When the name Tinto Brass is attached to a film, it would probably lead most audiences to expect one of two things:
i – A collision of 1970s Art House erotica and (s)exploitation shock tactics, such as in his infamous Caligula and Salon Kitty.
ii – Curvaceous, scantily clad and sexually liberated young women, sensuously cavorting, as the Italian erotic maestro steadily becomes more and more infatuated by their derriere, as in many his later outings like The Key, Paprika, Miranda or All Ladies Do It.
However, back in 1967, long before Brass had sealed a reputation in erotic cinema to rival that of Radley Metzger or Walerian Borowczyk, he embarked upon a lesser known thriller – Deadly Sweet (originally released in Italy as Col cuore in gola), adapted from a novel by Sergio Donati – himself a successful screen writer, working on Once Upon a Time in the West , For a Few Dollars More and A Fistful of Dynamite amongst numerous others.
Seeing a welcome release from Cult Epics on DVD, the film is being marketed as a “Sexy Giallo Thriller”, which maybe isn’t one hundred percent accurate. While the film certainly has some comparative qualities to the average gialli, such as a reasonably twisting plotline and the odd red herring, it lacks many of the required key elements such as the numerous and bloody set piece murders that usually make the genre what it is.
Instead, what we primarily have with Deadly Sweet is a neat little thriller that takes its queue from (and makes more than the odd passing reference to) Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up, released the previous year in 1966.
After the initial opening scenes of Jane Burroughs (17 year old Swedish beauty contest winner, Eva Aulin – seen the following year in Candy and later Joe D‘Amato‘s Death Smiles at Murder and her brother Jerome (Charles Kohler) accompanying their mother to the morgue to identify their father’s body, we’re soon thrown into a London club scene. While Jane is trying to dance her cares away, she comes to the attention of Bernard (Jean-Louis Trintignant of Three Colours Red and Umberto’s Lenzi’s So Sweet… So Peverse), a visiting French actor.
Finding that his credit at the club’s bar is no good, Bernard makes his way to the upstairs office to speak with the owner, only to find him dead on the floor and Jane cowering in a corner. Pleading her innocence to Bernard, Jane says that she believes the men responsible are those also involved in her father’s death. Now being in the frame for the murder themselves, the pair go on the run with the police and some rather unsavoury thugs on their trail, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery.
“Deadly Sweet is far more suited to an audience who enjoy their cinema to be very much about a visual experience”
From this point on the film rapidly morphs into a kitsch ride through 60s swinging London, overflowing with Pop Art stylings (courtesy of erotic artist Guido Crepax) that bring to mind Roy Lichtenstein’s artwork, accompanied by a psychedelic soundtrack from Armando Trovajoli, creating an overall ultra-hip background for love on the run. Alongside the vibrant use of colour, sharp cinematography (courtesy of longstanding Brass cinematographer Silvano Ippoliti working on his first project with the director), fast cut editing and split screens, the film also skips into black and white sequences seemingly at random, that are somewhat reminiscent of Film Noir or more so Le Nouvelle Vague.
The DVD blurb states that the film could also be seen to have a Cinema Fumetti style that pre-dates Danger Diabolik and Barbarella. This is true in part as Deadly Sweet certainly does have some comic book qualities during parts of the movie, however this isn’t entirely consistent and it’s simply used as another ingredient thrown into the mix. Besides this claim, the European Fumetti influence can be seen more fully in Umberto Lenzi’s Kriminal from the previous year, when even then it was hardly a new concept.
It has to be said that amongst this glorious concoction of numerous visual styles, Deadly Sweet’s plot is rather marginalized. Long sequences that are purely about swimming in the eye candy elements of the film totally sidetrack the story from moving forwards, which would however seem to be Brass’ intent – approaching the typical crime thriller genre from a far more avant-garde mindset. Amongst these visually geared settings Aulin and Trintignant blend in perfectly; Aulin is simply stunning to look at (which of course Brass’ capitalises upon as much as possible) and Trintignant plays the almost Bogart-esque role in the required Alain Delon, ultra-cool manner. The couple’s chemistry certainly works well and this plays no small part in what makes the film a success. The duo later went on to lead in Guilio Questi’s off-beat giallo, Death Laid an Egg together.
As a side note, those who also enjoy picking out bit-part cast members may spot a young Darth Vader himself, an uncredited David Prowse, alongside British journalist / producer Janet Street-Porter (who had also appeared in Blow Up as one of her only other film credits).
Of course, the fact that the film is so visually driven could make it an acquired taste – certainly those expecting Brass’ later brand of soft-core erotica or anyone out to see numerous black gloved killings ala Bava or Argento could be sadly disappointed. Deadly Sweet is far more suited to an audience who enjoy their cinema to be very much about a visual experience… and if the swinging 60s psychedelic counter-culture, Pop Art visuals and European kitsch are your thing, you could do far worse than giving Deadly Sweet your attention.
English Audio Commentary by Tinto Brass, Lobby Card Gallery and Trailer
- Director: Tinto Brass (Italy, 1967)
- Studio: Cult Epics
- Runtime: 105 minutes
Review by Matt Black