The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Director Sergio Martino started in film the way several other of his contemporaries did, by working with reknown directors already established in the industry. His first work was as production assistant on Director Mario Bava's The Whip and the Body, then he became an assistant and a writer for his Producer brother Luciano Martino, who had entered into the film business years earlier. Sergio's first directorial outing was the 1969 documentary/exploitation film Mondo Sex. Martino's next project was a spaghetti western called Arizona Colt Returns (1970) on which he teamed up with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. Later on that year, Martino moved into the Italian thriller aka "giallo" genre and directed The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh. The film became a big success with audiences in Italy and established him as a new star in film. Martino was only 29 at the time, but he seemed to have the talents of a veteran filmmaker. The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh also brought Martino comparisons to other popular filmmakers, most notably another giallo director Dario Argento, who was well known from his film The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1969). Although Argento was a great talent, it can be said that Martino was the first Italian giallo director to push the boundaries of onscreen graphic death and nudity. Argento's earliest giallos were very timid compared to Martino's and his later films like Deep Red (1975) and Suspiria (1977) were definitely influenced by Martino's willingness to push the limits of the genre.
The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh is one of the most celebrated films from the 1970s Italian giallo era. Edwige Fenech plays Julie Wardh, the wife of an Ambassador who is returning from a trip to her home in Vienna. When she arrives back to the city, she finds out there is a mysterious killer wreaking terror, a "Sex Pervert" who slashes his victims with a straight razor (a signature weapon of many giallo killers). When Julie gets in the cab to take her home, the cab driver tells her more about the killer, but Julie begins to drift off into a daydream. She remembers her former lover Jean (Ivan Rassimov) a sadistic man who would violently attack her before making love to her. As we see Julie and Jean make love in the warm summer rain, we get an introduction to Nora Orlandi's haunting score which is used throughout the film to great effect. As Director Sergio Leone once said "Music makes up 40% of a film". Well, this score by Nora Orlandi definitely adds such a very special mood to the film and it heightens the atmosphere created by Martino's precise direction.
When Julie arrives at home, she disrobes to take a shower, and we see the beautiful nude body of Edwige Fenech. Suddenly, the doorbell rings and Julie looks through the peephole to see who it is. All she sees is a bouquet of flowers being held by someone. When she opens the door, we see its just a delivery boy and Julie takes the flowers and reads the note attached. The note is from her ex-lover Jean. It tells a secret that only he knows about her. Julie is repulsed by Jean, but in her mind, we see again and again that at one time, she was enthralled by his sadistic and violent lovemaking methods.
Julie goes to a party with her friend Caroll (Conchita Airoldi) and meets Caroll's cousin George (George Hilton). George seems like a nice guy to Julie. Meanwhile some girls get in a catfight when one of the male guests rips one of the girl's dresses which is made of silver paper. When Julie sees Jean is there as well, she decides to leave, but before she can get too far, Jean confronts her in the dark of the street. Julie tells Jean she despises him, and suddenly Julies husband Neil drives up and gets out to see whats happening between them. Neil punches Jean, but Jean seems uncaring and laughs right in his face. Jean leaves and Neil takes Julie home.
One of the women who was in the catfight at the party returns home to her apartment and begins to undress and take a shower. As she washes, a dark figure drives up in a car and the lights go off. The figure enters the house and we see from his POV that he is closing in on he girl in the shower. Suddenly the killer rips open the curtain and begins to slash the girl with his razor, cutting her throat and leaves her bleeding. The killer then walks out of the bathroom quickly. You can see that this sequence was obviously inspired by the shower scene in Psycho. This is a perfect example of the Italian filmmakers attitude towards making movies. When they see a great movie and love a certain scene, theres a pretty big chance you will see a similar scene in their film. They do this with no apologies.
The next day Julie and Caroll go into town to have dinner and George is there. Julie is attracted to George, but since she is married she doesnt want to get too close. Before they can start lunch, Caroll gets a phone call at the restaraunt and is called away, leaving Julie alone with George. We can see George likes Julie and he does his best to charm her into going for motorcycle ride across the countryside. Sergio Martino shoots these scenes so well, we can see from all different perspectives as the two speed through the country roads. George drops Julie off at her place and she thinks shes alone, but George shows up and they make love. Someone is outside watching them in the night, is it the killer? Is it Neil?
Julie gets a phone call the next day from a mysterious man. He tells her he has proof of her affair with George and that he will give it to her husband if she doesnt give him 20,000 schillings. Julie is scared, so Caroll agrees to go in her place. The caller has told her to meet him with the money at a large botanical garden estate in the country. When Caroll arrives she waits for the person, and she is all alone. Martino creates a feeling of isolation with the shots of the long empty road set next to the immense garden walls. Caroll sees a distant figure walk past, but shes not sure, so she follows the figure into the maze like garden. As she walks she hears a rustling in the bushes, but its only a groundskeeper. As she walks along, we see shes not alone, and in a flash, the mysterious killer chases after her and she falls down. The killer proceeds to violently slash her with his razor and Caroll is dead. The old groundskeeper discovers her bloody body lying in the garden.
When Julie finds out about Caroll, shes even more afraid and she knows that she will be next. The rest of the film is one thrill after another as Julie tries to stay alive while the mysterious killer tracks her down. This film is one of the best and earliest of the gialli to come out of Italy.
The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh is a highly entertaining and well executed giallo. Sergio Martino really gave the genre a big boost with his precise and exciting direction. Most giallo stories have a simple premise on the surface, but the real trick is making each story unique and surprising in its own way. Martino mastered it on his first time out of the gates which is very impressive for a then 29 year old director. As a big giallo fan, I highly recommend this film.
Peter Roberts is the co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb) and contributor to the GCDb's sister site Furious Cinema. A Massachusetts native, he is an avid film fan that has been immersed in the world of entertainment and pop culture his entire life. He is currently majoring in Communications and Interactive Media Design.