Pill-popping drunk Minou spends her days lounging around her moddy apartment resolving to get her life in order, while her husband spends long hours at the office. Unfortunately, her life gets even more out of order when a strange man follows her one night, before pinning her to the ground and claiming that her husband is a murderer. After a creditor of her husband turns up dead under mysterious circumstances, Minou's faith in him, and her marriage, begins to crumble. The mysterious stalker man produces apparent proof, in the form of an audio recording, of her husband's complicity in the murder, and uses this as leverage to sleep with Minou. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of her problems, as the mysterious stalker man isn't done yet; he comes back with some forbidden photos of Minou and him having sex. Her repeated claims that she's being blackmailed fall on deaf ears due to a lack of evidence, resulting in her husband, as well as the police, being not above suspecting that the lady is going mad...*
This film was made just as Argento's era of dominance was beginning, and it represents a juncture between the Ernesto Gastaldi-led money-grabbing schemes, and the psychosexual madness of the new wave of gialli. Here, the central plot relies upon the police mistaking one of these motivations for the other, although the long arm of the law does reach out just in time to save the day (while we're at it, the justification a leading character gives for withholding crucial information from the police until the last minute is one of the more egregious examples of 'cinematic logic', which would hold absolutely no sway in the real world).
Women take centre stage here, with Dagmar Lassander's Minou struggling against the scepticism of her husband (Pier Paolo Capponi) and the unwanted attentions of her stalker (Simon Andreu, playing Ivan Rassimov), with only her friend Dominique (Nieves Navarro) seemingly on her side. Sexuality is in plentiful supply (which is not to say that there's much nudity, so perverts can get back in their box), with Minou's repeated submissions and humiliations contrasted with Dominique's carefree attitude to sex and sensuality. Things do go a bit far, however, when DOminique reacts to her friend's tale of her initial encounter with Andreu/Rassimov by longingly stating her wish to be the subject of similar rapey attentions. She also tries to explain away Minou's behaviour when they come clean about the adultery and blackmail, telling Capponi that his wife thought "like a woman."
That's not to say that Minou is reduced to a passive victim. She does lean heavily on her ever-present tranquiliser pills, which seem to have little effect, but she does show some bravery in seeking to take control of the blackmail situation, even though her attempts to do so prove futile. She's on the weak side, but she does acknowledge this, and laments the powerless of women in the macho culture in which she lives, something that could almost be seen as the thesis behind Dario Argento's approach to depicting terror in his first 15 years or so of work.
Even though she does resort to drink and drugs, the film doesn't really seek to use this to suggest any ambiguity as to whether the events depicted are real or imagined. Scenes such as the ingenious talking clock sequence leave us in no doubt as to the truth in what we've seen. Instead, the promoting of this ambiguity is part of the devilish plan which targetted Minou, as evidenced by the many instances where a crucial piece of evidence which would support her claims proves frustratingly elusive when she attempts to involve her husband or the police.
The aforementioned talking clock sequence is one such instance of this, as is a classic example of the 'cleared out apartment' scenario, where Minou brings everyone to the blackmailer's apartment only to find it completely abandoned and, apparently, looking as if it hasn't been inhabited for "years." (One can only assume that there was a healthy layer of dust, or else a particularly musty smell. Otherwise, I'd imagine it'd be quite hard to date how long a newly-seen room has been empty with any accuracy). The Inspector's investigations apparently prove that the room hasn't been inhabited for over a year, and nothing more is said of the matter-it's just one more apparent symptom of Minou's escalating paranoia and madness. Except it isn't; we've clearly seen that Andreu/Rassimov did live in the apartment, and yet the exact mechanics of how he managed to rent/inhabit it-and furnish and unfurnish it-undetected are never revealed. This is nothing new though; it seems to be an unwritten filmic rule that such disappearing acts can be pulled off without leaving a trace of evidence. It's just a shame that the characters in the films aren't aware of this rule, or else people like Minou wouldn't have such a hard time being believed.
Her pill-popping habit exists primarily as grist to the mill of the plot devised by the film's villain, in that is predisposes people to think that she's prone to madness and hallucinations. It's redolent of the portrayal of drugs in the later Death Walks at Midnight; which is to say that none of the positive effects of tranquilisers are even considered; instead, it's viewed as a Drug, which automatically makes it bad. Even the kindly doctor has no time for them. To be fair, tranquiliser abuse is definitely a bad thing, and could indeed lead to an escalation of paranoia etc, such as is apparently suffered by Minou. But alcohol abuse is also a bad thing, and yet the film doesn't seem to have any qualms about this vice; several characters, not least Minou's husband, seem to take everything that happens to them as an excuse for indulging in a cheeky whiskey.
In terms of the plot/mystery angle, the film is fairly low key. There are no murders until the final ten minutes, and precious few characters who could be considered 'suspects'. This is one of the films where we can plainly see who's menacing Minou (Andreu/Rassimov), but his true motivations, and the identity of any possible collaborators, is where the mystery lies. In many ways, the surprise here is not who's involved, but who's not. Some reasonably clever framing towards the end, which deliberately obscures the identity of one half of a bed-dwelling couple, is a moment of excellent misdirection. The filmmakers initially seem to have goofed by being too obvious in their obfuscation, only for it to turn out to be a deliberate overplaying of their hand, designed to make us condemn them for being too 'obvious'.
The final scene does come across as rather glib, all things considered, and the attempts at deep, psychological realism-an area to which the film occasionally closely strays- are left eating the dust of the car which drives off into the sunset. All scars, physical and psychological, are forgotten, and all is well with the world. Except, it's still the same world which represents a constant threat to women. And, one of the people in the car is the person who withheld crucial information from the police for an absurdly long time. But still, the baddies are dead, the goodies are alive, and, at the end of the day, this is a pulpy thriller designed to entertain an audience. It's on the slow end of the genre, particularly for the time it was made, but in the hands of the hugely underrated Ercoli, its emerges as a definite winner.
*The awkward way I've shoehorned the title into the synopsis there reflects the way in which it doesn't quite fit the film. It references Elio Petri's Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, which is fine, but removed from that 1970 context it just seems weird. But still, it's probably one of the less weird giallo titles overall, and it does succeed on a general mood, if not detail-specific, level.