniela Giordano). But while waiting for him to arrive, she is murdered by a sickle-wielding, black-gloved figure.
Daniela Giordano in a particularly thankless role.
When the police call at the villa the next day Oliviero claims that he was with Irina all evening. This satisfies the police but leaves Irina – seemingly too frightened to tell them the truth – ever more worried.
Ruvigny hits the J&B
Then the Ruvigny's maid (Carla Brait) is killed. Again proclaiming his innocence, Oliviero convinces Irina that the best thing to do is wall up the body in the cellar and, if anyone asks, say that she left their service; to go to the authorities "would be like putting a noose around my neck" he explains.
The maid dons Oliviero's mother's dress and suffers the consequences
Ivan Rassimov, looking shifty as ever
The last thing either of them needs, then, is the unexpected arrival of Olivieri's niece Floriana (Edwige Fenech), although Irina warms to her as she stands up to Oliviero and offers her aunt more than a shoulder to cry on.
I love the abstract, gestalt figure qualities of this composition
Unfortunately at this point, the film loses its way somewhat.
Fausta's killer is unmasked as an escaped lunatic, thereby removing the burden of suspicion from Oliviero but also making his and Irina's subsequent actions less believable.
More damaging, however, is the dirt bike sequence that follows, which effectively puts a brake on the narrative for the better part of five minutes.
Happily things pick up after this as the various plots come together, though never quite recapturing the lost momentum of the first half.
All work and no play makes Oliviero a dull boy?
Combining familiar generic themes and motifs with more overtly Gothic elements drawn from Edgar Allen Poe's short story The Black Cat – itself later adapted by Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento in giallo / horror style – this 1972 entry boasts one of the most extravagant titles in the entire giallo filone, itself stemming from a line in the filmmakers' earlier The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh.
At the helm, Sergio Martino again demonstrates his undoubted technical abilities, although some of his choices also feel a touch over-emphatic. It is not that an extreme close-up, shock zoom or sudden cut-in has no place here – that would be an absurd suggestion to make – more that they feel somewhat redundant when the point has already been made through dialogue, performance or other, more subtle, aspects of mise-en-scene. Sometimes more is less.
Against this, however, there are some beautifully realised moments. A love scene between Floriana and Irina, for instance, may use all the slow-dissolve, hands-clasping-in-ecstasy cliches, but in doing so it perhaps indicates not only their pleasure as immediate meaning but also a retrospectively element of falseness when it becomes evident that both participants are playing particular roles.
Bruno Nicolai's score lacks variety compared to his work for Martino elsewhere, with an absence of suspense and lounge themes in favour of numerous minor variations on the same gentle, romantic harpsichord and string led theme. This also, however, perhaps allows for a better fit with the overall tone of the film, insofar as the emphasis is more upon the relationships between the characters than the woman-in-peril scenario.
While Strindberg is perhaps the designated victim, she is more the victim of systematic abuse than a clear cut conspiracy of the sort experienced by Edwige Fenech in The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh or All the Colours of the Dark.
Fenech herself is intriguingly cast against type as a conniving bitch with her own agenda, leaving Rassimov with the short end of the stick once more as yet another sinister presence; while his exact allegiance and part in the various plots and counter-plots remains a mystery until late on, it is evident from his very first appearance that can be up to no good.
To an extent Luigi Pistilli might also appear typecast, insofar as he is again given the role of someone troubled, haunted and compromised following his reluctant co-conspirator of a forceful Lady Macbeth type wife in Bay of Blood and his policeman traumatised by a suspect's death in The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire. Again, however, what matters is the way he differentiates each such figure from the others, with his alcoholic Oliviero also giving an ironic twist to the omnipresent J&B bottle as more a signifier of failure ("It's all poison", as the character remarks at one point) than la dolce vita.
Leering local layabouts
The Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll?
La Chute, again
It is also worth noting that the film features both dummy and doll action. There is also a scene repeated in Torso, as a gang of locals leer at and make crude remarks as to what they would like to do to Irina: if Martino gives the (implied) male spectator his “visual pleasures” he also likes to explicitly problematise them on occasion. I also find these moments curiously reminiscent of those in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura where Monica Vitti's character similarly finds herself being eyed up and objectivised; whether the allusion is conscious or not is if course another matter entirely...