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  Sweet Body of Deborah, The Riddle, riddle, Debbie in the middle
Year: 1968
Director: Romolo Guerrieri
Stars: Carroll Baker, Jean Sorel, Evelyn Stewart, George Hilton, Luigi Pistilli, Michel Bardinet, Valentino Macchi, Mirella Pamphili, Domenico Ravenna, Giuseppe Ravenna, Renato Montalbano
Genre: Horror, Sex, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: They're rich, good looking and in love. American heiress Deborah (Carroll Baker) and her Italian husband Marcel (Jean Sorel) are on honeymoon in Geneva. At a restaurant Marcel happens to see an old friend, Philip (Luigi Pistilli) who proves strangely hostile. He informs Marcel that Suzanne is dead. Who is that? It happens Suzanne (Evelyn Stewart, a.k.a. Ida Galli) was Marcel's first love who took her own life shortly after her debt-ridden boyfriend left to seek his fortune in America. Stricken with guilt, Marcel brings Deborah along to visit Suzanne's palatial mansion which he finds abandoned. However, a suspiciously burning cigarette and the sound of someone playing the piano convince Marcel someone is lurking about. Then the telephone rings. When Deborah answers a voice tells her she must die for Marcel's crime. Yipes!

For a while in the late Sixties Hollywood star-in-exile Carroll Baker was queen of the giallo, which for the young or clueless were Italian horror-thrillers heavy on the sex and violence. More often paired with Umberto Lenzi, The Sweet Body of Deborah saw the former Baby Doll (1956) directed by the lesser known Romolo Guerrieri. Guerrieri belonged to a relatively illustrious film-making family. Brother Marino Girolami made sex comedies and cop thrillers but remains best known for splatter favourite Zombie Holocaust (1980) while nephews Enio Girolami and Enzo G. Castellari were respectively a popular heartthrob in the Fifties and Sixties and Italy's foremost action director. Like many genre-hopping Italian cinema workhorses, Guerrieri's filmography ran the gamut from spaghetti westerns in the Sixties like Johnny Yuma (1966) and 10,000 Dollars for a Massacre (1967), crime thrillers in the Seventies such as Young, Violent and Dangerous (1976) and post-apocalyptic sci-fi in the Eighties with The Final Executioner (1984). Giallo connoisseurs rate his later thriller, The Double (1971) which also stars genre regular Jean Sorel.

Like Lenzi's Paranoia (1968), Sweet Body of Deborah is a proto-typical giallo with an emphasis on style and a twisty-turny plot rather than the showy murder set-pieces that came to define the genre post-Dario Argento. Early gialli seemingly took their cue from Henri-Georges Clouzot's landmark French thriller Les Diaboliques (1955). Insanely prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi does a dry run for the familiar "drive the neurotic heroine crazy" plot he and sibling producers Luciano and Sergio Martino developed with their later run of vehicles for future giallo queen Edwige Fenech. In this instance however, Gastaldi divides the paranoia between Deborah and Marcel. His suspicion escalates when he spies Deborah consorting with Philip at yet another fancy restaurant, her reckless driving almost gets him killed and he finds her hiding a photo of Suzanne. Marcel is especially perturbed when Deborah is drawn to the smarmy artist next door (good old reliable George Hilton).

Guerrieri's direction is too leisurely to maintain a consistent level of suspense. The film wastes time with glossy travelogue scenes and too many moments where Deborah and Marcel just lounge photogenically in bed. While many gialli from this period were infused with the spirit of '68 in maintaining a healthy mistrust of the haute bourgeoisie they also reflect an undeniable envy of their clothes, exotic adventures and sex lives. Hence the film globe-hops from one glamorous location after another with time outs for lots of steamy bedroom scenes and shots of shapely Miss Baker semi-nude. Marcello Masciocchi's gorgeously glossy cinematography makes the film look like a decadent photo-spread for a fashion mag and though the slow-motion romantic flashbacks come across ridiculously overwrought to the point of parody, Baker looks especially glam in her La Dolce Vita fashions. She is well paired with broodingly handsome Jean Sorel as the uber stylish power couple so good looking you just know they're hiding something nasty. The third act cranks up the intrigue with a shock midnight attack, creepy surprises and a highly effective denouement.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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