Although the 'Giallo' genre officially began with Mario Bava's 'Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo' (aka 'Evil Eye', or 'The Girl Who Knew To Much') in 1963, continuing with the same director's 'Sei Donne Per L'Assassino' ('Blood and Black Lace', 1964), it wasn't really until the commercial success of Dario Argento's 1969 debut, 'L'Uccello dalle Piuma di Cristallo' ('The Bird With the Crystal Plumage') that it really got underway to become a staple of Italian cinema in the 1970's. The films essentially were bloody thrillers in which the primary thrill was in watching pretty young girls being stalked and dispatched by anonymous, leather-gloved assassins. Stylistically these films forced the audience to identify with the killer, featuring lengthily protracted and elaborately staged sequences of women in terror strung together by a convoluted whodunnit plot along the lines of those of early twentieth century British crime-writer Edgar Wallace.
In fact, director Massimo Dallamano's previous film, 'Whatever Happened to Solange?' ('Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange?' 1972) was based on an Edgar Wallace novel. The follow-up takes it's cue from the same film by also setting itself within a girl's school, giving us a whole host of young nubiles around which to build the plot. The film opens with a rousing score courtesy of Stelvio Cipriani, a big-band romp through 70's flower-power accompanied by shots of the young girls getting on and off of their boyfriends scooters outside the school gates. This is followed by the discovery by the police of a young girl swinging naked from the rafters of an attic in a nearby deserted house after an anonymous tip off.
As the Italian title 'La Polizia Chiede Aiuto' (The Police Ask For Help) suggests, and what sets this apart from its predecessor and most of the Giallo films of the period, is that a lot of time is devoted to the police's detective work and the milieu of the police themselves as opposed to those of the potential victims, bringing the film more in line with the policier drama than pure 'Giallo'. For the most part the film follows these investigations from suspect to suspect, with each plot point highlighted by a lengthy flashback. A motorcycle chase forms one of the action set-pieces alongside the usual suspense scenes, including a taut sequence in which the female detective (Giovanni Ralli) is stalked by the leather-clad, helmeted killer with a meat cleaver. The gorier pay-offs mainly occur towards the end, once the cleaver has made its initial appearance, but along the way we discover a mutilated body in the back of a car, and the blood spattered bath in which it was dismembered.
If all this sounds rather perfunctory so far, it is the sheer bleakness of the film that distinguishes it. The initial murder is linked to the discovery of a school girl prostitution ring, and this central concept pretty much summarises the whole tone of the film. With a potential political scandal hinted at, and a scene in which the Claudio Casinelli's police investigator lies to the press to buy more time, the general milieu invoked is a corrupt and sordid one, where corruption and vice are masked by the superficially angelic innocence of the girls involved. The deadpan and po-faced narrative includes lengthy scenes of the police listening intently and repeatedly to tapes made of the call-girls' meetings, and graphic post-mortem descriptions of the victims. Salacious tit-bits like these are so deeply engrained within the complex plot that forces one is forced into a particularly bizarre and twisted perspective of the world by the accumulation of such elements.
Director Dallamano was a cinematographer turned director who had worked on a number of spaghetti Westerns in the 60's including Sergio Leone's 'Per un pugno di dollari' ('Fistful of Dollars', 1964). Prior to this he had made a number of films including adaptations of Oscar Wilde's 'Dorian Gray' (1970) and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 'Venus in Furs' ('Le Malizie de Venere', 1969)
'La Polizia Chiede Aiuto' also sports features an undistinguished supporting role from former Stranger on a Train, Farley Granger (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951). It is competently made, fast moving and gripping in places. It's worth checking out, but a maybe a little too serious in both its sleazy theme and its approach to prove a major crowd pleaser.
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