Pyjama Girl Case Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
The body of a young woman is found on the beach, shot in the head, burned to hide her identity, and dressed in distinctive yellow pyjamas. With the Sydney police stumped, former Inspector Timpson (Ray Milland) comes out of retirement to crack the case. Treading where the “real” detectives can’t, Timpson doggedly pieces together the sad story of Dutch immigrant Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and the unhappy chain of events which led to her grisly demise. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
As Eurocrime/poliziotteschi and gory cannibal & zombie movies began to take over the market, Flavio Mogherini’s The Pyjama Girl Case (Italian: La ragazza dal pigiama giallo; aka: The Girl in the Yellow Pajamas, 1977) attempted to bypass giallo fatigue by bucking trends, avoiding murder-set-pieces, and moving its setting outside of familiar European locations. It takes place in Australia, though it sticks to the urban jungle of Sydney, rather than wandering into the bush among kangaroos and koalas (you’d be hard pressed to even find an Australian accent in the film). The setting is tied to Mogherini & Rafael Sánchez Campoy’s screenplay, which is loosely based on an actual, still unsolved Australian homicide case. The real “Pyjama Girl” was Linda Agostini, a British-born socialite who was reportedly moved from Sydney to Melbourne by her Italian-born husband Antonio Agostini when her hard-drinking party lifestyle had spiraled out of control. Her body was discovered burned, beaten, and dressed in yellow silk pyjamas. The murder occurred in 1934 and the case was reopened in 1944, but production costs and the audiences’ modern tastes seem to have kept the filmmakers from the Depression-era period.
Pyjama Girl Case often strives and fails to separate itself from the giallo canon, because it is so much more interesting as a reaction to the genre. Mogherini’s dramatic approach is tied to other somber exercises, such What Have You Done to Solange? (Italian: Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange?, 1972) and Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die? (Italian: Chi l'ha vista morire?, 1972), but he and the writers really set themselves apart by employing a dual storyline narrative gimmick. Instead of relying only on flashbacks to fill in story holes after revealing the killer’s identity, as most gialli tend to do, Pyjama Girl Case intercuts between the murdered girl’s story and the investigation behind her death. Less unusual, but similarly divergent from the Dario Argento giallo model, the put-upon, everyman sleuth is replaced with a professional police detective who better fits a classic noir mould. The filmmakers further broke with tradition by hiring aging Welsh-American actor Ray Milland, the Oscar-winning star of Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945). Milland was 70 at the time of filming – a stark contrast to the sexy thirty-somethings that populated most of these movies. He is clearly out of his element and unable to entirely gauge the tone of his own performance (almost certainly the result of language barriers), but his advanced age isn’t merely the arbitrary result of the production scoring a once mega-famous actor. Instead, Inspector Timpson is written as a past-his-prime detective who the force no longer takes seriously and who more or less steals the case from a younger detective in an effort to prove that he’s still relevant. Again, this kind of character wasn’t unheard of in crime fiction, but it was something different for the genre.
All of these uncommon aspects initially feel muddled by a series of disjointed expositional sequences that feel inconsequential compared to the impressionistic connecting shots and extended scenes that have no immediate barring on the plot. However, these blatantly artsy and narratively detached sequences are the thematic core of the film. The centerpiece is a scene in which the police embalm the victim, place her nude body within a rectangular glass case, and put her on display in a public space that resembles an art museum. For several minutes and with no dialogue, onlookers push past each other to ogle her mutilated face and otherwise preserved body. In the context of the scene, the cops are hoping someone will recognize her (something that apparently actually occurred), but Mogherini’s metatextual message is clearly aimed directly at his audience. While he isn’t necessarily chiding us for paying to see sex & violence, he is making a literal and absurd spectacle of the genre’s baser elements. There are other, similarly surrealistic instances of Mogherini loading all of his thematic weight into aesthetic expression, such the sculpture-like crime scene itself (two broken down cars have been stacked atop one another on a public beach) and a four-way sex scene that focuses on a woman’s disassociated emotional state and her partners’ grotesque physiques, instead of titillating viewers with sensual feminine nudity.
Mogherini’s name is rarely mentioned in conjunction with famed directors of Italian thrillers, but he had worked as a highly regarded production designer, art/costume designer, and set decorator since the dawn of the Italian film industry in the late ‘40s. Almost all of his 14 movies as director were comedies, aside from Pyjama Girl Case and two erotic (non-giallo) thrillers called La ragazza dei lillà (aka: The Girl of Lilacs, 1986) and Delitto passionale (Crime of Passion, 1994). None of these other films appear to be available outside of Italy these days, so I’m unable to compare them to his work here. This is unfortunate, because I’d like to know if Pyjama Girl Case’s thoughtful, yet detached style extends to his other movies.
According to imdb.com, a company called Cinefear released The Pyjama Girl Case on VHS in the United States, but I’ve certainly never seen it and can’t find any other information on the tape. As far as I know, zealous giallo fans were forced to trade bootleg versions of edited UK and Danish tapes (via Redemption and Sunrise Tapes) until Blue Underground finally put out an uncut DVD in 2006. AVU-Video-Vertriebs later released a German DVD with an Italian audio option and Manga Films released a Spanish DVD with unknown A/V specs. Arrow’s Blu-ray debut features a brand new 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer, developed from a 2K restoration of the original camera negative. This is about as strong a transfer as we can expect from the material. Mogherini and cinematographers Raúl Artigot & Carlo Carlini’s photography has some quirks, such as softened/shallow focus, lens flares, and smokey environments, that keep the image from being 100% sharp, but overall clarity excels. Film grain appears natural and rarely intrusive or noisy. Colors are eclectic throughout, from sterile interior locations to vibrant exteriors and stylized sequences featuring neon gels. The most vivid colors do exhibit very minor blocking and hotspot artifacts, but these are more of an inherent contrast issue, rather than problems with compression. Print damage artifacts are limited to a few white specs, a bit of pulsing, and a couple of shots where vertical lines scrape across the edge of the frame.
Arrow has included the original English and Italian dubs, both in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. As per usual, The Pyjama Girl Case was shot without sound and the international cast was speaking a mix of languages on set. All language tracks are dubbed, so the choice between English and Italian comes down to a mix of preference, dub performances, and audio quality. Both tracks feature nicely layered sound effects and are nearly distortion-free. English speaking cast members Ray Milland and Mel Ferrer dub themselves, though not particularly well and (as mentioned) none of the English voice actors bother with Aussie accents, so I’m not sure I can really recommend one track over the other. Apparently, Pyjama Girl’s soundtrack was actually a bigger hit than the movie itself. The score and accompanying theme songs ("Your Yellow Pyjama" and "Look at Her Dancing,” both sung by French pop star Amanda Lear) were composed by hitmaker Riz Ortolani. Ortolani had brought his pop sensibilities to Italian thrillers and horror films in the past, but rarely did he embrace a disco vibe this expressly. I don’t know if I’d consider it one of his best soundtracks – he blatantly lifts from Giorgio Moroder and Goblin – but it fits the film’s conflicting tones quite well.
Commentary with Troy Howarth – The author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films (Midnight Marquee Press, 2015) offers a typically knowledgeable and charming perspective on the film, including extensive cast & crew histories, critical analysis, comparisons to other films, and some backstory on the true crime behind the screenplay.
Small World (28:30, HD) – Writer/critic Michael Mackenzie discusses the history of internationalism in giallo films, such as its roots in post-WWII distribution, the ways it helped raise/save funding, how it affected casting, and the story trends it created. He then explores Pyjama Girl Case and compares it to Argento’s Sleepless (Italian: Non ho sonno, 2001).
Good Bad Guy (31:46, HD) – Former peplum star Howard Ross (aka: Renato Rossini) talks about working on the film, the demands of the role, Mogherini’s direction, his co-stars, and some of his other movies.
A Study in Elegance (23:17, Hd) – Editor Alberto Tagliavia fondly recalls working with ‘best friend’ Mogherini, the film’s unique (for a giallo) structure, and re-editing the film three times, because (his words) “the script wasn’t very good.”
Inside the Yellow Pyjama (15:04, HD) – In this final brand-new, Arrow-exclusive interview, assistant director Ferruccio Castronuovo shares some behind-the-scenes stories and reveals that most of the film was shot in Spain.
The Yellow Rhithm (21:24, HD) – A newly-edited archival interview with composer Riz Ortolani, who discusses his upbringing and career as a composer for movies and pop audiences.
Italian theatrical trailer
The Pyjama Girl Case might be a little too rough and tonally disconnected to appeal to giallo newcomers, but it is a unique genre entry that gets better the more aware one is of the genre’s traditions. Arrow’s Blu-ray sports a strong transfer with only minor print damage, two uncompressed dialogue options, and an informative collection of mostly brand-new extras.
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