Herr Reiner, a German tourist visiting Rome happens to snap not only some Zapruder-like shots of an assassination on the Spanish Steps but also the gunman (John Steiner) at a window. Unsure of what to do with the shots, Reiner hides the film in his gold cigarette lighter
Two point and shoot technologies; why is the frame within the frame absent in the last image?
Later he calls up a couple of high-class prostitutes, Pamela (Janet Agren) and Mystere (Carole Bouquet) to his temporary residence, the Rome Sheraton. Pamela steals the lighter, depositing it in Mystere's handbag.
By the time Mystere discovers the McGuffin, Pamela and Reiner have been murdered by an unidentified agent, first seen on the steps during the opening assassination.
The steps; note Reiner in the foreground with his camera.
Dubious symbolism #781
The police understandably take an interest in the case generally and, in the case of Inspector Colt [sic], Mystere specifically, but it's unclear whether he or they can be trusted...
As signaled by the identification of Steiner's assassin at the outset, the absence of any immediate Blow-Up styled examination of the resulting images, Mystere is as much an espionage thriller as a giallo per se.
There is plenty of intrigue but little in the way of a mystery to be solved, despite the connotations of the lead character's name. Instead, her primary goal is to disentangle herself from the situation she has unwittingly become involved in, alive.
As incarnated by Bouquet, Mystere is beautiful, classy and intelligent. This also means, however, that she doesn't get naked or really quite deliver in exploitation film terms in the way that an Edwige Fenech would have done in the role; she's also less of a frightened woman, actually carrying a handgun in her handbag for self-defence and providing a more active protagonist than many.
Consequently, it's the supporting cast – which also includes Gabriele Tinti as a pimp nicknamed Mink for Blaxploitation-type reasons; Inspector Colt also practices with nunchucks as if in a Hong Kong movie – who may make or break the film for the Euro-cult viewer, alongside the details.
Mystere takes the initiative
We do get some murders with a staff concealing a hidden blade; fetishistic touches like the killer donning black leather gloves prior to murdering Pamela and then wiping the blade clean of blood on her exposed panties; some (non-traumatic, enigma-free) flashbacks; a rooftop chase; Bouquet's donning a canary yellow dress for a key period of the action, and a climactic defenestration death and dummy.
Director Carlo Vanzina would later go on to direct Nothing Underneath, another transitional if slightly more traditional giallo. His work here is much the same as there: Undoubtedly stylish, in that obsessive, 80s postmodern, surface manner, but perhaps not always with a great deal of substance behind it – an impression enhanced by Armando Trovajoli's slick and moody, but ultimately unmemorable, score.