Thursday, February 10, 2011

In short: Smile Before Death (1972)

Original title: Il sorriso della iena

Sixteen year old Nancy Thompson's (Jenny Tamburi) mother has died in the sort of "suicide" only the movie police will ever take to be an actual suicide. Not that it matters all that much to Nancy, seeing that she's spent her whole life in various boarding schools and hasn't seen her Mom in years anyhow. Plus, her mother's death has made Nancy very, very rich, although her stepfather Mario (Silvano Tranquilli), who has never even seen Nancy before her mother died, is supposed to take care of her money until she's eighteen.

Nonetheless, Nancy is leaving her boarding school and moving in with the aging gigolo and his long-term lover, fashion photographer Gianna (Rosalba Neri). It becomes clear quite early on in the proceedings that Gianna and Mario are responsible for the death of Nancy's mother, and that they are planning on getting rid of the girl, too, to get at her money.

Nancy's no dummy, though, and, after the first failed assassination attempt on her, starts a very peculiar campaign of self-defence by playing games of seduction and merry mind-fuckery on her would-be killers. Of course, there are further plot twists lying in the future.

Smile Before Death's director Silvio Amadio is one among the astonishing number of Italian back row genre filmmakers who was always working in whatever genre was in fashion at the moment, so his filmography features a peplum or two, a spaghetti western, and a few giallos like Smile. As happens with his type of director more often than not, most of Amadio's films are competent and routine but lack the sparkle or conviction of films made by someone who cares about more in his films than finishing them on time and on budget.

That isn't to say his films are unwatchable, one just needs to keep one's expectations on the appropriate medium height to enjoy them. If you're able to do that with Smile Before Death, you'll probably have some fun with it.

At least, the film contains the mandatory amount of nudity, mostly Jenny Tamburi's nudity. Don't worry, the actress wasn't really sixteen when this was shot, so nobody has to feel like too uncomfortable when the camera lingers and lingers and lingers on her while the film's blasted theme song plays. It's only another day of mild sleaze in the Italian film industry.

When Amadio's camera can tear its gaze away from Tamburi, some mildly thrilling thriller stuff and a load of mightily improbable, yet appropriately cynical twisting and turning happens. From time to time, the film even manages to be blackly funny in its merry disregard for propriety; this never leads into the depths of class, politics and social morals some of the best films of the giallo genre are exploring, but does keep one distracted from further repetitions of the same thirty seconds of music.

I usually do like the technique of playing a jaunty, cheesy lounge pop song while rather decadent or plain unpleasant things happen on screen, but Amadio overuses the little music one Roberto Pregadio composed for his film so much that I'm not even sure if he isn't trying to pull off a Tokyo Drifter-like joke on his producers. Unfortunately, Pregadio's little ditty isn't good enough to be used this intensely and soon (after its tenth use or so about twenty minutes into the movie) becomes so close to sonic torture that it threatens to pull the rest of the film down with it.

Still, if you're nerves are strong, or your ears weak, Smile Before Death is a perfectly decent little movie.


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