Arrow Video: The Pyjama Girl Case (1977) - Reviewed

The ongoing studious efforts of Arrow Video to renew international interest in the Italian giallo thriller subgenre remain unparalleled in their comprehensiveness and speed with which they’re being released from obscurity.  With much of giallo maestros such as Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Sergio Martino back catalogs being restored to their respective original glories, it was only a matter of time before Arrow would turn their attention to some of the far more clandestine offerings of the subgenre. 

Enter Flavio Mogherini, an Italian director prominently known for screwball sex comedies such as To Love Ophelia, Lunatics and Lovers and I Camionisti.  Despite only having eight feature films to his name, Mogherini did make room in between the sex comedies for a brief and most unusual stab at giallo with the surprising, confounding and still disturbing The Pyjama Girl Case.  Loosely based on the true crime story about British woman Linda Agostini whose body was discovered in Melbourne, Australia in 1934 with her only identifying trait being her yellow silk pajamas, The Pyjama Girl Case recounts most of the specific details of the crime scene investigation process while updating the timeframe to the 1970s.

Carrying the investigation and much of the first half of the film is retired inspector Timpson (Ray Milland) in a solid central performance as a cop who has been around the block far too many times to be satisfied with the official police statements regarding the case.  In conjunction with the detective story set within the giallo framework is an almost completely separate thread involving a young woman named Linda (Dalia Di Lazzaro from Argento’s Phenomena) who is caught between the affections of three different lovers ala Far from the Madding Crowd.  As the film progresses, however, the two disparate storylines will invariably cross paths as more sordid and gory details regarding the case come to light and the reins of Linda’s romantic balancing act begin to slip through her fingers.

As a giallo, The Pyjama Girl Case much like The Bloodstained Butterfly doesn’t follow the normal conventions set forth in a standard giallo film entirely.  In addition to being an atonal crime scene investigation story, the film has a seemingly disparate character study playing alongside the main narrative like two films combined as one before gradually converging.  Moreover, while drawing heavily from the facts of the real 1934 case such as the public exhibition of the corpse in an effort to try and identify the victim, The Pyjama Girl Case is mostly interested in figuring out what makes Linda tick and why she seems to swim deeper and deeper into debauchery.  Equally confounding is the film’s soundtrack by the great Riz Ortolani intercut with recurring Euro-pop tracks performed by Amanda Lear, giving viewers a most unexpected listening experience with music that intentionally doesn’t fit the imagery playing before us.  Having heard Ortolani’s legendary scores for Cannibal Holocaust and Don’t Torture a Duckling, I was taken aback by just how incongruent this particular Ortolani offering sounded. 

Longtime fans of the seemingly endless giallo subgenre will find much to enjoy here in this peculiar true crime story/romantic drama of sorts while newcomers are likely to be more than a little perplexed if not disappointed by The Pyjama Girl Case.  Where prior giallo offerings emerged from directors with a track record of experience within the genre, Flavio Mogherini’s stab at giallo feels genuinely strange.  It contains moments that couldn’t help but lift me out of the film such as a brief scene where our lovely Linda casually washes her feet in a toilet bowl.  There’s also something of a Psycho detour mid-picture that’s sure to throw viewers already grasping at straws completely off the rails.  That said, I did enjoy the film for taking the giallo subgenre as far out of the familiar comfort zones viewers became accustomed to as humanly possible, leaving you with a dramatic thriller which achieves that rare feat of being uncategorizable. 

- Andrew Kotwicki