Color, 1977, 102 mins. 8 secs.
Directed by Flavio Mogherini
Starring Ray Milland, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Michele Placido, Mel Ferrer, Howard Ross, Raimro Oliveros, Rod Mullinar
Arrow Video (Blu-ray (US/UK RA/RB HD), Blue Underground (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Anyone unfamiliar with the beloved Italian thriller strain known as the giallo will be confounded by this Australia-set mystery, which breaks so many rules one can only wonder how audiences responded to it without any advance warning. An Italian-Spanish co-production, the feature takes its inspiration from a real 1934 murder in New South Wales and follows the major facts quite closely, albeit with a lot of embellishment and a modern setting.
When the mutilated and burned body of a young woman turns up on the beach, the local police are unable to confirm her identity and ultimately decide to put her remains on display to see if anyone will recognize her. The sardonic, retired Inspector Timpson (Milland) takes an interest in the case and starts to make inquiries when he finds the investigation unsatisfactory. Meanwhile the story of Linda (Flesh for Frankenstein and Phenomena’s Di Lazzaro) unfolds as a grueling balancing act between two jobs (as a waitress and ferry ticket taker) and three different lovers including a professor (Ferrer), a rich bachelor (Ross), and the youngest of the bunch, fellow waiter Antonio (Placido), whom she marries. However, life keeps throwing up obstacles to her happiness that put her and Thompson heading down the same dark path.
A film best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible, The Pyjama Girl Case not only experiments with its tone and setting but also throws in at least two seismic plot twists that would have been imitated everywhere if this film were more widely seen. In fact, it’s surprising that the central narrative gimmick hasn’t really been attempted again, though a certain 2017 horror film was definitely playing around in the same sandbox. Anyone expecting a traditional giallo will be highly disoriented right from the beginning thanks to the bouncy pair of pop songs crooned by Euro-pop goddess and Salvador Dali muse Amanda Lear, the schizophrenic score by Riz Ortolani that veers from pounding electronics to harmonica-laced romantic melodies, and the fact that almost everything – even the most violent and disturbing scenes – takes place in scorching sunlight. The presence of Milland (who had been turning up in a lot of drive-in films around that time, especially from AIP) meant the film was intended to be screened primarily in English, though the awkward dubbing of Di Lazzaro and particularly Placido (a fine actor elsewhere) puts a bit of a damper on their performances.
By the time The Pyjama Girl Case (originally La ragazza dal pigiama giallo or The Girl in the Yellow Pajamas) opened in 1977, gialli were quickly falling out of favor with other offerings like Lucio Fulci’s superb The Psychic and the underseen Pensione Paura also suffering from audience burnout. The film never earned a theatrical release in the U.S. or U.K., but the video era proved to be its eventual salvation as it became a word of mouth favorite on the gray market trading circuit, primarily thanks to copies of the Dutch VHS. The first major legitimate release came when Blue Underground released it on DVD in 2006, sporting a solid widescreen transfer (with the usual English track), the Italian theatrical trailer (scored with Ortolani's spectacular "Decimazione Amanti"), an 8-page Eddie Campbell graphic novel based on the case, and a featurette entitled “The Pyjama Girl Mystery: A True Story of Murder, Obsession and Lies” (29m56s) with author Richard Evans expounding on the facts of the actual case and the strange circumstances behind the identification of the murderer, which still remains in doubt. That disc was also bundled into a three-disc “Midnight Movies” set by Blue Underground with The Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion and The Fifth Cord.
With the English-language enthusiasm for gialli still showing no signs of waning, it was inevitable that this film would have to hit Blu-ray at some point—and Arrow Video came through in 2018 with a Blu-ray package in both the U.S. and U.K., featuring the usual reversible sleeve options including a new Chris Malon cover design The packaging touts a new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, and as expected it betters the old DVD (which already looked quite nice) with more fine detail and carefully modulated tones of brown and gold throughout, not to mention a bit more picture information visible on the edges. The English and Italian tracks are offered (DTS-HD MA mono) with either English SDH subtitle or newly translated English translated subtitles if you so choose; as mentioned above, the English track is preferable since it preserves Milland’s wry vocal delivery. Not surprisingly, both this disc and the older DVD use the great "Corpo di Linda" track as background music.
A new audio commentary with So Deadly, So Perverse author Troy Howarth does a very thorough and sometimes cheeky job of tackling this unorthodox genre entry as he pulls apart its narrative structure, points out how it does and doesn't fit the giallo bill, touches on some highlights of Ms. Lear's biography (and perhaps wisely doesn't touch on the much wilder Italian film she starred in right after this one), identifies some of the dubbing artists, and offers plenty of trivia about the players along with a possible oddball touch that inspired another in Sleepless. In "Small World: Internationalism in the Giallo" (28m30s), familiar critic Michael Mackenzie actually appears on camera this time for one of his heady cinematic studies, in this case the globe-hopping aspects of the giallo with a focus on plane arrivals and departures as story devices, the location demands of multinational co-productions, the oddities of voice dubbing, another similarity to Sleepless, and some amusing contractual chicanery that makes it worth watching both the English and Italian versions for their different opening and closing credit sequences. Next up is "A Good Bad Guy" (31m46s) with Ross recalling his good rapport with director Fabio Mogherini, the funny way he wound up being cast as a sort-of villain, the use of a body double for one key scene, Placido's inability to speak English, and thoughts on some of his co-stars in other films including a revelation of who was the most difficult. Editor Alberto Tagliavia gets his turn in "A Study in Elegance" (23m17s), which is actually quite fascinating as he talks about the "architectural" elegance of his director and doing three different editing passes on the film that finally settled on the "giallo" cut we now have with more of a mystery element. (Talk about a fun movie someone could fanedit!) Next up is assistant director Ferruccio Castronuovo in "Inside the Yellow Pyjama" (15m4s) with a discussion of the six-week shoot that entailed heavy filming in Spain with some of the actors heading off to Sydney for exterior scenes. He's quite the Ray Milland fan, too. He also goes into some of the more stylized lighting effects in the film and the search for a model to do the glass case scene. Finally the archival "The Yellow Rhythm" (21m24s) is a new edit of an interview with the late Ortolani talking about growing up in a musical family, the origin of his professional name, and the hectic scoring work pace that became his bread and butter, with some regrets. He doesn't shy away from his famous mondo work either, though the only connection to this film is a fleeting bit about Mogherini. A little image gallery compiles some stills, VHS art, and posters, and the Italian trailer is included in a fresh HD scan with English subtitles.
Arrow Video Blu-ray
Blue Underground DVD
Reviewed on August 29, 2018