Giallo Essentials: Red Edition – Volume One (Blu-ray Review)
DirectorLuigi Bazzoni, Franco Rossellini, Flavio Mogherini
Release Date(s)1965/1971/1977 (November 30, 2021)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: B+
- Overall Grade: A-
[Editor’s Note: Portions of The Possessed review were originally written by Dennis Seuling.]
Having released a number of giallo films on Blu-ray over the years, Arrow Video has now taken the opportunity to repackage some of those releases in the Giallo Essentials boxed set, the first volume of which features the films The Possessed, The Fifth Cord, and The Pyjama Girl Case.
The Possessed (aka La donna del lago) opens with Bernard (Peter Baldwin) breaking up with his girlfriend. He’s haunted by something from his past that’s unresolved and feels he must confront it before he can move on with his life. He decides to return to a lakeside resort where he vacationed often and exorcise his inner demons by writing a memoir of self-reflection. When he arrives, he’s welcomed like an old friend by proprietor Enrico (Salvo Randone). Even though it’s off-season and the hotel is practically empty, Bernard asks to stay in a small room overlooking a slaughterhouse because he doesn’t want his surroundings to be too comfortable. He’s been drawn to the hotel by memories of an unresolved romance with Tilde (Virna Lisi), a beautiful girl who worked there as a maid. He’s told that she committed suicide, though the circumstances of her death were suspicious. Attempting to discover what actually happened to her, Bernard talks to local residents and hotel workers. The suspense gradually builds as more and more puzzle pieces are fit into place.
The Possessed owes a lot to Laura, Rebecca, and Vertigo, since all three films revolve around a woman who might be dead. In each, the suspense is created by doling out information gradually, providing small shocks along the way. The film is punctuated by Bernard’s narration, a technique fairly common in crime dramas, most famously in The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity. Throughout the film, there’s a clever disconnect of communication as information is imparted via memory, suspicions, hearsay, and photographs. There are also glimpses of a woman who looks very much like Tilde walking by the shore or on the street, always at a distance. The film takes its time building to a climax, but once all is revealed, the conclusion plays out very quickly. The explanations put incidents in place and tie things together, but as Bernard drives away, the look on his face suggests that he fears he may not have gotten the full story.
The Possessed was shot by cinematographer Leonida Barboni on black-and-white 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and framed at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray is sourced from a 2K restoration of the original camera negative. It’s a beautiful-looking black-and-white presentation with deep, rich blacks and fine detail in patterns of clothing, Baldwin’s facial stubble, silhouetted actors against a projected film screen, reflections on glass bookcase shelving, a dark tree-lined street, and a rain-soaked funeral procession. A sequence of Baldwin walking through a long hallway casts atmospheric shadows intermittently over his face, throwing it into complete blackness. The original Italian and English soundtracks, titles, and credits are provided.
Audio is presented in uncompressed English and Italian mono LPCM. Newly-translated subtitles in English SDH subtitles are provided for both soundtracks. The opening and closing titles will reflect which version of the film you choose. The musical score is hardly subtle, as it gets louder and faster when something particularly dramatic is happening, and doesn’t enhance the quieter scenes when it should be contributing to suspense.
The following extras are included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas
- Richard Dyer on The Possessed (25:12)
- Lipstick Marks (11:52)
- Youth Memories (16:20)
- The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers (30:36)
- Italian Theatrical Trailer (2:12)
- English Theatrical Trailer (2:12)
In his audio commentary, writer and critic Tim Lucas discusses all of the major actors and provides brief career overviews. He discusses The Possessed in terms of its role as an Italian giallo, mentioning influences and how the film departs from the typical giallo template. The Possessed is “technically a giallo but doesn’t have many of the tropes associated with the genre.” It’s more of an intellectual murder mystery. The lengthy Richard Dyer on The Possessed making-of featurette by cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer covers a lot of ground, including a discussion of the film’s literary origins, a comparison to suspense films by Alfred Hitchcock, an analysis of the film’s structure that blends reality with dream sequences, its expressionistic look, and the performances. Lipstick Marks features the film’s make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi relating anecdotes about his career, which includes memorable work on three Lucio Fulci films. Youth Memories features an interview with the film’s assistant art director Dante Ferretti, who discusses his career and involvement in other films. The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers features an interview with actor and director Francesco Barilli, a close friend of Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni. He goes into considerable detail about the heyday of the Italian giallo, explaining how various directors pushed the envelope of what they would show on screen while establishing a new sub-genre of film. Two trailers are also included, one in Italian with English subtitles and the other in English. The content is identical in both.
THE FIFTH CORD
After The Possessed, and during the giallo boom of the late 1960s and into the 1970s, director Luigi Bazzoni returned with The Fifth Cord (aka Giornata nera per l'ariete). Although the film is conventionally a giallo, its greatest strength lies within its pace and its visuals. It looks remarkable and it moves quickly, keeping the unfolding storyline intriguing, but never feeling ordinary. Franco Nero, who had just had big success with Django a couple of years prior, stars in the film, which bears close similarities to the work of Dario Argento—much more than its creators likely intended. It’s a splendid and very much undervalued entry into the genre, overshadowed by many of its more popular counterparts.
After a New Year’s Eve party, alcoholic newspaper reporter Andrea (Nero) finds himself in a curious position: being the lead reporter on a murder case, as well as a potential suspect. Still dealing with the separation from his wife Helene (Silvia Monti) and his current girlfriend Lu (Pamela Tiffin), he’s drawn down a path of winding uncertainty when the murders of those he’s been in recent contact with continue to occur. If he’s going to get his story and clear his name, he’s also going to have to discover the identity of the killer. But the closer he gets, the more dangerous it becomes for those who are dear to him.
The Fifth Cord was shot by cinematographer Vitorrio Storaro on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and framed at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray is sourced from a 2K restoration of the original camera negative. It’s another organic presentation with solid levels of medium grain and high levels of fine detail. The color palette is also rich with a variety of hues in nearly every scene—the opening sequence in the night club being particularly striking. Blacks are deep with good shadow detail and no contrast or delineation issues. The image is stable and clean outside of several frames of damage during the Italian version of the film, which occurs during the opening credits. Otherwise, it’s a gorgeous presentation.
Audio is provided in Italian and English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH for both tracks. The opening and closing titles will reflect which version of the film you choose. Both tracks are a tad quiet, but a quick volume adjustment will remedy that. Dialogue is loose against the picture, as to be expected, but it’s clean and discernible. The Italian track is ever so slightly wider with louder dialogue, but not by much. Hiss is more prevalent on the English track. Otherwise, both tracks are similar sonically.
The following extras are included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary by Travis Crawford
- Lines and Shadows: Style in The Fifth Cord (17:49)
- Whisky Giallore (28:22)
- Black Day for Nero (23:33)
- The Rhythm Section (21:27)
- Deleted Sequence (2:37)
- Italian Theatrical Trailer (3:03)
- English Theatrical Trailer (3:03)
- Image Gallery (20 in all – 3:20)
Film journalist and programmer Travis Crawford provides another educational audio commentary, speaking about many of the film’s facets, including its visuals and storytelling, but also comparing and contrasting it to other giallo films of the era. In Lines and Shadows, critic Rachael Nisbet provides a video essay discussing the cinematography and production design of the film. In Whisky Giallore, author and critic Michael Mackenzie offers an in-depth appreciation of the film. Black Day for Nero features an interview with Franco Nero and The Rhythm Section provides an interview with editor Eugenio Alabiso. The Deleted Sequence features a montage of various deleted moments set to score from the film. It’s unclear where in the film it was intended to be. Both trailers are provided in HD. The Image Gallery contains 20 stills of lobby cards, posters, film programs, production and promotional stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and book covers. Not carried over from the Blue Underground DVD release is the Giornata Nera featurette.
THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE
The Pyjama Girl Case (aka La Ragazza Dal Pigiama Giallo) was released in Italy in 1977. Based upon the true story of the murder of Linda Agostini, the film follows an inspector (Ray Milland) who comes out of retirement to help the police solve the case of a murdered woman who cannot be identified and whose body is abnormally put on public display in the hopes of someone being able to recognize her. Concurrently, we also watch the events unfold in the life of the woman, known as Glenda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), and witness the difficulties in her life with the various men vying for her affection before her unfortunate death.
The Pyjama Girl Case is often labeled as a giallo, though it’s not a typical one. It’s more of a tragic murder mystery story, ultimately leaving viewers contemplative, perhaps even sad. It's about a woman who finds herself in terrible circumstances, unable to get beyond them. Her plight is a lamentable one, but it's also not completely one-sided. The people she associates with also have their own problems, making it a more interesting story, particularly towards the end when we discover what really happened to her, and who was involved.
What also aids the film are excellent performances from Ray Milland and Dalila Di Lazzaro, both of whom are ridiculously charismatic. Di Lazzaro, in particular, sparkles and the camera absolutely loves her, and its easy to find yourself hoping for a different outcome. Also on display is wonderful cinematography by Raul Artigot and Carlo Carlini, as well as a couple of catchy pop songs by Amanda Lear. Featuring other performances by Mel Ferrer, Howard Ross, and Antonio Attolini, The Pyjama Girl Case is an intriguing and effective tale.
The Pyjama Girl Case was shot by Raul Artigot and Carlo Carlini on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Arrow Video's Blu-ray is sourced from a 2K restoration of the original camera negative. It's another typical Arrow presentation, meaning that it's superb in almost every respect, trumping its previous DVD presentation by a country mile. It's rich and organic with even grain and high levels of depth and detail. The color palette is lush and varied with natural skin tones and deep blacks. Contrast is perfect, allowing for excellent shadow detail, and the overall image is bright and stable throughout. Leftover blemishes include mild scratches, which are not always easy to spot.
Audio is presented in English and Italian 2.0 mono LPCM with subtitle options in English SDH. Depending on which language is chosen, the opening and closing titles, as well as the subtitles, will reflect this. The only notable variation between the two tracks (other than the obvious) is that the Italian track is slightly louder with a bit more hiss. Otherwise, they're fairly identical. Sync is loose, as to be expected, but dialogue is clear. The music and score benefit the most from the additional clarity, while sound effects often have impact.
The following extras are included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth
- Small World: Internationalism in the Giallo (28:30)
- A Good Bad Guy (31:46)
- A Study in Elegance (23:17)
- Inside the Yellow Pyjama (15:04)
- The Yellow Rhythm (21:24)
- Image Gallery (15 in all)
- Italian Theatrical Trailer (3:55)
Another fine audio commentary by writer and film historian Troy Howarth is included, who covers the film's history and its various cast and crew members with plenty of energy and good humor. Small World features an interview with author and critic Michael Mackenzie, who discusses internationalism in the giallo genre, specifically the politics behind how films were made and released at the time. A Good Bad Guy features an interview with actor Howard Ross about his career, A Study in Elegance offers an interview with editor Alberto Tagliavia about his work on the film, and Inside the Yellow Pyjama features an interview with assistant director Ferruccio Castronuovo about his work with director Flavio Mogherini. The Yellow Rhythm is an archival interview with composer Riz Ortolani about the film's score. The Image Gallery features 15 images of color and black-and-white production stills, a film program, and the film’s poster. The original Italian theatrical trailer is presented in HD with English subtitles. Not ported over from the Blue Underground DVD release is The Pyjama Girl Mystery: A True Story of Murder, Obsession and Lies, a 30-minute interview with author Richard Evans about the real-life case, and the English theatrical trailer. Also not carried over from the Koch Media Region 2 German DVD release is an interview with Howard Ross.
The discs are identical to Arrow Video’s previous Blu-ray releases. Each disc sits inside its own clear amaray case with double-sided artwork, featuring new artwork on one side and the original Italian poster artwork on the reverse. Unfortunately, the insert booklets from the previous releases are not included. The cases sit inside a rigid slipcase with new artwork by Adam Rabalais and Graham Humpreys, housed within a red windowed slipcover.
For those that missed them the first time around, Giallo Essentials is a great way of picking up several Arrow Video Blu-ray releases at once. It’s an excellent set.
- Tim Salmons
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