The severely burned and mutilated corpse of a young woman clad in yellow pyjamas is discovered in an abandoned car wreck on a Sydney beach. Her face has been disfigured beyond recognition, and the only clues remaining which could possibly identify her are the pyjamas and a few grains of rice found nearby. Retired but restless Inspector Timpson (Ray Milland) is intrigued by the case, and sensing that the enquiry undertaken by his former colleagues is going nowhere – as they are more concerned with beating confessions out of potential suspects and wrapping things up as quickly as possible - he joins the investigation. Timpson's old-fashioned, methodical detective work turns out to be much more fruitful than that of the younger officers, and his efforts lead to piecing together the identity of the woman, Glenda Blythe, and unfolding the mystery of her tragic death.
Glenda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), a beautiful but troubled Dutch immigrant, has a rather complicated love life – she is having simultaneous affairs with fellow recent arrival Antonio (Michele Placido), a penniless but hardworking Italian; Antonio's best friend, slimeball Roy (Howard Ross); and the cashed-up Professor Douglas (Mel Ferrer). Glenda eventually marries Antonio, hoping that their union will lead to the happiness she desperately seeks. However she quickly becomes disillusioned as she sees herself and Antonio tied to their menial waiting jobs and living in a cramped Kings Cross apartment forever and resumes her liaisons with Roy and the professor. Glenda's impulsive desires for love, attention and the trappings of a comfortable lifestyle lead to her life spiralling out of control, humiliating sexual degradation…and to her brutal death. But who committed the horrific crime? Inspector Timpson knows the answer – but will he survive to see Glenda's killer brought to justice?
A stylish, unique murder mystery from former art director Flavio Mogherini, The Pyjama Girl Case is loosely based on a true crime that took place in Australia in the 1930's. Though often catergorised as a giallo, the film is one of the more unorthodox entries of the subgenre as it steers clear of expected key elements – there is no rampaging black-gloved killer, no trail of bloody, over-the-top murders and no baroque Italian architecture (the story is set in contemporary 1970's Sydney). Despite its lurid title, those expecting a sensationalistic, gory late entry in the giallo cycle might be let down by The Pyjama Girl Case, but the film is actually a highly ingenious 'whodunit', a fascinating character study, a police procedural, and a visually striking experience.
The plot is split into two halves; the first is the investigation into Glenda Blythe's murder, and the second is the story of the doomed woman’s life up until it ended (which is revealed in flashbacks). The pleasant, sun-drenched cinematography of Sydney's landmarks, beaches and parks contrasts sharply with the film's downbeat and occasionally voyeuristic and sleazy tone (including a memorable scene of the baffled authorities putting Glenda's naked corpse on public display in a glass case, attracting hordes of sweaty, morbid curiosity seekers). A subtext of the movie is isolation – in Glenda and Antonio's case having to adapt to a new, unfamiliar country (wonderfully realised in shots of the couple wandering around the strangely underpopulated city streets and Opera House, creating an alien, lonely atmosphere and dwarfing the characters by their surroundings).
The Pyjama Girl Case features a solid cast, the standout being Oscar winner Ray Milland as the cantankerous, world-weary Inspector Timpson. Milland steals the show by injecting humour into his character - his expressions and mannerisms when having to deal with a procession of oddball and sexual deviant characters are priceless. Dalilia Di Lazzaro is excellent as the doomed 'Pyjama Girl' Glenda; a former model usually cast as decorative eye-candy, clearly relishes the chance at actually being required to 'act' and though Glenda is often impulsive and irresponsible, Di Lazzaro manages to bring depth and sympathy to the role. Also worth mentioning are Michele Placido as the gullible, hopelessly lovestruck Antonio and Howard Ross in typical oily form as meathead Roy, who gives the naive Antonio helpful pointers on women such as : "If you want their respect you have to slap them around a bit, treat them like dogs and let them know who their master is".
The Pyjama Girl Case is an innovative and successful rework of the giallo genre with an uncharacteristic plot structure, intriguing twists, and above-average performances, as well as an air of morbidity and quiet desperation that tends to creep up on the viewer rather than immediately pack a punch.