Massimo Dallamano & The Schoolgirls in Peril Trilogy

Born in Milan on April 17, 1917, he began working in the cinema world after the war when he took care of the photography of “Inquietudine”, a 1946 film directed by Vittorio Carpignano and Emilio Cordero. Since then he has worked on the set of films of all kinds, ranging from adventure to dramas, from documentaries to peplums. He then lives as a protagonist much of the adventure of the Italian western, signing some milestones as director of photography and also venturing into directing. He is no longer a rookie when Jolly Film calls him to take care of the photography of the first films set in that imaginary strip of land that accompanies the border between the United States and Mexico in the writers’ imagination. He is forty-six when, under the pseudonym of Jack Dalmas in 1963 he signed the images of “Duel in Texas” and the following year those of “The guns do not discuss” and “For a fistful of dollars”. When Sergio Leone left the Jolly to move to Alberto Grimaldi’s PEA he followed him and in 1965 took care of the photography of “For a few dollars more”.

His debut as a director also takes place under the sign of the western with Bandidos (1967), an unusual film signed under the pseudonym of Max Dillman that tells the story of a former gunslinger deprived of the use of his hands. In keeping with his past as a cinematographer, he shows an attention to detail and nuances that denotes an unusual almost painterly approach. The following year he made the intriguing detective story ‎A Black Veil for Lisa (1968). In 1969 he directed an unknown Laura Antonelli in the much-censored “Devil in the Flesh (1969)” inspired by the novel by Leopold Masoch “Venus in fur” and he shot “Dorian Gray (1970)”, from a work by Oscar Wilde.

What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)
First of Massimo Dallamano’s three “Schoolgirls“ films, What Have You Done to Solange?, is without doubt one of the most significant in the Golden Age of giallo. Although some consider it not to be a giallo in the truest sense, as it does not adhere to the unique conventions of the genre.

The debate over Solange exists due to its comparison thematically and stylistically with another genre of Italian cinema, and essentially world cinema in the 1970s: that of the action-crime thriller. While the base structure of a giallo film can be simplistically defined as a gruesome murder mystery, often with a sexual, paranoid or supernatural element, Solange follows much more of a standard format.

While in a boat making out with a college professor (Fabio Testi), a young woman (Cristina Galbó) sees a man with a knife stabbing another woman in the woods on the nearby shore. The professor convinces his mistress to keep silent about what she saw, especially after it turns out that the dead victim was one of her classmates and was killed by having a long knife pushed deep into her pelvis.

Another girl is killed later by the same attacker. The victim was another college student.

Shortly afterwards, the professor’s mistress is murdered in her bathroom. Police suspect the professor, who admits his affair to his sexually repressed wife in hopes of getting her assistance in order to clear his name. The professor is cleared when a common denominator is determined by the later killings. The victims all had seen a local priest and were friends with a young woman named Solange, who began attending the school the previous semester but had mysteriously vanished.

The professor’s investigation ultimately leads to the existence of a hedonistic secret club of college girls that his mistress and the other murder victims had belonged to. The police further learn that the priest that several of the victims had spoken to was not a real priest. He was instead Solange’s father, a wealthy tenured professor at the same school.

Ruth Holden (aka “Tata”) is the elderly maid of Brenda, one of Solange’s classmates who was also involved in the sex parties. Ruth is found alongside her dog, viciously murdered by having a shovel rammed into her vagina. The professor, his wife, and the police confront the father, who at first denies any wrongdoing until his daughter Solange appears. Mute and appearing emotionally disturbed, she leads the professor’s wife to the place where the final sex club member was kidnapped.

The father then confesses to why he murdered his victims. His daughter Solange had befriended the members of the sex club and was granted membership. However, after her first orgy, she became pregnant. The other girls in the sex club insist Solange take care of the situation by meeting with Ruth Holden, who also functions as a back-alley abortionist. She performs the procedure with a long sharp needle. This event traumatizes Solange physically, mentally and emotionally beyond hope. She is henceforth in a very dull mental state where she functions as a baby would, is no longer able to speak and unable to become pregnant. After confessing to the murders, the father then takes his own life. At some point, he realized that an abortion was what led to Solange becoming an invalid and symbolically performed a similar deed on the girls once they’d given him details of what trauma really befell Solange.

Within the more conventional story of Solange, there are several elements that do establish it as giallo, but also several more that set Dallamano’s key work apart. During the killings, which are typically sexual in nature, the mysterious antagonist wears black leather gloves, and the action is seen from a first-person point of view. This, perhaps more than any other trait, is what people remember from giallo films. Furthermore, heightened, vulnerable and at times innocent sexuality are prevalent throughout and the motive for the crimes is similar in theme to that often used giallo trope of insanity or madness; either inherent or temporary. The notable differences come in the style of direction and the inclusion of greater subtlety in the design. Many giallo films are often categorized by their brash and at times lurid style but Solange is considerably more subdued, plainer if you will, as there is a distinct lack of that ‘high fashion’ element. That is not to say this is a dull film; quite the contrary, but it is designed much more like a typical thriller than an excessively indulgent giallo.

Dallamano’s direction is perhaps the most interesting aspect. While encompassing many traditional giallo traits, he restrains the camera, resisting the sweeping visuals and disorientating movement that typifies many of the films of Argento and Bava. Here there is a more serious tone, specifically as the story moves towards its bleak revelation, and this gives Solange much more of a grounded feel, focusing on the performances rather than the surrounding visuals.

Camille Keaton

Camille Keaton recalls the filming process: “We shot most of the film in England although it was a German-Italian co-production. I only had about three or four days’ work within two and a half weeks so I had plenty of time off and I got to explore London, which was really exciting. And it was on Solange that I learned how to do certain things because the director Massimo Dallamano works very closely with his actors. So I learned a lot about how to work in front of the camera from him.”

Keaton’s comments are interesting as they identify Dallamano as an actor’s director. In the film, Keaton has no dialogue whatsoever despite portraying the titular Solange, and the central figure in the mystery. That said, it is her otherworldly performance that engages the viewer through the final act when the revelations come to the fore. There are similarities in the depth of the performance given by Keaton, and by her fellow cast members, to those Dallamano will have observed while working with Leone on his spaghetti westerns, and this isn’t the latter’s only influence.

There are many memorable elements to Leone’s classic films, but the music is what remains in audience’s minds long after the film is over. For Solange, Dallamano returned to what he knew best and brought Ennio Morricone in to compose the score. The sweeping, at times operatic, soundtrack contrasts with uncomfortably long periods of silence and adds further weight to the argument Solange is not just a standard giallo film.

This is complemented by the masterful cinematography of Aristide Massaccesi – better known to cult movie fans as prolific filmmaker Joe D’Amato.

There is also a conscious nod to western audiences. To overcome the dubbing issue that was prevalent in many of his contemporaries films, Dallamano had all his actors – regardless of their nationality – speak English. In doing so, he made it easier for later dubbing, allowing it to be more effortlessly matched to the lip movements and therefore instantly removing a barrier some audiences had always struggled with.

Despite its origins in the German ‘krimi’ film movement (being based on The Clue of the New Pin by Edgar Wallace), and with the Berlin-based Rialto Film Company as a primary backer, Solange remains, fundamentally, an Italian film in spirit. The more expressive films from Argento and Fulci will always grab the attention when discussing giallo, and perhaps rightly so, but Solange offers something else.

The second was La polizia chiede aiuto/What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974)

A 15-year-old girl named Silvia Polvesi (Sherry Buchanan) is found hanging in the attic of a dodgy sublet, the victim of an apparent suicide, as is deduced by Inspector Valentini (Mario Adorf). However, Assistant District Attorney Vittoria Stori (Giovanna Ralli) thinks otherwise, and her suspicions are further substantiated by the autopsy results. This precipitates the arrival of seasoned homicide detective Silvestri (Claudio Cassinelli), who, quite conveniently, just happens to catch a man snapping photos from across the street during his initial investigation of the crime scene. However, it turns out that this (quote) “damn peeping tom”, one Bruno Paglia (Franco Fabrizi), also happened to snap some revealing photos of the recently late Silvia in the company of a young man, whom the police quickly track down, only the lead goes nowhere, as their sneaky suspect proves to have a rock-solid alibi.

The slimy Paglia is eventually released thanks to his resourceful lawyer, but the police receive another tip-off, which leads them to a secret (if deserted) high-end brothel which proves to have possibly been the scene of still another murder when they discover its bathroom awash in blood. A few days later, an abandoned car is found containing the mutilated corpse of Tallenti (“Now we know who was cut-up in the bathroom”), a private investigator who had earlier been hired by Silvia’s parents (Farley Granger and Marina Berti) to provide them with surveillance of her clandestine activities. Then Tallenti’s girlfriend Rosa is stalked by a killer clad in black motorcycle leathers and a matching dark-visored helmet (the German title translates as “Death Wears Black Leather”), who is searching for missing audio tapes which expose an underage prostitution ring that could quite possibly implicate some very powerful people…

The third entitled Red Rings of Fear/Enigma rosso (1978) begins when the brutally violated body of a young woman is dragged from the river. The investigating law officer, Inspector Gianni Di Salvo (Testi), is drawn to dark deeds at an exclusive girls’ school where the beautiful members of a group known as “The Inseparables” are being targeted with sinister letters and murder attempts.

Following a clue in the dead girl’s diary, Di Salvo meets an unlikely ally in the form of the victim’s young sister, and as the pair begins to put the pieces together, he realizes that the school’s web of sex and homicide is more tangled then he ever could have imagined. Once again played by the always excellent Fabio Testi and always co-written by Dallamano, was instead directed by Antoni Negrin when he died in a car accident on November 14, 1976.

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Starburst Magazine#420

 

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