The Giallo Project #7: The Sweet Body of Deborah
Alternative titles: Il Dolce corpo di Deborah; Director: Romolo Guerrieri; Starring: Carroll Baker, Jean Sorel, Evelyn Stewart, Luigi Pistilli, George Hilton; Music: Nora Orlandi; Italian theatrical release date: March 20th, 1968
The newly married Marcel (Jean Sorel) takes his American bride, Deborah (Carroll Baker), to his home town of Geneva to celebrate their honeymoon. However, he hasn’t been home long before he begins receiving all sorts of reminders of the untimely demise of his ex-girlfriend, Suzanne (Evelyn Stewart). The papers all say that she committed suicide, but an old friend, Philippe (Luigi Pistilli), menacingly accuses Marcel of murdering her. Soon, it becomes clear that someone is playing a very sick game with both Marcel and Deborah, who both begin to wonder how they can trust each other.
I like to class gialli such as this one as “Mills & Boon Gone Wrong”. All the familiar traits are here: handsome European stud romances glamorous American woman and they run away together to various exotic locales (here Geneva and, as this was a French co-production, Nice, both lushly photographed in the manner of a tourist video). Then, throw in a bit of blackmail, double- and triple-crosses and some murders, and you’ve got yourself a giallo in the same vein that was later exploited to great success by the likes of Sergio Martino. In fact, a glance at the list of players both in front of and behind the camera shows this to be very much an early forerunner to Martino’s ventures: Luigi Pistilli, Evelyn Stewart and a bearded George Hilton (as a charmingly unapologetic peeping tom) make up the roster of suspects, while Ernesto Gastaldi penned the screenplay, Nora Orlandi provided the score, Luciano Martino (brother of Sergio) served as producer, and Sergio Martino himself receives a credit as production manager. The jet set aesthetic that Martino would so often visit is also clearly established: this film is populated by wealthy decadents with too much time on their hands and a predilection for watching topless dancers gyrate to swanky lounge music with an air of bland indifference.
What’s missing is the urban slasher element popularised by Dario Argento: as a pre-Bird with the Crystal Plumage giallo, the emphasis is more on the melodrama and internalised anxiety than on black-gloved killers stalking and killing a roster of victims. There are no on-screen deaths at all until the final act, and the pace tends to become a bit stodgy at times, with Baker looking harangued and spending a lot of time in bed and in various stages of undress. Yet, it’s still considerably more engaging than the last giallo I watched, Naked You Die, and that has a lot to do with the plot, which Gastaldi skilfully drives from one twist to the next, even if the final major twist, which Gastaldi would go on to use again and again, is difficult to swallow, given that it directly contradicts what we have already seen. It also helps that there is distrust on both sides: the film alternates between Marcel and Deborah’s point of view, with both suspecting each other of foul play, and as a result we’re never quite sure how the land lies.
There are also some genuinely nice moments of style on display, with the occasional use of flashbacks to convey Marcel’s past with Suzanne, with a scene in which they canoodle against a backdrop of autumn leaves falling in slow motion seems to anticipate, albeit in a romantic rather than sinister context, the “rape in the rain” scene in Martino’s The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh. Likewise, a shot in which Marcel watches a striptease act through a brandy glass, the liquid distorting and colourising his (and our) viewpoint, is an interesting touch, the scene in question anticipating something similar that would show up in Giuliano Carnimeo’s The Case of the Bloody Iris (also written by Gastaldi and produced by Luciano Martino), albeit with considerably more visual panache and less relevance to the plot. There’s some deliciously outdated fashion and decor on display, all manner of crazy dancing, and even a bizarre musical game of Twister. Oh, and I’m not sure if it’s a major point, but this strikes me as being the only giallo I’ve seen to feature a scene with a woman coming during sex.
Next time, I’ll be returning to familiar territory with Lucios Fulci’s One on Top of the Other, a film with many of the same hallmarks as this one.