The star-studded Italian whodunnit from 1975 The Sunday Woman makes its world debut on Blu-ray thanks to the folks at Radiance. Suave, working-class police detective Marcello Mastroianni is assigned to the murder of a dirty-minded lecher. A disgruntled maid points the finger at bored rich housewife Jacqueline Bissett and her closeted pal Jean-Louis Trintignant but neither has a convincing motive. The script and direction from a team of Italian comedy veterans give this handsomely mounted mystery a charming Thin Man-style irreverence. Radiance’s package is nicely appointed with a great-looking restoration and some informative new extras. Highly Recommended.
The Sunday Woman (La Donna della Domenica in the original Italian) is a perfect title for a mystery story. The unexpected combination of ordinary words makes for an uncanny enigma: What is a Sunday woman? Well, in the script by Oscar nominees Age & Scarpelli (The Organizer, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly), a Sunday woman is – sorry – a red herring. In a brief throwaway, Roman police commissioner Salvatore Santamaria (Marcello Mastroianni) reflects on the earthy, working-class woman who makes time to knock boots with him on Sundays. In one moment she is remembered and just as quickly she is forgotten. The moment has nothing to do with the mystery at hand, apart from an ironic comment on Santamaria’s values and social status.
Adapted from a beloved bestseller by another duo of mononyms, Fruttero & Lucentini, The Sunday Woman plays mostly like a class-conscious “A” riff on the popular Italian “B” genres of the ‘70s: giallo thrillers and poliziottescho procedurals. The murder at the core of the story is suitably lurid: a lecherous old architect called Garrone (Claudio Gora) is found clubbed to death by an oversized stone dildo in his Turin apartment. However, director Luigi Comencini doesn’t revel in gore or prurience (a brief glimpse of leading lady Jacqueline Bisset in the altogether notwithstanding). His approach is decidedly more personality-driven: he respects his characters and their idiosyncrasies just as much as he wants to make fun of the rigid class structure that governs those idiosyncrasies. It doesn’t feel right to call The Sunday Woman a comedy outright, but it is certainly infused with fizzy irreverence.
For example, Jacqueline Bisset’s bored, moneyed housewife Anna Carla seems like a slightly more sedate version of a classic screwball heroine. When she learns that a former maid has accused her of planning Garrone’s murder, she’s thrilled to be wrapped up in the investigation. Anna Carla’s closeted friend Massimo (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is also fingered by the maid, but he is far less eager to be involved. He’s paranoid that his relationship with the young, dark, and handsome Lello (Aldo Reggiani) will come to light. When Lello learns of the murder conspiracy accusation, he becomes determined to clear his boyfriend’s name and instigates an investigation of his own.
Comencini stages the film’s comic and thriller setpieces with equal adeptness. As Santamaria and Anna Carla go to interrogate the sculptors of the lethal stone dildo, the staggered reveal of the workers’ phallus-filled workshop is delightfully cheeky. Later, Lello is chased by an unseen suspect through the streets and into his apartment in a taut little sequence. Most ambitiously, a key sequence has all the suspects converge at Turin’s famous Balon flea market, leaving the viewer to guess which one will sneak off to attack the snooping Lello.
The Sunday Woman doesn’t skimp on genre thrills but it is clearly more interested in colorful characters and class satire. Admittedly, the satire aspect is sometimes a little confusing to a viewer (like yours truly) who isn’t totally versed in Italian culture. In a nutshell, though, it seems that “Southern” detective Santamaria is slightly out of place in the privileged “Northern” world he’s investigating. In fact, when the character starts to be seduced by Anna Carla’s high-class charms, we are left to project that our police commissioner would like to trade up and make her his new Sunday Woman. By the end, despite Santamaria’s charm and smarts, it seems dubious that he will be accepted by the Northerners who surround him.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Radiance’s Blu-ray for The Sunday Woman is labeled as playable in Regions A & B. It is housed in a standard keep case with reversible cover art, featuring versions of the UK and Italian posters. A booklet is included, featuring color stills, a new essay by Mariangela Sansone (translated by Francesca Coppola), a vintage piece by Gerard Legrand (translated by Craig Keller), and some credits. The Radiance release is a limited edition of 2000 copies. The disc loads to the animated Radiance logo then expediently switches to a static image menu.
Per the booklet, this transfer is sourced from a 2K scan of the original camera negative. Two AVC-encoded 1080p options are offered: one pillarboxed in the film’s original 1.33:1 aspect ratio (per the producer’s request to make the film more TV-friendly) and one gently letterboxed in cinematographer Luciano Tovoli’s preferred 1.85:1 crop. I checked out the original for a bit, but the extra head- and leg-room started to distract me, so I stuck with the widescreen crop for most of the runtime. Both versions are immaculately presented with richly saturated colors and strong detail reproduction. A lot of ‘70s titles can come out looking soft and grainy in HD, but this flick pretty much never does. No dirt or damage, and the image looks organic and filmlike. Excellent!
The film is presented in Italian with optional English subtitles (a few stray phrases in English are left untranslated). The DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack skews a little trebly but never distorts. The post-synchronized dialogue typically fits pretty comfortably in the actors’ mouths. The atmospheric effects never feel canned even if sometimes they are applied more sparingly than in a modern production. Ennio Morricone’s harpsichord-led score adds the right combination of cozy-mystery intrigue and whimsy.
Radiance has produced a handful of meaty extras that nicely contextualize the film and offer plenty of entertainment on their own. Apart from the English-language interview with Richard Dyer, the extras are presented with optional English subtitles.
There are some nuances of The Sunday Woman’s Italian class satire that whizzed over this reviewer’s head, but there is enough dramatic and comedic meat on the bone otherwise that I was far from disappointed. With an exceptional international trio in the lead roles, this flick is elevated popcorn cinema at its best. This is the kind of unexpected catalog title that makes collecting discs in 2023 so exciting. Another win for Radiance. Highly Recommended.