The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975) is an odd film to categorize, if, like me, you’re compelled to do that kind of thing. IMDb lists it as “Comedy-Crime-Horror-Thriller.” Even though there are a couple of murders, I in no way consider it a horror film. And, with a notable lack of suspense, I barely consider it a thriller. That leaves it as a “crime comedy.”
Calling it a “comedy” is pushing it, though. It’s hard to find humor within an investigation into the trafficking of teenage girls. In fact, in spite of one character-driven laugh, I found most of the attempts at humor awkward and inappropriate. It’s not like laughs are needed to relieve tension, because, in general, there isn’t any. It’s just the tone the director, Sergio Martino, wanted to take.
In a 43-minute interview on the new dual format release from Arrow Video, Martino explains that, historically, comedies need swear words to make audiences laugh. Thrillers need gore and sex. However, he chose to use a “light touch” on The Suspicious Death of a Minor. He also says that by the time it was made, the trend for “trashy violence” was at an end.
The one character-driven laugh I enjoyed comes after getting to know what Paolo Germi (Claudio Cassinelli) is really trying to accomplish in the story. Interrogating a prostitute in a hotel room, he offers her cash in exchange for information. It turns out, though, that he arrived early and is paying her with her own money that he found hidden behind the television.
The attempts at humor I didn’t enjoy revolve mostly around a long, excruciating car chase. After seeing earlier that the passenger door on the car Germi drives is barely attached, he tells his “right hand,” Giannino (Adolfo Caruso), to throw it at the police car speeding after them. Then, the car hits a man on a bicycle, turning it into a unicycle, and speeds by another man who spins on his head in the street… twice.
It's comforting to know that author Troy Howarth ("So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films") acknowledges my uncertainties about tone on the commentary track of the Blu-ray. He calls the movie "a hybrid" that goes against the grain of expectations for a giallo or poliziottesco. Less diplomatic at times, he also says it's a movie that can't decide what it wants to be.
The Suspicious Death of a Minor begins as you would expect most gialli to begin, with a brutal murder. A young woman, Marisa (Patrizia Castaldi) is pursued by a man in mirrored sunglasses from a public dance hall to a seedy apartment, where he slashes her throat. Although there are a couple murders later, they are of a different nature. They’re driven by a criminal organization instead of a psychotic killer.
The camerawork by cinematographer Giancarlo Farrando is some of the most fluid I’ve seen in an Italian film of this era, often capturing its images from the center of action. For example, the dance hall scene is unique to watch as the camera rises up and down among the feet of the dancers. To be fair, there is also a terrific set piece near the end involving a movie theater with a retractable dome roof.
A familiar characteristic of the story is a police administration that consistently demands more proof in order to take action. Here, it’s Mel Ferrer as the superintendent who says there isn’t enough evidence, “it’s science fiction of the worst kind.” Frustrated with the attitude, our hero accepts a payoff from the bad guy. When asked about it, he tells his boss, “it’s science fiction of the worst kind.”
Reflecting on The Suspicious Death of a Minor a day later, it should have impacted me more favorably than it did. For example, I don’t remember ever watching a shootout on a roller coaster. However, during its 100-minute running time, the attempt to constantly apply Martino’s “light touch” over everything was simply too distracting for me.
Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
New interviews with director Sergio Martino and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon