Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Manic Minor

Suspected Death of a Minor
(Morte Sospetta
Di Una Minorenne)
1975 Italy
Directed by Sergio Martino
Sazuma Region 2

Warning! I suspect this blog
post will contain minor spoilers! :D

I’ve always really liked the films of Sergio Martino.

He’s done some of the better giallo’s of the early 70s which certainly gave Argento’s films in the genre a run for their money and the sense of sheer artistic “oomph” in his works when it comes to the way they are framed and lit help (along with people such as Bava, Lado and the aforementioned Argento) to raise the giallo genre up from its appallingly acted and dubiously scripted surface detail into examples of great visual and audio art masterpieces. Films of his like Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have The Key, The Case of The Scorpions Tail and, one of my special favourites, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh are milestones in the genre and amongst a number of good examples one can reference in an argument of the giallo film as art. Plus, quite often, his movies have Edwige Feneche in them and... well, she’s frankly hot!

I won’t mention his horror movie Island of the Fishmen... besides, I already reviewed that one here!

Suspected Death of a Minor is a film I splashed out more than my usual, miserly film buying budget for because it’s on a German DVD label which do some great giallos and the packaging and blurb on the back made it look like it was itself one anyway. When I asked the stallholder who sold me this DVD if it was a giallo... I got the reply that there’s certainly a giallo style murder in it. This didn’t fill me with much enthusiasm until he added... "it’s a bit sleazy."

Hmmm... well that did it. Sergio Martino and sleaziness... a winning combination if ever thre was one!

Well I finally got around to watching it and, it has to be said, that although the opening sequence does start off with a stalk and slash, very much in the style of a giallo, that’s where the similarities between this film and that particular entertainment genre end. Also, although the film does deal with crime and prostitution, Sergio shoots it all too nicely and perfectly for this movie to really get itself worked up into full sleaze mode.

So what have we got here.

Well it’s kinda interesting actually. It starts off with a man stalking a woman who tries to lose her stalker by dancing with a man who has glasses and long hair and looks a little like a badly watered down version of Peter Fonda in Easy Rider. Aha, thinks the audience... this guy is obviously generic dodgy giallo loser creep number one! Why? Because we’ve seen this kind of throwaway character loads of times before in various giallo movies to the point where we’ve almost become used to them.

However, Martino is smarter than this. The girl runs off and gets her throat slit by dodgy mirrorshaded stabby up geezah and it is not until this point that “loser creep number one”, Paolo Germi as played by Claudio Cassinelli (who died in a helicopter crash on another Martino movie), returns to the screen quite unexpectedly. He seems to be playing a crook.. or at least that’s what Martino wants you to believe for a while but it will be readily apparent to most audience members within the first five minutes of screentime that Paolo is actually an undercover cop and it’s not long before he acquires a criminal sidekick to help him smash a ring of kidnappers who are abducting the “minors” of the title and ransoming them back to their rich parents.

This is where things take a bizarre turn which place this film very much within a strange realm of Italian cinema which tends to juxtapose brutal violence and on-screen murder and a general malaise of depression with... unbelievable amounts of over-the-top and completely inappropriate slapstick comedy.

I first became aware of this bizarre juxtaposition of inappropriate elements in certain genre films in 70s Italian cinema in the Ursula Andress retread of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Loaded Guns... which evolved (or possibly devolved) from scenes of hard crime and brutality (like Ursula Andress getting punched unconscious in the stomach) to a blisteringly stupid, over the top, climactic fist fight bonanza with people like Woody Strode emulating the popular fight scenes of those Italian comic legends Bud Spencer and Terence Hill but going so far wrong in the subtlety department that it makes Bud and Terry’s efforts seem like a gentle contest of witty one-liners as opposed to the high octane slap-fests they really are. Bud and Terry’s films were obviously hugely influential because Martino’s Suspected Death of a Minor also features less than subtle comedy scenes between the hardcore shocks and unexpected twists and turns to be found in this movie. Such as a dodgy car chase where “innocent generic road-crossing citizen” is swiped by a car as it goes past... only to land on one shoulder and spin around on it like a manic breakdancer in a grotesquely comic manner before finding his feet to get side-swiped by another car and spin around on his shoulder again like some mime artist on acid.

Stuff like this and the facial expressions of ignorance from Paolo’s preposterous but endearing comic sidekick all seems very weird in close proximity to teenage hookers being shot in the stomach and death of said “endearing comic sidekick” along with his teenage girlfriend from a parcel bomb... milked with prolonged scenes of lingering on death of ignorant sidekick as he’s hooked up to life support machines in hospital... Oops! Time for Paolo to step up the pressure for the final act and kick some kidnapping arse... this time it’s personal.

Ok... I’m possibly making this out to be a film with some seriously bad artistic choices and if I am... well then I’ve done my job because it is. But... you have to remember to put this movie into context with a lot of the stuff coming out at the time in Italy... this highly comic slant was nothing new. One only has to remember back to classic Argento gialli like The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Four Flies on Grey Velvet and Deep Red to see a fair share of overly comic scenes in awkward juxtaposition with the rest of the movie. And this movie does have some strong points... it never quite plays out like you expect it’s going to and the mise-en-scene is typical of a Sergio Martino movie... that is to say, it’s excellent.

At the end of the day, Suspected Death of a Minor is a fairly minor work but Martino’s flair for pacing and an eye for beauty make it very watchable and if you’re a fan of either Martino or the Undercover Cop sub-genre of the Italian Cop thriller which was popular at the time then this is definitely a worthwhile entry and worth pursuing. If you’re not then you’re probably better off giving it a miss as it won’t really add anything to your life.

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