Saturday, 18 December 2021

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

The Sweet Body of Deborah, directed by Romolo Guerrieri, is one of the better known early giallo titles.

Deborah (Carroll Baker) and Marcel (Jean Sorel) are on their honeymoon. They’re very much in love, they’re very hot for each other and everything is perfect. Until they go to a strip club and Marcel runs into an old friend. The old friend accuses Marcel of being a murderer. He believes that Marcel is responsible for the death of Suzanne. Suzanne committed suicide and Marcel didn’t even know she was dead but he does now feel to blame for her death.

It appears that Marcel has a bit of a past. A year ago he owed a lot of money to some people and they were the sorts of people who take extreme measures to collect debts. He got the money to pay them from his rich girlfriend at the time, Suzanne. Then, according to Marcel’s story, he decided he had to change his life so he left Europe and headed for America.

He seems to have become very successful very quickly. Judging from the very expensive sports car he now drives. Assuming that it’s his money that paid for it.

Deborah receives a phone call, telling her that she must die as revenge for Suzanne’s death. When Marcel calls the phone company they tell him something curious, something that makes him look at Deborah with suspicion.

And there are things that cause Deborah to regard Marcel with suspicion. These mutual suspicions simmer away beneath the surface. They’re still in love, but the suspicions won’t go away.

Threats are made against Marcel as well. The police do not believe that there is any substance to any of these threats.

Until one night when they’re in bed Deborah and Marcel hear footsteps in their rented villa.

We, the audience, know no more of Marcel than Deborah knows, and we know no more of Deborah than Marcel knows. We might form vague theories about what is going on but we have no actual evidence at all. They might be lying to each other, but it’s possible that neither is lying. This is a mystery rather than a suspense movie although it has some very suspenseful moments.

One of the things that makes it work is that Deborah and and Marcel are so likeable. They’re a perfect couple. We don’t want to believe anything bad about either of them and we don’t want anything terrible to happen to either of them. And yet we have our doubts about them. Of course it’s possible that one or both is not bad but mad. Their suspicions may be grounded on delusions. But we don’t know.

This is perhaps not a full-blown giallo. There’s no black-gloved killer and there are no spectacular murder set-pieces. It does however have a very giallo feel and style and like the best giallos it’s a psycho-sexual thriller.

There’s a certain amount of nudity and sex. The sex scenes aren’t really gratuitous. They tell us quite a bit about the characters. There’s the scene in which Marcel and Deborah make love but suddenly it’s Suzanne’s face and body that Marcel is seeing.

Jean Sorel is excellent and he has great chemistry with Carroll Baker.

Carroll Baker was perfect for movies of this type. We can believe she’s sweet and innocent but we can also believe that she might have a very dark side. A fine actress in top form.

This was 1968 so Carroll Baker gets to wear some groovy threads. I love her green mini-dress in the discotheque scene (yes of course there’s a discotheque scene).

This movie was a major hit in Italy and really kicked the emerging giallo genre into top gear. Suddenly everybody in Italy wanted to make stylish erotic thrillers and pretty soon film-makers would starting upping the ante in the violence department.

This is a movie that is a bit tricky to get hold of. The only options seem to be an Italian and a German DVD. I have the Italian DVD and it’s excellent and includes the English-language version.

Compared to later giallos The Sweet Body of Deborah relies more on plot than gore (in fact there’s no gore at all). And the plot is pretty nifty with plenty of twists. If you like the giallo style but you’re put off by the excessive violence then this is the movie for you. It’s also essential viewing if you’re interested in the history of the genre. And apart from that it’s just a very good very entertaining movie. Highly recommended.

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