The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971)

Shameless have been spoiling us lately with Blu-ray releases of gialli in their catalogue, previously released as DVD only. The latest is another of Sergio Martino’s distinctive gialli, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, which not only marks his first foray into the giallo, but his first collaboration with the iconic Edwige Fenech. While Bava and Argento might most readily spring to mind as the earliest and finest purveyors of black-gloved killers, Martino puts his own stamp on the sub-genre with a dreamy (or rather nightmarish) approach and more than a fair share of nudity.

Politician’s wife Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech) is haunted by her violent past relationship with a man named Jean (Ivan Rassimov) when she starts receiving cryptic messages, seemingly from him, while women all over the city are being viciously murdered by an unknown assailant. Fearing for her life and finding little comfort from her husband (Alberto de Mendoza), Julie turns instead to handsome George (George Hilton), cousin of her best friend Carol (Cristina Airoldi). As the murders increase and the threats intensify, Julie’s grasp of reality begins to crumble, and those around her struggle to help.

One of the delightful things about watching The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is just how distinctively a Sergio Martino film it is. This is an incredibly stylish film, and it’s fair to say that, as often the case with gialli, that takes precedence over the substance of the film. The plot is thin, to say the least, and serves as a simple basis for the unravelling of a woman’s mind, the unearthing of her secrets and a lot – a lot – of nudity. Early on the formula seems simple – a woman is killed, Julie gets a note, Julie gets naked, a woman gets killed, Julie gets a note…Julie gets naked. This seems to, well, intensify, once she’s embarked on an affair with George, and honestly, I wondered when the murdering was going to start again. Thankfully, it did, and the plot at least continues apace toward something of a twisted ending. I’m particularly glad not to have, say, read the Wikipedia page for the film prior to seeing it, given that entirely ruins the entire plot, as the final reveals of the film unfold in an immensely satisfying way.

Fenech is, naturally, the star of the show here, but she’s ably supported by some very familiar faces of Italian genre cinema, with Hilton, Rassimov and de Mendoza making up her triumvirate of men. The soundtrack, too, is pure giallo, and it’s with some joy that I’ve been introduced to a composer I was previously entirely unfamiliar with, namely Nora Orlandi. Her score is perhaps subtle compared to the more familiar sounds of the subgenre, but nevertheless memorable. There are lengthy set pieces – both for murders and lovers – but I think by far my favourite segment of the film was the closing third, set in Sitges, which seemed to be an entire set-piece unto itself. Any misgivings I had about the earlier parts of the film were swiftly undone. If there’s still perhaps one thing lacking from the film that I would have liked to have seen more of, it would be a more thorough exploration of the titular vice – an apparent sexual quirk of our female lead which is only touched upon in flashback.

This release from Shameless features lengthy interviews with Martino and Fenech, which is the sort of extra feature I’m always pleased to see. All in all then it’s wonderful to see a milestone of the giallo get the HD treatment, and this release from Shameless is a must-have, whether encountering the film for the first time, or revisiting it as an old favourite.

The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Shameless Films.