Well, here I am….Another weekend where I am writing a piece for my lost films of the 1970s blog, and yes, another review of a Fabio Testi film! Before I delve deep into this week’s Testi film, the exceptional 1972 giallo, “What Have You Done To Solange,” I must confess that over the last few years, since talking my wife to see Monte Hellman’s 1978 western, “China 9 Liberty 37” at the Harvard film Archive’s 2011 Hellman retrospective, I have watched more than my fair share of Mr. Testi’s work. To be frank, I had seen “China 9” back in the 1980s, and it pales in comparison to the rest Hellman’s output for that decade, but it does provide you with two of the most attractive actors of that era, Fabio Testi and the stunning Jenny Agutter. I also wanted to view the film again, and I did so for the few minutes that Sam Peckinpah takes the screen in addition to Warren Oates, who is a cut above most American actors of his generation. Given the talent in the film, I thought it was worth another look and brought Lily with me for a second opinion. Let’s just say that Lily also felt so-so on the film but was very impressed with Mr. Testi…Very impressed she was. Past some minor jealousy, I have no problem here because Fabio always brings something special to each par,t and Lily’s fascination with him has forced us to look at many smaller Fabio Testi films that we may have never seen. Such is the case when we recently saw a 35mm print of the 1972 Massimo Dallamano directed giallo, “What Have You Done To Solange.”
Born in Milan in 1917, Massimo Dallamano got his start as a camera operator for documentaries and was actually the cameraman who filmed Mussolini’s bullet ridden body after El Duce was murdered by partisans in 1945. Before making the jump to directing with his underrated 1967 spaghetti western, “Bandido,” Dallamano spent 1946-1966 working consistently and at times exemplarily as a cinematographer for films such as Dino Risi’s 1960 comedy,”Love and Larceny,” and Sergio Leone’s first two westerns, “A Fistful Of Dollars,” and “For A Few Dollars More.” I have always loved Dallamano’s timeless visual style behind the camera, so that along with my adoration of his aforementioned film, “Bandido,” and my general love of giallos made my desire to see “What Have You Done To Solange” increase immensely, and it does not disappoint.
Dallamano’s film, based on a novel by Edgar Wallace entitled, “The Curse Of The New Pin,” blissfully begins with a very coiffed professor named Enrico (Fabio Testi) on a rowboat wooing a beautiful young woman named Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó). While in their halcyon state, they witness something happening on land. They see someone running and the shine of a knife, but they aren’t sure of what exactly they are seeing. Cut to a later scene when Enrico hears that there has been a murder at the lake on the radio, so he returns to the scene of the crime to see what has happened. When Enrico returns to the lake where a murder has indeed happened, a press photographer snaps and publishes his picture, so when it is revealed that the girl who was murdered was also a student at the Catholic school where he and his dutiful but gruff wife Herta (Karin Baal) are teaching, Enrico becomes implicated in a string of murders of young women who all attended the same school, and it is up to Enrico and Herta to find the killer before his career is destroyed.
Herta is aware of Enrico’s tryst with Elizabeth as well as other girls at the school, which hurts Herta, but that does not falter her desire to defend here husband, if not for anything but to avoid a scandal. We know where Enrico was when the killing at the lake occurs, so he is not the killer, so is it possible that Herta is the culprit because of her jealousy? Our titular character Solange (Camille Keaton) was also connected to all of the murdered girls and appears not too well, but is she damaged enough to have conspired to kill all of these students? Bit by bit as the movie unfolds, we come to realize that the students at this school were not squeaky clean; drugs, booze, and abortions seem to be the standard at this Catholic school, so could the killer be the snobbish Professor Bascomb (Günther Stoll) or the judgmental headmaster, Mr. Leach (Rainer Penkert), who are so inclined as to resort to murder so that they can keep the escapades of our freewheeling students out of the press? Given that “What Have You Done To Solange” is a giallo, I will spare you the answer because that spoils the mystery and horror of the ride.
One of the more interesting transformations of the film is how Dallamano changes the physical appearance of Herta from a harsh and stern “Helga Of The SS,” non-nonsense looking woman to one that becomes ever so softer and more beautiful as she works harder to clear her husband’s name and thus rekindling their fondness for one another. It is an interesting and subtle choice for our director to make: By making Herta kinder as the plot progresses, Dallamano subliminally encourages the viewer to strike her name off of the list of suspects as the movie progresses. In fact, at one point, when Dallamano includes excerpts from Enrico’s dreams where he questions his own innocence, we as the audience are more likely to suspect Enrico than Herta, even though Herta appears to have the strongest motivation to kill the girls. The reduction of Herta’s harshness is an interesting technique that works well in shuffling the deck of suspects while keeping her character from just being a downtrodden wife that begs for your pity.
“What Have You Done To Solange” 1972 Trailer
Truth be told, I haven’t read the Wallace novel, but this film plays out like a English detective story mixed with a slasher film rather than an eerie Argentoesque supernatural horror film, which I found very compelling. Also missing is the intense viscera that normally coincides with most giallos, making “What Have You Done To Solange” feel more like a murder mystery, which was a refreshing change of pace. As for Testi, he is his usual stunning self (this is Lily speaking, not me), and he is very good in the lead as he commands each scene with that same sorrowful face and desperation that he has in the 1973 Sergio Sollima film that I reviewed last month, “Revolver,” which is also a cut above the average poliziotteschi. As far as the other actors are concerned, Karin Baal really brings a lot to her small role as Herta and is an actress that I will keep an eye out for when I review other films that she starred in during that era. As for the cinematography, it is the strongest point of this film, and much of that credit goes to Dallamano, who I am sure had a say in the shot selection and his young cinematographer, Aristide Massaccesi, who would soon be known as Joe D’Amato, who, like Dallamano, would become a very successful director in his own right.
Sadly, unlike his protege D’Amato, Massimo Dallamano would only make a handful of films after “What Have You Done To Solange,” for he was killed in a car accident in 1976 after finishing shooting the crime film, “Colt 38 Special Squad.” Given his smaller volume of output, Dallamano receives less attention than his peers, but he is a visually smart and sharp director who deserves a great deal of respect for his work in Italian genre cinema.