THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR [1975]: On Dual Format Now

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Directed by:
Written by: ,
Starring: , , ,

AKA MORTE SOSPETTA DI UNA MINORENNE, TOO YOUNG TO DIE

Italy

AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT AND DVD: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO

RUNNING TIME: 100 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

Police detective Paolo Germi tries to pick up a teenage girl called Marisa but she gets away from him – only to be murdered by a man in reflective glasses whom Paolo had briefly spotted. Paolo sets out to track down the leader of the teenage prostitution racket he suspects she was in and, realising that his rough tactics don’t work every single time, employs small-time thief Giannino to snatch prostitutes’ purses for cash and contact information. He notices that one address continually shows up, a domestic agency which is a front for a prostitution racket, and, posing as a client, uses a hooker to lead him to procurer Menga, who seems to have also been involved in the two billion lira ransom of a wealthy chocolate manufacturer’s son….

Dirty Harry and all the other movie cops I’ve seen who aren’t above using force and bending the law in other ways to get results look positively restrained compared to the ‘hero’ of this film, Paolo Germi. He breaks into places not caring how much damage he causes, brutually assaults suspects, shoots at probably inoocent people, and even tries it on with an underage girl and feels her derriere. He would say that it’s all in the line of duty of course, and it’s true that the people he’s after really are scum. It’s one of the many fun aspects features in this film. I was introduced to the gialli of its director Sergio Martino a year or so ago when Arrow sent me his [get this for a title] Your Vice Is A Locked Room And I Have The Key [which is actually playing in a cinema which features majorly in The Suspicious Death Of A Minor]. It revealed to me a filmmaker who may have been a journeyman director but who was almost up there with the person who’s initials are D A in his mastery of this ‘probably always doomed to be disreputable’ but highly interesting sub-genre that dominated Italian ciema during the early 1970’s. A viewing of Torso just reaffirmed these thoughts so I was quite excited when Arrow brought out another one of his films, though various issues have meant that I’m rather late in posting this review so my apologies our friends at Arrow.

In fact this film can only be partially considered a giallo, Martino and his screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi perhaps tiring of the form by the time they came to concoct The Suspicious Death Of A Minor, so decided to throw in as much other stuff as they felt like and could cram in, and just hoped it would all stick. Much of the film plays like an example of the poliziotteschi [police-orientated crime thrillers] which virtually took over from the giallos in Italy though were never as popular abroad as some of the giallos were, though those films didn’t to tend to put in lots of comedy scenes just for the sake of it. The humour jars somewhat with the serious stuff elsewhere in the film especially its themes of teenage prostitution and abuse. The result is undoubtedly a bit uneven, but is also wildly enjoyable and never dull for a moment. Martino and Gastaldi set out not to top their previous efforts, but to just entertain, and the Doc was entertained throughout.

Any Argento fan will probably chuckle at Luciano Michelini’s main title music which is very much inspired by Goblin’s theme from Deep Red. Michelini was obviously asked to mimic the other piece as closely as he could without it being actually plagiarism. The title of the movie appears over a freeze frame of young Marisa [though we don’t really know who she is yet], something which is actually more poignant if you view the English version rather than the Italian one as it bares the title Too Young To Die. Now we don’t actually find out that Paolo is a cop until around half way through, though a quick glance around reveals that most synopses/ reviews of this film also reveal this so I decided to do the same as there are surprises in the storyline that I certainly won’t reveal. There’s a very smooth music transition from the title theme to a typical Italian dance as lovely Paolo sees that Marisa’s ‘date’ hasn’t shown up and asks if he can fill in the absent guy. She uses to to help her get away from this bespectacled man who’s been following her, then flees from him to a phonebox where she tries to ring somebody but he’s not at home – or is he? The man attacks her twice and succeeds in killing her the second time. The killings in this film are fairly forgettable and one of them is a rather poor reprise of Deep Red’s opening head through glass murder, though it’s possible that it was intended not to seem too good as the killer is spotted and has to leave before he seems to have finished the job. And Roberto Posse does make quite an impact as the un-named killer – the subdued relish and thorough determination with which he goes about his work is quite disturbing.

Anyway, Paolo goes off to avenge her death and is not above nearly strangling a woman with a telephone wire while he holds a gun to her head at the same time to get information. Some viewers may not like the treatment of women in this film, but as I think I said once before I would imagine few giallo [a genre that probably couldn’t even exist today in western countries] watchers are of the politically correct type anyway. Perhaps more problematic is that this downright nasty guy who is even low enough to use knuckle dusters in a fight, also has amusing quirks, notably having his glasses constantly being knocked off his face [hilarious, I know] and driving around in a car [no doubt inspired by the one in – yes you’ve guessed it – Deep Red] that’s so much on its last legs that you can’t open the doors otherwise they’ll fall off. When his new accomplice Giannino asks him who he works for, he replies: “I’m working for MYPFB, Mind Your Own F****** Business”. And he’s sometimes pretty incompetent, especially when he  gets unsuspecting prostitute Carmela to arrange an appointment with underage Floriana for Paolo’s nonexistent Arab employer, which leads him to procurer Menga but results in both Menga and Floriana’s deaths. His boss, played by Mel Ferrer whose few scenes all take place n one room and were probably shot over just a few days, is understandably aghast at his methods but he does appear to be getting closer to the culprit when some attempts on his own life are made – and that is all I will tell you of the actual plot, which is very well constructed and seems oddly modern with its concerns and attempts at social commentary, though this is apparently quite common in poliziotteschi and turns up in the odd giallo too. It may even make you feel properly angry, though I have to say that I suspected that one particular character was probably not what he seemed around half way through – plus the final act, while it makes sense, is a bit of a letdown considering what’s come before.

The comedy lessens around half way through and the typical stalking and killing stuff returns soon after through given a twist by the fact that we know who this killer is but don’t know [or aren’t supposed to know] who he’s working for, but this film seems more interested in things like a shootout on a rollercoaster. The longest set piece is a comic car chase straight out of a Disney movie which includes gags like a guy narrowly avoiding getting hit by the vehicles by jumping out of the way and falling on his head which spins like that of a break-dancer. I have to say I do enjoy this kind of simple, innocent silliness which you don’t get much of in films today, though in a giallo? At least it’s quite unique in this genre, and I also liked the little touches elsewhere like the cop who’s constantly betting on the football and losing, and the reporter who has a really over the top reaction to being prevented from interviewing further some people who’ve had a really nasty ordeal. Yes, this film is a little messy, but scene after scene is usually well executed and and there’s almost always something interesting going on.

Martino holds back on elaborate visual stylistics but still gives us some well directed passages like a foot chase where the camera keeps pace with the participants without shaking wildly like so many modern filmmakers feel they have to do. Star Claudio Cassinelli featured in quite a few giallos and poliziotteschi though is probably best known for Martino’s once-banned-in-the-UK adventure Mountain Of The Cannibal God. He’s a good lead which an odd kind of charm despite his behaviour throughout, and makes his sillier aspects especially well. He died at age 46 in a helicopter crash whilst filming Martino’s Fists of Steel. Lot of familiar looking character actors, mostly with moustaches, linger around in the background and there’s even an appearance from Suspiria‘s cook. Michelini’s score certainly isn’t all Goblin knock-offs, even has some light hearted pieces for some of the action, and certainly helps to drive the movie forward. This is not a film that hangs together too well, and I think that its creators may have even got a bit lost at times, but I actually had a great time watching it, which is often all you want. its eccentricity is refreshing, the odder, goofier elements don’t totally succeed in detracting from the basic seriousness and sadness of its story, and after watching it you certainly can’t say that these movies are all the same. I have the feeling that I’ll return to it more than some of the more conventional giallos as it’s just so entertaining. And yes, J & B does turn up. We see a bottle of the stuff [though the label’s not turned towards the camera, naughty Sergio] and later on a box.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

 

Arrow Video have restored this film themselves and it looks just great aside from some rather excessively pink skin tones, though that may of course be true to how it looked originally. The Italian track is slightly louder than the English one though its subtitles seem to be dub-titles, replicating the dubbing of the English language version. The English  track isn’t bad and Ferrer dubs his own voice. The Suspicious Death Of A Minor was previously available in a German DVD from Sazuma which also had a commentary and an interview with the director, though both different from the ones we have here. Now I was a bit disappointed in Troy Howarth’s commentary on Don’t Torture A Duckling, the man perhaps daunted by talking about one of his favourite films or unable to find much information. But his talk track on this disc is much better, aside from mistakenly saying that our hero is a nice person in the first half [I would say that he most certainly isn’t]. I like his light-heartedness at times – can you imagine Tim Lucas saying that he’s happy that commenting on this film gives him the chance to say “cock sucker”? Like myself, he’s clearly aware of the film’s flaws but finds it enormously entertaining aside from perhaps  not liking the humour as much as me. There’s not a huge amount of background stuff, but you get that in the 42 minute interview with the very spry Martino where he talks and talks and talks about this film, totally negating the need for a conventional ‘making of’,  as the man covers most things be it going through its major set pieces or its cast, as well as criticising [though he doesn’t name names] Italian directors who make arty, ‘boring’ pictures. It’s one of the best interviews of this kind I’ve seen a while.

A film that was once so obscure that it barely got released in cinemas outside Italy, The Suspicious Death Of A Minor must have had its fans at Arrow who have given it a terrific release. It’s possible that a few hardcore giallo fans may be a bit perplexed by it, but I’d recommend it to most. Don’t expect a giallo of the ‘pure’ kind, but expect to have lots of fun.

 

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

*Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
*Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
*English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
*New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
*Violent Milan: a new interview with director Sergio Martino
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
FIRST PRESSING ONLY:
*Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Barry Forshaw

 

Dr Lenera
About Dr Lenera 2032 Articles

I’m a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don’t really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly ‘have a life’, I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I’ve always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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