Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (1972)

Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key first published by VODzilla.co 

Sergio Martino’s film, written by Ernesto Gastaldi, opens with impressionistic, soft- to out-of- focus sex on a bed. The wavy red hair of one of the two people making love will soon be easily recognised as belonging to Irina (Anita Strindberg), although it is harder to identify her partner. The natural assumption might be that it is her husband, the middle-aged, washed-up, alcoholic author Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli), but when we first meet him it is clear that he loves only his late mother (a countess and actress with a reputation for looseness) – perhaps even loved her sexually – and sleeps with almost anyone but his wife. Indeed, Oliviero lives to brutalise and humiliate Irina, both in private and in public, while making little secret of the fact that he is sleeping with the maid Brenda (Angela La Vorgna) and with his former literature student Fausta (Daniela Giordano). When his niece Floriana (Edwige Fenech) turns up half an hour into the film, he sleeps with her too (after she puts on the dress of his mother), and repeatedly tells both Floriana and Irina herself of his desire to kill Irina – the very thought of which gets his creative juices flowing, helping him to overcome his writer’s block. 

So when Fausta is stabbed to death with a sickle, Oliviero (whose alibi is a flagrant sham) seems the obvious suspect. It also now seems clear that this film will conform to the typical whodunnit structure of a giallo – after all, Martino had already made three other gialli with the writer Gastaldi, two of which had starred Fenech and the other one Strindberg. Indeed the very title of Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key is a phrase written by the killer to his victim (Fenech) in Martino’s first giallo, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1971). Yet there are other influences on the film, from the Oedipal myth that informs Oliviero’s intense mother love, to the gothic underpinnings of the crumbling Rouvigny villa, to Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843 short story The Black Cat – stated as a literary source in the opening credits, yet adapted loosely enough to confound as much as inform any viewer familiar with the text.

That the black cat in this version is explicitly named ‘Satan’ adds yet another hermeneutic layer to the film’s diabolical admixture of taboo sex and transgressive violence. What is more, Fausta’s murderer is stopped and the crime solved relatively early in the narrative, further wrong-footing us as to the precise nature of what we are watching. Of course, if Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key comes with several literary and filmic antecedents, its plot will also turn to pivot on questions of inheritance. 

Ultimately this is a family intrigue, as both Irina and Oliviero find themselves locked not just at different times into different rooms of the villa, but also into a marriage that they equally abhor – with the younger, gold-digging Floriana unlocking new, illicit pleasures in them both, while herself getting played more than she realises. Martino expertly manages the many twists, in a story where it is always important to know just who is in bed with whom, who is on top, and who is being taken for a ride.

Summary: Sergio Martino’s gothic giallo oddity is as much a whatisit as a whodunnit 

© Anton Bitel