The Suspicious Death of a Minor

| October 6, 2017

By 1975, Italian director Sergio Martino had already made a name for himself in the major exploitation film genres in his home country. In addition to Spaghetti Westerns (Arizona Colt Returns) and sex comedies (Giovanna Long-Thigh), Martino had a hit poliziotteschi (The Violent Professionals) and a number of major gialli under his belt. His first giallo, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, is one of the best of the legions of those lurid mysteries that followed in the wake of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is nothing if not one of the best titles in film history. So as an established filmmaker with a solid list of credits, in 1975 Martino decided to try something unexpected: Despite its title, The Suspicious Death of a Minor is sort of a a giallo/poliziotteschi with more humor than murder.

Marisa (Patrizia Castaldi) is being tailed by a mysterious man in mirror shades when she meets Paolo Germi (Claudio Cassinelli) at a cafe. He dances with her while she tries to escape from her hunter, but he catches up with her and slashes her throat in the small apartment where she had shacked up with a boyfriend. The police think it’s a standard robbery gone wrong, but Germi isn’t so sure. He enlists the help of thief Giannino (Adolfo Caruso) to track down information about Marisa, and soon finds himself on the trail of something much bigger than he could have guessed. The murder of Marisa has uncovered a conspiracy that includes murder for hire, kidnapping, human trafficking, and a number of very rich men behind the scenes. Can Germi and Giannino blow the lid off it before the police superintendent (Mel Ferrer) shuts them down or that killer in the cool shades comes for them?

While its storyline sounds fairly similar to other genre films of the era–the title and some specifics recall the popular “Schoolgirls in Peril” trilogy (What Have You Done to Solange?, What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, and Rings of Fear)–Martino’s approach is considerably different. Germi is an able detective but also somewhat ridiculous; the lenses of his glasses are forever getting cracked in an effective running joke. Instead of the standard badass car chases, Germi outruns police in a car that looks like it might collapse at any minute. There’s also a very funny shootout on a rollercoaster that doesn’t feel out of place at all in this near-parody of its contemporaries. There’s still some unpleasant business of murder, of course, but the overall tone of the film is endearingly playful. A soundtrack that veers between Goblin soundalikes and more whimsical songs only adds to the cognitive dissonance, which may sound like a complaint but is actually a refreshing change of pace from the legions of similar Italian films released in the 70s.

Arrow’s 2K restoration of the film from its original camera negative looks great. It’s certainly an auspicious debut for a film that has never had a legitimate release on home video in the States. A number of Martino’s other films have had fine releases here, but this particular entry into his oeuvre has been elusive for American fans. Martino went on to make a number of poliziotteschi, Spaghetti Westerns, cannibal movies, and post-apocalyptic action films throughout the 70s and 80s. He worked as a director more or less regularly up through the end of the 1990s, but his work in the 1970s remains his best-known. Arrow’s work in unearthing gems like this one has helped connect some major dots in genre film history, and while its occasionally uneasy balance of comedy and garish violence may not be for everyone, The Suspicious Death of a Minor is highly recommended for any serious fans of Italian cult/exploitation cinema.

Arrow Video released The Suspicious Death of a Minor on Blu-ray/DVD on 3 October 2017. Special features include an audio commentary by Troy Howarth (author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films), new interviews with director Sergio Martino and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando, and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon. The first pressing also includes an illustrated booklet with new writing by Barry Forshaw (author of Euro Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to European Crime Fiction, Film and TV).

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
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