Wednesday 12 October 2011

The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1970)

It’s giallo time! Let’s make sure we’ve got the right ingredients. Gorgeous Edwige Fenech wearing very little and frequently nothing at all? Check. Mad Ivan Rassimov? Check. Hunky George Hilton? Bottle of J&B placed with the label prominently visible no matter where the two actresses in the scene concerned are standing or sitting? Screenplay most likely written by Ernesto Gastaldi? Check check check. With all these elements at director Sergio Martino’s fingertips the plot seems less than important, especially as we know in a couple of years he’s going to make TORSO, which is one third brilliance to two thirds random nudity and silliness. In fact that’s pretty much what we get here, but unfortunately with a little less brilliance than we might ideally like. A serial killer is terrorising Vienna (which is presumably where the Italian crew felt like taking their holidays that year), murdering young women in states of undress. While this is going on Edwige is living with her diplomat husband Alberto de Mendoza (who would be unrecognisable as Pujardov the mad monk in HORROR EXPRESS in a couple of years’ time) in a flat the interior décor of which can only have been thought up by someone who usually comes up with the design for types of toothpaste. Edwige’s unhappy, probably because she’s no longer with lover Ivan Rassimov, who used to cater to her ‘strange vice’, but perhaps because the matching horizontally striped curtains and wallpaper of her living room are enough to drive anyone to have a plethora of Martini bottles lying around. The bedroom’s not much better, where the stripes are vertical and brown, there’s a big red telephone and a large carton of cigarettes is always prominently on display. When Edwige’s friends start dying she suspects Ivan, who keeps sending her roses with cryptic messages attached, but then she discovers him dead so it can’t be him, can it? New lover George Hilton has some of the weirdest shirts ever seen in a 1970 film and a jacket that probably allowed him access to some of the less heterosexual nightclubs of the day but not much else. He doesn’t seem to cater to her ‘strange vice’ but then seeing as not much is made of it we’re not terribly sure of what it is until much later in the film. Does she like having her woolly jumper torn off her in the rain? Of having brandy poured over her naked body? No – it seems she has a ‘blood fetish’, which is explained late in the day by a trendy doctor in a sports car (there really shouldn’t be any other type in these films). We get to see very little of it indeed but to be honest that’s probably just as well.
            Halfway through the killer gets bumped off by one of his potential victims, so what exactly is going on? Whatever it is, it involves Edwige decamping to Spain with George where she ends up being gassed in the kitchen which, in the best sequence in the film, is made to look like a suicide attempt. By the end it’s clear Martino has seen STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and has decided to put together his own daft nudity-filled version of it. The ending requires the usual mammoth set of coincidences that no giallo fan would be satisfied without, and as the car with our heroine and the trendy well-dressed doctor drives away through the picturesque countryside we are once again treated to the film’s main theme. For once this isn’t composed by either Ennio Morricone or Bruno Nicolai but instead by Nora Orlandi and it’s not at all bad, with a couple of haunting melodies that do get a bit overused. THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH isn’t actually that memorable but there are moments that make it worth an evening’s viewing when your Argentos have been watched to death.


  1. Edwige! Sigh!
    You are right that it is not that memorable a giallo. For all its nudity there are much more sleazy and outregous movies out there. The sheer weirdness of Miraglias The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave - which is a must see - or the strange Don´t torture an ugly duckling comes to mind.

    But Mrs. Wardh has something which makes it fun. The sheer 70ness of its decor, the ridiculous ending which I guess was a shocker at its time. It is just fun to watch, and compared to other italien or french movies of the era which seem to move at a snails pace it is pretty competently done.

    And of course it has Edwige. You can forgive everything if a movie has Edwige. Or Barbara Bouchet. :-)

  2. Ah yes! The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave! I haven't seen that one in a while - I must dig it out. Don't Torture A Duckling is pretty good as well, and certainly better than Fulci's Lizard in a Woman's Skin.

    Mrs Wardh isn't great but I've watched it twice now and there's a lot of entertainment value to be had. I missed out mentioning that when they break into Ivan Rassimov's flat they find a collection of animals including an iguana and an eagle. Presumably they hadn't settled on a title yet!

  3. I take it that the "trendy doctor in a sports car" refers to his clothes, not either his treatment technique or his vehicle (although both could also be trendy).

    I look forward to Theatre Proberto presenting a "trendy doctor in a sports car" on stage, complete with papier-mâché automobile.

  4. Yeah Edwige French, sexy lady...

    Gotta love the giallos from the 1960s and 1970s.

    While I liked most giallos one of the best I watched was Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye.

    While not much in the nudity...I found the story to be nice...however the pet ape was obviously some guy in a suit which made me laugh.

    I remember seeing the actor Anton Diffring who I recognized in an ep. of UK Thriller and other english movies.