The Sunday Woman Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: April 18, 2023
Audio: Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Run Time: 109:18
Director: Luigi Comencini
An odious architect is beaten to death and a high society wife (Jacqueline Bisset) and her gay friend (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are the key suspects with a discarded letter implicating them in the crime. Commissioner Santamaria (Marcello Mastroianni) is assigned to the case and tries to uncover the murder suspect in upper-class Turin. (From Radiance’s official synopsis)
The Italian giallo craze is remembered for its lurid sex and creative violence, but it was never exclusively designed to appeal to the grottiest grindhouse audience. There were elegant mystery thrillers, major releases fronted by all-star casts, and even a handful of arthouse darlings, like Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) and Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Italian: Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto, 1970), that technically fit the genre definition. Among the most overlooked subtypes is the rare giallo comedy. These included dry, absurdist satires, like Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg (Italian: La morte ha fatto l'uovo, 1968), over-the-top spoofs, like Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (Italian: Ecologia del delitto, 1971), and typical commedia sexy all'italiana retrofitted with giallo trappings, like Mario Gariazzo’s Play Motel (1979).
Splitting the difference between class and comedy towards the end of the genre’s initial boom comes Luigi Comencini’s The Sunday Woman (Italian: La donna della domenica, 1975), based on a popular novel of the same name, by Carlo Fruttero & Franco Lucentini, first published in 1972. Featuring lead performances from a team of pan-European A-listers – Marcello Mastroianni, Jacqueline Bisset, and Jean-Louis Trintignant – The Sunday Woman is a tongue-in-cheek satire of the upper class and works as a lighthearted counterpoint to rather more acrid and violent social critiques, like Umberto Lenzi’s An Ideal Place to Kill (Italian: Un posto ideale per uccidere; aka: Oasis of Fear, 1971) or Silvio Amadio’s Amuck! (Italian: Alla ricerca del piacere, 1972). Comencini wasn’t really known for making thrillers, aside from one straight-faced giallo in 1969’s Unknown Woman (Italian: Senza sapere niente di lei). but he brought with him the pedigree of one of the region’s most successful comedic directors.
The Sunday Woman was flanked by the dark comedy-drama The Scopone Game (Italian: Lo scopone scientifico; aka: The Scientific Cardplayer, 1973) and the giallo-adjacent crime comedy The Cat (Italian: Il Gato, 1977). It fits the spirit and attitude of those films, fortunately avoiding the googly-eyed antics of the most obnoxious commedia all'italiana (despite featuring a gay couple among the leads, to my surprise, there are basically zero homophobic jokes). Originally designed for television, The Sunday Woman thrives on its limited cast size and is structured like a straight dramatic thriller, but there is underlying irony to it (not to mention that the murder weapon is a giant stone phallus), ensuring that it works as a satire as well as a murder mystery – though its relation to the cinematic giallo tradition seems largely incidental. It’s not a body-count movie, there are no bloody set-pieces, and even its procedural aspects tend to follow an older whodunit model (as I assume is the case for the book). If anything, Comencini and Mastroianni are playing with the hardboiled detective model, offering a grounded alternative to the tortured and violent cops of gialli and poliziotteshi. That said, body-counts and set-pieces aren’t a giallo requirement and The Sunday Woman is interested in exploring its characters’ various psychoses as they explore the mystery, kind of like what you might see, had Hercule Poirot had wandered into an Umberto Lenzi/Carol Baker thriller. It’s way less perverse than any of Lenzi’s work, but offers an enjoyably classy alternative to that type of excess.
The Sunday Woman was a hit, as was the book it was based on, and eventually led to another made-for-TV sequel directed by Nanni Low and also starring Mastroianni as Salvatore Santamaria, A che punto è la notte? (‘At What Point During the Night?’) almost 20 years later in 1994. There was another adaptation in 2011, again, made-for-TV, directed by Giulio Base. Mostronianni also appeared in another giallo comedy, Sergio Corbucci’s Neapolitan Mystery (Italian: Giallo napoletano; aka: Atrocious Tales of Love and Death, 1979). That film is rather dire, though, and I’d recommend skipping it. The closest thing to another giallo in Bisset’s filmography is Peter Collinson’s remake of The Spiral Staircase (1975), though she did appear in Sydney Lumet’s Agatha Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express (1973). Trintignant, on the other hand, starred in two of the best gialli of the pre-Bird with the Crystal Plumage era – Questi’s aforementioned Death Laid an Egg and Lenzi’s So Sweet... So Perverse (Italian: Così dolce... così perversa, 1969).
Giallo & Thrilling All’Italiana (1931-1983) by Antonio Bruschini & Stefano Piselli (Glittering Image, 2010)
As I said, The Sunday Woman was originally made for television, but Comencini and cinematographer Lucian Tovoli designed their shots to work in open-matte 1.33:1 and matted 1.85:1 widescreen. The only official digital release was from German company Koch Media and it did not feature an English dub or subtitle option. It also didn’t include a matted version of the film, so Radiance’s Blu-ray ends up being the film’s HD debut, its English-language-friendly debut, and, because it features both 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 aspect ratios, the widescreen home video debut of The Sunday Woman. Both transfers were created using a new 2K restoration of the original film negative and, considering how rarely seen it was, the image quality is quite good. I’ve included screencaps in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for no other reason than I liked it more. Colors are rich and natural, alternating between warm interiors and lush exteriors. The dynamic range is supported by deep, yet rarely overwhelming shadows and even-handed highlights that occasionally wash out some of the sunkissed sequences. Edges are clean, but still plush when needed, and grain texture, though soft, avoids noisiness.
The Sunday Woman comes fitted with only one audio option, the original Italian dub in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound. As per usual and like most Italian-made films of the period, it was shot without sound and dubbed in post, so there isn’t an official language track. In this case, the main cast really looks like they’re speaking English on set to me – which makes sense, considering one of them is British and another is French – so the lip sync and performance quality are a little off. Giallo fans should have no problem rolling with it, though, and the overall sound quality is good, if not a bit tinny. The soundtrack was supplied by the immortal Ennio Morricone, who brings a mix of his old giallo style and the quirkier compositions he’d use for Comencini’s The Cat. Quirk aside, the score has a slightly spooky, driving quality that counteracts the comedy nicely.
Interview with Richard Dyer (18:15, HD) – The King's College professor of film studies and Italian cinema expert discusses the film as an “anatomy of Turin society,” differences between the book and film, the cynical comedic tone, the cast & crew, character motivations, cultural in-jokes, the giallo connections, and the ephemeral meaning of the title The Sunday Woman.
Sunday Lights (22:11, HD) – In this archival interview from 2008, cinematographer Luciano Tovoli chats about his career and training, being brought onto The Sunday Woman by producers, which created some friction with Comencini, and the process of shooting the film.
Interview with Giacomo Scarpelli (36:01, HD) – Scarpelli recalls his father Furio Scarpelli’s career as cartoonist and screenwriter, as well as his partnership with Agenore Incrocci, covering the duo’s many collaborations with emphasis on their groundbreaking comedy work.
1976 French TV interview with Jean-Louis Trintignant (4:28, HD) – A short clip with the actor taken from the series Allon au Cinemá.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be seen by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.