Angela (Mirella Banti) is the wife of a diplomat, John Baldwin (Andy J Forest). One day she visits a down-market cinema and is attacked in the toilets by a maniac. The incident proves the last straw for John, who is secretly having an affair with Angela's live-in friend Eva (Mary Lindstrom), a model. Not wanting to divorce Angela for fear of scandal, John decides to murder her and blame it on the maniac at large...
Even when presented in this form, Scandal in Black has an obvious plausibility concern in why a respectability-obsessed career politician would be living with the (perhaps lesbian coded) friend of his wife to begin with: Wouldn't this in itself be scandalous enough or at least provide plausible cause for scandal when manipulated by the media and rivals or enemies?
Things get worse when we consider the way in which Angela's supposed rape in the toilets is handled by the police, with no sign of their making any sort of forensic examinations. For, had they done so, they might have realised that Angela faked her attack.
The reason why isn't entirely clear: It could have something to do with a traumatic incident fifteen years previously, as shown in a pre-credits sequence. But if so there's no definite and convincing point of connection ever really established. Instead, the initial trauma feels somewhat shoehorned in because that's what the textbook dictates a giallo should have. Yet in its presentation, with rape prominent and the identity of the attacker obvious rather than concealed, it also seems to be aiming at something more.
Whatever this something more is remains obscure, however, quickly leading to the conclusion that Scandal in Black is best approached by not questioning things too much and going with the flow.
What we get are various reversals of fortune amongst the conspirators, very much a case of who is screwing who, both metaphorically and literally; various well-worn filone tropes including black gloves, blades, damaged dolls, blackmail subplots, threatening phone calls, shower scenes and a death (specifically decapitation) by power tool; all topped off by some of the most consistently defective detective work around:
“Did you realise last week’s hit and run victim worked in the same movie theatre where Mrs Baldwin was attacked?”
“How do you know that?”
Or how about:
“Even in a small city like this hundreds of women are molested every week. Most of the time that’s the end of it; nothing else ever happens.”
And this from a female officer who was once molested herself. Perhaps something is lost in translation, but even so...
Shower abstraction of female form
And clear blade
Throughout all this the main tension in the film, one that is never quite satisfactorily resolved, is between the erotic thriller and slasher film aspects of the giallo. There are more softcore sex scenes and fewer murder set pieces. This slows things down somewhat, since the sex scenes rarely advance the plot.
The real issue, however, is that the continuing presence of violence numbers makes the sex-violence interface that bit more evident and thus detracts from enjoyment of the sex scenes. This would be fine if a Laura Mulvey styled “visual unpleasure” was the aim, but it's not, at least in general terms.
Sexist, or a critique of sexism?
The opening scenes encapsulate this tension perfectly: First we have the rape scene, which is not supposed to be sexy. Then we have Angela driving in her sports car en route to the cinema, seductively dressed and very much performing for the camera and the male spectator. Taken together we have a pleasure which is at best a guilty one.
As a whole it feels as though the filmmakers have taken the plot of a Lenzi “psycho-sexy” giallo from the late 1960s and filtered it through the lens of an Argento psycho-sexual giallo from a few years later. This would be fine, but for the fact that when Lenzi himself worked in an Argento idiom, as in Seven Blood Stained Orchids, he did so as an alternative to his own earlier approach. Thus when one character is killed with an electric drill within that film, the effect is more an impressive piece of splatter than something uncomfortably psycho-sexual: The drill may be phallic, if one wants to interpret it that way, but it is first and foremost a drill. Here, by contrast, we have an approach that is too self-conscious for its own good, as when Angela remarks of her phantom attacker that “He used the bottle neck as if it were a phallus”.
The Lenzi connection may seem less arbitrary when we consider that leading man Forest was a regular in Lenzi productions of this time. His performance here – to the extent any performance can be judged through a bad English dub – is somewhat one note if suitably unlikeable. Leading lady Banti is perhaps best known for her role as one of the lesbian victims in Tenebre. She acquits herself well enough, as does the more decorative Lindstrom, in what appears to have been her only film appearance.
Hedman plus posters
Also in the cast are Franco Citti and Marina Hedman. The former, though most associated with Pasolini, appeared in the odd filone production, such as The Cat with the Eyes of Jade. The latter, a hardcore porn performer, is amusingly cast as one of the employees of the cinema, whose walls are adorned with posters for the likes of Fatal Temptation and Emmanuelle 5.
The scoring, by Marco Rossetti, is decent, but suffers from that artificial, synthetic quality, where every drum beat has exactly the same pre-programmed sound. Had the film been made in 1975 rather than 1990 you could imagine it all being more organic (read real instruments, and a Hammond B3 rather than a synth), and much the better for it.
In sum, entertaining enough if you can turn off your critical faculties, which I was not able to do...