Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Pyjama Girl Case

The Pyjama Girl Case (1977) aka La ragazza dal pigiama giallo
Dir. Flavio Mogherini
Written by Flavio Mogherini, Rafael Sánchez Campoy
Starring Ray Milland Dalila Di Lazzaro, Michele Placido, TV’s Falcon’s Crest’s Mel Ferrer

Don't be fooled by the "Giallo"in the title, its just referring to the color of the titular pyjamas, which the movie seems to think is really interesting stuff.

Not really a horror, not really very good, this is mostly a particularly uneventful mystery about the death of a young Australian woman whose body is found partially burned in a car on a beach. She is wearing yellow "pyjamas" [sic] which the movie seems to think is a real fuckin big deal, I dunno, your milage may vary. Academy-Award winner Ray Milland (THE LOST WEEKEND) is a retired detective who decides he’s going to solve the case using his old-school gumption instead of the newfangled techniques the kids use these days, one of which is apparently to put the naked body in a glass box on display in a museum to have people file by and see if they recognize it. I’ve seen POLICE ACADEMY several times and they never mention this sort of investigative technique, so I guess it must be an Australian thing. Or an Italian thing, since although this was shot in Australia it’s as Italian as they come behind the camera. Probably Italian, I think I remember they did that with the Pope when he died, too (wonder if anyone recognized him?).

Milland seems surprisingly committed to his medium-sized part and has a little of that old charisma, but he’s not in it very much and, indeed, the whole investigation itself is mostly shuffled off to the background in favor of something even less interesting than the already not-especially interesting murder mystery: an interminable relationship drama about this whiny blonde (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and her moronic, even more whiny trio of boyfriends (include TV’s Falcon Crest’s Mel Ferrer). This storyline takes up the lion’s share of the movie, and I gotta tell you, it is aggressively dull, the kind of boring that you’re forced to get philosophical about to cope with. Blondie is a totally opaque nothing of a character, and she just keeps whining and whining and making the same mistakes with her harem of blatantly awful men again and again for no discernible reason (if typical giallo logic holds, she probably saw her mom having sex with a sailor, but they don’t include that flashback here because it might have come perilously close to being interesting).

Expect to see a lot of this chick.

Since she’s in a murder mystery, you gotta figure the lady is gonna eventually be a victim of some kind, but while that may be true, she could fill that function without spilling her whole boring, repetitive life story. As it happens, the movie is doing something mildly clever by running this storyline parallel to the mystery one* but while it might be OK as a narrative device it’s most definitely not OK as an actual narrative, because there simply isn’t one. Nobody here actually has a story, it’s just a bunch of wheel-spinning around one single and not especially interesting event. Maybe they were trying to be overly-faithful to the real-life 1934 murder that inspired the film and simply laying out the facts as they happened (not that faithful, though, since the movie's set in the present, played here by 1977). But even if that was the case, they should have remembered that real life is extremely banal and idiotic, that’s why we watch giallos, to briefly experience something more satisfying. At 103 minutes, this is uneventful to the point of barely even existing.

Milland, contemplating firing his agent.
The film does look quite nice, with some genuinely pretty photography of Sydney, Australia in 1977. And it does have that one surreal little wrinkle, the genuinely disturbing sequence where where the naked body is displayed for mobs of morbid gawkers, some of whom get excited and take pictures like a bunch of starry-eyed tourists. That sequence offers a subtle critique of a bored public latching onto a sensational case for cheap kicks (you know, kinda like a certain unnamed group of filmmakers who made a movie about it in ‘77), which isn’t exactly groundbreaking cultural satire, but at least it offers a genuine perspective. The rest of the time, we’re not so lucky, it’s just the tedious facts. Maybe next time you write the title and realize the most notable aspect of the case is that the body is wearing yellow “pyjamas,” you might just stop and reconsider whether this is a story worth making a whole movie about.

*SPOILER: You’ll figure out at some point that she’s actually the dead girl, and this whole story is a flashback explaining how she ended up dead. Cool idea, too bad it’s such an irritating and pointless story.


The Hunt For Dread October

  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: No, based on a true story
  • SEQUEL: None
  • REMAKE: No
  • FOREIGNER: Italian production, filmed in Australia
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: Ray Milland, although he wasnt exactly at the height of his career.
  • BOOBIES: Yes
  • SEXUAL ASSAULT: There's a really unpleasant scene where our heroine tries her hand at hooking, I guess it's technically consensual but, yeeeech.
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Nah, only one body, and it stays intact
  • SLASHER/GIALLO: No, and that should have been the first sign of trouble
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): None. That's right, there's not even a psycho killer in this movie, only two people die and they're both killed by different people.
  • EVIL CULT: None
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Extremely high. Little known even by the people who might be inclined to know about something like this.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: If you want to solve a murder case, don't preserve the body with chemicals and place it naked on display in a glass box for the public to gawk at, it doesn't work. One would think this would be an obvious fact, something that was simply assumed, but I guess sometimes you just have to spell everything out for these knuckleheads.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: There is a case about a girl in yellow "pyjamas"

I guess you could argue it's technically well-made enough to justify two thumbs, but I gotta be honest, I barely made it through this one, it's just too boring to be watched by human eyes even if there are some pretty sunsets and shit.

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