La ragazza dal pigiama giallo (1977)

The Girl in the Yellow Pyjamas AKA The Pyjama Girl Case is more than just a giallo. It’s based on a true story, the 1934 Australian cold case that concerns the murder of Linda Agostini. Born Florence Linda Platt in a suburb of South East London, she left the UK behind for New Zealand after a broken romance, then went to Australia where she worked at a cinema and lived in a boardinghouse. Post-murder gossip claimed that she was a heavy drinker, a jazz baby and someone who entertained plenty of much younger men, which became an issue when she married the Italian expatriate Antonio Agostini. He moved her to Melbourne to try and get away from the bad influences that he felt existed in Sydney, but four years later she disappeared.

Her body was found inside a burning grain sack left behind on the beach. Her head was wrapped in a towel, her body was badly beaten and she had been shot in the neck. But what defined the case were her intricate silk pajamas, complete with a Chinese dragon design, a look that was not the type of clothing favored by your average Australian housewife.

Her body was kept in a formaldehyde bath for a decade and the public was invited to attempt to identify the body. In 1944, dental records proved that the girl in the yellow pajamas was Agostini. Meanwhile, her husband had been in an internment camp for four years during World War II due to his Italian heritage and sympathies toward the Axis. When he returned and was questioned by police commissioner William MacKay — a man he had once waited on — he immediately confessed to killing his wife.

There’s still some controversy over whether or not he actually confessed. There’s just as much as to who the pajama girl was. Regardless, her husband only served three years on manslaughter, as he claimed the shooting was an accident, and was extradited to Italy. Historian Richard Evans wrote The Pyjama Girl Mystery: A True Story of Murder, Obsession and Lies in 2004 and claims that police corruption meant that the case needed to be solved as quickly as possible, as the public sentiment had turned against the cops.

The giallo that is based on the case is really well made and has an intriguing split narrative. On one hand, we have the retired Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland) investigating the case and dealing with his own mortality. Meanwhile, we see Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro, Frankenstein 80, the monster’s bride in Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, the headmistress in Phenomena, perhaps the other woman in Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren’s marriage) struggle with the relationships in her life, including her husband Antonio Attolini, her lover Ray Conner (Howard Ross, The New York Ripper) and her mentor Professor Henry Douglas (Mel Ferrer). As the relationship with her husband starts to fall apart, she drifts into prostitution and in a harrowing scene, makes love to two men while one’s teenage nephew tries to not make eye contact with her.

Other than the Riz Ortolani score — Amanda Lear sings on two of them! — this isn’t a fashion-filled bit of fun. This is a dark and dreary journey through the end of a woman’s life and the elderly man devoted to finding out the answers to who and why, even if he knows that discovering that truth won’t change the fact that he’s closer to the end of his story than the beginning. At least he cares more than the modern police, who simply embalm her nude body, put it on display and allows people to stare at it.

I read the other day that giallo films were meant for the people outside of Rome, for provincial tastes that demanded a morality play. I’m not certain that’s entirely true, but this movie aspires to art and a heartbreaking moment as we reach the close and realize that the two stories are truly connected in the bleakest of ways.

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