The Pyjama Girl Case
directed by Flavio Mogherini
starring Ray Milland, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Mel Ferrer, Howard Ross
Although a genre piece, The Pyjama Girl Case manages to be an oddly affecting and effective piece of Eurotrash cinema. The Pyjama Girl Case is an unorthodox entry in the 1970s cycle of Italian giallo films. First is that it is set in Australia, it is also at least nominally based on a true story, and lastly the story is less of a thriller that a reflective piece of genuine sadness and tragedy. Flavio Mogherini’s film may not be for all tastes, but is proof that a unique vision can come out of even the most hackneyed genres. The film opens with a group of dirt bikers discovering the corpse of an unknown young woman who was raped, murdered, and set on fire in a pile of derelict cars on the beach. The homicide case and the film, both hinge on discovering the identity of the victim in order to solve the case. Ray Milland is doing some serious slumming in Australia playing Inspector Timpson, a grumpy, retired police detective aiding the investigation. Typical of the genre much of the movie has a gritty, somewhat sleazy feel to it with oddities populating the film, including fat middle-age homosexuals, an angry dwarf, and a peeping tom are all paraded about as Ray Milland breaks the fourth wall with smirks, rolled eyeballs and even a scene where the Oscar winner offers up the classic jerk-off gesture. There is also plenty of requisite nudity and even the ever-popular gauzy flashbacks to lesbian experimentation, but as the film grinds on there is much more here than a standard exploitation pic. The film just isn’t as flashy or as bizarre or violent as you might expect from giallo. The film is still weird, engaging, and ultimately profoundly sad.
The most memorable centerpiece of the film is the bizarre display of the nude murder victim’s body preserved and displayed in public in hopes of someone recognizing her. Yes, that’s right a murder victim is floated in formaldehyde in a glass box and there is a long montage of people passing by and gawking at her. The film takes its name and inspiration from an actual Australian murder case. Murder victim Linda Agostini was actually put on display in a similar manner in the 1930s. The case was considered solved but is still controversial with people questioning the police handling and closure of the case with the identity of the Pyjama Girl still being debated. The old school detective Timpson is working with, and opposed to, is young inexperienced, and cocky Inspector Ramsey, who closes the case on the murder, but the old flatfoot isn’t so sure and keeps following his instincts. There is a seemingly unconnected secondary plot revolving around waitress Linda (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and her relationships with the men in her life. Linda is rapidly losing her agency to the whims of her husband and her two lovers. As the film progresses, you keep expecting her to simply become the next victim and the longer you stay with her story the more invested in her existential crisis. The two different story lines make for somewhat confusing viewing as it feels like two unrelated movies spliced together, but the story lines do converge and as you realize the plots are converging it becomes horrifying and heartbreaking in equal measure as you realize that Linda’s story is the story of the murdered girl that the “A” story has been investigating and you know that the police have the case all wrong.
As bad as you think things are, they’re only going to get far more dire. With no money, Linda decides to prostitute herself to three men in a diner in an utterly disturbing scene. Linda feels that she has been treated like a whore by the men in her life and decides to get paid for it. The scene is played without titillation and is utterly heartbreaking. This moment is Linda hitting rock bottom, but she is at least attempting to move on with life and on her own terms, at least until her lover and cuckolded husband catch up. Arrow Video serves up The Pyjama Girl Case with the deluxe treatment, including a 2k original camera negative restoration. A number of interviews and a feature-length commentary from Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films rounds out the package.