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THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE – ****
Directed by Flavio Mogherini. Starring Ray Milland, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Michele Placido, Mel Ferrer, Howard Ross. Mystery/Thriller, Italy/Spain, 102 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray on 17th September 2018 by Arrow Video.
Based on a true crime that happened in Australia back in the 1930s, the awkwardly titled THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE is a mystery thriller that sits alongside other Italian giallo movies from the 1970s but this one has a bit of a twist to it as it is really two stories that are told simultaneously in order to create a bigger picture. That may not seem so radical in itself nowadays thanks to non-linear storytelling being pretty much de rigueur but back in 1977 that type of narrative trickery was seen as being a bit different from the norm.
So yes, THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE is a little different from your average whodunnit but in other ways it very much falls into standard giallo trappings, i.e. bad dubbing, lots of camera zooms for no real reason, gratuitous nudity and a few red herrings to keep you guessing. The first plot thread that we are thrown into is that the badly burnt body of a woman is found on the beach but her injuries are so bad the police are unable to identify her. Retired Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland – DIAL M FOR MURDER) is brought in on a volunteer basis to help out, much to the displeasure of the investigating officer whose big idea to identify the victim is to put her embalmed body on public display in the hope that somebody can identify who she is. Seems straightforward enough but while all this is going on a waitress named Glenda (Dalila Di Lazzaro – PHENOMENA) is having relationship troubles as she has three lovers, gets married to one of them but carries on seeing the other two, leading to some very emotional complications that will change her life.
But what does Glenda have to do with the body on the beach? You will have to watch to find out but seasoned movie buffs will probably have it figured out long before Inspector Thompson does, although that probably has more to do with the way movies are structured nowadays rather than the writing here. Nevertheless, despite the problem of probably having it sussed out early on, THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE is actually a very engrossing thriller once you get used to the focal shifts. Ray Milland is definitely the star of the show, with Inspector Thompson's joy at being asked to come out of retirement mirrored by Milland's obvious enthusiasm at getting his teeth stuck into such a meaty role. As is typical of most gialli the dubbing is awful but Milland doesn't come off too badly, unlike the majority of the supporting cast whose voices are so comical they border on offensive, especially one extremely camp character witness who seems to have walked straight off the set of a CARRY ON... film.
For all of its structural and narrative ambitions THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE is still a cheap Italian giallo and a lot of the fun does come from its shortcomings. The characters don't really develop any further than their archetypes allow, including Thompson, the most interesting and likeable of the lot, and the direction feels sloppy, which in any other film would be detrimental but here it seems to work, with the Australian location and sense of intrigue elevating the material above the usual black-gloved killer shenanigans. Coming backed with several cast and crew interviews and appraisals THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE won't tickle everybody's fancy just because it is a bit different and a little awkward to follow at the beginning but stick with it and it draws you in for what is ultimately a flawed but highly enjoyable murder mystery.
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