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The Pyjama Girl Case

a/k/a La Ragazza dal pigiama giallo

a/k/a The Girl in the Yellow Pajamas

     "What I'm about to say is very important: I think I'm gonna meet the yellow pyjama girl's killer tonight. Now he's not very bright, so he could be dangerous ... if something should go wrong, I've taken several precautions. However, I think I can tell you what happened..."

-- From Inspector Thompson's last recording     




Gonzoid Cinema




"Have a good time!"

You know, it really does the heart good to see Ray Milland *ahem* enjoying himself again.


Watch it!



Sights &
The Pyjama
Girl Case
  Flavio Mogherini
  Flavio Mogherini
  Rafael Sánchez Campoy
  Giorgio Salvioni

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The Pyjama Girl Case

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The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh


Our film begins as the beach side revelry of several Australian citizens is crudely interrupted by the discovery of a dead body amongst several wrecked and abandoned cars near the water's edge. With the corpse's face gruesomely beaten and burned well past any point of recognition, when the fingerprints don't turn up anything, the police are left with two monumental tasks: one, finding out who their female victim was, and two, track down whoever did this terrible thing to her and arrest their sorry ass.

During the initial autopsy, it's revealed that the victim was shot in the throat, but the real cause of death was a severe blow to the head and the resulting skull fracture. Also of note, there is trace evidence that the girl recently had sex with at least two different men. With the media smelling blood, and a ton of pressure coming from the top brass, the Chief of Detectives assigns the case to Inspector Ramsey (Ramiro Oliveros), who is explicitly charged to wrap things up as quickly as possible -- and by any means necessary. And while he focuses on "extracting" a confession from a degenerate beach bum, the case also attracts the attention of a retired Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland), a cranky and acerbic old coot who really doesn't have much faith in this younger generation of sleuths; as proof of his doubts, one of Ramsey's better ideas to I.D. the victim is to put the preserved corpse on public display like a morbid museum piece to see if anyone recognizes her.

And with her face completely gone, I'm assuming he hopes someone will remember some dimples on her rear-end?

As the irascible Thompson ingratiates himself into the investigation, he takes up a few discarded clues, including a few grains of rice found in the singed silk remnants of the yellow pajamas the victim was wearing, and follows his instinctive nose until it leads him to a possible I.D. and three probable suspects; a college professor, a factory worker, and a waiter, all embroiled in a love quadrangle with the same woman, Glenda, who seems to move with the breeze from man to man, searching for something she cannot define, let alone find it. And as her desperate search for some kind of fulfillment spirals quickly down the drain with one bad decision after another, she puts herself in harms way when that quadrangle starts to implode around her. Meanwhile, Thompson narrows down his suspect list to the probable killer, and then puts himself in mortal danger to lure the killer out of hiding...

On a crisp September morning back in 1934, while walking his new prized bull toward his home in rural Albury, Australia, Tom Griffith spotted -- or smelled? -- something strange protruding from a culvert that ran underneath Howlong Road. Closer examination proved it to be a severely mangled and burned corpse, and after the authorities were called in, they determined it to be a petite female, probably in her twenties, who had been shot in the throat, and whose bludgeoned skull was fractured so badly that part of the brain was exposed. Due to the charring and the severity of the injuries, with the only real clue to her identity being the partial, oriental-style silk pajamas that survived the flames, identification of the victim proved difficult -- if not impossible, making apprehending whoever had done this even harder to catch. When a couple of missing persons leads didn’t pan out, the local authorities, spurred on by a voracious media blitz and a lurid lured public, allowed the body of the now dubbed “Pyjama Girl” to be moved to Sydney, where it was embalmed, preserved, and in a bizarre, morbid twist, put on public display to see if anyone recognized her.

Hundreds turned out, but no one knew her, and for ten years, not unlike the notoriously gruesome Black Dahlia murder in America several years later, the media-fed public refused to let the Pyjama Girl case go away. Constantly reminded of the failure to bring any kind of justice in the case, New South Wales police commissioner William “Big Bill” MacKay reopened the investigation, and according to some sources, already had it solved; and whether his “pre-selected” prime suspect was guilty or not was irrelevant. The suspect in question, an Italian immigrant by the name of Antonio Agostini, had just spent the last four years in an alien internment camp during the war. His wife, Linda, also an immigrant, had disappeared about a week before the Pyjama Girl showed up, was of similar build, but was ruled out forensically at the time. However, ten years later, suddenly, the dental records magically matched up, and after an intense interrogation, and a viewing of the pickled body made up to look like his wife(!), Agostini confessed that he accidentally killed her during a drunken domestic dispute and burned the body to destroy the evidence in the ensuing panic. Convicted of manslaughter, Agostini served six years and was deported back to Italy when his sentence was up.

Declaring the case solved, the body was finally buried and MacKay moved on. But others, suspicious of his dubious and sometimes brutal tactics, weren’t as easily convinced, felt the fix was in, and still believe in Agostini’s innocence and the true identity of the Pyjama Girl to still be a mystery. Recently, historian Richard Evans makes a strong case in his book The Pyjama Girl Mystery by pointing out a ton of discrepancies in Agostini’s confession, and the fact that the Pyjama Girl had blue eyes while his wife’s were brown. Oops. So if it wasn’t her, then who really was the Pyjama Girl? There’s been talk of trying to link the body through DNA to relatives of several other missing persons, but sadly, we may never know.

A true-life mystery from Australia seems an odd inspiration for a Spanish/Italian co-produced giallo, but one has to wonder if it wasn't a smokescreen to cover the fact that even though scriptwriters Rafael Campoy and Flavio Mogherini, who also directed, used the Pyjama Girl as the appetizer to get you to the table, the main course owes more to another true-crime case sensationalized by a recent best-selling novel and a big-screen Hollywood adaptation that was due to be released the very same year as their film ... While watching The Pyjama Girl Case unfold, it doesn’t take long to see a strong correlation to Judith Rossner’s novel Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Itself inspired by the murder of Roseanne Quinn, Rossner lets us know on page one that her protagonist, Theresa Dunn, is dead, murdered by some creep she picked up in a bar when a one-night stand goes bad. The rest of the novel is then spent showing us the tragic circumstances that led Theresa to this predicament: a sad tale of a double-life -- school teacher by day Theresa, and trolling the bars at night for rough-sex Terry, crippled by an extreme case of self-loathing, embroiled in a self-destructive, futile search for love, acceptance, or fulfillment on any level that will, or from what we’ve read, could, never be satisfied.

Here, Glenda Blythe (Dalila di Lazzaro) appears to be trapped in the same psychological quagmire, and her trio of lovers mirror Theresa’s almost identically; first off is her college professor (Mel Ferrer), who shines her along and then brushes her off; second is Roy, an aggressive and possessive macho prick whose only interested in his end of the screwing (Howard Ross a/k/a Renato Rosini -- who made a career out of playing macho-pricks); and lastly, Antonio, a simple but earnest beau who truly worships and loves her, and begs Glenda to marry him (Michele Placido). In the novel, Theresa, feeling she doesn’t deserve it, refuses the proposal, but in the film we take a slightly divergent course when Glenda takes the plunge after finding out she’s pregnant. Even though he isn’t sure if the baby is his -- he's not that naive, a slightly bitter Antonio doesn’t welch and still agrees to the wedding. And for a brief moment, Glenda appears to be happy, or at least content -- but this is short-lived when their baby dies not long after it was born. Depressed and disillusioned, saddled to a low-wage husband with no real prospects, her marriage barreling toward a dead end before it even began, Glenda starts sleeping around again. 

But when this proves to be another futile gesture to fill an empty hole, the girl realizes that the only person who treated her right and that she truly, maybe, cared for, was an old friend who lent her a pair of yellow silk pajamas at a sleep-over to wait out a violent thunderstorm. And since this is a gialli, you’d be right in thinking that friend was female; and though they shared the same bed, Glenda wasn’t prepared for the lesbian advances at the time and shied away. Now, rejected and dejected, fraying around the edges of sanity, with nothing left to lose, Glenda burns all her bridges, steals Roy’s RV, and sets out to track down this old friend. (And is this friend our Pyjama Girl?) But things continue to take a downward spiral when Glenda prostitutes herself, needing money for gas, and agrees to a roadside motel quickie with two slovenly travelers while one of their idiot offspring watches. To complicate matters further, Roy, thinking she’s dumped him and run off to permanently shack up with the professor, rounds up his good friend Antonio and goads him into bringing his wife back -- whether she wants to or not. Together, they track her down to a secluded spot where she pulled over to sleep for the night. And at Roy’s insistence, Antonio goes to retrieve her. When she refuses, clad in those very same silk pyjamas, things go quickly from tense to ugly to homicidal…

Okay, then.

The first time I watched The Pyjama Girl Case it took me until about halfway through the movie before I realized what Mogherini was up to. And what he was up to was pretty darned ingenious, and he executed it -- well, almost brilliantly with only a few minor hiccups as things barrel toward the climax. Basically, he breaks the story down into two progressive threads; the first deals with Thompson and Ramsey as they try to identify the corpse and catch the killer, while the other deals with forlorn Glenda and all her lovers. And nope, I didn’t realize until the scene at the seedy hotel when Glenda makes her break that half the plot so far had been nothing but one long flashback. E'yup, as Thompson doggedly digs up clues in the other plot thread, that leads him closer and closer to the killer, crossing paths with surly Roy and flaky Antonio -- but never Glenda-- do we realize, as our heart sinks, that Glenda is the Pyjama Girl, she’s already dead, and not the killer’s next intended victim. And it would have been a kick-ass final shock/reveal, too, but Mogherini shows his hand, in this case, pyjamas, a little too early, and to complicate matters further, the movie then drags on for about another half-hour to wrap-up all the other loose ends to one of the bleakest and most depressing films I’ve seen in a good long while as once again, everyone we've met so far either winds up dead or incarcerated.

Still, Mogherini wound these two separate plot threads together rather beautifully into that final knot, leaving all kinds of clues for us to figure it out (-- and upon a second viewing it all seems embarrassingly obvious), and though he kinda got his finger stuck in the tangle at the end, he should be commended for the effort. Known mostly for his lavish production and set designs for films like Diabolik! and the early Hercules movies, Mogherini does the exact opposite here, using the monolithic and sterile concrete, steel and glass structures of Sydney to help emphasize the isolation and desperation of the characters -- outcasts all. And as his actors move around these sparsely populated streets, and Riz Ortolani's pulsating, John Carpenter-esque score hammers at you, you'd swear you were watching some kind of sci-fi Dystopian thriller along the lines of Logan's Run, not an Italian whodunit. And then there's that totally obnoxious theme/ballad crooned by Amanda Lear, sounding like a morphine addicted and nicotine scarred lounge lizard. Laughable at first, but dang it, if that doesn't bore into your head like a Ceti-eel and gets comfortable after awhile -- and you'll wind up humming it to yourself, over and over again, for at least the next three weeks after the initial infection; trust me.

The Pyjama Girl Case is not without it's flaws, especially in the investigation thread, but most of them can be glossed over thanks in most part to the efforts of Milland. It does the heart good to see the aging actor having a total blast with his character after so many years of angrily cashing-in-a-check in a string of low-budget, exploitative dreck. Mogherini does better with Glenda -- in fact, I think he does a better job of capturing the true nature of Rossner's character in the novel better than Richard Brook's adaptation of Looking for Mr. Goodbar. For while Brooks does everything he can to eliminate Theresa's culpability in her own murder, to garner her more sympathy, Mogherini leaves it all in, making it hard to sympathize or even like Glenda (-- likewise Theresa in the novel.) One minute you want to give her a consoling hug, the next you want to gently bop her in the head to knock some sense into it. Known mostly for her role as the rejected monster's mate in Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, the drop-dead gorgeous di Lazzaro seems about as wrong a choice for the character as Diane Keaton was in Brooks' adaptation, but she anchors the film with a rock-solid performance as the doomed Glenda, bringing Rossner's novel back to it's true, self-destructive and tragic roots, and not, as Joe Bob Briggs put it in his book Profoundly Erotic, a defensive-driving course for women looking for sex -- a morality play, and if you don't pay attention and obey the rules, you could die at any moment.

In the end, it may seem that who really killed Glenda doesn't matter. She knew what she was doing, knew it was wrong, and still made a lot of bad choices, usually making things worse. And that is one of the biggest problems most people have with this film. Yes, she dug her own grave, but did Glenda really deserve to die because of these mistakes? I mean, Are we still blaming the victim, here?

Originally Posted: 01/12/08 :: Rehashed: 05/04/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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