Lady Beware (1987)

There are exactly six movies in the subgenre — well, I came up with it and I don’t know who has to approve it — known as Yinzer giallo. These are movies made in the city of Pittsburgh that must follow these rules. We will test Lady Beware against them.

First off, is it a giallo?

Has there been a murder or is the lead character a fish out of water being stalked by someone and exposed to threats of psychosexual violence?

Yes: Katya Yarno (Diane Lane, making her second Pittsburgh/Western PA film appearance, as I always consider Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains as taking place somewhere in the Pennsylvania rust belt, called Charlestown here which is the same town as Slap Shot, so I guess it’s Altoona) is a fashion designer who has gotten the most desirable of all Steel City fashion jobs. She’s a window dresser at Horne’s.

A quick note: Horne’s was a regional department store chain based in Pittsburgh that at its height had twelve locations. The best known was in downtown — it’s now offices for Highmark — on Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street. It was a seven-story department store with a famous Christmas tree that is still lit as part of Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night. You can also see another Horne’s in Dawn of the Dead and it inspired the character of Ben Joseph Horne on Twin Peaks, as co-creator Mark Snow went to Carnegie Mellon.

Other than creating the window displays for their rival store Kaufmann’s — which leads to the yinzer term for mind your business, “Does Hornes tell Kaufmann’s their business?” — having this job would be the job in 1987.

Anyways…

Katya is a small-town girl in the big city, which is funny because Pittsburgh is the smallest big city there is. That said, her window dressings are quite sexual and filled with allusions to BDSM, which leads to Jack Price, a married and obsessive maniac, starting to stalk her and call her with incredibly sexually depraved phone calls.

So while there’s no murder or black gloves, there’s plenty of stalking. And Katya may not feel guilty for her window scenes, but numerous men standing outside are positively scandalized and probably ran up to St. Mary of Mercy on Stanwix for absolution.

A yinzer giallo aside: Much like Rome, the kinda sorta birthplace by way of England and then Germany for the main giallo form, the large number of Italian — and Italian — immigrants to Western Pennsylvania makes Catholicism and its morals central to growing up here for many people.

Is there high fashion, beautiful people and abundant nudity?

There’s a ton of fashion in this. The costumes were designed by Patricia Field, who would be much better known for designing the clothes for The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City, a job that she got after impressing Sarah Jessica Parker years before on the movie Miami Rhapsody.

As for the nudity, the one scene Lane is nude was supposedly taken while she was unaware.

Director Karen Arthur (The Mafu Cage) told the Los Angeles Times, “Some distributors asked for more sex, so they took outtakes of Diane Lane standing there naked and incorporated them into the film. To me, that’s exploitative. They printed up negatives where I never said print. I, as a female director, would never exploit a woman’s body and use it as a turn-on.”

The director nearly took her name off the movie but didn’t think that it was fair to the actors, who can’t remove their names and do an Alan Smithee.

To be a Pittsburgh giallo, the film must accomplish all of the above — when possible — and also:

Be true to its Pittsburgh roots, meaning that the movie must be filmed here while speaking directly to the experience of growing up in the city.

This is true directly because this movie could have made up any store and chose Horne’s. Now, we can debate the industrial loft that Katya lives in — maybe it’s in the Strip District — but the fact that she just has a bathtub in the middle of the room is very true to the stylistic ideal of the Pittsburgh toilet, which is just a toilet in the basement with no walls and just sitting there for very unprivate private moments.

If it’s filmed here, it must reference Pittsburgh and not have the city stand-in for another town.

Executive producer Lawrence Mortoff had producer the 1984 Nastassja Kinski-starring Maria’s Lovers in Pittsburgh, so he brought the movie to the City of Bridges, getting 28 shooting days mostly in dahntahn and the North Side.

It must feel authentic, which helps several films on this list as they are movies with moments that only make sense when you’re a life-long Pittsburgher.

True to 1987, Pittsburgh Magazine shows up to report on the windows. And while there are few Steelers jerseys and bottle of Iron City, Katya does go on a date to the Grand Concourse, which other than LeMont would have been one of the better places for a date back in the late 1980s.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, look for locals like Chef Don Brockett (who was on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and was legally bound to appear in every movie made in Pittsburgh, as he shows up in Silence of the Lambs and Flashdance), Steel City stage legend Bingo O’Malley and Audrey Roth (Mr. Roger’s friend Miss Paulifficate) are in this.

Verdict: Definitely yinzer giallo

Sadly, this movie got away from its director, who had been working on it since the late 70s. In the same Los Angeles Times article, Arthur said that the movie had “100 homes, 17 drafts, and eight writers,” while being upset by the film’s production team at Scotti Brothers: “The purse-holders are men, and they attempted to make Lady Beware into a violent picture. I’m not interested in making a picture where a woman gets beat up. I want to show how a lady deals with this kind of insidious violence. A policeman can’t help.”

Starting with the success of Leif Garrett — their record label also had James Brown in the late 80s, Felony, Survivor and “Weird Al” Yankovic — Scotti Brothers moved into movies and TV — they were involved in the production and distribution of Baywatch — and made the films The ResurrectedEddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!Eye of the Tiger (well, that makes sense seeing who was on the label), In the Shadow of KilimanjaroHe’s My Girl, Stealing HeavenThe Iron Triangle and Death of a Soldier.

Who is to blame? Well, one of three Scotti brothers who produced this, Tony, would play Tony Polar in Valley of the Dolls; I don’t see any gossip about him. As for Mortoff, in addition to producing movies in nearly every genre, he directed one film, 1993’s Deadly Exposure. None of these things point to anyone, but regardless of who was to blame, Cotter Smith’s performance was cut down — he’d return to Pittsburgh to be in the series Mindhunter — and all of Viveca Lindfors parts were cut. She’d also come back to be in Creepshow and North of Pittsburgh.

However, it’s said that this heavy-handed interference made the film — and look, giallo are already hard to understand — confusing.

It’s a shame because Lady Beware does have some moments where you can see that it has the hope of being a great film. The close — using mannequins to attack the male aggressor — suggests a more heroic female Maniac, which is an interesting turn.

One thought on “Lady Beware (1987)

  1. I saw this film in a theater back in the day, and while it has its issues, it’s a thoughtful giallo, which showcases Pittsburgh pretty well. The real shame is that it has never had an official release on DVD.

    Like

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