A little girl stumbles across a woman's charred, mutilated corpse in an abandoned vehicle on an Australian beach. Because the remains have been burnt beyond recognition, the only clue as to the her identity are the yellow pyjamas in which she died. Retired Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland) is intrigued by the case and, unimpressed with the methods employed by the new generation of police, undertakes an investigation of his own. Elsewhere in the city, an ambitious waitress, Linda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), is up to her neck in complications surrounding her personal life. Dissatisfied with her marriage to poor Italian immigrant Antonio, Linda is having an affair with his best friend, Roy, and still seeing the sugar daddy professor (Mel Ferrer) she met prior to marrying, all the while trying to keep their knowledge of each other a secret. The seemingly unrelated storylines eventually intersect in a tragic and unsettling fashion.
The Pyjama Girl Case stands out as a most unique giallo in terms of plot, content, and style. Nowhere will one see razors, gloves, or fedoras, and most of the sex scenes in the film are uncomfortable rather than sexy. The grittiness of the subject matter, and the unabashed approach to it, are often unbearable at times. The film's bright, sunny look mocks Linda's predicament and her underhanded ways of trying to escape it. She's never presented as a manipulative, soulless whore, though. Instead, we see a frightened young woman who's resentful of her impoverished life, who spends much of her time crying and confused, treated as an object of amusement by Roy and her doctor friend. Her degradation, disappointment, and unfair demise are never properly compensated for, even after the capture of her killers, which only adds to the tragic beauty. Milland's cocky, oldschool detective character adds the only levity to the film, and keeps it from becoming too heavy or depressing.
From a technical standpoint, The Pyjama Girl Case is an accomplished effort. The shot compositions, editing, and camerawork are above-par, but what I found most compelling was the lighting and the music. The electronic soundtrack by Riz Ortolani is easily one of his best, and a couple of the funkier tracks have vocals by Amanda Lear, although most memorable is the pulsing, avant-garde electronic piece played during the public viewing of the corpse. As for the look, most of the film is bathed in sunlight, and the colour palette is suitably bright neutrals. The only real colour we see is the alternating red and green of a neon sign outside Linda and Antonio's apartment, which seem to parallel her own hot and cold feelings towards her husband. As a treat for the eyes, ears, and heart strings, The Pyjama Girl Case is definitely up there on my list of recommended gialli.
I feel I have to somehow justify the hours, nay, years I've spent watching some of the best, worst, and most unique horror and thriller movies ever made. I hope casual browsers might just catch on, and that experienced Italian horror fans might come across new and unheard-of titles to track down. If nothing else, please enjoy the pretty (and occasionally frightening) pictures.