In the 1960s two film companies made a long series of films using the Edgar Wallace byline – the UK thrillers were made for Anglo Amalgamated (my microsite devoted to these is here), while Rialto filmed their own in Germany, though often set in England. Solange is very loosely based on the Wallace novel The Clue of the New Pin but along with this bit of heritage it offers a fascinating example of pop culture cross-pollination as an Italo-German co-production filmed largely in London that acts effectively as a sort of giallo-krimi cross-over.
The following is for Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason at his fab Sweet Freedom blog
This is a film with a strange reputation – on the one hand, it is often thought of as being among the best of the slew of flamboyant, horror-tinged Italian mystery films known as gialli that proliferated throughout the late 60s and into the mid 1970s. These usually featured mystery villains clad in black leather (or at least wearing black leather gloves), usually knocking off a large number of victims in imaginative if somewhat nasty fashion (yes, a huge influence on such body count franchises as Saw, Friday 13th, et al). On the other hand, being set in a Catholic girls’ school, with the protagonist having an affair with a student (who is barely 18, though the actress was 22 at the time) and coming replete with not one but two extended shower room sequences and with an especially nasty ‘signature’ murder method, this is also a provocative film that is deliberately hard to like, constantly pushing at boundaries of censorship and good taste. However, it is worth sticking with it because, although it was deliberately pushing some buttons to put off casual viewers (the way it gets the schoolteacher off the hook for his affair is pretty risible), it is also very well shot, has a fine score by Ennio Morricone and, once it gets going (gialli tend to be a bit slow-paced) and offers a pretty decent plot and is capped by a very disturbing denouement towards which it was always working.
Though banned in the UK at the time, this is a well-known giallo from its heyday, when the genre took off on the Content after the huge success of Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage (which I reviewed here). What we have here, like most films in the genre, is a complicated whodunit with a perverse tinge, a killer in black gloves killing off people for no apparent reason (except there is) and an unwillingness to make any of the main characters too sympathetic as all of whom are suspects and none are guilt-free. On the other hand, one has to accept upfront that this is a highly problematic text. In its desire to capitalise on the lowering of the censorship threshold, it goes out of its way to be provocative and does, as a result, end up being occasionally exploitative too – certainly the two scenes set in the schools’ shower room, in which the students are observed by a peeping tom, are predominantly ways to get some nudity in the film – and indeed there is rather a lot of this – most of the victims are disrobed before being killed, which certainly gives the film a sleazy feel. That this is intentional and trying to make audiences feel awkward doesn’t exactly make you feel any better about it …
Also, one has to admit upfront that the influence of the ostensible source novel by Wallace is really marginal, at best. In the book the pin at the crime scene is a clue to the mechanics of a locked room mystery; here it indicates membership of a secret sex society at the school. This was apparently derived from a real-life British tabloid scandal from the early 60s involving not a pin but a minstrel image from a popular confectionary brand of the day, previously used as the basis for the 1963 film The Yellow Teddy Bears. Joachim Fuchsberger, the star of many of the German Wallace films, plays the inspector trying to find the connection between the murders of several schoolgirls. Fabio Testi is the other main lead and plays a gym teacher who becomes the prime suspect when his relationship with one of the victims is revealed. Oddly, this brings him closer with his estranged wife (no, not very believable) but eventually the name ‘Solange’ enters the story – nobody knows who that is, but it turns out to be crucial.
“Who is Solange? What happened to her?”
Tests, more or less in first big leading role after years as a stuntman and a supporting actor, was never much of a thespian and here just has to be macho and pout a bit, while Buster Keaton’s granddaughter Camille gets to play a fascinating and strange role (to say more would be a spoiler). Although she exists the story at the halfway mark, Cristina Galbó is terrific at the student who is in love with Testi. The London atmosphere is pretty genuine (though some interiors were done back in Italy), though this is a very weird depiction of the British capital in which all the actors are Italian, Spanish or German, without a single local to be seen.
So, if you fancy a very edgy mystery with a perverse storyline and a decent if uncomfortable-making payoff, well, look no further and find out what happened to Solange, but you will need a strong stomach …
The DVD: The recent Arrow Blu-ray/DVD combo is full of extras and offers the film in uncut and in technically resplendent fashion.
Director: Massimo Dallamano
Producer: Fulvio Lucisano, Leo Pescarolo
Screenplay: Massimo Dallamano, Bruno Di Geronimo, Peter M. Thouet
Cinematography: Aristide Massaccesi
Art Direction: Gastone Carsetti
Music: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Fabio Testi, Cristina Galbó, Karin Baal, Joachim Fuchsberger, Camille Keaton, Günther Stoll, Claudia Butenuth
***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)