Sunday 3 March 2024

Deadly Sweet (1967)

Deadly Sweet (Col cuore in gola) is a 1967 giallo directed by Tinto Brass.

Tinto Brass’s career has been interesting to say the least. In the 60s and early 70s he was establishing himself as an art-house director, even being hailed as the next Antonioni. Then in 1976 came his first examination of the link between extreme sex and absolute power, Salon Kitty. It ignited a firestorm of controversy. He intended his next film, Caligula, to be a further exploration of the same topic. Caligula of course had a famously chaotic production history and was savaged by critics who had decided they hated the movie even before they had seen it.

Brass responded by totally reinventing himself, as a maker of erotic movies. He wanted to make high-quality intelligent erotic movies at a time when this was commercially impossible. Brass didn’t care and went ahead anyway and carved out a successful career. What’s interesting, considering the extreme nature of Salon Kitty and Caligula, is that his later erotic movies are cheerful and good-natured.

So a giallo from Tinto Brass is a bit of a surprise.

Bernard (Jean-Louis Trintignant) spots a pretty girl at a night-club. She is Jane Burroughs (Ewa Aulin). She’s there with her brother Jerome (Charles Kohler). Their father was killed in a car accident a few days earlier. Bernard goes to see the manager of the club because he has been refused credit. He finds the manager dead. Murdered. And Jane Burroughs is there but she swears she didn’t kill him.

Bernard is now mixed up in whatever it is that Jane is mixed up in, which seems to include both blackmail and murder. There is a photograph that must be retrieved.

We have no idea who Bernard is. He knows how to handle a gun. He could be a private eye, an undercover cop, a spy, a gangster or maybe just a guy who likes to help cute girls in trouble. We eventually find out that he is an actor, and it’s appropriate that Trintignant is an actor playing an actor since this is a movie in which the line between reality and fiction is constantly blurred. This is certainly not a realist film.

There’s plenty of trouble in store. Jane gets kidnapped. There’s another murder. Bernard finds opportunities to use his gun. He gets knocked unconscious by a midget. He and Jane are pursued by heavies.

They do find the time to fall in love and sleep together.

Bernard is determined to unravel the puzzle. And it’s a nicely convoluted puzzle.

This is a movie set in England, directed by an Italian with a French leading man and a Swedish leading lady. In the case of some Italian movies shot in England you find yourself thinking that they could just as easily have been shot in Milan or Rome. In this case however the setting makes sense. This film is going very strongly for a Swinging London vibe.

There are nods to Antonioni’s Blow-Up and some direct references (Jane and Bernard pass a poster for the movie). Deadly Sweet does have some very slight hints of the flavour of Blow-Up. Deadly Sweet is a very 60s very Pop movie with a Pop Art verging on psychedelia visual style. Brass was aiming very much for a comic-book feel (Guido Crepax was a major influence on the film and drew some storyboards for it).

At times this movie is in danger of being too clever for its own good but for the most part Brass gets away with it because he really is clever and visually inventive and he imbues the film with lots of energy and style. We’re never quite sure how seriously he wants us to take this movie. My feeling is that we’re not supposed to take it seriously at all, we’re just supposed to enjoy the ride. And it is an enjoyable ride. There are some truly inspired visual moments.

When I describe Deadly Sweet as a giallo I have to qualify that a bit. The giallo genre can be divided into two phases. The second and better known began in 1970 with Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage - blood-drenched serial killer films with black-gloved killers and lots of spectacular murders. Prior to that, in the late 60s, was the proto-giallo phase - stylish erotic thrillers with often only one or two murders and often with very little blood. Personally I prefer these proto-giallos, such as Lucio Fulci's One on Top of the Other, Umberto Lenzi's So Sweet...So Perverse and Romolo Guerrieri's The Sweet Body of Deborah but that is of course purely a matter of personal taste.

Deadly Sweet
fits into the proto-giallo phase, although perhaps it doesn’t fit as neatly as some other movies. It has some of the elements you find in these early giallos - you have a couple who aren’t really sure if they can trust each other, there are other important characters who may be treacherous, there are hints of sexual perversity, there’s an atmosphere of decadence although it’s not quite the decadence one associates with proto-giallos. This is the decadence of the cultural revolution of the 60s. This is pop youth culture decadence, not old money decadence.

The tone is all over the place, veering from being quite serious to being definitely tongue-in-cheek and then veering off into pure spoof territory. That should be a flaw but it adds to the movie’s offbeat quirkiness. Imagine a giallo made as an homage to Blow-Up but in the style of a Guido Crepax comic and you have Deadly Sweet. Surprisingly it turns out to be a lot of fun. Very highly recommended.

The Cult Epics DVD looks good and there’s an excellent audio commentary with Tinto Brass in which he reveals something rather amusing. There are quite a few shots in black-and-white and naturally you assume this has some deep significance. In fact he had to do those shots in conditions where there was no way to get enough light to shoot in colour so he just shot in black-and-white.

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