Monday, July 19, 2010

Sergio Martino's Morte sospetta di una minorenne (Suspected Death of a Minor) (1975)

It was the time when lots of films of the action/poliziesco genre were produced in Italy. I already had several big successes with my films, e.g. Violent Professionals. And after a short break during which I shot some movies of other genres I shot this film whose original title was "Milano violenta." "Milano violenta"--when was the film shot?--in 1976, 1977 or was it 1975?--the genre was nothing new anymore and it was my very last poliziesco. Before it was released, however, the distributor Titanus changed its title from "Milano violenta" to "Morte sospetta di una minorenne," because they feared that the film, since the genre was already past its peak wouldn't be very successful. But that was a huge mistake because only a short time later, a film was released that was called Roma violenta or Violent Rome and which was a big hit. That shows the intuition of the distributors wasn't always the best...The title was misleading because with "Morte sospetta di una minorenne" the audience expected an erotic touch, which just wasn't there, since it wasn't an erotic film. I think the attempt to attract the audience with a title that deviated from the poliziesco genre, led to a lesser success...Consequently, the movie lured people into the cinema who actually didn't want to see it.
"Now take your hands off my butt, asshole, and bring me to the exit." The hands from this line belong to Paolo (Claudio Cassinelli), and the butt belongs to Marisa (Patrizia Castaldi); and they are a dancing couple. Paolo is flirting with pretty Marisa and asks for a dance; and Marisa reluctantly agrees, because she is scared of the mirrored-sunglassed party guest who has taken an intense infatuation with her. Marisa bolts from the party, knocking Paolo's eyeglasses from his head, and rushes to safety within a seedy boardinghouse. She is killed, and after the police discover her corpse, two police officers chat about the case outside of a cafe. Paolo, playing a game of pinball, overhears the two police officers and decides to begin an investigation, himself, of Marisa's murder.Since there was a lack of actors those days who represented the poliziesco genre except for Giuliano Gemma, Franco Nero and few others maybe--I had the idea to cast Claudio Cassinelli who had shot several movies to that date but no poliziescos. He was an actor who didn't fit the current beau ideal but who embodied a certain sympathy and who was very believable. Claudio was a very versatile and good actor who, in my opinion fit himself into the role very well. I remember that he was in great shape, and when I watch the film today I can't see any failing in his performance or a non-identification with his character. In the following years, we shot several films of other genres together and therefore I consider him as a friend who became very dear to my heart--unfortunately he passed away--and who I hold in high regard especially from a human factor standpoint and because of his delicacy of feeling.Cassinelli as Paolo is the biggest attraction of Morte sospetta di una minorenne (1975). In a representative sequence of events, Paolo arranges a meeting with a young prostitute (Barbara Magnolfi) at a hotel in order to uncover the source of the prostitution racket. Paolo plays it cool, but she's even cooler and blows him off. With the help of his young associate, Cassinelli's Paolo is able to follow the young woman through the city to a dilapidated tenement across town. In a bolder move, Paolo walks directly through its front door and is forced into a violent confrontation with its inhabitant. The confrontation does not go well, but Paolo regains his composure and patiently waits at the building. His patience is rewarded with a big score and huge lead in his investigation. The sequence of the narrative events are familiar, yet its Cassinelli who is unique. His character lacks the complete tough-guy quality of the typical poliziesco and also the obsession of the amateur sleuth of any giallo. There is a lot more humility to his character. Martino has Paolo wear eyeglasses in Morte sospetta di una minorenne, and they become his signature. Whenever Paolo gets into an intense situation or when a character remarks upon his eyeglasses, these motifs are subtle symbols of Paolo. Cassinelli's performance follows suit: his character is certainly unorthodox and quirky but very sympathetic. Despite a strong narrative (another well-written script by Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi) in Morte sospetta di una minorenne, it is Cassinelli's performance which stands out.Adrian Luther-Smith, author of Blood and Black Lace: The Definitive Guide to Italian Sex and Horror Movies, writes:

Too Young To Die [English title for Morte sospetta di una minorenne] is an odd combination: part police thriller, part giallo, and part comedy. Its cynical central theme--teenage girls being sexually exploited by [spoilers edited]--was a background motif for several gialli. But rather than merely providing the basis for a number of sleaze scenes (some brief nudity) and violent deaths (two of which are gratifyingly nasty), the exploitative elements are intertwined with the unorthodox enquiries being undertaken by Cassinelli [spoilers edited]. Had the film remained a cop/giallo thriller hybrid it might have found an audience but because Gastaldi's script audaciously attempts to incorporate humour it fails to satisfy fans of any individual genre. The comedy works well during a high-speed car chase but seems out of place elsewhere. Thankfully, it's dispensed with in the later scenes which include a gun battle on a rollercoaster, the penultimate rooftop encounter between [spoilers edited]. When providing lightweight accompaniment to the comic episodes, [Luciano] Michelini's score imitates Gaslini's Deep Red opus. (p. 120, Stray Cat Publishing Ltd., England, 1999.)
It is really Cassinelli's performance and character within Morte sospetta di una minorenne which does not fit within either strictly a poliziesco or a giallo. There are giallo elements within the film, primarily the murder scenes: these are not prominent yet are very evocative of Argento's Profondo rosso (1975) (the scenes are also less intricate and orchestrated). During Marisa's murder, the viewer gets treated to a loving shot of the killer holding his knife, and Martino shows the blade in close-up (with the Argento signature "flash" of the blade). Another murder in the film is eerily similar to a famous one with in Profondo rosso. Sergio Martino in his interview included as a supplement on the Region 2 DVD from Sazuma (from where the first paragraph and third paragraph are taken and are direct quotes) never refers to his film as a giallo and always as a poliziesco (and offers his alternative theory to Luther-Smith as to why the film did not find a strong audience base). I agree with Martino that it is a poliziesco (and placing it in a specific category, however, is not really necessary in my opinion). Morte sospetta di una minorenne is an obscure film but really shows Martino's talent again and showcases how fine of an actor that Cassinelli truly was. Like most of Martino's cinema, it is irreverent and satisfying for those seeking something different from the traditional.


venoms5 said...

Nice review, Hans! I got the Sazuma, disc, too. Very nice package for this movie. Have you seen the film that ended up as MILANO VIOLENTA (1976) aka BLOODY PAYROLL? Cassinelli is in it, too. Somebody took advantage of that title, lol.

Hans A. said...

Thnx, Venom! Yeah, Bloody Payroll is a favorite of mine. That Sazuma disc is pretty sweet!