When her estranged(..and very rich)mother dies(..ruled a suicide, though it's obviously not), teenage Nancy(Jenny Tamburi, twenty at the time, but succeeds in her portrayal of a coquettish Lolita-type of teenage girl who might not be the dense, naive simpleton they at first suspect)returns home from years of various boarding schools to enjoy life on the wilder side, living with lothario step-dad Marco(..the handsome Silvano Tranquilli)and successful photographer Gianna(..the sensual Rosalba Neri, so divine you can't take your eyes off of her). Gianna was given carte blanche by Nancy's mother Dorothy to live in her own place while operating a studio on the estate. Gianna was also Marco's lover, and the two scheme to murder Nancy because when she "comes of age", the inheritance is hers. But, instead Nancy begins to seduce them, while also turning Gianna and Marco against each other through cunning manipulation..but, while quite drawn to Nancy, neither actually ever trusts her.
Boy, this is quite a trio we watch throughout the film. You always wonder what might happen next despite the fact that writer-director Silvio Amadio lays the cards out on the table midway through regarding how Dorothy was killed, detailed how it was accomplished, letting us know that Nancy might be in grave danger because the murder was so well orchestrated. Yet, you always(..or, at least I did)wonder what Nancy has up her sleeve. Late into the film, Marco discovers Nancy chatting with someone at a horse race which plants a seed of curiosity regarding her own possible agenda. The film is slick under Amadio's direction and he casts doubt on all three characters. To chose, Nancy seems to be the one we sympathize with as Marco and Gianna plot about the proper method of execution.
My favorite aspect is the homo-eroticism between Gianna and Nancy. Through Neri's performance(..she commands your attention in a minimalist fashion), we can see Gianna's attraction to Nancy right away, and as the film continues, that infatuation grows(..especially after photographing her nude or barely clothed)..it's all in her eyes, this lust that begins to take hold. Also racy is Nancy's seduction of the much older Marco, his resistance of her not contained very long. But, most of all, the twists at the end. The fate of all who desire the deceased Dorothy's money, along with multiple double crosses, and the downfall of an ingenious plot(s), not to mention the ultimate irony as the screen fades black, certainly make SMILE BEFORE DEATH quite a giallo worth seeking out if you can find a copy. It deserves a legitimate DVD release, a giallo I'm sure fans would be interested in.