Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done To Solange? (1972) presents a masterpiece in giallo cinema, despite the fact that it struggles to deliver a cohesive narrative. Still, fanatics of the giallo sub-genre will not want to miss this film, as it exemplifies the art of the giallo as well as its progenitors. With its masterful cinematography, deep character studies and knock-out performance by the fledgling actress Camille Keaton, What Have You Done To Solange offers a stiff challenge to other masterworks like Argento’s The Bird With Crystal Plumage (1970).
Giallo From The Start
Dallamano begins the film with an idyllic float down the Thames river. Professor Enrico Rosseni (Fabio Testi) and his student-mistress, Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó) float lazily while Enrico tries to seduce her. Elizabeth studies under him at Saint Mary’s Catholic School. Out of the corner of her eye, Elizabeth believes that she sees a woman running from the glint of a knife wielded by a man in all black. Enrico quickly dismisses her as he accuses Elizabeth of using this as a method to short-circuit his sexual advances.
Bearing accidental witness to murder notoriously kicks off the action in many a giallo film.
Enrico Rosseni, Player
Dallamano quickly portrays Enrico as a man of questionable integrity when he introduces Herta (Karin Baal), Enrico’s wife. Herta, appears very brash and abrasive and plays true to stereotypes of strong German woman. Her shrewd speech and stone-cold stares tell us everything we need to know about her floundering relationship with Enrico. Rightly, Herta questions Enrico’s fidelity. After fighting with Herta, Enrico returns to the scene of his boat ride and finds the police canvasing the area. Elizabeth’s vision proves true, and a young woman has been murdered in one of the most brutal ways possible.
Giallo films famously portray some of the most visceral violence in horror cinema. Giallo killers often commit that violence against beautiful woman. However, What Have You Done To Solange? takes that unique quality to terrifying new heights. The police find the first victim completely nude, lying in the grass. A long knife has been forcefully inserted into her womanhood. The thought can only be described as ghastly. Sexual violence of any kind is difficult to consume and this example proves especially difficult to swallow.
Making the film all the more real, Massimo Dallamano doesn’t let it rest with only the victim. He brings the parents in to speak to the police. Their expressions can only be described and painfully authentic as they learn of the fate of their daughter. The viewer can see bottom drop out of their soul the second they see the horrific X-Ray of the impalement that ended their daughters life. As difficult as this scene proves, it simultaneously provides an element that catapults Dallamano’s film into the realm of real human emotion. This aspect makes What Have You Done To Solange? unique among many of its peers.
All Suspicion On Enrico
Due Enrioco’s unfortunate intersection with the crime scene investigation and a careless drop of his pen at the scene of the crime, Enrico immediately draws suspicion from the police. This leads to uncomfortable questioning in his own home. Herta, hears of Enrico’s infidelity as she eaves-drops on the conversation. This suspicion carries through the eventual murder of his mistress, Elizabeth in his secret apartment. Despite the fact that the killer drowns Elizabeth in his own bathtub, he has a rock solid alibi; Herta learns that her virginity had been intact at the time of death.
The Saint Mary’s Sex Club
From here, Dallamano transports the audience to a new place. With new reassurances that Enrico never slept with Elizabeth, Herta undergoes a renaissance that sheds her frumpy school-master clothing for a more sexually charged attire. Reinvigorated with her love for Enrico, she agrees to help him track down the killer. This takes the couple into the strange world of an underground sex organization that the girls of Saint Mary’s regularly participate in. Here we finally meet a young woman named Solange, played by the beautiful and talented Camille Keaton of later I Spit on Your Grave (1978) fame.
We will now find out what they have done to Solange.
Brilliantly Photographed By Aristide Massaccesi
Credited with cinematography, Aristide Massaccessi absolutely stuns with the camera. What’s more interesting is that Aristide Massaccessi also goes by the name of Joe D’Amato. Yes, the same Joe D’Amoto that directed Beyond Darkness (1979) and Anthopophagus (1980). I certainly am unable to recall being as moved by the photography of either of those films. Between Dallamato and Massaccessi, they weave a masterpiece with their camera.
Rather that dynamic camera movement, or vibrant backdrops of color, the photography of What Have You Done To Solange? focuses on depicting the emotional depth of their characters. Never in giallo have there been more probing shots depicting the emotions and motivations of the characters. Massaccessi frames these shots brilliantly. When Camille enters the stage, the results are utterly fantastic. Her performance displays a freshness of honesty, and Massaccessi’s camera work captures every last drop of it.
A Troubled Plot That Lack Cohesion
What Have You Done With Solange? shines brightly as a wonderful example of highly technical giallo cinema. However, the plot stumbles on itself at several places. Starting at the beginning, Dallamano and fellow writer Bruno Di Geronimo play the angle of the police suspecting Enrico of these horrible crimes. However, they also reveal in the very first frames that this simply can not be the case. The audience never holds any emotional investment in this as a possibility, because it simple can not be trues based on events they have already seen.
Herta’s rapid turnaround and defense of her husband stretches credibility. By all accounts, Enrico has no integrity. Enrico’s failure to sleep with Elizabeth had everything to do with Elizabeth’s virtue and literally nothing to do with Enrico. In fact, Enrico attempts to shame her at the beginning of the film for having the audacity to “invent a murder” to avoid having sex with him. Upon the death of Elizabeth, Erinco’s response is that of a man that just lost a plaything that had recently become an inconvenience. Herta’s unconditional return to his side seems ridiculous considering the facts. I guess stranger attractions sadly occur in real life.
As fantastic as I found the character of Solange, and the performance of Camille Keaton in that role, the plotline that leads to Solange seems an awfully distant leap. Had the film hinted at the existence of the underground sex club, it might have had more intellectual leverage. Instead, it jump-cuts to this plot device with no real unifying thread. Dallamano fails to even introduce Solange until nary 20 minutes are left in the film. Call it a defect or a feature, but many giallo suffer this same fate. They strive for an earth shattering twist, but they often stretch beyond the intellectual capital they have acquired.
All things considered, Dallamano and Gernimo tie up nicely the nature of the crimes and the motive for such horrible murders.
What Have You Done To Solange? – Imperfectly Fantastic
What Have You Done To Solange? exemplifies brilliant giallo cinema despite its imperfections. It faithfully carries forth the more conservative eras of early Dario Argento and Mario Bava. It tightly follows the tried and true formula of its predecessors. Dallamano and Massaccessi proudly display their technical acumen on every frame of the film. Yet, its trouble approach to telling the story ultimately affects the overall impact of the film. As great as the film feels in the moment, the desire to re-watch fades rather quickly.
Ultimately What Have You Done to Solange? should be seen by both giallo enthusiasts and the general horror watching public. If only for the emergence of Camille Keaton as horror icon and the fantastic cinematography, the film will provide a compelling example of the art.
What Have You Done To Solange? (1972) - Visually Stunning Giallo - Malevolent Dark
Director: Massimo Dallamano
Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:32