Oscar, an elderly, half-deaf railway worker hammering away at the railtrack is struck dead by a speeding train, in what seems like a freak accident. His three daughters, Simone (Femi Benussi), Rosalie (Jeanette Len) and Colette (Valeria Ciangotti) are left wondering how they will manage penniless, until the family lawyer reveals Oscar bequeathed them a handsome inheritance. There is one catch however, the girls cannot claim their fortune until Jeanot (Ernesto Coli), Oscar’s crippled, simple-minded, adopted son comes of age. This angers Rosalie’s obnoxious husband Leon (Ivo Garrani) no end. Meanwhile, Simone is having an affair with nightclub owner Jules (Isarco Ravaioli), who reckons the inheritance could help pay off his troublesome, estranged wife (Alessandra Maravia). One night Jeanot is caught spying on sexy Simone in the shower. Seemingly ridden with guilt, he throws himself under a train. A clear case of suicide? Tactless Inspector Gerard Greville (Tom Drake) is not so sure, given it turns out Jules was seen skulking near the railtrack. Then a mysterious murderer starts bumping off the rest of the family.
Gorgeous giallo staple Femi Benussi made a lot of movies where she was called on to simply disrobe then die. Here in an early role, Benussi gets naked as expected yet also essays among the more complex, faceted heroines in her filmography. Her compelling presence coupled with a script laden with an array of satisfying twists would have elevated Deadly Inheritance - known in Italy as Omicidio per vocazione (Vocation For Murder) and alternately L’assassino ha le mani pulite (The Killer Has Clean Hands) - to the top tier of giallo thrillers were it not for the fumbled direction of Vittori Sindoni. The film marked the debut of the writer-producer-director who, although largely unsung by English speaking fans of Italian cinema, remains active to this day. His most recent film, My House Is Full of Mirrors (2010) starred Sophia Loren, whose prestigious presence suggests he may be held in higher regard in his native land.
Set in provincial France, the film is beautifully shot in eye-popping colours by Ascenzio Rossi and packs plenty of paisley period charm, including occasional cutaways to the same group of groovy young things shaking their stuff on the dance floor at Jules’ nightclub. Yet the suspense sequences fall flat due to Sindoni’s slapdash handling while he makes a right old hash of the labyrinthine murder mystery. He devotes the lengthy midsection of the film to the pursuit of one suspect who is so obviously a red herring yet unsympathetic to the point where it is impossible to care about their fate. Nevertheless the film does succeed in keeping the viewer guessing. The killer’s identity comes as a genuine surprise and even explains a few flaws in the plot. These include the actions of Inspector Greville who stands proudly beside Fernando Sancho in Voodoo Black Exorcist (1973) and Eduardo Fajardo in The Killer Must Kill Again (1975) as one of the great dickhead detectives in Euro-horror.
As essayed by American actor Tom Drake, who once serenaded Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), the tactless police inspector proves truly priceless. Hercule Poirot he ain’t as Greville goes around mocking murder victims and antagonising suspects, then cements his idiocy by declaring “Only Sherlock Holmes had all the evidence, but then in his stories the butler always did it.” Greville eventually settles on Simone as prime suspect, reasoning that the style of the murders “are so typically feminine.” When winsome youngest sister Colette meekly asks whether she is a suspect too, the detective kindly replies: “No, you’re just a fool.” However, for all its flaws and occasional idiocies, the climax proves haunting and suspenseful. Music by Stefano Torrisi, which goes crazy with the Hammond organ whenever the unseen killer is on the prowl.