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Plot: a police inspector, his wife, her lover. Who’s the criminal?

There’s something of a connection between the German krimi and the earlier antecedents of the Italian giallo despite both evolving independent but parallell from each other. Whereas Mario Bava’s legendary monochrome shocker The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) served as the template and prototype that established all rules and conventions for the giallo the German krimi frequently crossed over with other subgenres. One such crossovers was The Strangler Of Blackmoor Castle (1963) that combined the krimi with gothic horror. La morte non ha sesso (that translates to either Death has no sex or The Dead Have No Sex, released in North America as the more noir sounding A Black Veil For Lisa) was shot in Germany under the working title of Vicolo cieco or Impasse and lands at the halfway point between a krimi and a giallo. Everybody’s morally compromised in one way or the other, the women are beautiful, the blade-wielding maniac wears a black trenchcoat and gloves, there’s more than enough sex and high fashion and the plot is certainly convoluted and labyrinthine. However, with the attention squarely on the sleuthing and the investigation this one etches more towards the conservative Anglo-Saxon and German variants.

Massimo Dallamano was one of those workhorse cinematographers of post-war Italian cinema who debuted in 1946 but never really received a great deal of attention or recognition for his work. While his work spans a healthy two decades a mere three titles stand out in his resumé as a director of photography. One is the peplum Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile (1961) and the two others are Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965). He formally quit his position as cinematographer once he made his directorial debut with the spaghetti western Bandidos (1967). A logical choice considering he had spent much of the sixties photographing exactly that for a living. A decade earlier Dallamano co-directed the documentary Tierra mágica (1959) in Venezuela but it got little to no attention. As is often the case Dallamano quickly moved on to more artistically fulfilling projects that he himself was interested in making. In that capacity he directed twelve movies over 18 years between 1968 and 1976. His Venus In Furs (1969) (with Laura Antonelli) was not only earlier than the more popular Jesús Franco one it was also plain better. Where Dallamano truly found his calling was in the poliziottesco and giallo. His ‘schoolgirls in peril’ poliziotteschi duology What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974) are legendary for a reason and the Oscar Wilde inspired sleazefest Dorian Gray (1973) (with Marie Liljedahl, Maria Rohm, Margaret Lee, and Beryl Cunningham) is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Other notable contributions of his include the Malicious (1973) imitation Innocence and Desire (1974) (with Edwige Fenech), and the The Exorcist (1973) rip-off The Night Child (1975). In truth, Dallamano was never given his fair due and among the enduring exploitation greats he remains somewhat of a humble unknown.

And who’s Lisa, you ask? Luciana Paluzzi. Paluzzi had debuted inconspicuously as a handmaiden in The Labors Of Hercules (1958) and established herself in Hollywood with the bikini comedy Muscle Beach Party (1964). Her most high-profile (and most publicized) role was that of SPECTRE assassin Fiona Volpe in Thunderball (1965). For her Bond was a double-edged sword that brought her fame and fortune but at a considerable cost. Its impact was almost immediate and would continue to reverberate through out the rest of her career for many years to come. On the one hand she now was an international superstar and sex symbol but, according to the documentary Bond Girls Are Forever (2002), Bond had damaged, or at least tainted, her reputation. She found herself, by her own admission, shunned by all the respectable domestic directors (Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, and Roberto Rossellini) and was thusly forced to turn to exploitation cinema for a living. Regardless, with head held high and chest proudly thrust forward, luscious Lucy soldiered on. In that capacity 1968 was a turbulent year that saw her star in four productions. First there was the Italian-Japanese counterfeit Space Station Gamma 1 epic The Green Slime (1968), the Eurospy OSS 117 Murder for Sale (1968), this, before playing a genie in the Spanish Arabian Nights swashbuckler 1001 Nights (1968) (with a young Paul Naschy). Her other highlights include the turgid Jesús Franco women in prison ensemble film 99 Women (1969), the Alberto de Martino giallo Exhibition (1969) (opposite of Romina Power), the Fernando Di Leo poliziottesco The Italian Connection (1972), the blaxploitationer Black Gunn (1972), and the Terence Young peplum breastacular The Amazons (1973). After a quarter century Paluzzi’s career came to a halt with the Francesco Prosperi poliziottesco Deadly Chase (1978).

When a series of systematic executions target police informants in the Hamburg criminal underworld narcotics detective for Interpol Franz Bulon (John Mills) suspects that Harry Schouermann (Carlo Hintermann) is behind the recent swathe of assassinations but he has no tangible proof to substantiate his suspicions. Schouermann has been the subject of an ongoing investigation of his and Bulon is pressured by his chief Ostermeyer (Tullio Altamura) to crack the case as soon and smoothly as possible, especially now that key witnesses have been eliminated. Along with his colleagues Kruger (Loris Bazzocchi) and Siegert (Enzo Fiermonte) he takes to interrogating known drug user Marianne Loma (Renate Kasché, as Renata Kashe) and her immediate circle which leads him to cartel assassin Max Lindt (Robert Hoffmann). At the home front Bulon has marital problems to deal with. His thirty-something trophy wife Lisa (Luciana Paluzzi) feels constricted by her geriatric lover’s controlling and possessive tendencies and is prone to flights of fancy just to drive him up the wall. At another crime scene Bulon finds incrimininating evidence linking Lindt to the series of murders. He also finds proof that Lisa is indeed cheating on him while he’s on duty. Hoping to solve two problems at once he traps Lindt and he makes an offer to the young hitman: rid him off his cheating wife in exchange for immunity. Things take a turn for the complicated when Max and Lisa fall in love and Bulon’s less than savory ways of solving crime come to light….

Orbiting around luscious Luciana are veteran British actor John Mills, he of the period costume drama Lady Hamilton's Warm Nights (1968) and Ryan’s Daughter (1970). The other is Robert Hoffmann who could be seen in I Knew Her Well (1965), Naked Girl Killed in the Park (1972), Spasmo (1974), The Old Gun (1975), and Eyes Behind the Stars (1978). Since it was filmed in Germany it was probably stipulated that local talent had to be used. Here that appears in the form of that other redhead, Renate Kasché. Kasché was no Solvi Stubing, Barbara Capell, or Andrea Rau. Hell, she was not even an Ingrid Steeger, Claudia Fielers, Judith Fritsch, or Gisela Schwartz. Kasché was more of Flavia Keyt or Ulrike Butz. She might not have been as prolific as the latter but she did score a few notables like the former. Regardless, Renate can be seen in roles of no real importance in Venus In Furs (1969), The Naked Countess (1971), Lady Frankenstein (1971) (with Rosalba Neri), Erwin C. Dietrich's She Devils of the SS (1973), and Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle in America (1977). Tullio Altamura is known around these parts mostly for Samoa, Queen Of the Jungle (1968) and Carlo Hintermann for Eyes Behind the Stars (1978). Mirella Pamphili and Paola Natale both were bit players with the former having a more distinct career than the latter. Pamphili had small roles in the Mario Bava gothic horror Kill, Baby… Kill! (1963), the fumetti Argoman, the Fantastic Superman (1967), the giallo The Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968), the Romina Power musicarello The Gold of the World (1968), the fumetti Satanik (1968), and the art-deco visual treat The Laughing Woman (1969). The only things of significance that Natale did were the giallo Naked… You Die (1968), and the Erica Blanc gothic horror The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971).

In 1968 31-year-old Luciana was at the height of her physical prowess and at her utmost desirable. Like Graziella Granata, Rosalba Neri and Luciana Gilli, Paluzzi was a classical curvy Italian beauty and a very patrician one at that. While her features were more sculptured (very much as her contemporaries Daliah Lavi, Marisa Mell, and Diana Lorys) Paluzzi was blessed with an absolute spectacular body. No wonder that Paluzzi’s picture eventually ended up on the desk of Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli. While Edwige Fenech and Rosalba Neri (to name the most prominent two) would reinvent themselves as wanton sex kittens at the dawn of the following decade Luciana never disrobed for just anybody. On the first glance it appears her role as a red hot sexpot is mostly decorative but nothing could be further from the truth. Luciana wields some dizzying cleavage, gloriously fills out every of her many robes, and sports some incredibly skimpy lingerie. Her brown cowgirl suit and the frilly translucent white nightgown are particular favourites among her many costumes. Ever since Thunderball (1965) Paluzzi was never shy about doing nudity. Admittedly, in the fourth Bond film her nudity was implied rather than shown but in A Black Veil For Lisa Luciana lets it all hang out – and it is ever glorious. A Black Veil For Lisa may not have been remembered for much, Lucy’s nudity has certainly aided in ensuring its longevity. If not for her A Black Veil For Lisa wouldn’t have endured the way that it has. While it is no classic, it’s historic for being somewhat of a quintessential evolutionary link between the German krimi and the earliest of Italian gialli while not strictly adhering to the rules of either.

In all honesty, A Black Veil For Lisa is not exactly what you call a classic but it nonetheless was prescient of where the giallo was evolving towards. It tends to date itself somewhat by putting almost all focus on the police procedural and only slightly leaning into the debauched sex-crazy antics of the decadent upper class. The giallo would coalesce into its most identifiable form when director Sergio Martino got involved with his Edwige Fenech cycle of The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (1971), The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971), All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), and Torso (1973) that saw Fenech transforming from promising starlet into international sex symbol. Martino went where Top Sensation (1969) and the early Dario Argento gialli only hinted at. A Black Veil For Lisa also failed to make a giallo star out of Paluzzi the way Edwige Fenech, Barbara Bouchet, Nieves Navarro, Femi Benussi, Suzy Kendall, Carroll Baker, and Ida Galli were. In fact this seems to be the only time she ventured into this particular horror subgenre. It must have impressed at least somebody as Dario Argento protégé Luigi Cozzi refurbished the mainplot for his own and only giallo The Killer Must Kill Again (1975). While oozing with atmosphere and sensuality A Black Veil For Lisa is not nearly sexy and stylish enough to count itself among the more definitive gialli that followed it. Regardless, as a genre piece it certainly is strong and convincing enough. Where Luciana Paluzzi went, others were bound to follow. And that what’s happened.

Plot: Hercules undertakes an epic quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece

The peplum, or sword-and-sandal, reigned supreme over the Italian cinematic landscape from 1958 to 1965, even though it was practiced well into the mid-seventies. The movie to launch the peplum phenomenom was Pietro Francisci’s unassuming and somewhat pulpy The Labors Of Hercules – released in North America as Hercules and domestically as le fatiche di Ercole – whose success had producers scrambling to launch their own pepla to capitalize on its box office success. The Labors Of Hercules laid out the groundwork and established the conventions that the peplum would adhere to for the next two decades. More importantly, it introduced the world to American strongman Steve Reeves, the image of perfection to which all subsequent Hercules would be measured.

The Latin term peplum is derived from the Greek peplon, and, according to the writings of Plautus and Virgil, designates the primitive dress of Greek women and, in particular, the tunic of Pallas Athena, while other sources define it as a Roman ceremonial mantle. It was French critic Jacques Siclier who first used the term - in an article titled L'âge du peplum in the prestigious Cahiers du Cinéma in the summer of 1963 – describing a specific brand of Italian costume drama set in the ancient world with muscle-bound historical, religious, gladiatorial, archetypical heroes in the lead role. Central in many peplum were the fantastic, and mythological adventures of Greco-Roman historical figures as Hercules, Samson, Goliath, Ursus, Atlas, and the fictional Maciste. Many of the non-Hercules protagonists were based of, or derived from, characters appearing in classic Hollywood peplum they sought to imitate. The peplum was almost exclusive to Mediterranean Europe, specifically Italy, France and Spain. The peplum genre never aimed for historical, or mythological, accuracy – instead they chose the most marketable elements from whichever Hellenic legend, myth, and poem sounded most appealing.

Director Pietro Francisci envisioned his own peplum after the commercial success of the Kirk Douglas-Anthony Quinn peplum Ulysses (1954). The production needed a hulking presence as lead man, as per the template set by Bartolomeo Pagano in Cabiria (1914). Years of searching for the right man came to an end when Francisci’s daughter suggested Steve Reeves, an American body builder and Mr. Universe 1950, after having seen him in Athena (1954). Reeves’ portrayal of the original Hercules allowed bodybuilders around the world to enter the industry. Following in his footsteps were the likes of Gordon Mitchell, Adriano Bellini (as Kirk Morris), Mickey Hargitay, Lou Degni (as Mark Forest), Sergio Ciani (as Alan Steel), Dan Vadis, Brad Harris, Reg Park, Peter Lupus (as Rock Stevens), Mike Lane, and Lou Ferrigno. The Labors Of Hercules became one of the biggest box office hits, both foreign and domestic, that it prompted a peplum cotton industry in its native Italy, and in the neighboring countries of Spain and France. In its native Italy alone it grossed 887 million lire, or four times its budget – in addition to another 18 million in box office revenue worldwide thanks to the promotional efforts of its American distributor Joseph E. Levine. A year later a largely similar sequel followed with Hercules and the Queen Of Lidia, released in North America as Hercules Unchained. Again, thanks to Levine's savvy, it became a box office smash.

Steve Reeves as Hercules and Sylva Koscina as Iole

The Labors Of Hercules does indeed have its titular hero (Steve Reeves) completing two of the Twelve Labors in defeating the Nemean Lion, and the Cretan Bull. However the majority of its plot is derived from the Argonautica, the 3rd century BC Greek epic poem by Apollonius Rhodius, chronicling the myth of the voyage of Jason (Fabrizio Mionzi) retrieving the Golden Fleece from Colchis. In fifties western fashion The Labors Of Hercules opens with the hulking hunk rescueing the dashing princess Iole (Sylva Koscina) of Iolcus from certain death as her chariot storms towards a cliff. Meanwhile Pelias (Ivo Garrani), the king of Iolcus, has to deal with the treacherous Eurysteus (Arturo Dominici) in his court. Prior his quest Hercules seeks counsel of the prophetess The Sybil (Lidia Alfonsi, as Lydia Alfonsi) whereas Iole does the same in Thessaly with her multiple handmaidens, one of which is played by Luciana Paluzzi (as Luciana Paoluzzi). In an early flashback young Iole is played by Paola Quattrini. A good portion is spent on chronicling the trials and tribulations Hercules, Jason, and the Argonauts face crossing the Aegean Sea. They land at Lemnos, situated off the Western coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), the island of the Amazons, presided over by Antea (Gianna Maria Canale) where the gentlemen enjoy the warrior women’s hospitality. Towards the end some Samson is thrown in. It’s all fairly standard peplum business until in the third act the pulp comes to the fore as Jason and Hercules are forced to battle the dragon Ladon, a creature bearing a remarkable resemblance to Godzilla (1954), a movie that Levine had distributed three years earlier.

Lidia Alfonsi as the oracle The Sybil

While leading man Steve Reeves was fairly new to acting Francisci assembled an ensemble of recognizable faces for the remainder of the cast. Reeves allegedly was paid $40,000 US cash for the part, a considerable salary for the time. Later Reeves was allegedly offered the roles of James Bond by producer Cubby Broccoli and The Man With No Name, the part that cemented Clint Eastwood as an icon of Italian exploitation, by spaghetti western specialist Sergio Leone. Croatian actress Sylva Koscina was a regular in Italian dramas and comedies during the fifties. Gianna Maria Canale had prior starred in the original Italian version of Spartacus (1953) – famously remade by Stanley Kubrick in 1960 with Kirk Douglas starring and producing – as well as in Theodora, Slave Empress (1954) and Mario Bava’s I Vampiri (1957). Lidia Alfonsi would cross paths with Reeves again in Morgan, the Pirate (1960) and The Trojan Horse (1961). Alfonsi would find steady work in Italian television afterwards. Luciana Paluzzi, obviously a star in the marking given her bit part here, was Bond Girl Fiona Volpe in Thunderball (1965), played opposite of Farley Granger in A Black Veil for Lisa (1968), as well as being present in the Kinji Fukasaku science fiction opus The Green Slime (1968) and the Arabian Nights cheapie 1001 Nights (1968). Paluzzi returned to the peplum genre as Phaedra, the betrothed of Theseus in Terence Young’s campy shlockfest The Amazons (1973).

Distinct not only for being the first of its kind The Labors Of Hercules is far slower and with fewer action scenes compared to the many imitations that it spawned in the ensueing two decades. It was one of the last productions by Federico Teti and The Labors Of Hercules possesses a sense of scale that would be largely absent from the 1970s excursions into the genre once the peplum was no longer deemed profitable. It’s also far more technically proficient than the imitations that followed in its wake. The cinematography by Mario Bava, son of Italy’s first special effects artisan Eugenio Bava, makes use of vivid colors, long shadows, and painting-like composition, and contrasting light and shadow. Mario Bava would in the 1960s and 70s establish himself as the master of Italian gothic horror and giallo murder mysteries. American distributor Joseph E. Levine bought the English dubbed version for a modest $120,000, shortened the title to simply Hercules, relied on radio, television and word-of-mouth promotion to stir interest in the movie and booked it across 600 theaters nationwide, a practice now known as saturation – and one practically unheard of during the 1950s. The Labors Of Hercules made $4.7 million in domestic ticketsales in North America alone. Its influence on the pepla of the following two decades is undeniable, and directors would continue to borrow from the kitschy shenanigans of Pietro Francisci’s sword-and-sandal epic.