The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)
Director: Sergio Martino
Writers: Vittorio Caronia, Ernesto Gastaldi, Eduardo Manzanos Brochero
Starring: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton and Ivan Rassimov

The Plot: Our film begins with a prostitute being picked up from the side of the road and eventually being murdered with a straight razor, by an unknown assailant. We skip forward and meet Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech), who is being utterly ignored by her businessman husband. He’s more interested in stocks than her, which has led to some disillusionment within their marriage. When Mrs. Wardh first hears about this murder, which happened very close by to her home, a slight amount of paranoia begins to creep into her mind. She finds that her former boyfriend, Jean, is still hanging around town after her long departure for America and he hasn’t let go of the past. Jean and Julie had a torrid love affair at one point, and Jean is well known for his enjoyment of kinky and rough sexual activities. Soon, George (George Hilton) enters into the picture as well and the young man seems to understand where Julie is coming from and desperately wants to protect her. Now, with this murderer on a rampage and Julie’s own sexual desires going unfulfilled she will find herself wrapped up in a torrid wind of violence, sexual awakening and mystery.

The Review
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, on paper, is a total Eurocult wet dream. Any self proclaimed fan of genre film would be hard pressed not to salivate upon first reading up on the film. Directed by genre great Sergio Martino, who brought us the Giallo favorite Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key amongst a litany of other works, and also starring the number one Giallo vixen of all time: Edwige Fenech. How could you not be excited? Throw in George Hilton as well as Ivan Rassimov (the creepy blonde haired guy from another Martino/Fenech teamup, All the Colors of the Dark) and you have an all-star cast with a brilliant director and a script that dares to compile more than just your basic top-layer content. The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is actually a surprisingly psycho-sexual piece of Giallo cinema that delves heavily into the words of sado-masochism while also delivering the expected doses of mystery and suspense that we have come to expect. While the very end product may not be the very best the genre has ever produced, Martino displays all of his best traits with this film and we are ultimately left with a very strong genre-bending thriller that is sure to please the fans.
This film, as with much of the entire Giallo film genre, is comprised of both visually impressive properties and a strong linear-narrative focus. A all too common problem with Giallo pictures however is when filmmakers have dared to be wittier than their audience, and in the process craft stories that are near impossible to decipher. So often in these films you’ll find a murder mystery that the audience has no ability to solve, due to the handicap that the filmmakers take advantage of by proudly using their ability to manipulate the entire plot to service their purpose. Martino’s film may not have the most fair twists and turns, as he also takes advantage of his position as master puppeteer, but at the very least you can say that the red herrings aren’t entirely without purpose and the general plot moves along with a sense of purpose and thus we, the audience, are able to keep up with these narrative tropes. It’s an easy enough film to keep up with as a viewer, and being as linear as it is we are able to absorb so much more than just the pretty shades of red.

There’s no question about it however, the visual flare is part of what makes the entire experience so magical. The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is easily one of Martino’s most visually impressive films, which is interesting since it is hist first foray into the world of Giallo cinema. This young effort displays a brilliant exhibition of everything that made the Giallo such an amazing genre, and solidified Sergio Martino as one of the most prominate filmmakers within the Eurocult film world. There are little bursts of creativity throughout Mrs. Wardh… that simply left me, as a viewer and lover of the genre, with a wide grin across my face. Martino is let loose here, and completely decorates the screen with as many wild and unnaturally vibrant primary colors as one could possibly find. Martino frames shots without any care for blase film school techniques. He is a filmmaker that creates what he feels will look best, and if that makes him a style over substance director then so be it. In example, during a tense moment where a female character is being stalked, Martino uses a low angle that looks up toward the female as she walks around an absolutely gorgeous park setting. While the normal frame of mind would tell you this is a shot used to show superiority and strength, Martino manages to get quite the opposite effect by his use of audio cues and the simple narrative formula up until this point. We know that this is a woman in trouble, our soundtrack reinforces this and Martino manages to use whatever angles and techniques are at his disposal in order to get his point across.
A sexual travelogue, what vices may have been considered “strange” by the standards of the 1970’s are seen in a different light by today’s standards. The “strange vice” from our title refers to the S&M relationship that the titular Mrs. Wardh had with Jean (Rassimov) before leaving and restarting her life. Sex dominates the world that our characters live within, but rarely does the film seem to simply feature sex for the sake of titilation. There are moments such as a bathing sequence where Fenech displays her skin, as well as the party scene where two women rip the clothes off of one another for no real reason, but this enters the audience into this strange fantasy world of heightened sexuality. Dreamlike in its eroticism, the flashbacks that Fenech’s character has are some of the most beautiful and exquisite shots of their type that I have ever seen. Played entirely in slow motion, with the beautiful score provided by Nora Orlandi () playing along gently in the background, we watch as Mrs. Wardh is slapped around and made love to by the dangerous and violent Jean. These sequences, where we also see Jean playing around with sharp objects, go far beyond what these sequences probably call for but are spectacular for delving so far into cinematic style.

The Conclusion
A tremendous piece of Giallo cinema. While it may not top the very pillars of what the genre is capable of, it certainly establishes everything that makes these films so though provoking and fun. A taboo pushing piece of mystery storytelling, with a brilliant cast and visual style for days, I have to say I definitely recommend it. If you’re in the mood for something interest in the world of the Giallo, you can’t go wrong with this title. I give it a four out of five!

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