Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key Review
Warning: this review is chock-full of spoilers. If you haven't already seen it, I advise you to skip down to the technical section of the review.
Incidentally, is it true you slept with your mother, Oliviero? When you were already grown up, I mean.
Is it true about you being a two-bit whore?
Well, they might be considered two bits well spent.
The dialogue in this 1972 giallo offering from Sergio Martino plays a much more significant role than most of the films of this genre, which is unusually sedate and focuses more on the interplay between its protagonists than on the usual grandiose set-pieces. Characterisation and dialogue tend rarely to be the strongest points of the giallo, and Martino's films are no exception to this rule, so it is perhaps no surprise that the film is ultimately a flawed piece of work. It may, however, be the director's most interesting film, even if it is less assured than his more traditional offerings (such as The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh). In his eagerness to avoid the usual genre conventions, Martino may still end up serving the usual clichés, although admittedly in a less familiar form, but Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is an intriguing film beyond just its ridiculously long title.
Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli), a failed writer and an alcoholic, spends his days holding decadent parties in his crumbling mansion for the local hippie community, while simultaneously subjecting his long-suffering wife Irina (Anita Strindberg) to a continuous barrage of mental and physical abuse. When Oliviero's lover, a young student, is found brutally murdered, Oliviero immediately becomes the primary suspect, so when the Rouvignys' servant Brenda is found dead on the premises, he goes to great lengths to conceal it. As his paranoia builds, his abuse of Irina becomes more and more savage. Trapped in an impossible situation, she becomes increasingly desperate, but a ray of hope unexpectedly enters the household in the form of Floriana (Edwige Fenech). Oliviero's worldy-wise niece, she is a forthright young woman who won't stand for any nonsense, and as Irina finds comfort first in her arms and later in her bed, the pair of them hatch a plot to deal with Oliviero... or, at least, that's what would initially seem to be going on. As events progress, however, it becomes apparent that initial appearances can be deceptive...
Looking at the line-up on either side of the camera, you would be forgiven for anticipating another run of the mill giallo. When he made Your Vice, Martino already had three solid gialli under his belt, with the same troupe of actors and crew members having followed him from title to title, including composer Bruno Nicolai and writer Ernesto Gastaldi, the most prolific giallo scribe of the period. Your Vice, however, shakes up the formula, extracting a far bigger influence from Edgar Allan Poe's tale The Black Cat (this source is actually acknowledged in the film's opening credits) than from the lurid, yellow-covered paperbacks from which the genre took its name. In terms of casting, too, the film refuses to play by the rules. Luigi Pistilli, normally a bit player, here takes on the leading male role, while the normally glamorous Anita Strindberg (a former model) looks decidedly haggard, sporting a frightful blood-coloured wig and spending most of the film's running time grimacing. The biggest surprise here is Edwige Fenech who, with her normally flowing locks cropped to shoulder length, plays something other than the damsel in distress for the first time in her career. Bedding almost the entire principal cast at one point or another, she is anything but a victim, and this heralded a major change in her career path. The actors all do a commendable job, with Pistilli and Stringberg in particular shining in their respectable roles. Yes, for once in a giallo, the performances are uniformally good across the board, and the characters are also given some sense of depth. We believe in Irina's plight, and Oliviero is such a thoroughly despicable individual - a racist, sexist, alcoholic wife-beater who, it is implied, had sexual relations with his own mother, and also has no qualms about bedding his niece - that the character literally leaps off the screen and seems frighteningly real.
So far, so unconventional. However, as the film progresses, it becomes more and more apparent that Your Vice is not quite as original as it would initially seem to be. Although Martino does a good job of establishing an atmosphere of dread in the first half, as we witness Irina being subjected to all manner of abuse by her emotionally bankrupt wreck of a husband, a number of the later plot twists just don't ring true. In particular, we are expected to believe that Irina, brow-beaten to the point of insanity, was capable of masterminding a convoluted scheme enabling her to dispose of her husband and share the subsequent inheritance with her illicit lover (Ivan Rassimov). Even more troubling, though, is the film's inherent misogyny. Patriarchal overtones are nothing new in gialli (particularly those written by Gastaldi), but they are taken to new heights here, as Oliviero's constant labelling of both Irina and Floriana as devious whores takes on much more sinister undertones when we discover that, in their own way, both women are precisely that. The familiar motif of the hysterical female comes into play, and one almost gets the impression that Martino and his screenwriters believe that Irina's scheming somehow, in retrospect, validates the domestic abuse dished out by Oliviero. (Indeed, it is quite disturbing that, despite the hideousness of Oliviero's personality, he more often than not seems to be used to give voice to the viewpoints held by the writers, particularly with regard to nationalism and sexuality.) Of course, just to twist the knife in further, we are also subjected to a sapphic tryst between Irina and Floriana (because we all know that women who sleep with other women are either evil, or insane, or both, don't we?). In pure plotting terms, a bizarre mislead featuring a serial killer who is killed and identified at around the half-way point serves as nothing more than a distraction and feels as if it belongs in a different movie, while a dirt bike racing interlude adds absolutely nothing and detracts from the decadent atmosphere of the rest of the film.
For all this faults, however, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is an unusual example of the giallo genre, and even if its uniqueness is only skin deep, it remains an intriguing entry and one that giallo fans should definitely seek out.
NoShame's initial line-up of releases featured PAL to NTSC standards converted transfers, but thankfully for the most recent additions to their catalogue, they have dropped this practice and are now delivering proper NTSC progressive transfers. As such, the image quality of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is a noticeable improvement over that of their earlier Sergio Martino titles, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and The Case of the Scorpion's Tail, although there are still a number of problems. Most noticeably, a strange stair-stepping effect is visible on diagonal lines, suggesting a rushed scaling job (and prompting speculation that their transfers are still being sourced from PAL masters but being corrected to the proper frame rate). This effect is noticeable mainly in wider shots and is generally not particularly visible in close-ups, but it is distracting nonetheless. I also feel that far too much filtering has been applied, which has the effect of freezing the grain patterns and making the image look decidedly unfilmlike, as well as reducing the overall level of detail. Furthermore, the colours look unnaturally saturated to me, as if they have been boosted beyond their natural levels. Overall, it's not a bad transfer, and is certainly watchable for the most part, but it's not up to the standards of the transfers being offered by the likes of Blue Underground.
English and Italian dubs, in their original mono, have been provided, along with English subtitles that correspond to the Italian dialogue. The quality of these tracks is not brilliant, with some noticeable crackling and distortion on both (the English track seems to be affected more than the Italian variant), but they are serviceable overall and certainly sound a good deal better than on the earlier grey market release by Shoarma Digital (for years the only way of seeing this film on DVD).
As with their other two Martino releases, NoShame have served up an interesting documentary on the making of the film. Unveiling the Vice runs for 23 minutes and is comprised of interviews with Sergio Martino, Edwige Fenech and Ernesto Gastaldi, in which they discuss their memories of the making of the film. A number of their comments are very interesting (and at times baffling - Fenech's insinuation that her character's homosexual tendencies show her to have a "wicked streak" is particularly eyebrow-raising), and overall one gets a sense that everyone involved has fond memories of this film. Martino, especially, admits that, while he didn't think it was anything special at the time, he now considers it to be one of his better works.
Trailers for four other Sergio Martino films released under the NoShame label are also included, although disappointingly there is no trailer for Your Vice.
A gallery, containing poster designs and some rather soft still photographs, completes the package.
With Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, all five of Sergio Martino's gialli are now available on DVD, and while it may not be his best film, it is one of his most interesting. If the audio-visual presentation is still not perfect, it is better than NoShame's earlier efforts by leaps and bounds, and if they are able to continue this upward spiral, the results here bode well for their future releases.