So last week I took some for watching non-traditional giallo The House with Laughing Windows and coming away with less than a smile on my face. For this week I thought I would look at another giallo that doesn’t fit the typical mold. While La ragazza dal pigiama giallo (a.k.a The Pajama Girl Case or The Girl in the Yellow Pajamas) definitely doesn’t try to be your average giallo, but it maintains some elements including the amateur detective (sort of), stylish locales (well, Australia), and foreigners (in this case an Italian) living abroad. By taking elements from gialli and mixing them up with a clever twist, director Flavio Mogherini created a singular film that stands out from the legion of rote gialli.
When a woman’s body in yellow pajamas is found on an Australian beach, the police are baffled, but retired detective Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland) takes the opportunity to get back to solving crimes. Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro) is a promiscuous young woman with a trio of lovers, a distinguished college professor, a macho lunkhead, and a sweet waiter who worships her. She marries the waiter, but that doesn’t stop her from seeing her other lovers. As Thompson closes in on the killer, his story and Glenda’s draw ever closer. When they meet, the solution to the crime becomes all too clear.
In some ways Mogherini’s film is like an ancient episode of Law & Order, and if Milland’s Inspector was not retired, I would be tempted to call this one more of a poliziotteschi than a giallo. Another thing that might almost knock it from the giallo label is the absence of a pile of bodies as the film only boasts two murders. What was key to me deciding if I was going to call this one a gialli were the earmarks that were present. Other than the amateur detective, foreignness in a far off land, and cosmopolitan feeling of the film, there were plenty of red herrings, striking images, and lovely ladies to go around. The concept of the giallo stems directly from pulpy thriller novels, and Mogherini definitely captures that feeling.
Perhaps the thing I liked most was the performance of Ray Milland. I’ve always enjoyed Milland ever since I first saw him in Dial M for Murder, and even his performances in lackluster films like Frogs and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes did nothing to dull my love for the actor. In the mid- to late ‘70’s, many forgotten American actors found work in foreign cinema, and Milland starred in films such as Cuibul salamandrelor (a.k.a The Billon Dollar Fire) and The Pajama Girl Case. Though Milland’s Inspector Thompson does have a few moments of unintentional (or maybe intentional, it’s hard to say) creepiness, he cultivates an endearing character that seems like one part Colombo and one part everyone’s Grandpa. The scene that best illustrates his character comes when the police decide to put the dead girl’s body in a glass case in hopes that someone will identify her. The solemn, disappointed, pained expression that Milland conveys when he visits the deceased young woman that has been turned into a curiosity perfectly conveys everything you need to know about the character.
There are several other performances that deserve to be noted. Dalila Di Lazzaro really captured my eye as I watched the film not only because of her good looks (and she’s got plenty), but also because of the raw vulnerable performance that she turns in. In the back half of the film, Di Lazzaro character really hits an emotional low that is both painful and revolting to watch. I wish I could go further into her scenes, but her most powerful moments all but giveaway the central conceit of the film. I do have one thing to say about her character Glenda. I don’t know what you have to do to make a lesbian pass at her and make sure she knows it, but it must be an astounding feat. Also turning in fine performances were Ramiro Oliveos as the misguided police inspector Ramsey, Michele Placido as Glenda’s doting husband, and Mel Ferrer as Glenda’s lover the dickish college professor.
Perhaps the strangest thing about this film is that, unlike most gialli, The Pajama Girl Case was based on a real murder in Australia. It seems that back in 1934, while walking his new prized bull toward his home in rural Albury, Australia, Tom Griffith spotted something strange. When he went over to take a look at it, it seemed to be a mangled and burned corpse. After the authorities were called in, they determined it to be a petite female, in her twenties, who had been shot in the throat, and bludgeoned. The only clue to her identity being the partial, oriental-style silk pajamas that survived the flames, identification of the victim proved difficult, and when a couple of missing persons leads didn’t pan out, the local authorities allowed the body of the now dubbed “Pyjama Girl” to be moved to Sydney, where it was embalmed, preserved, and put on public display for identification. I bring this up because it adds an extra layer to the film that, when I read about it, added to my appreciation of the film. (There’s a pretty interesting Newsreeel about the case that can be seen here)
Getting back to the film, Mogherini really picked some great people to work with on this one. The soundtrack was written by Riz Ortolani with songs written by model, and one time girlfriend of Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry, Amanda Lear. Ortolani provides great tense music throughout the film, but the real standouts were Ms. Lear’s two songs. At first when the title song, “Your Yellow Pajama” came on, I didn’t think much of its Leonard Cohen meets Roxy Music meets sad Blondie vibe. Yet when it came back around in the film, I really appreciated how much it actually fit the tone, and that goes equally, if not more, for the other track, “Look at Her Dancing”. The cinematography of the film, which boasts some great lighting and perfectly placed swooping shots, was handled by two men, Raul Artigot (Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead, The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein) and Carlo Carlini (Cry of a Prostitute, Seven Deaths in a Cat’s Eye). These two experienced men translate Glenda’s oppressive, murky world of sex and Thompson’s strange investigation to the screen perfectly.
The Pajama Girl Case might straddle the line of what might or might not be considered a giallo, but in my eyes, either way you call it this is an excellent film. Anyone who has seen the film will know that there is a major twist about 20 minutes from the end. It was subtly telegraphed, but so expertly executed that it didn’t bother me. Instead it made the film for me. I wish I could share with you folks more about why I thought I was so good, but there will be no spoilers here. Like any great mystery, it’s one that I will have to leave you intrigued enough to pursue yourself. When a director takes a standard form and puts his own stamp on it, it can go two ways. In the case of The Girl with the Yellow Pajamas, the film itself goes in two directions and both are equally as satisfying.