Color, 1970, 95 mins. 45 secs.
Directed by Luciano Ercoli
Starring Dagmar Lassander, Pier Paolo Capponi, Susan Scott, Simón Andreu
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Camera Obscura (Germany R2 PAL), Blue Underground (US R0 NTSC), CineKult (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicionfirst of a wonderfully stylish and quirky giallo Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspiciontrilogy by director Luciano Ercoli and prolific writer Ernesto Gastaldi, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion arrived in 1970 as the style was breaking through to mainstream popularity thanks to the likes of Dario Argento, Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Martino. Though Ercoli's three shockers (including the later Death Walks at Midnight and Death Walks on High Heels) weren't distributed as widely as many of their peers, his marvelously twisty plots and keen eye for colorful scope compositions is already in evidence here.

This film's real trump card is a dynamic and sexy lead role for busy actress Dagmar Lassander at the height of her beauty, fresh off her memorable turns in The Frightened Woman and Hatchet for the Honeymoon. Here she's Minou, a married woman whose often-absent husband, Peter (The Cat o' Nine Tails' Capponi), leaves her alone to wallow in lurid daydreams and booze binges. One night while strolling on the beach she's approached by a menacing stranger (Andreu) who holds her on the sharp end of a knife-equipped cane and growls threats about her husband, whom he could implicate in a murder. Afterwards Minou relaxes with her friend Dominique (regular Ercoli muse Susan Scott), who mentions that one of Peter's colleagues was recently found dead under mysterious circumstances; even stranger, she shows off a series of erotic photographs, which highlight the strange blackmailer -- who soon starts tormenting Minou with phone calls and clandestine meetings in which he names her body as the price he requires for his silence. Of course, these events only prove to be the beginning of Minou's descent into degradation, with covert dirty Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicionpictures and numerous plot twists whipping the story back and forth until the obligatory surprise Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicionfinale.

Buoyed by one of Ennio Morricone's finest '70s scores (later memorably sampled by Super Furry Animals), Forbidden Photos doesn't really explore the same psychosexual cinematic terrain forged by maestros Bava and Argento; instead Ercoli goes for a deeply subjective internal approach (the amount of bloodshed is less than your average episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents), with the heroine's dubious sanity and everyone else's shady motives creating a disorienting puzzle that paves the way for future mind-warping giallo oddities like Spasmo. Though not overly explicit, the erotic passages are still heady stuff thanks to the vivid color schemes and wild decor, including the first memorable encounter with Lassander and Andreu in a red-lit room lined with plaster hands. Oddly enough, the title seems like an attempt to recall the same year's Oscar-winning Italian film Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion, but you'd have to look pretty hard for any similarities.

The first DVD came in 2006 from Blue Underground in America, which presents Forbidden Photos in a striking, very colorful transfer that shows off every delicious bit of art direction in nice clarity. Past European VHS editions tended to fudge a bit with the aspect ratio, but here the full scope ratio is perfectly preserved. The mono English track (dubbed with many familiar voice actors) sounds clear and well-balanced for what it is. Extras include the wonderfully lounge-friendly theatrical trailer and a 9-minute featurette, "Forbidden Screenplays," in which a jovial Gastaldi talks about his beginnings as a screenwriter, the shooting conditions in Italy at the time, and various ploys used to get the film's more sensational material around the censors-- namely doing the kinkiest bits as flashbacks so the viewer can fill in any gaps. Blue Underground later reissued the film as part of an Italian thriller triple feature with Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above SuspicionThe Fifth Cord and The Pyjama Girl Case. Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion

Not surprisingly, the film began to gain for more attention thanks to its wider availability and started popping up on fans' lists of their favorite '70s gialli. A 2012 revisit from dedicated genre label Camera Obscura proved to be another in its line of excellent Italian releases, containing the striking packaging and extensive features we've come to expect. The transfer itself appears to be similar to the American one but benefits from the uptick in resolution provided by PAL, while the dual-layered disc also lets the film breathe a bit more with a generous high bit rate. Here the English dub is ditched in favor of the Italian and German audio tracks with optional English and German subtitles; the Italian subtitled version is especially fascinating and makes for the classiest viewing experience of all available options since that's the language spoken by almost all of the actors. Extras commence with "Shooting Forbidden Photos," a 35-minute featurette in which Ercoli (speaking Italian) and Scott (speaking Spanish and credited under her real name, Nieves Navarro) reminisce about getting their (sometimes ignoble) starts in the Italian movie business and working on this film, including choosing the right locations and getting in the right mind-set for the characters. The 14-minute "Venus Plus" is a new interview with Gastaldi, who covers his own career from starting as a ghostwriter to working with the conventions of the giallo genre, such as coming up with silly reasons for characters to split up with a mad killer on the loose. You also get the English trailer and a gallery of posters, video sleeves, and stills, plus liner notes ("A Hand-Kiss from Mrs. Hercules") by Christian Kessler in both English and German. He sketches out the basics of the participants, ponders the mystery of the film's apparently aborted German theatrical release and dubbing participants, and the meaning of its German-translated title, "Women Tortured to Insanity!"

Of course it was inevitable that a film so visually sumptuous (and with such a wild fashion sense) would have to make the leap to Blu-ray at some point, and that came to pass in 2018 with Arrow Video's simultaneous U.S. and U.K. editions featuring the same contents. The transfer bears the same vivid color timing of the earlier releases, which is Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspiciongood news, and Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicionadds a bit of extra visual information along with the expected boost in detail throughout with more natural and perceptible film grain. For the first time, both the English and Italian tracks are available at the same time (LPCM mono) with optional, properly translated English subtitles (or SDH ones for the English dub). A new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger approaches the film as an example of the classy melding of melodrama and murder mystery that defined the pre-Argento giallo and would soon fall out of favor, and be sure to stick around for her enthusiastic take on the film's unusual, feel-good ending. "Private Pictures" (44m15s) compiles the preexisting interviews with Ercoli and Scott with a new Gastaldi interview to provide a thorough snapshot of how the Italian-Spanish co-production emerged under the aegis of Alberto Pugliese. "The Forbidden Soundtrack of the Big Three" (47m5s) shifts the focus to that indelible Morricone soundtrack with musician and soundtrack collector Lovely Jon offering an in-depth dissection of the many musicians who played a vital role in creating this musical tapestry, including Bruno Nicolai and Alessandro Alessandroni, with a wild sound produced by detuning instruments. He also goes track by track picking apart such elements as the bossa nova (Antonion Carlos Jobim in particular) influence on the main theme. Finally "The Forbidden Lady" (44m3s) is a lengthy Q&A with Lassander at the 2016 Festival of Fantastic Films, covering much of her career from her acting rise in Germany during the early 1960s through her time in Italy from Hatchet onward in a string of thrillers. And yes, they briefly talk about Werewolf Woman, which she has never seen. The Italian and English trailers are also included along with a stills gallery, and as usual the packaging comes with your choice of reversible options including a new design by Twins of Evil.


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Updated review on December 13, 2013.