Can a giallo really be a giallo without bodies hitting the floor until the last reel? Well, Luciano Ercoli's first foray into the world of the black gloved killer may not be as text book as some of his later entries (he went on to make both DEATH WALKS IN HIGH HEELS (1971) and DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972)), but there's more than enough intrigue, blackmail, sleaze and, yes, eventually death, to satisfy even the most casual giallophile.
Poor little pill-popping, alcoholic - but still glamorous early 70s lady that lunches - Minou (the beautiful Dagmar Lassander). At first all she has to worry about is setting a date for cutting out the tranquilisers, whilst having bubble baths and lounging around her fabulous pad, but then she's set upon by a swarthy ruffian as she takes a midnight stroll along the beach. The mysterious stranger (giallo regular Simón Andreu) pins Minou to the sand and taunts her with claims that her husband is a fraud and a murderer. He lets her go and, disheveled, she hotfoots it to the nearest bar where she has a few drinks with the puzzled looking locals before her suave husband Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi) turns up to collect her. "It was probably just some kind of prank", he says in that way that only men in 70s giallo can say without being slapped for being patronising chauvinists.
Still, it can't of been that traumatic for her as she's soon down the disco (flipping a wig Harpo Marx would think twice about wearing) and frugging to the happening sounds of Ennio Morricone (FORBIDDEN PHOTOS sports one of the maestro's best - and catchiest - giallo scores). She's then joined by her libertine best friend, Dominique (Susan Scott in her first gialli role), who salaciously tells her that there's just been a murder of a local businessman found in his bed with the bends. She says the police are baffled, but Minou is worried - her husband runs a business making decompression chambers!
Again in that inimitable 70s fashion, when Minou tells Dominique about being attacked, Dominique smacks her lips and declares, "I would have adored being violated!". To cheer poor Minou up, Dominique breaks out some nude photos of herself (by a photographer ".. who really knew how to use his equipment!") and then moves onto some "tasteful" pornography. Minou baulks when she spots her attacker in one of the photos, and asks Dominque if she can take it so she can finger him (as it were).
Before Minou can decide what to do with the photo, her attacker phones her and plays what sounds like a recording of her husband committing the murder of the businessman. He says that if she doesn't visit him he will give the tape to the police. Fearful that she might loose Peter, Minou does as she's told and goes to his apartment. There he tells her that she "... must surrender your mind and your body!", and forces her to have masochistic sex with him. He gives her the incriminating tape, but then produces photographs of their session which he says he will show to her husband unless she carries on the affair.
Minou confides in Dominique and they decide to come clean to Peter. However, when they visit the blackmailer's apartment with the police they can find no evidence of anyone having lived there for months. Soon, almost everyone but Minou starts to suspect that the blackmailer is all in her mind and she's slowly loosing grip on her sanity ...
God knows I've referenced Jan Brady when talking about films on this website than any other fictional character, but it is like watching a Euro version of the hapless heroine in Ercoli's first giallo. As Minou, Dagmar Lassander has more inner dialogues than I've had hot dinners. Endearingly cheesy bon-bons (ably abetted by super posh British dubbing) include her pondering about whether she should dress more slutty for her hubby, "Dominique is right, I do dress too much like a housewife - maybe I'll loosen this a little ...". Her inner dialogue is also amusingly used to hammer home some of the plot points ("A compression chamber? ... A compression chamber?!!") with all the finesse of a blunt mallet.
FORBIDDEN PHOTOS was reportedly quite a low budget production - not that you'd notice. As we've come to expect from Italian genre cinema of this time, there's style to spare. However, like many of the earlier gialli, despite its happening (for the time) sounds and loose morals, it still has one foot very much in the past. Whereas Argento's BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (from the same year) ruthlessly dispatched many of the earlier thriller cliches, here those hoary old chestnuts about blackmail, insurance monies for the taking and conniving to push the heroine towards insanity all get yet another airing. However, dog-eared as they are the film still delivers some more solid giallo thrills despite somewhat languid pacing at times - and there's some splendid suspense as Minou goes off to investigate strange noises in her remote villa. The film also displays the emerging cynicism and cruelty that became more and more evident in genre fayre throughout the decade. Ercoli must have been having fun with his subject matter, too, as this is surely the only film where a tortoise has been used for a series of false scares!
Perhaps not an essential giallo, FORBIDDEN PHOTOS still has enough going for it to be worth checking out for those who have more than a passing interest in the giallo and its evolution and boom in popularity throughout the early 70s.
female:0 / male:3
1) Male found dead from the bends
2) Male shot in the back
3) Female shot in the chest