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The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)

Raro Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/10/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/27/2016

Hi, everybody! Welcome to another episode of "Italian Liberation", where we discuss the fine art of Italian movies. As we observed in the past, Italian horror films and thrillers from the 1970s and 1980s are often, how can I put this delicately, lacking in logic. To be quite honest, some of them make no sense whatsoever. Still, a majority of these movies contain creative visuals and a sort of plucky spirit which make them fun to watch. We are so busy enjoying the sheer nuttiness of everything, that we almost forget that the story has gone off the rails. But, what if an Italian movie offered a lackluster story and nothing else? Would that be fun? Let's find out with The Perfume of the Lady in Black.

Mimsy Farmer stars in The Perfume of the Lady in Black as Silvia Hacherman, a young woman who works as a chemist and who lives in an ornate apartment building. She is dating Roberto (Maurizio Bonuglia) and often chats with her neighbors, Francesca (Donna Jordan) and Rossetti (Mario Scaccia). Following a party, Silvia is surprised to learn that she's slept through most of the day. Following this, she has a vision of her dead mother (Renata Zamengo), and she then begins to see a young girl (Daniela Barnes), who knows things about Silvia's past. Despite reassurance from Roberto and her friends, Silvia feels that something is wrong and she tries to get to the bottom of these occurrences.

There's a lot going on with The Perfume of the Lady in Black, so I'll try to break it down one piece at a time. I don't know about you, but when a film is subtitled or dubbed, it can be difficult to accurately gauge the acting, especially if we are talking about a genre film where things can get over the top. However, I can tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt that Mimsy Farmer's acting here is not good. If simply staring at things is acting, then my cats are great actors. She walks around with a completely blank look on her face for most of the film. When she does attempt to react to something, either in anger or fear, it doesn't come across as the least bit natural. Silvia is in nearly every scene in the movie and we are asked to follow this automaton through the story. At first, it seems kind of funny, but by the mid-point, it's simply annoying.

And then we have the story. Unlike many Italian features of the day, especially those with long titles like this one (Seriously, was there a competition for longest title?), were giallos, or murder mysteries. The Perfume of the Lady in Black veers from that trend and plays more like a psychological thriller. Co-Writer/Director Francesco Barilli and Co-Writer Massimo D'Avak were clearly influenced by the works of Hitchcock, as well as Roman Polanksi, as this movie owes a lot to both Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. So, the movie wants to be a paranoid thriller, OK. But, it's all over the map. Silvia has hallucinations. She has flashbacks. She's convinced that someone has stolen a family photo. She sees a vase in a shop, but when she goes back and asks about it, she's told that it was never there. She sleeps through the day. Everyone around her acts weird and some of them die. The movie just keeps throwing these things at us and none of it gels. By the time that the film is over, most viewers won't have any idea what is going on. If I were to explain (my understanding) of the story and the ending to you, it would sound reasonable, but it still wouldn't justify most of what we see in the movie. The story also suffers from huge plot holes and lapses in common sense. The movie goes out of its way to show Silvia at work, then she never goes back. (She finally calls in sick very late in the film.) She has a lot of lamps in her apartment and they are always on. (Maybe electricity is cheap in Italy.)

As noted above, sometimes films like this are saved by creative photography, but we don't get that here. The production design team did a great job of putting every color imaginable in Silvia's apartment, but otherwise the visuals are quite dull. There's no lurid sex or over-the-top gore to liven things up either. There is the kernel of a good story here which, while not being very original, could have been entertaining. But with a sleepwalking leading lady and a very chaotic approach towards the material, The Perfume of the Lady in Black is a forgotten film which deservers to remain that way.

The Perfume of the Lady in Black made me realize that there aren't enough colors in my house on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Raro Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains a 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 17 Mbps. On the positive side, the colors here look very good. As noted above, the entire rainbow of hues is offered in the film, and while some look a bit washed out, the colors are still impressive. Having said that, there is something wrong with the transfer here. The middle section of the screen shows a definite defect on the image. To me, it looked like white powder had been spread across the image. My wife said that it was like watching the movie through a screen door. Either way, it could not be ignored. (I watched the Blu-ray Disc on a 4K TV with an upscaling Blu-ray player, so I don't know if this magnified this issue.) The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The overall volume of the track is a bit low, but otherwise the dialogue and sound effects come through fine, with the music never overpowering either.

The Perfume of the Lady in Black Blu-ray Disc contains three extras. "The Knight Errant" (24 minutes) (which is called "The Wandering Knight" on the Blu-ray Disc sleeve) is a short film from Director Francesco Barilli which follows The Grim Reaper and offers narration by a puppet. "Barilli" (16 minutes) is an interview with the director where he talks about is career and gives specifics on the making of The Perfume of the Lady in Black. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long