Mario Bava’s last film in black and white is often cited as the first giallo, though it’s probably more of a giallo leggero, since it’s more lighthearted than more typical examples of the genre, which kicked into full sadistic gear with the same director’s Sei donne per l’assassino (aka Blood and Black Lace) the following year.
The film’s English title also suggests one of Hitchcock’s early yarns in which plucky young women investigate mysteries. The black and white cinematography is so unfailingly gorgeous (even when watched on a crappy old French transfer) that it almost makes you wish the director hadn’t switched to colour. There’s a beautiful scene in which the heroine rigs up a booby-trap for the assassin with string and talcum powder. The trap goes comically wrong, but it’s still a rather lovely bit of business.
Letícia Román (who as her name indicates was born in Rome) plays Nora David, a young American who arrives in Rome to stay with her ailing Aunt Ethel. Nora’s first sight of Ethel doesn’t bode well – the old lady is in bed, covered by a sheet, with a huge cat lying at her feet. But the sheet turns out to be part of some last-ditch health cure. For Aunt Ethel is not dead… not yet, anyway.
And that is one enormous cat. Just look at it.
But the old lady does indeed pass away that very night, during a full-on Gothic thunderstorm. The moment of her passing is marked by the cat reaction shot at the top of this page. It’s really not much of an actor; it seems to be backing into the chair, as though someone had plonked it down there and it was too fat to adjust its position to make itself comfortable.
A short while later, though, the cat does what it was put in the film to do – namely, it pushes the side of the bed to make a knocking noise. Nora, already spooked by her aunt’s demise, is so frightened she dashes out into the night to fetch the doctor (that nice young John Saxon, to whom she had been introduced earlier) and immediately gets mugged on the Spanish Steps. Knocked unconscious, she wakes up just in time to witness a murder…
Yes! Once again a cat has done the heavy lifting by performing Catguffin manoeuvres to set the entire plot into motion. Give that puss some extra tuna!