Sunday, April 5, 2015

A LOOK BACK AT GIULIANO CARNIMEO'S SECRETS OF A CALL GIRL


Translation of an Italian newspaper ad (2/75): ‘Love… Hate… Violence… Vice… Sentimentality… Emotion…

Pani, as Guido Salvi: “Milan is getting more dangerous than Palermo!

Highly reminiscent of Sergio Martino’s work during the same period – films which, incidentally, were also all produced by Sergio’s prolific producer brother, Luciano Martino – this rather uncharacteristic Eurocrime venture was “Anthony Ascott”/Giuliano Carnimeo’s only proper foray into the genre, and even though it could rightfully be classified as a “romantic” film, there are enough “crimeslime” elements to say otherwise.

Opening with peaceful, early morning views of the Duomo in Milan and bread deliveries, smalltime hood Guido Salvi (Corrado Pani) emerges from an all-night casino and is almost shot during a drive-by, which injures his partner-in-crime (Antonio Casale) instead.  Speeding off in his car, Salvi races through the streets to get his ‘friend’ to the mob-connected doctor (Corrado Gaipa), while composer Luciano Michelini’s fast-paced title track plays on the soundtrack.

Salvi, like his injured buddy, turns out to be one of many men currently working for Milanese crime boss Riccardo Sogliani (Richard Conte), a tough, uncompromising individual who is currently at war with Zuco (Ettore Manni), a rival Swiss drug smuggler.  Not made implicitly clear, Salvi may have had some ties with Zuco at one point, which accounts for the attempted hit on his life, which Sogliani dislikes immediately.  “When you start shootin’ in the streets, that’s bad!” remarks Sogliani.  But, in a rather hypocritical move, Sogliani torches Zuco’s warehouse hideout, which kills two of Zuco’s men while Zuco himself barely escapes with his life.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the story begins to unfold at a Bergamo coffee shop where Anna (Edwige Fenech) works as a cashier and is immediately intrigued by Salvi’s rather tough demeanour and flashy sports car.  He begins to court her (“You wanna break out, but you’re afraid to.”), and even though she is reluctant at first, she eventually succumbs to his advances and the allure of seemingly endless amounts of cash and shopping sprees.  Naturally, her mother (Carla Calò) disapproves directly from the onset, as though she herself might have gone through the very same thing in her younger years, while her dad (Aldo Barberito) merely shrugs it off (“You’re the mother. I work hard all day!”).  Despite disapproval from her parents and her better judgment, Anna is eventually lured into Salvi’s violent and controlling world, but when Salvi begins pimping her around for many of Sogliani’s influential friends and business associates in Milan, the physical and mental abuse quickly escalates. 

Meanwhile, Sogliani and Zuco continue their territorial beef, so when Zuco refuses to comply with Sogliani’s wishes to give up the drug trade, he is quickly dispatched via a roadside car bomb (“So long…punk bastard!”).  Further complications arise when Anna gets pregnant, but fortunately for her, Salvi is arrested for the murder of Albino (Bruno Corazzari), a former rival, which enables Anna to finally move on and have the bastard’s bastard child just the same.  Always cleaning up loose ends, Sogliani also has his concerns with Anna, but with the help of his lawyer (Umberto Raho), they decide to “forget” about her, and with the help of her friend Loredana (Laura Bonaparte), she gets a job at a bookstore back in Bergamo while taking care of her son Paolo (Paolo Lena).

Years pass as Anna adapts to her new life, but when Paolo becomes ill, she befriends Dr. Lorenzo Viotto (John Richardson), a “good man”, who, almost immediately, begins to take an interest in her.  Apprehensive at first, Anna eventually falls for him, especially when her son Paolo, in a typical tearjerker moment, remarks, “Can I have a Papa?”  Of course, Guido is eventually released from prison and comes looking for her.

Danish video sleeve

Adapted from a story by producer Luciano Martino and Sauro Scavolini, this was originally put together specifically for Fenech – who was married to Martino at the time – in order for her to branch out from the numerous “erotic” gialli she primarily became known for.  With added input from prolific scribe Ernesto Gastaldi and Francesco Milizia – who himself would go on to write many of Fenech’s subsequent comedic films – SECRETS OF A CALL GIRL relies heavily on numerous clichés, but much like Damiano Damiani’s astonishing The MOST BEAUTIFUL WIFE (1970), it’s one of the few films that focuses primarily on the innocent, and rather naïve, women within the criminal underworld.  Unfolding like any number of Eurocrime films, which were popular at the time, the Milanese underworld serves merely as backdrop, as Anna’s initial fascination and happiness quickly turn to torment and abuse.  Anna’s doe-eyed innocent is well-portrayed by Fenech, and even though she is immortalized for her many gialli and, later in her career, for her undemanding succession of cuddly T&A bimbas in various commedia erotico entries, Fenech manages to carry the entire film with relative ease, giving a committed performance that allows her to expand on her acting abilities; which, even in the English language version, is well-dubbed by veteran voice-actor Susan Spafford.  Primarily a theatre actor, Corrado Pani adds plenty of conviction to his role as bastardo Salvi (he would go on to play a similar scuzzball in Sergio Martino’s The CHEATERS (1974) alongside Luc Merenda), with which some comparisons can be made to Tomas Milian’s vehemently nasty Giulio Sacchi character from Umberto Lenzi’s ALMOST HUMAN (1974) a year later.  Salvi’s scruffy, unkempt hair, weasel-like behaviour and uneasy alliances with his ‘associates’ give his character an edgy, almost paranoid feel, as he deals with his many insecurities and frustrations.  Of course, being the typical male chauvinist, he vents much of his frustration on Anna, slapping her around one moment and then forcibly making love to her the next (“You got me right outta my mind!”), which at the start Anna, rather halfheartedly, goes along with.  Their tumultuous relationship is certainly difficult to watch at times, and even though Fenech disrobes on numerous occasions, her requisite nude scenes never serve as titillation, but only accentuate the ‘trophy’ status which Salvi places on her; she is merely another object in Salvi’s life, which he callously uses as a means of ‘getting ahead’ in the world.

Supporting roles are also well-cast, with Richard Conte playing a mob boss once again, as he did in Sergio Martino’s The VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS (1973) that same year, although this time around his character is much more sinister and calculating, and he doesn’t allow anything or anyone to stand in his way of achieving full control of the Milanese underworld.  John Richardson doesn’t really come into the picture until the third act, which, incidentally, becomes similar in execution to the many Neapolitan sceneggiate efforts from the late ’70s; his character is the polar opposite of Guido Salvi, and, much like Anna’s son Paolo, is just another person who ultimately suffers due to the selfishness and brutality of Salvi.

Slick production values also add immensely to the film.  Marcello Masciocchi’s camerawork is fluid and crisp, and he and Carnimeo manage to encapsulate Fenech’s earthy sex appeal into just about every frame.  Mention should also go to underrated composer Michelini, who creates a highly effective score which captures all of Fenech’s torment, abuse and sadness with equal aplomb.  His score ranges from the aforementioned and fast-paced track “Il mestiere di uccidere” – which is an absolutely terrific piece of music (rivaling many of Franco Micalizzi’s more popular tunes composed for some of Umberto Lenzi’s best crimeslime opuses) – to the melancholic and beautiful “Tema di Anna,” featuring the timeless voice of Edda Dell’Orso.

Insert booklet from Hexacord's soundtrack CD.

Originally produced as simply ANNA, the subtitle “A Particular Pleasure” was later added to the title, which presumably intentionally makes the film appear more like one of Fenech’s many sex comedies.  The original English-language export title of THAT CERTAIN ENCOUNTER is a much more fitting (if admittedly rather bland) title, which would definitely have had difficulty securing an audience.  When NoShame Films released this title on North American DVD back in 2005, they retitled it under the more titillating title SECRETS OF A CALL GIRL, which now appears to be the film’s most widely known title.  To confuse matters even further, MYA Communications then released it in 2010 (minus NoShame’s extras) as ANNA, THE TORMENT, THE PLEASURE.

While most fans of ‘traditional’ Eurocrime may be put off by the multitude of confusing and less than inspiring titles, SECRETS OF A CALL GIRL is definitely worth tracking down, either as an enthusiast of Eurocrime or simply for the alluring presence of Edwige Fenech in one of her finest roles.

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