Directed by Tano Cimarosa
John Richardson, Dagmar Lassander, Tano Cimarosa, Magda Konopka, Ninetto Davoli, Ursula Davis, Gianni Williams, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Livio Galassi, Dada Gallotti, Giovanni Brusatori, Giovanna D’Albore, Daniela Giordano
Reflections in Black is a giallo I’ve been aware of for quite some time but because the only known English-friendly release is a fullscreen Greek VHS with large chunks of footage missing due to print damage, I’ve kept holding off on seeing it. But once a fan version using a widescreen Spanish VHS as the image source and the English dub from the Greek release as the audio source became available I just had to jump on it. And while this version still looks rather grotty, it is at least in widescreen and around 10 minutes longer than the Greek tape. Plus it’s always nice to sit down with a “new” giallo.
The plot kicks off in classical giallo fashion – showing a mysterious killer in a dark coat and the ubiquitous black gloves roaming the dark streets. An unfortunate nightgown-clad girl named Nelly (Daniela Giordano) is savagely attacked with a razor when she opens the door for this mysterious person in black. In a desperate bid for escape, the bleeding girl flees screaming into the night. She manages to reach a phone booth but her attacker catches up with her and slashes her to death before she can call for help.
Not long afterwards, a ditzy blonde named Emma (Giovanna D'Albore) is having an amorous nighttime encounter with a lover in a park when she is attacked by the same black-gloved killer and gets her throat slashed open.
The killer’s handiwork
Inspector Lavena (John Richardson) is put on the case, and together with his assistant Sgt. Panto (played by the film’s director, Tano Cimarosa) he starts looking into the various people connected to the two victims. It turns out that Emma was the trusted secretary of a powerful and influential notary named Anselmi (Giacomo Rossi Stuart), and apparently she was also very chummy with Anselmi’s sexy wife Leonora (Dagmar Lassander). All the gory details of Leonora and Emma’s relationship are revealed to us by having Leonora gaze at an old photo of Emma, which triggers a long, gratuitous flashback scene of them engaged in some soft-focus lesbian lovemaking to the strains of Carlo Savina’s typically giallo-esque score full of lulling female vocals.
The obligatory lesbian action
Anyway, it soon transpires that the two murder victims knew each other as a photograph of them together is discovered. Also present in this photo is a third woman and two men, and while Inspector Lavena and Sgt. Panto work on trying to figure out who these people are, the audience learns that the third girl is a somewhat bitchy blonde named Marilyn (Dada Gallotti). Marilyn knows the identity of the killer and indulges in a dangerous game of blackmail – with predictable results.
A classic photographic clue
Those blackmailers just never learn, do they?
As the body count continues to rise, so does the list of potential suspects. In addition to the Anselmis there is also their nosy and horny lesbian maid; the mysterious Contessa Orsello (Magda Konopka), a predatory lesbian with ties to all of the victims; the Contessa’s pathetic, drug-addicted son Marco (Livio Galassi), who likes to threaten his mother’s mistresses with a razor; Marilyn’s lover Sandro (Pasolini favorite Ninetto Davoli), who shows a questionable interest in underage girls; and Mario (Giovanni Brusatori), a camp gay hairdresser whose salon the victims used to frequent.
By the time the movie is over, most of these characters will be dead and anyone but the most naïve and inexperienced giallo viewers will have guessed the killer’s identity long before the “shocking” reveal. First-time director Tano Cimarosa was a good, reliable tough guy actor and already had some experience with the giallo genre thanks to his memorable supporting part in Renato Polselli’s appropriately named Delirium (1972), but it’s obvious from the get-go that Cimarosa’s talent for directing is far less impressive. This is a strictly by-the-numbers affair that throws in all the usual giallo clichés and tries to spice up the brew by upping the sleaze factor. And if taken merely as a sleazy romp, Reflections in Black can actually be a lot of fun.
One of the most amusing things about the film is how Cimarosa uses it as a showcase for himself. Although British actor John Richardson – fresh from his giallo turns in Torso (1973) and Eyeball (1975) – is given prominent top-billing, Richardson’s police inspector is continuously overshadowed by Cimarosa’s sergeant, who proves himself to be much smarter than his superior time and time again. In fact, Cimarosa continues to upstage Richardson to the point where one wonders why he didn’t just cast himself in the lead, but I suppose he needed Richardson’s name to sell movie tickets.
What little thunder Richardson has left gets stolen by another cop on the case, the young and promising Manlio (played by Gianni Williams) and his girlfriend Anna (played by 1960s starlet Ursula Davis under her actual name Pier Anna Quaia), whose relationship is given an absurd amount of screen time. Anna is shown to be an awfully sassy girl who likes to wear see-through blouses that show off her nipples. “It’s a sexual revolution! Didn’t you know the girls burn their bras these days?” she chirps to Manlio when he protests. At one point she even endangers herself by deciding to play amateur detective – after which Manlio finally sets her straight by telling her to limit her crazy impulses to the bedroom or the supermarket from now on! Oh, the 1970s!
Cimarosa sets Richardson straight
Manlio and Anna occupy a fair amount of the film’s running time
Visually, Reflections in Black isn’t one of the better-looking gialli. It may be a tad unfair to judge its visuals on the basis of the generally crummy-looking versions that are currently available but aside from a few nice uses of reflective images there just aren’t that many stylish traits to be found here. Some of the sleazier moments actually look downright drab – especially a coarsely shot sex scene between Ninetto Davoli and Dada Gallotti that gives us a closer look at Davoli’s bouncing nut sack than what anybody really needs to see. This scene is made all the more hilarious because it is accompanied by an inappropriate Carlo Savina score that is much too classy to suit the tacky images on the screen. But while none of the general sleaziness on display is all that well-made it does add to the fun.
Ninetto Davoli displays the full range of his talents for our viewing pleasure
One of the many sleazy highlights
Apart from the fun that comes from watching Cimarosa muscling in on poor John Richardson, the film also benefits from having both Dagmar Lassander and Magda Konopka on hand as predatory lesbians. Obviously, the careers of both women had seen better days but they deliver what is expected of them and are definitely easy on the eyes.
Dagmar Lassander sporting an outfit almost exactly like the one she wore in The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971)
Magda Konopka in action
Everyone else is somewhat wasted, though, from old pro Giacomo Rossi Stuart, who hardly registers as a screen presence in the role of Lassander’s cuckolded husband, to poor Daniela Giordano, who gets nothing more to do than show up and get killed (she doesn’t even have any dialogue).
Also worthy of mention is the presence of the usual crew of English dubbers – most notably the unmistakable tough guy voice of Edward Mannix dubbing Tano Cimarosa. It’s a great match as the voice fits Cimarosa’s look and the character’s hardball attitude perfectly. You’ll no doubt also recognize the other voice actors, including Carolynn De Fonseca (dubbing Dada Gallotti), Silvia Faver (dubbing Ursula Davis) and Frank von Kuegelgen (dubbing Gianni Williams).
While far from a great movie, Reflections in Black is nevertheless just about silly and sleazy enough to warrant a recommendation for giallo hounds. You might also want to check out Cimarosa’s second film as a director, the gritty crime flick Death Hunt (1977), which is even more sleazy and enjoyable.
© 2011 Johan Melle
John Richardson as Inspector Lavena
Dagmar Lassander as Leonora Anselmi
Tano Cimarosa as Sgt. Panto
Magda Konopka as Contessa Orsello
Ninetto Davoli as Sandro
Ursula Davis as Anna
Gianni Williams as Manlio
Giacomo Rossi Stuart as Mr. Anselmi
Livio Galassi as Marco
Dada Gallotti as Marilyn
Giovanni Brusatori as Mario
??? as Leonora's maid
??? as The Contessa's lover
Giovanna D'Albore as Emma
Daniela Giordano as Nelly