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Silvio Amadio
Jenny Tamburi, Silvano Tranquilli, Rosalba Neri
Writing Credits:
Silvio Amadio, Francesco Villa

After the death of her mother under strange circumstances, a teenage girl quickly begins to suspect that her recently widowed stepfather may be involved.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Italian LPCM Monaural
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $99.95
Release Date: 7/26/2022
Available Only As Part of 3-Movie “Giallo Essentials (Black Edition)” Set

• Audio Commentary with Film Historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
• Both English and Italian Versions of Film
• “Smile of the Hyena” Featurette
• Extended Nude Scenes
• Image Gallery


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Smile Before Death [Blu-Ray] (1972)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 17, 2022)

With 1972’s Smile Before Death, we head back to the heyday of the Italian Giallo genre. At the start, Dorothy Emerson (Zora Gheorgieva) dies of an apparent suicide.

This leaves her philandering husband Marco (Silvano Tranquilli) as the heir to her vast wealth. As it happens, he maintained a sexual affair with Dorothy’s best friend Gianna (Rosalba Neri) that led to the murder of his wife.

One obstacle stands in the way of Marco’s life of wealth and privilege: the fact that Nancy Thompson (Jenny Tamburi) – Dorothy’s estranged teen daughter from a prior marriage – gets control of the estate when she turns 20. Inevitably, Marco and Gianna plot to take Nancy out of the picture as well.

Or do they? If nothing else, Smile proves unusually complicated in the way it twists expectations.

For one, we get flashbacks that paint Marco as more sympathetic than anticipated. Not that these forgive him violent crimes, but they offer a look at how Dorothy treated him.

These scenes allow us to think of Marco as more than just the money-grubbing villain. They also depict Dorothy as a pretty awful person – again, not one who deserved to die, but she doesn’t come across as the suffering victim we might expect.

Further complications come from the depiction of Nancy. Whereas most films would show her as the naïve teen who deals with threats from sophisticated elders, Smile turns the tables.

In that regard, we see how Nancy slowly starts to manipulate Marco and Gianna. Nancy uses her sexual charms on both of them and sets into motion unexpected events.

Unfortunately, these twists sound better in theory than in execution. While I appreciate that Smile takes some unusual paths, the end result never becomes particular tense or engaging.

As a psychological thriller, Smile simply lacks characters well-drawn enough to create real drama. In effect, all those plot twists feel like gimmicks since they seem to exist to forgive the movie’s other flaws.

Burdened with an oddly jaunty score, much of Smile plods along with nothing more than sexual tension to titillate the viewer. Given that this means ample nudity, the heterosexual males in the audience seem unlikely to complain, but this parade of skin doesn’t serve the plot especially well.

After 75 minutes of sinister shenanigans and occasional violence, Smile pours on the story curveballs, and these don’t manage to redeem the semi-tedium already experienced. It doesn’t help that the Big Reveal at the end seems like it comes out of nowhere, and the movie’s Really Final Ironic Twist also feels gratuitous.

I do appreciate that Smile finds some sneaky ways to subvert genre expectations. Unfortunately, it does too little with the thriller elements to become more than mediocre.

The Disc Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

Smile Before Death appears in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with an erratic presentation.

Overall sharpness appeared positive. At times, the image could be a little on the soft side, but it usually boasted fairly appealing delineation and clarity.

I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent. Grain seemed natural.

Print flaws turned into the main concern here, as more than a few examples of nicks, marks, lines and specks cropped up during the film. Though never heavy, they created distractions.

With its fairly low-key palette, the colors of Smile didn’t leap off the screen, but they worked fine. The hues came across as reasonably full and well-depicted.

Blacks were fairly dark and dense, while shadows displayed solid smoothness. Outside of the various source defects, this was a good image.

I thought the film’s PCM monaural soundtrack seemed typical for its era and origins. Music lacked a lot of range, but the score seemed fairly full and well-rendered.

Effects followed suit, with tones that came across as acceptably accurate, if a bit thin an occasionally rough. The dubbed nature left the lines as a bit unnatural, and speech tended to sound somewhat sibilant and edgy. I felt this was a mediocre mix for a cheap flick from the 1970s.

Note that the comments above addressed the film’s Italian version. This disc also included an English edition.

Given that the original looped all the lines – as was the tradition in Italian cinema – the English version didn’t suffer from speech that appeared less natural. Also, the actors performed the lines in English, as their mouth movements matched that version better than the Italian one.

This creates a dilemma about which to choose. Normally I’d go with the “native” Italian, but since the lines were performed in English, that made the English version more acceptable.

I also thought the English performances weren’t notably worse than the Italian ones. Often the English dub comes from terrible voice actors, but those involved here did okay. I’d probably still go Italian because I thought the voice acting seemed a bit better, but the English dub is more appealing than expected.

Note that if you choose the English version from the main menu, it will offer alternate credits with the text in English. The movies remain identical otherwise, and you can still flip from one language to the other as you watch no matter which you select at the start.

A few extras appear, and we get an audio commentary from film scholars Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story/characters, cast and crew, genre domains and production notes.

Howarth and Thompson are commentary veterans, and they interact well as they cover the movie. Granted, one shouldn't expect a ton of traditional "film historian" content, so we don't learn a lot about the movie's creation. Nonetheless, they reflect on it in a compelling way and give us some worthwhile insights.

Smile of the Hyena brings us 23-minute, 25-second chat with film journalist/director’s son Silvio Amadio. He discusses… I don’t know.

Amadio speaks in Italian and the program lacks English subtitles. This may stand as a defect for the screener copy I got from Arrow and the retail version hopefully will come with translated text.

Unsurprisingly, Extended Nude Scenes delivers exactly what that title claims. We get silent footage of Jenny Tamburi and Rosalba Neri as the former poses nude for the latter and then both get romantic. I heartily endorse this compilation.

Finally, an Image Gallery presents a whopping 11 publicity shots. It seems like a waste of time.

As a psychological thriller, Smile Before Death manages a few intriguing moments. However, these prove unable to overcome the movie’s slow pace and general aimlessness. The Blu-ray comes with erratic but acceptable picture and audio as well as a few bonus features. This becomes a watchable but lackluster genre entry.

Note that this Blu-ray of Smile Before Death comes as part of a 3-movie package called “Giallo Essentials”. It also includes 1972’s The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive and 1974’s The Killer Reserved 9 Seats.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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