Whilst waiting for her husband to show up to take her aunt and uncle to the airport, Kitty passes the time by using one of those public telescope things you get sometimes at viewing points. Seeking out her own house, she accidentally stumbles on a murder-in-progress, seen through the window of a residence. Just when she's about to see the killer's face as he leaves the house (the fact that we can see his face in profile throughout the murder is never mentioned, possibly because the person doubling for the murderer is not actually a character/official actor in the film) her pre-paid time at the tele ends. After initially struggling to convince the police of what she saw (see Death Walks at Midnight for more), things swiftly progress to the point where eyewitnesses who saw the killer making his escape are turning up dead, and it turns out that the killer may have previous-an Australian ballet dancer was murdered in similar circumstances a short time before. Top of the range forensics work (not really) reveals that the killer utilised a cane around the crime scenes. When a third ballet dancer, who was known to Kitty and her husband, is also murdered, it seems that the solution is to be found in a local dance academy...
Remarkably, the idea that the murder of three ballerinas may be linked to their shared profession is presented as being a piece of deduction worthy of Sherlock Holmes when Alberto, Kitty's limping husband, stumbles upon the notion. Certainly it's a line of investigation which hasn't occurred to the dimwitted police force, whose entire process seems to revolve around pressing innocent citizens into service as bait to lure the killer out into the open (indeed, the investigating inspector makes no bones about this being their tactic in a conversation with Alberto, one of his baits). The only fish who takes a bite out of this approach is the cane-using chief of police, who tries to pick up Kitty when she poses as a prostitute. The film seems to hold authority figures in disdain-something established early on when Kitty seeks help in reporting the murder she's witnessed. What she thinks is a policeman is actually an off-duty fireman, who couldn't be less moved by her claims of having witnessed a murder. This performance level is maintained by the police, who focus on the cane lead rather than the ballet lead, despite the film taking place in a world in which the majority of the population are seemingly perambulatorily challenged. Just as how in The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire everyone in rainy Ireland sports natty sunglasses, the Rome of this film would seem to be the epicentre of a thriving cane retail business.
After a fairly classic set-up-voyeurism, a black-clad knife-wielding killer (identified by the fuzz as that most gialloey of characters, the Sex Killer) and a husband for a suspect-the film goes slightly off-piste in its approach. It initially seems primed to be what Michael McKenzie would term an 'F Giallo', with Nieves Navarro's Kitty the focus of both the plot and the killer's ultimate attentions, but somewhere along the way the narrative focus shifts somewhat, and ends up completely unhinged (to the point that her character's main function towards the end is to take the piss. You'll understand when you watch the film [and it has to be said that normal service does resume at the very end, with Kitty assuming the role of victim]). Robert Hoffmann's Alberto, by virtue of his amazing brainwave linking the murder of ballet dancers to ballet, becomes the de facto chief investigator (as stated, the police ultimately prove worthless), but he is literally and figuratively scrambling around in the dark when he breaks into the ballet academy which links the victims, unsure of for what he's really searching. This turns out to be a photograph which shows (SPOILERSish) a ballet pianist accompanying a ballet dancer (one of the victims), which apparently is proof of the pianist's guilt, despite the fact that we've previously seen him accompanying another of the victims IRL without anyone batting an eye. But then, in a twist worthy of a poorly-written giallo, it turns out that there was no need to even pursue an investigation of the ballet school, as the killer's wife finds some notes, which conveniently confess his guilt, hidden among his sheet music.
So, ultimately, all the investigations and using-people-as-live-bait was for nought. But then again, the meat of a giallo really exists around the investigation, not within it, so this isn't a terminal failing of the film, but it does suggest a certain deficiency at script level. And such limp (oh!) plotting would be fine if the film was filled with great music, style, sex and all the rest of the things that giallohounds love. And here's where things get weird-the music is mostly forgettable, apart from one droning sting which effortlessly generates tension early on in the film, but is curiously absent for the climax (which plays largely sans musical accompaniment [semi-ironic, given the profession of the killer]). As for style-there's a shit-ton of handheld shots which on a purely technical level are fairly bad, but there are too many of them for it not to be somewhat of a stylistic choice-an attempt to add kinetic energy and paper over a paper-thin narrative which ultimately is about a woman finding some pieces of paper off-screen. There is sex and nudity aplenty, typically presented in a voyeuristic rather than erotic style. And there's not a huge amount of gore, but what's there is decent-aided by the use of pig carcasses rather than dummies. But overall, there's something just a bit off about the film, and it's hard to know whether this is by design on the part of Maurizio Pradeaux or just accidental by dint of amateurishness.
Narratively, the film almost starts in the wrong place, with the murder of the Australian having been committed beforehand, and only existing as something the characters reference. The past, and events which occur outside the timeframe of the film, is no stranger to gialli, of course-childhood or adulthood trauma suffered in the past accounts for a large percentage of the killers' motivations (eg here). It's just unusual for a murder that's part of the main sequence of (three) killings, thus forming part of the central narrative, not to be represented on-screen. There's further off-kilterishness when we essentially have the field of potential suspects narrowed to 2 with fully half an hour left, when an eyewitness reacts with terror upon seeing a photograph of some of the film's characters. You could charitably say that there are four suspects, given there are 4 people in the photo, but two of them are women, and the person body doubling for the killer in the opening scene could not have been less feminine if he tried. Furthermore, one of these two suspects, despite being ostensibly a main character, doesn't actually say anything in the film (something which isn't explained). And as an aside to the furthermore, the two non-suspect-but-theoretically-suspect women are sisters/twins, played by the same actress, something which is not made at all clear for quite some time in the film-Pradeaux trying to bamboozle us, or just being bad at his job?
Having said all that, I do like films where the viewer is forced to pay close attention to proceedings to figure out what's going on, in effect operating as a kind of amateur detective at the level of plot-see Sonno Profondo for an extreme example of this. As I've said, I'm not sure whether or not this was an deliberate choice by the filmmakers, but at the end of the day, who cares? It is what it is, and what it is is... what*?
PS It's worth pointing out that the German version of the film offers a different explanation to the English and Italian versions, in which the killer is pretending to suffer from limp issues (little double entendre there, which works very neatly indeed). In the German dub, the limp (walking) is real, reawoken by a kind of PTSD, and the limp (willy) is part of the general humiliation/motivation. This works better for me, although because we properly only see the killer walk once, it doesn't really matter whether or not they were pretending to need a cane. In some ways, these different explanations perfectly showcase how the giallo film diverges from the classic detective story-plot, so central to the latter, is just one of many key elements of the former, and sometimes isn't all that key at all.
*A slightly weird, yet slightly run-of-the-mill, giallo