The Suspicious Death of a Minor Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)
Undercover cop Paolo Germi (Claudio Cassinelli) is hot on the trail of a Milanese criminal outfit, following the brutal murder of an underage prostitute. But a killer-for-hire is also on the prowl, bumping off witnesses before they have a chance to talk…(From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Sergio Martino’s considerable contributions to giallo cinema are often overlooked in favour of the genre’s reigning king, Dario Argento, and other popular ‘jack of all trade’ directors, like Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Antonio Margheriti, and Umberto Lenzi. But, in terms of sheer numbers, Martino is second only to Argento (who, depending on the reader’s definition of the term, has made between ten and fourteen gialli throughout his career). Beginning with The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Italian: Lo Strano Vizio Della Signora Wardh; aka: Blade of the Killer and The Next Victim, 1971), Martino made a total of seven distinguished and stylish genre entries: The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (Italian: La Coda dello Scorpione, 1971), All the Colors of the Dark (Italian: Tutti i Colori del Duio; aka: They're Coming to Get You and Day of the Maniac, 1972), Torso (Italian: I Corpi Pesentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale; aka: The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence, 1973), The Suspicious Death of a Minor (Italian: Morte Sospetta di una Minorenne; aka: Too Young to Die, 1975), and The Scorpion with Two Tails (Italian: Assassinio al Cimitero Etrusco; aka: Murder in the Etruscan Cemetery, 1982). More recently, he revisited giallo with Mozart Is a Murderer (Italian: Mozart È un Assassino, 1999) – a made-for-TV throwback to the genre’s glory days. His skill set was not limited to gialli (he had great financial success with sex comedies and farces), but most of his straight horror/sci-fi/adventure output – The Great Alligator (Italian: Il fiume del grande caimano, 1979), Mountain of the Cannibal God (Italian: La montagna del dio cannibale,1979), Isle of the Fishmen (Italian: L'isola degli uomini pesce, 1979), and Hands of Steel (Italian: Vendetta dal futuro, 1986), for example – is really only notable for its shoe-string ambition and ironic appeal.
The Suspicious Death of a Minor was the last of Martino’s initial genre run and represents a distinct shift towards the poliziotteschi (aka: Eurocrime, Italian gangster movie, et cetera) cycle. Not surprisingly, the director had already made his foray into poliziotteschi with The Violent Professionals (Italian: Milano trema—La polizia vuole giustizia) in 1973 and released two more – Chopper Squad (Italian: La polizia accusa: il Servizio Segreto uccide) and Gambling City (Italian: La città gioca d'azzardo) – the same year that The Suspicious Death of a Minor was released (1975). This movement away from giallo norms is acceptable when the director’s entire oeuvre is taken into account, given the fact that Martino has basically already mastered his version of the tropes and, unlike Argento, didn’t really need to revisit them ad nauseum. All the Colors of the Dark is a top-tier psychedelic giallo, Your Vice is a Locked Room solidifies pertinent social/political themes, and Torso is a culmination of everything the director had built.
The Suspicious Death of a Minor doesn’t have a lot to prove, which makes it less memorable overall than that aforementioned trilogy of Martino’s best, but the mixed-genre approach does make for a very entertaining movie, perhaps one that even non-giallo fans can enjoy. For starters, the killer’s identity isn’t an important plot point; rather, the motivations of the people behind him propel the narrative forward. This means Martino and co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi tend to exchange typically convoluted murder mystery devices for poliziotteschi-friendly political intrigue and classic Hitchcockian cloak & dagger conventions. While the story itself may not be particularly original, the storytelling is clever and direct, ensuring that the audience understands who they are meant to identify as the protagonists without completely revealing the stakes or context of the situation. Martino matches this better than average storytelling with loads of cops ‘n robbers action in place of lurid murder set-pieces – though there are a couple of those, as well, and they are pretty bloody. He really outdoes himself with a shootout/foot chase that begins aboard a rickety rollercoaster, which, knowing the low safety standards of the typical Italian production, was probably every bit as dangerous to film as it looks.
One unfortunate side effect of the genre-blending is that poliziottescho tend to be more angry and allegorical films than the sensationalistic and style-obsessed gialli. The Suspicious Death of a Minor is full of jokes and overtly silly scenes (such as the one where Paolo and his informant are beaten-up by shrieking prostitutes and a couple of gags borrowed from Dario Argento’s Deep Red, which had been released only months prior to Martino’s film), but its underlying tone is incredibly mean-spirited and the characters are all unlikable (usually misogynistic) scoundrels – something owed to the poliziotteschi genre’s attempts at mimic Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry (1971). Those willing to take the genre at its inherent face value should appreciate the strength of the performances, especially compared to the lower-rung Italian exploitation that was released alongside Martino’s film. Lead Claudio Cassinelli is particularly good at mixing cynical hero and comedic character types. He had just come from playing a similar character in Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done to Your Daughters (Italian: La polizia chiede aiuto, 1974) and continued headlining poliziotteschi parts in Luciano Ercoli’s Killer Cop (Italian: La polizia ha le mani legate, 1975) and Fernando Di Leo’s Blood and Diamonds (Italian: Diamanti sporchi di sangue, 1978). He also remained a mainstay in Martino’s work, appearing in Mountain of the Cannibal God, Isle of the Fishmen, The Great Alligator, and Scorpion with Two Tails. Tragically, he died in a helicopter crash on the set of yet another Martino film, Hands of Steel.
As far as I know, the only official DVD version of The Suspicious Death of a Minor was released by Sazuma Productions in Austria/Germany, which makes this US/UK Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack a pretty big deal, before we even take into account the fact that Arrow developed this HD transfer from a brand new 2K scan of the original camera negative. The 2.35:1, 1080p transfer meets the reasonably high standards of the company’s Italian B-movie releases. Over the last few years, Arrow has largely avoided the pitfalls of noisy, overly-soft, Italian-born scans (likely due to their comparatively recent habit supervising/co-supervising new restorations, rather than trying to correct older ones), and The Suspicious Death of a Minor is no different. There are hints of telecine noise dancing within the grain structure, but no major compression artifacts. Cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando’s use of diffused light and semi-shallow focus leaves some wide-angle shots looking plush, while close-ups remain super-sharp. Even the soft shots feature some pretty tidy gradations, very few signs of digital tampering to erase print damage, et cetera. The palette leans a little pink and purple and this seems mostly accurate, or is at least refreshing, given the typically yellow qualities of similar transfers. At the very least, the colors are consistent and cleanly represented.
Both the Italian and English soundtracks were restored from their original optical negatives and presented in LPCM 1.0 mono sound. As per usual for Italian features from the era, no on-set, synced sound was recorded during filming, so all language versions were dubbed in post. In other words, there is no ‘original language track.’ This time, it appears that much of the Italian cast was speaking English on set, but only dubbed their own performances on the Italian tracks. This isn’t a huge problem, though, because performances are decent on either dub and the sound quality is almost identical. Italian dialogue is louder, but not as cleanly integrated into the mix. Again, as per usual, the choice of track is up to the viewer’s preferences. Luciano Michelini’s music is among the movie’s highlights, beginning with the catchy, dramatic title theme. The score mixes aspects of Goblin’s progrock motifs (specifically their Deep Red theme), happy-go-lucky pop tunes, and energetic, drum-driven funk – the kind you’d typically hear in an American cop movie at the time.
Commentary with Troy Howarth – The author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films (pub: 2015) returns for another info-packed Arrow exclusive commentary. Howarth offers plenty of context, factoids, and behind-the-scenes tidbits in his typically personable manner.
Violent Milan (42:54, HD) – In this comprehensive new interview, co-writer/director Sergio Martino discusses the making of The Suspicious Death of a Minor, its multi-genre roots (including a pretty thorough crash course on the history of poliziottescho up until that point), production costs, Claudio Cassinelli’s career and death, the other cast members, and the musical soundtrack.
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