“You’ve hidden my panties haven’t you?”
Welcome to Missed Connections, a weekly column where I get to highlight films that are little known and/or unfairly maligned. I’ll be shining a light in two directions ‐ I hope to introduce you to movies you’ve never seen and possibly never heard of, and I’ll attempt to defend films that history, critical consensus, and maybe even your own memories haven’t been very kind to.
This week’s pick is a lurid Italian thriller that’s often incorrectly labeled a giallo (or at least bundled together with them) presumably due to its dramatic title, plot setup, and Italian filmmakers. Instead it’s a mystery with multiple suspects and a basis in real Australian history.
The partially burned corpse of a young woman wearing yellow pajamas is found on an Australian beach, and the authorities are in the dark regarding both her identity and that of her killer. Det. Thompson (Ray Milland) is dogged about solving the case despite not being assigned it, but his peers decide the better way to find answers is to put it all out there for the public’s assistance. And I do mean “all out there” as they encase the dead woman’s body in a clear tank filled with formaldehyde and open it up to public viewings in the hope that someone will recognize her. It’s as morbid as it is ridiculous.
Elsewhere in Sydney we meet Linda (Dalila Di Lazzaro, Phenomena), a young woman carrying on relationships with three different men. She works a waitress job aboard a ferry, and it’s clear that while she finds something necessary in the men she lacks real happiness with them. The police ask her about her friend Evelyn’s whereabouts — a possible pajama girl identification? — but she knows nothing and instead recalls the night a yellow pajama-clad Evelyn made uninvited moves on her. Sex and power connect us all it seems.
Writer/director Flavio Mogherini (Lunatics and Lovers) takes a note from a real murder in the 30s — one that wasn’t solved until a decade later, and even then not without question — and crafts a bleak tale with The Pajama Girl Case. While it’s definitely not a giallo, it’s hard to actually place the film in one of the traditional genres it seems designed for. The movie goes from sexy to sleazy to sad, all under the guise of a suspense film, and the result is a solid drama destined to disappoint audiences “promised” a saucy thriller.
The film turned forty this year, so spoilers shouldn’t be a concern, but for those of you planning a first-time watch of the movie I suggest skipping this post and returning later.
Mogherini sets up two threads here — the investigation into an unidentified murdered woman and the love affairs of another young lady. The film’s first act suggests the possibility that Linda (listed as Glenda on IMDB, but the dubbing clearly refers to her as Linda) is friends with the unidentified dead woman and that her dalliances might see her next on the killer’s list. Viewers paying attention, though, will suspect otherwise as the film nears the thirty minute mark.
These aren’t parallel stories. They’re sequential ones.
Linda is the dead woman.
Once that reality hits it becomes clear we’re not watching a film with a madman preparing to strike again. Instead of a typical thriller, the film reveals itself as a drama of oppression, loneliness, and hopelessness showing us both the end result and the depressing journey to reach it. Linda wants to settle down and simply be loved, but the affection of the three men in her life comes with complications and limitations well beyond the obvious. One is wealthy, older, and wholly uninterested in anything outside of a side piece of meat. Another is a well off and younger but equally focused strictly on sex. And the third, her class equal and the one most likely true in his love, is too easily manipulated into mistrusting and judging her.
She can’t win with these guys, and the emptiness she sees in her life leads her down a desolate road towards the world’s most depressing sex scene as she gives herself over to two sweaty strangers. It’s a hefty fall from the sexy heights of the film’s earlier scenes of lusty antics — Di Lazzarro is a stunner in and out of her clothes — and it’s an undeniably sad descent for the young woman. Her “crime” was a lack of faith in herself, and by the time she starts to set things right the course is set for an incident she won’t survive.
The men, meanwhile, follow unfortunate real-world traditions of treating Linda like property. They expect certain things of her, things they believe they’ve earned through their own affections, and that possessive attitude will be everyone’s downfall. Interestingly, Mogherini has two of the men complaining about being treated like second class citizens in Australia — one’s Italian, the other German — but they fail to see their hypocrisy in how they treat women in general and Linda in particular. It’s a far more aware film than the genre (that it’s mistakenly attributed to) typically features.
For all of the drama the film still manages some procedural highlights as the police work the case, chase leads, and explore the evidence. (A lot of time is given over to examining grains of rice.) It’s in this half of the tale that the movie does manage something of a surprise. While sharp viewers will quickly catch on to the film’s non-chronological nature they’ll most likely be blindsided by a move straight out of Psycho that’s best left for viewers to discover on their own. It’s no game-changer, but it’s an odd touch.
The film looks good throughout, and while it’s no threat to the visual stylings of other Italian filmmakers from Bava to Argento, it’s an attractive tale of woe. The Australian landscape is a big help here, as is Miss Di Lazzarro, and Riz Ortolani‘s (Don’t Torture a Duckling) catchy synth score is equally engaging to the senses.
The Pajama Girl Case walks and talks like a genre duck until you actually sit down to watch it, but it’s no lesser the film for it. There’s no happy ending here, and that alone makes it more human tale than most genre films can claim.
Follow along every Monday with Missed Connections — my appreciations of movies that failed to find an audience for one reason or another.
Buy The Pajama Girl Case on DVD from Amazon or watch via Amazon Prime.
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