Suspected Death of a Minor AKA Morte sospetta di una minorenne (1975)
R2 - Austria - Sazuma Productions
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (27th September 2006).
The Film

To many fans, director/co-writer Sergio Martino is quite close to the “A-class” when it comes to Euro cult-directors from Italy. It´s still hard to place him in any certain category, since over the years Martino has done giallos (“Torso AKA I Corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale (1973)”), spaghetti westerns (“Mannaja (1977)”), post-apocalypse (“2019: After the Fall of New York AKA 2019 - Dopo la caduta di New York (1983)”), killer crocodiles (“Big Alligator River AKA Il Fiume del grande caimano (1979)”), dubious exploitation (“The Mountain of the Cannibal God AKA La Montagna del dio cannibale (1978)”), comedy (“Sugar, Honey and Pepper AKA Zucchero, miele e peperoncino (1980)”), and of course polizia (“Violent Professionals AKA Milano trema - la polizia vuole giustizia (1973)”). This all-around director can also combine different genres, and his lesser-known film “Suspected Death of a Minor AKA Morte sospetta di una minorenne (1975)” is a good example of that. It starts of like a giallo, but then moves more into the polizia-genre, also introducing some comedy. Can this actually work?

Well, yes and no. The story begins in Milan where Paolo Germi (Claudio Cassinelli) is witnessing some strange events at the local dance hall. A young girl is using Paolo to hide herself from the evil man with mirrored sunglasses, finally fleeing after a brief conversation with Paolo. Unfortunately the mysterious man is right on her heels, brutally murdering her in her apartment. Next morning the police have found the body, and the official investigation is under way. There´s also a related unofficial one going on (SPOILER) by the inspector Germi, who´s actually working undercover (this is described on the back cover already). (SPOILER ENDS) His methods are not exactly listed in the official handbook; break-ins, force, guns, threats, bad manners - and top of them all, Germi uses a petty thief Giannino (Gianfranco Barra) to snatch purses from the local prostitutes to find a certain address book (!) and generally to work as his “spy”. Germi´s boss (American actor Mel Ferrer) is supporting him to some degree, but even his patience will be tested during the film. The audience is probably a bit confused from the first 30 minutes or so, but the secrets are slowly beginning to be revealed, including everything from blackmailing and murders to drugs and prostitution, and it all seems to stop at a very high level - rich banker Gaudenzio Pesce (Massimo Girotti) is among the lead suspects.

During the film Germi is getting busy in all fronts, and there are several good action-bits included, often being almost unique. A shoot-out while actually riding on a rollercoaster? A car chase where the police is being slowed down by having both doors of the other car thrown in front of them? Wild events at the movie theatre, when the roof opens and two guys are fighting to the death above the amazed audience? Germi fighting against various pimps and prostitutes at the park? All of this is a part of “Suspected Death of a Minor”, and many times the action is spiced up with humour. Giannino is the obvious comical side-kick, while Germi delivers some ironic humour during his adventures in the night (his eyeglasses are getting a lot of attention, since they always end up broken). During the car chase the humour becomes almost slapstick (e.g. man spinning on his head) and sometimes it´s quite black, but in any case it´s a bit awkward and isn´t something that you could consider a strong part of the movie (you suddenly find yourself in the “Bud Spencer & Terence Hill”-comedy). Eventually the film is a bit too clever for my taste, meaning that it tries hard to be “different” and not some everyday giallo or crime-film, but unfortunately the results are partly confusing and the humour isn´t necessarily what the film needed (dry, ironic humour, perhaps - but not all of the stuff that went on during the film). The structure of the story is not very solid, even when it´s of course admirable that filmmakers are willing to try different ideas and new approaches (if anything is really “new” in the world of films). I just can´t but feel much other than disappointed, that after the relatively strong opening and giallo-ish murder we end up in the park chasing hookers with a motorcycle. The film probably would´ve benefited by the additional giallo-elements since the sunglass killer is actually quite cool, so a few darker (and bloodier) scenes of that nature would´ve helped (they could also consider digitally removing that guy on the left during the “sauna scene” - you know what I mean when you see it).

The lead actor, “Peter Fonda look-a-like” Claudio Cassinelli left me quite cold during the first part of the movie, but when his identity is becoming more clear and actions better explained, you start to see his qualities as an actor. He´s still lacking screen presence and pretty much through the movie I find it difficult to really connect with the character he portrays (not necessarily his fault, also the script is to blame). On a very sad note, the actor died in a helicopter crash during the filming of Martino´s “Atomic Cyborg AKA Vendetta dal futuro (1986)”. The main theme and a few other cues by the composer Luciano Michelini are really catchy, but that certain uplifting “saloon-type” of piece that went on with certain scenes (e.g. in the car chase) just irritated me. Don´t get me wrong, I love the scores from these type of films, but this time I felt that some cues were just thrown to the movie, not thinking much of the big picture.

“Suspected Death of a Minor” is an interesting piece of work, offering some good amount of action (these stunt men and drivers really had to work back in those days) and twists - some Euro babes too, but as a whole it has its flaws, preventing it from rising to the same level as the really respected films in the giallo and/or polizia-genre. It doesn´t have enough suspense and atmosphere to be a great giallo, and it has too much humour and oddities to be a really effective polizia-film. It´s definitely worth seeing, but perhaps it´s following a similar story with certain other films directed by Martino; they´ve many really good qualities and well executed scenes, hell, they´re often good movies, but many times they also fail to be really THAT impressive - truly classics of the genre.

Video

Austrian “Sazuma Productions” is back in the game, and delivers the restored Anamorphic 2.35.1-transfer of the film (“No.1” in their new “Italian Genre Cinema Collection”). The image is quite clean, colours nicely saturated (not always natural, though) and the general look is good enough, but it´s not without any issues. Black levels are strong, but at the same time they felt a bit too strong in some scenes, hiding the detail in the darker areas. A certain worn look, along with line shimmering and compression artifacts can be seen in selected scenes, which are sometimes sharper, sometimes softer (this is most likely part of the original source material). Still, considering that before this release the film has been available mainly with bootlegs and such, this is a great opportunity for the fans to see this partly forgotten film. The “dual layer” disc is coded “R2”, and it has 20 chapters. The film runs 96:19 minutes (PAL), and it´s using Italian credits and opening title “Morte sospetta di una minorenne”.

Audio

One audio track is included, Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, and there are also optional English, German, and Dutch subtitles. I have no idea whether this film was also dubbed in English (most are, though), but with the Italian dub most people seem to be talking Italian (not sure about Mel Ferrer, he could be talking English) so this is a pretty good option. The track is generally a bit muffled, but it´s clean and without any real issues of hiss and crackles (minor hiss can be heard, if you turn the volume up). Not bad.

Extras

Even before the “Main menu”, there´s a brief “Introduction by director/co-writer Sergio Martino” -featurette, running 17 seconds. It´s in Italian, with optional English and German subtitles. I could also point out, that you can choose English or German menu, and even remove the menu-transitions to make all things run smoother. Nice touch.

Audio commentary kicks off the proper extras, and it´s from the German film critics Christian Kessler and Robert Zion. What makes this extra unique is the fact that it´s in German, but includes optional English subtitles. In a world where the smaller companies don´t even add English HoH -subtitles, it´s great that Sazuma has offered this option to all their English speaking fans (probably nice for the film critics also). It´s not easy to provide a truly insightful commentary about a small cult film like this one, and Kessler and Zion don´t even try to cover just this particular production. Instead, they take the wider view on the giallo and polizia -genres, focusing on the history of the actors and directors from those times (often connected to the film somehow). They also take some time to explain the various issues of the real political climate in Italy during the 1970s, which is partly quite interesting. Eventually their enthusiasm starts to slow down near the hour mark, and the humour is also getting a bit too dry (perhaps those Germans can´t talk 90 minutes without bringing the European Soccer into the discussion…). The minor problem with the commentary for me was that it occasionally steered too far from “Suspected Death of a Minor” and couldn´t keep a good pace through the whole film, but in the end it was a worth a listen.

“Crime Scene Milan” -featurette runs 26:07 minutes, and it´s a longer interview with director/co-writer Sergio Martino (again, in Italian, with optional English and German subtitles). Martino starts off by revealing that the original title of the film was “Milano Violenta”, but the distributor changed it to support more of the giallo-side of the film. After that the director gives an interesting “who´s who” of the film, telling something about the actors and also the crew (known producer Luciano Martino is his brother, btw), and gives some of his general thoughts about the Italian cinema along the way. A few anecdotes are shared, mainly that the screenplay uses plenty of intended slang (hard to spot if you don´t know the language), and during the car-chase one stunt-woman got injured (Martino tells the story like it would happen everyday in those times). He also comments about the certain voyeurism which he´s been accused of (there are a few scenes in this film also, which fit in that category), and tells how the new generation of directors like Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth are fans of his work.

Original Italian theatrical trailer runs 3:21 minutes (no subtitles), and Poster gallery includes only 2 posters, divided into 9 screens. DVD credits rounds up the extras (as a minor hint, in there you can find a discount code for the Sazuma.com online-store).

Digi-pack also includes a booklet, with liner notes by Christian Kessler. This wasn´t included in the review-copy, so I can´t confirm whether the text is also in English.

Overall

“Suspected Death of a Minor” is not on a par with the best work from some other directors of the genre, but is a partly enjoyable giallo-polizia hybrid and deserves to be seen by the fans. It has a fair share of wild - and weird - moments, which should make it at least intriguing. “Sazuma” has done a good job with the transfer, and everything is fully English friendly.

This DVD is available at Sazuma.com.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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