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What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974)
10th Jun 08
When a teenage girl is found dead, the police discover a teenage prostitution racket. It's your average tale of corruption. And machetes.
With a title like this, you don't really want to feel short-changed when the ending credits roll. I'm pleased to report that after 90 minutes of director Massimo Dallamano's second teenage girl-themed offering, I wasn't about to make any complaints. In fact, as soon as I had finished with this one, I dug out What Have They Done to Solange? and had me a Dallamano Day.
Both Solange and Daughters deal with a teenage girls in vice/peril theme, and one gets the impression that this is Dallamano's legacy, his own little niche in the wonderful world of Italian cinema. But while Solange is easily categorized as a classic giallo, this one was clearly influenced by the popularity of the burgeoning poliziotteschi genre, and hence falls somewhere between these two genres. A giallo poliziotteschi? Yes, it really is as good as it sounds.
The plot of this one centres around a young girl called Silvia who is found hanging by her neck in a rented room in Rome. It soon transpires that she had been sexually active with a number of men, having been strangled then hanged to give the appearance of suicide. Thus, the inspecting officer, Valentini (Mario Adorf) hands the case over to homicide cop Inspector Silvestri (Claudio Cassinelli) who along with assistant DA (Giovanna Ralli) then delves deep into Silvia's background via a series of interviews with her housekeeper, parents, doctor, etc. Through the many interview scenes, Dallamano utilises flashbacks to Silvia's life, gradually building a series of events which may have led to her untimely demise. A teenage prostitution racket is soon uncovered, in which Silvia's school friends are also involved, and soon the giallo leanings become apparent when a motorcyclist, dressed in black leather with a helmet, begins to introduce anyone who might know too much to his mighty butchers' cleaver.
Dallamano's film isn't afraid to take political swipes at the establishment - Cassinelli's diligent Silvestri eventually discovers details which link major players in local society to the prostitution ring, and instead of being in a position to indict the rich sickos, he is ordered by his superiors to keep it quiet. This in turn leads to a variation on the classic hard-done-by cop complaining about how the system favours criminals - you would be hard pushed to find any poliziotteschi entry which doesn't feature a scene of this ilk. Or for that matter an impressively staged car chase, which this movie also delivers, complete with the obligatory quarry sequence! This ticks so many boxes; man you just gotta love it.
Gialli purists may not get into how this one blends the two genres, but for those of us who love some Italian cop action (complete with clichés like angry cops who hate the system) as well as traditional giallo stylings (complete with clichéd black-clad killer), it really doesn't get much better than this. And while there is an absence of a typical amateur sleuth, which comes with the furniture in giallo land, Daughters follows a more formal path of procedural investigation. But don't let this put you off, because Dallamano deftly sidesteps convention by not only having a female DA involved in the hunt, but by also having us expect that the all-too familiar face of Mario Adorf, introduced at the beginning, will front the investigation. After handing the case over to Cassinelli's character, Adorf disappears for most of the movie, only to reappear towards the end when it is discovered that his own daughter is implicated in the sordid racket. This discovery is a bit of a shocker - it comes off as really touching and Adorf's pathos is genuinely well handled.
In terms of violence, Daughters saves most of its shocks for the second half, but a surprising number of murders actually happen off-screen. In perhaps the films best sequence, Giovanna Ralli's DA character is pursued by the mysterious killer in an underground car park. This superb nail-biter of a set piece sees the killer rumbled by a unsuspecting chauffeur, who he duly disposes of with a trusty machete to the neck, complete with genre fan-pleasing doses of spurting blood. In another scene, a poor hospital security guard comes of rather badly when reaching for a light switch in the dark - this one might have you jumping out of your seat and then clapping like an excited monkey.
Dallamano's doesn't really need to punctuate proceedings with blood and gore (though he does anyway) - if you ask me, the very subject matter of the film is vile enough to make the average viewer with a heart feel quite nauseous, and Dallamano's decision to actually show the teenage Silvia semi-naked (in flashback) is challenging to say the least. It’s hard not to wonder why the director was preoccupied with a theme involving young girls - it's certainly something you wouldn't be able to get away with today, but when it's handled as well as it is here in Daughters it’s easy to forgive. Such themes are also extremely well dealt with in his previous teenage girl giallo, Solange, though one does tend to worry about the recurring feature of objects (bottles, blades, huge dildos) being rammed up girls' vaginas - a theme he also included in his last screenplay, posthumously made as Rings of Fear (1978).
The cast are all worthy of some kind words – it’s so good to see a woman (Giovanna Ralli from Castellari’s Cold Eyes of Fear) in a more powerful role for a change, while Claudio Cassinelli tears up the scenery as Silvestri – his over-acted tantrums are so much fun to watch. Hitchcock leading man Farley Granger, even though he has an amazing name, didn’t get nearly enough screen time in Daughters. Cast as Silvia’s grief-stricken father, it’s really no more than a cameo role, but if you want to see him feature more extensively in gialli offerings, seek out something like Amuck (1972). And of course mention must be given to our old pal Mario Adorf, as the cop who hands over the case and later discovers his daughter is involved – if you don’t know his name you will certainly know his face, especially if you have any fondness for the Fernando Di Leo’s Milieu trilogy.
Gialli. Poliziotteschi. They’re everything I love about movies, and I can’t believe it took me so long to see What Have they Done to Your Daughters. This one marginally falls short of what Solange delivered in terms of giallo weight, but the crossover works such a treat that on a personal level, I found this one more enjoyable. This is also due to the fact that the masterful score, courtesy of Stelvio Cipriani, is one of the finest I’ve ever heard - it eclipses a great deal of the so-prolific-it-sometimes-shows Ennio Morricone, and counterpoints the dark material with an uplifting vocal-driven coda throughout.