Saturday, February 18, 2012

In short: So Sweet, So Dead (1972)

Original title: Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile

A provincial town in Italy is hit by a series of murders. All victims are women from the upper rungs of the bourgeoisie, all of them were married and all are found surrounded by photos showing them having sex with men who clearly aren't their husbands. Because he's polite and something of an overachiever, the killer scratches the men's faces off the photos, which makes the life of the investigating cop, Inspector Capuana (Farley Granger, in a subtle and complex performance mostly based on looks instead of facial impressions) that decisive bit more difficult by helping potential witnesses who have reasons of their own not to want to talk to him avoid answering unpleasant questions.

Capuana's investigation is difficult enough as it is, for the town's upper class may be great at committing adultery, but most of its members do not like to talk about their hobbies to the police, and sure are influential enough to get special treatment from the police. Given the miserable state of evidence in the cases, it'll take a long line of victims (Femi Benussi, Krista Nell, Susan Scott - it's half of Italy's giallo actresses for the price of one) until Capuana will be able to get his man. And even then, he might just learn something about his own wife (Sylva Koscina) that'll make him act in a manner morally much worse than adultery could ever be.

So Sweet, So Dead is one of the small group of movies that try to cross the Italian style "ripped from the headlines" police procedural with the giallo; unlike many other films making that attempt, Roberto Bianchi Montero's is actually successful at doing what it sets out to achieve. Many films with the same idea as So Sweet (and isn't it interesting how the film's Italian title emphasises the film's identity as a police procedural while the English language one identifies it as a giallo?) suffer from the peculiar choices their director make when deciding what element from which genre to take, often leading to movies combining the least interesting and the most annoying elements of both genres. Sadly, this has resulted in more than one movie about bored looking men sitting in drab rooms talking police procedural stuff while crawling through a plot that is confusing but equally drab.

Montero goes about his business a bit more intelligently, making the murder and sex scenes, as well as identity and motivation of the killer, stylistically and in their content part of the giallo genre, while the social commentary, the central cop character and the cynical ending are coming right from the police procedural. One could argue that Montero uses the copious scenes of nudity of a minor who is who of Italian genre actresses and the sexy, sleazy violence to make his semi-realist observations about the life of the upper classes more interesting to a rather jaded audience. The director succeeds in this project rather well, especially because he seems to be stylistically at home in both genres (which does not come as too big a surprise seeing as Montero worked in any film genre you might care to name), making the giallo parts suspenseful, their violence disquietingly enticing, and the police procedural parts' observations about the mental state of provincial Italy 1972 believable and human.

There is, alas, a real possibility that the director agrees with the killer about the adulterous women being "whores" who deserve to die, although there's an equally large possibility that position is part of the bourgeois hypocrisy he is trying to criticize. In good exploitation film tradition, you can base an argument for both positions on So Sweet, So Dead.


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