When is a giallo not a giallo? When it is The Pyjama Girl Case. It is a murder mystery and it does boast an ensemble cast of strange, often twisted characters… but it also has a body count of two and keeps its sexual content limited to a restrained minimum. This halfway-in-the-genre approach works because the film has much more on its mind than the usual giallo thrills.
The Pyjama Girl Case is a fictionalized take on a real-life Australian murder mystery. It all begins with a female corpse being found in a junked car on a beach. Her face has been burned terribly, making identification difficult. Retired but restless Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland) gets involved in the case, investigating on his own while official officer-in-charge Inspector Ramsey (Ramiro Oliveros) tries to tie up the case in a hurry. Both track down leads amidst the down-and-out side of Australia, meeting up with the usual weirdos and sexual deviates that making up the typical giallo supporting cast.
But that’s only half the story. The other half revolves around Glenda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), a lovely but capricious young waitress who divides her time amongst three men: lusty factory worker Roy (Howard Ross), marriage-minded waiter Antonio (Michele Placido) and wealthy playboy Professor Douglas (Mel Ferrer). The combination of these two plot threads ultimately sends the film in a direction that honors certain elements of the giallo while also giving the film an emotional resonance that the genre typically does not offer.
In short, The Pyjama Girl Case is not the typical bill of fare that Eurocult fans are accustomed to. The first two thirds lack the killings and suspense setpieces that the genre usually offers so it requires a bit more patience than usual. That said, writer/director Flavio Mogherini truly makes it pay off with a final half-hour that ties everything together in a way that is more satisfying – and haunting – than the usual giallo finale. He also brings a distinctively Italian sense of style to the proceedings, making great use of Carlo Carlini’s glossy cinematography and a lush, hook-laden Eurodisco score by Riz Ortolani.
And since this is a more drama-oriented giallo, it is fitting that the performances are very good. Despite some dodgy dubbing, everyone turns in worthwhile work here. Ray Milland had perfected his ‘crusty old-timer’ persona by this point in his career and he manages to deliver on that front here while also adding an extra note of humanity to his tired but determined lawman. Di Lazzaro is also memorable as a woman who is driven by a lack of satisfaction that even she does not understand. Ross and Ferrer are solid as the first two-thirds of her boyfriend collection but it is Placido who steals the show from the others as the most naive and vulnerable member of the trio.
To sum up, The Pyjama Girl Case isn’t for viewers expecting the usual razors-and-black-leather-glove thrills. However, anyone interested in seeing a film that manages to rework the genre in an adult, emotionally affecting way should give it a look.
Blu-Ray Notes: Arrow Films has brought this title into the high definition realm with an excellent 2K restoration. In typical Arrow fashion, it’s kitted out with a variety of extras, including a commentary track and several interviews, including one with Ortolani. Note: if you have the old Blue Underground DVD, you might want to hang onto it because it has a short documentary about the real case that inspired this film that isn’t included in the Arrow set.