Movies: The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975)

Any informed discussion of the best giallo films of the 1970s would inevitably name-check producer/director Sergio Martino, who was responsible for a significant number of great giallo movies during the era: The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, All the Colors of the Dark, and Torso, most of which I’ve previously talked about in one format or another.

His 1975 film The Suspicious Death of a Minor, the last giallo he did during his 70s cycle, doesn’t get brought up much when discussing his work, though, probably because it’s a bit unconventional for the genre. It is considered a giallo, but it’s cross-bred with another Italian crime subgenre called poliziotesschi, which focuses more on police investigation and one rogue cop who doesn’t play by the rules than it does on the fetishized and ultraviolent murders of scantily clad young ladies by a gloved and masked killer. Suspicious Death (known as Morte sospetta di una minorenne in Italy, and also released in some territories under the title Too Young To Die) additionally features moments of lighthearted comedy, some of it shading over into slapstick, at least in the first half of the film. It’s a bit tonally odd, considering the plot centers around an underage human trafficking ring, but okay.

Our main protagonist is an undercover detective named Paolo Germi, played by Claudio Cassinelli. Sadly, Cassinelli died in 1985 in a helicopter crash on the set of another Sergio Martino joint, the science fiction film Vendetta dal futuro (aka Hands of Steel). He was only 46 years old.

At the beginning of the movie, Germi­—who we don’t find out is a cop until later on—seemingly hits on a young woman with Little Orphan Annie hair who is sitting alone at an outdoor café or garden party of some kind, where loads of people are dancing to the most stereotypically Italian music you’re ever likely to hear. Although the woman initially seems immune to Germi’s slick come-on lines, it appears that she’s in some kind of danger, as a couple of sinister-looking dudes are creeping around the periphery of the crowd, clearly searching for her. The woman pulls Germi in for a dance and a kiss in order to hide her face, but it doesn’t work for long; the goons spot her and she takes off running, breaking the lens on Germi’s glasses in the process, an event that will become a running gag throughout the rest of the film.

The young woman, who we later learn is named Marisa, is able to evade her pursuers at first, but after she goes to a room in a boarding house, looking for someone, she is jumped by one of the sinister dudes and has her throat slashed.

When Germi finds out about the murder, he becomes intrigued; it’s suspected that Marisa was a prostitute, but there are rumblings that there’s some bigger crime syndicate behind her death, one that pimps out underage girls to the highest bidder, and might also engage in straight up kidnapping. To this end, there’s a small subplot about the young son of a prominent Milan businessman who is abducted for ransom, and Germi suspects that this case and the murder of Marisa might be connected.

At first, as I mentioned, the viewer isn’t actually informed that Germi is a cop; I suspected he might be, but his methods were so unorthodox that I thought it was also possible he could be from a rival crime syndicate. He joins forces with a young petty thief named Gianni, and the pair of them do things like ride down the street where all the hookers are hanging out just to snatch their purses; this initially seems pointless, until it comes to light that Germi is actually looking for information about the human trafficking ring. He also goes to a supposed front company that purports to hire out domestics, but which Germi suspects might be the clearing house for the trafficking.

Germi even engages the services of a prostitute named Carmela in order to get some scuttlebutt, and then figures he might as well use her for her intended purpose since he already paid for her time; Carmela gets murdered further down the line. He does a similar thing with a supposedly underage girl named Floriana (played by Barbara Magnolfi from Suspiria, among other things), setting up an appointment with some rich oil baron who doesn’t exist and then having her followed to try to get to the heart of the operation. He also gets Floriana killed, too, so there’s that.

After watching Germi’s antics for the first half of the film, it’s finally revealed that Germi is indeed a detective, but working undercover in an unofficial capacity on behalf of his superiors. He’s apparently allowed to use whatever means he deems necessary in order to get to the bottom of the recent spate of kidnappings and murders, but when he discovers that the trafficking ring might go much higher than anyone thought, he runs into conflict with the police department, who either don’t want to believe that some of the city’s wealthiest and most respected men might be involved, or are just afraid that if they look too hard into the case, they’re painting targets on their own backs.

All in all, this was a pretty decent watch, but I can see why it isn’t as beloved as some of Martino’s other gialli. I liked the mystery aspect, and the character of Germi, while smug and kind of an asshole, was still weirdly endearing. The score was fun and funky, very reminiscent of Goblin’s work on Dario Argento’s Deep Red. The dialogue was also quite witty, and made me laugh out loud several times, though I could have done without all the slapstick humor that took place during the car chases and so forth. For a film whose main plot line involves pedophilia and the trafficking of teenage girls, the decision to add gags was a peculiar one, to say the least. The movie does get somewhat darker and go in a more Dirty Harry kind of direction in the second half, however.

And despite the sleazy nature of the subject matter, the movie isn’t really sleazy in the slightest; there is some nudity, but it’s minimal, and the violence barely registers, though there is a fairly high body count.

This was a bit of an odd duck, for sure, though I would recommend it to Sergio Martino completists and people who like rebel cop flicks. Don’t expect it to be creepy or gruesome in any way, but if you’re in the right mood and don’t mind a few silly comedic touches in your human trafficking storyline, then give it a spin.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

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