Sunday, 26 February 2012

What Have You Done To Solange? (1972)


Cosse avete fatto a Solange?
Who's Next?
Terror in the Woods
The School that Couldn't Scream
The Secret of the Green Pins

In January 2011 I dedicated an entire month of The Celluloid Highway to the Italian giallo. Of the films I reviewed that month I was most impressed by Massimo Dallamano’s 1974 entry What Have They Done to Your Daughters? I particularly enjoyed the confident manner in which the narrative strategies of the giallo were fastened to the high octane thrills and spills one would commonly associate with the poliziotesschi. From 1946 to 1966 Dallamano carved out a career as a cinematographer, the culmination of which was his work on A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965). But as a director we are only left with the merest of legacies. He only directed twelve feature films before his untimely death in a car accident in late 1976. On the strength of Venus in Furs (1969) and the aforementioned What Have They Done to Your Daughters? I was determined to explore as many of his dozen films as I could. Unfortunately I was waylaid on this quest and Dallamano was filed away for future reference. A year later I finally got the opportunity to screen his first giallo What Have You Done to Solange? and was immediately surprised (and not to mention a little weary) of the unanimous praise the film has received in critical circles. Only a select band of gialli have reviewed as well as Solange. I expected the film to struggle to live up to its reputation, but I’m pleased to report this is one film that is deserving of its current status amid the highest echelon of the cycle.

This particular entry was an Italian/West German co-production, and the screenplay by Dallamano and collaborator Bruno Di Geronimo was loosely based on the Edgar Wallace crime novel The Clue of the New Pin (1923). The casting of Joachim Fuchsberger as Inspector Barth adds a further link to the West German ‘Krimi’ cycle and confirms a certain amount of cross pollination between the two. The influence of the ‘Krimi’ on the giallo has never really been satisfactorily explored by scholars, and it doesn’t help that that the ‘Krimi’ has largely remained under-researched and under-appreciated. The self-referential or intertextual quality to Solange adds an intriguing layer to proceedings and is never ham fisted in its use. But the most distinguishing feature of the film is its attention to plot detail, and its absolute loyalty to a plausible mystery which concludes in a most satisfying and acceptable fashion. The film immediately benefits from the decision to shoot entirely on location in London. Admittedly the filmmakers make very little use of recognised landmarks, but a subtle dichotomy is created between the city and the countryside. The former the site for a clique of schoolgirls to explore their sexuality, the latter a place they must visit in order to rectify the mistakes made in that exploration. The rural locations subsequently become a negative space - a place for violence and dirty work - of murder and amateur abortion.

The mystery centres around St. Mary’s Catholic College for Girls, an institution that aches with hypocrisy, sexual tension, and perversity. Fabio Testi is on hand to play Enrico Rosseni, a gymnastics teacher who is trapped in a loveless marriage to the stern and severe Herta (Karin Baal). He relieves himself of this domestic nightmare by embarking on an affair with underage schoolgirl Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó), and soon finds himself squarely in the sex maniac frame amid a spate of child murders. The film goes to some lengths to establish the bland domesticity of the Rosseni’s relationship, and it exists in sharp contrast to the verve and effervescence of the affair. Testi is very good at making the switch, but when called upon to express emotion the actor is found wanting. If there is any weakness in Solange then it rests with the films leading man. Ironically it is the murder of Elizabeth (drowned in a bathtub) that brings Enrico and Herta back together. With his dismissal from the school Enrico becomes the amateur detective, and his wife takes the role of assistant. The solving of a mystery becomes a means of recuperation, a cathartic experience that enables Enrico and Herta to once again see why they fell in love.

This is a film unusually interested in minor details, and the screenplay sets up a gallery of characters who are all hiding something. The film does waste far too much time on putting Enrico in the frame, but the revelations that end the film are genuinely surprising, and extremely effective. The grisly and shocking methodology of the killer becomes entirely plausible when the explanation is given. We are briefly afforded the site of an X-ray of one of the victims, and it is amongst the most disturbing images to grace a giallo. In the first half of the film themes of innocence and purity are woven into the fabric of the narrative, and are then subverted in an ironic counterpoint at the conclusion. The film is full of little ironies, and it is able to alight on moments that seem inconsequential because of an incredibly patient and careful method of storytelling. The precise narrative is complimented by the beautiful and meticulous widescreen cinematography of Aristide Massaccesi; rarely has the frame been used to such excellent effect in a gialli. Another touch of pure class is the score by Ennio Morricone which is one of his most memorable. What Have You Done to Solange? is an unforgettable and poignant film, it is a quietly devastating examination of lost innocence. Its final freeze frame image of the bereft Solange (Camille Keaton) possibly the most haunting visual to feature in a giallo.

© Shaun Anderson 2012


  1. Nice write up, Shaun. Solange is one of my favourite gialli - you were spot on when you discussed its emotional core; few other films from this cycle come close. The score by Morricone really highlights this aspect of the film - and it's a score that's rarely off my mp3 player. I really want to rewatch this now!
    I was also really intrigued by what you said about the German ‘Krimi’ cycle and its underappreciation - especially in terms of its influence on the giallo. I'm not too up to speed on those films myself, but I'd be really interested in finding out more about them. And read any posts you may write on the subject! Hint hint. ;)

    Hope you're well!

  2. Terrific review, Shaun.

    I must admit that, although I admire the obvious strengths of 'Solange', it's a film that I rarely revisit as I find it rather depressing and deceptively sleazy (in a disturbingly sordid way - as opposed to the ridiculous tone which informs the depiction of 'adult content' in giallo more generally). The depictions of the murderer's Modus Operandi, as you note, are particularly frank and confronting, and the cause of Solange's psychopathology is depicted with some measure of...questionable relish, perhaps?

    Indeed, it is plainly disturbing that the parents of one victim appear to place a higher value upon her virginity than they do her life, although without another recent viewing I can't recall if the film implicitly critiques such a position or functions ultimately to affirm it. I assume one could read the film either way, although, ultimately, it still functions within the parameters of Italian exploitation cinema - and women rarely fare well there...

    An interesting tidbit that may inform how one approaches the film: Camille Keaton twice appeared in 'Playmen' (the Italian take on 'Playboy'), and, indeed, her cover shot can be seen on the Wikipedia entry for the magazine. Her choice of roles (in 'Solange' and 'I Spit On Your Grave') is somewhat interesting in light of this...

    But maybe I'm misremembering the film - I'll have to take another look. :)

  3. Just a note: I'm sure you know, Shaun, but just in case - Fabio Testi returned for 'Rings of Fear aka Virgin Killer' (1978), which Dallamano was involved in writing (and presumably may have directed if not for his untimely death). Testi is much, much better there, and the film itself is a solid giallo/procedural that is worth tracking down (there exists an uncut release via the old 'Eyecatcher' DVD label).

  4. I agree very strongly with your point that the krimi is an underappreciated genre, even among cult movie fans.

    You must see Dallamano's The Secret of Dorian Gray.

  5. @ James - I'm doing very well my friend, I hope you are too. The reason for the krimi's underapprecation must surely rest on the difficulty of tracking the films down. I can't think of any other reason why it hasn't been explored more fully. The influence is particularly telling on Argento's BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, and as this is seen as one of the most influential of gialli, the krimi becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. Fortunately I do have access to a great number of these films and I may put aside a month to write about them on here.

    @ Johnny - thanks for the kind words good sir! I'm glad you mentioned the issue of virginity in SOLANGE, I didn't have space to explore it in the review (I never exceed 1,000 words in my reviews, so something always has to go by the wayside), but it is an important element. The relief of Herta for example when she discovers Elizabeth died a virgin is a notable moment.

    I have a love/hate relationship with the films of Fabio Testi; I didn't think much of him here, or in THE BIG RACKET, or Fulci's CONTRABAND (which is boring) but I thought he was fantastic in REVOLVER and THE HEROIN BUSTERS. I've heard of RINGS OF FEAR, and with Dallamano involved I'll try and hunt down a copy...many thanks for the tip off.

    @Doom - Thanks for stopping by! - I think it's time for us to redress the balance when it comes to the krimi, don't you? I've noted THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY down for future reference...many thanks!


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