‘The Suspicious Death of a Minor’ or — ‘Deep Red’ Meets ‘The Pink Panther’?

It’s easy to assume Sergio Martino’s ‘The Suspicious Death of a Minor’ (1975) is going to be along the lines of ‘What Have You Done To Solange?’ (1972) or ‘Don’t Torture a Duckling’ (1972) as an underage prostitute is murdered and we appear to be firmly in “danger to youth” territory with a pretty serious subject matter. This is emphasised by a typically Giallo-esque opening as Goblin style music accompanies a switchblade wielding killer wearing mirrored sunglasses and stalking a young girl.

Yet that tone is almost immediately dropped and only sporadically returned to, and even then it’s chiefly as a gag, as the movie veers into a light-hearted police comedy, albeit one with a dark tale. Paolo Germi (Claudio Cassinelli) meets young Marisa at a dance only to discover she is brutally murdered not long after. Determined to find her killers, and suspicious that she might have been killed by a child prostitute trafficking ring, Paolo enlists the help of a petty thief to shake down street walkers for information whilst the official police investigation struggles to discover any leads, the chief investigator more interest in the football pools than the actual case. Although who is this Paolo and what are the reasons for his actions? All we really know of him is that he looks a bit like Christopher Lambert and keeps breaking his glasses along with most Italian (and international) laws.

It is when we find out who Paolo is that ‘The Suspicious Death of a Minor’ really kicks into gear becoming both more serious minded and even sillier at the same time, but also ridiculously more entertaining. Paolo’s reveal is no big surprise but it’s surprisingly funny especially and it comes hot on the heels of a rather exciting, and VERY silly, car chase that is not only highly illegal but utterly illogical when we discover what is actually going on. Paolo then shifts in our minds from a glasses breaking klutz to an unstoppable justice machine, almost as if Superman had decided to stop playing Clark Kent as a dweeb and turn him into Dirty Harry instead. He also gets fired for sarcasm (seriously), takes a shit load of money as a bribe which he flaunts in his boss’s face and STILL mercilessly goes after the bad guys safe in the knowledge that he’s the good guy. I was laughing my ass off.

Not only that but the film’s energy ramps up considerably with the car chase followed by a shoot out… on a rollercoaster, a nicely staged set-piece killing with a scolding hot twist plus some excellent cinematic use of mirrored sunglasses, a frantic foot-chase, a fight on an opening cinema roof and a sequence that feels like Martino is completely subverting the entire Giallo genre as the Goblin style music kicks back in, the killer is on the prowl and a “sexy” female is towelling herself off in the bathroom… except tell me this isn’t played out as a gag.

The result feels like an Inspector Clouseau film directed by Brian De Palma and with the combination of Martino’s punchy directing style and Paolo’s roguish “hero” the film almost has the feel more of an 80’s cop comedy action flick than a mid 70s thriller, feeling more like ‘Lethal Weapon’ than a poliziotteschi at times.

I was really surprised at how positively I responded to ‘The Suspicious Death of a Minor’ and I think it’s because it pulls off that difficult trick which, if a film can do, means it can get away with absolute murder — namely becoming more entertaining as it goes along. Martino’s directing is strong with some great moments, whether it’s going from black and white to colour during a TV broadcast to make a seamless transition or a really quite stunning shot of a train entering a tunnel which immediately closes everything in for the climax. Plus Martino, unlike the more set-bound Bava or Argento, really seems to delight in shooting outdoors allowing for a breezy energy to run throughout everything, and his refusal to indulge in some of the genres excessive histrionics keeps things unpretentious and light.

If you like your poliziotteschi and Gialli serious-minded then this might not be for you because if these Italian movies were James Bond films then ‘The Suspicious Death of a Minor’ would definitely be more ‘Moonraker’ than ‘Skyfall’ (thank god) and, in my opinion, that’s not a bad thing. This is a very entertaining movie.

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Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.

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Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.