Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

a.k.a. - 5 bambole per la luna d'agosto (ITA), Five Dolls for the August Moon (UK)

William Berger and Edwige Fenech star in Mario Bava's very unusual giallo take on Agatha Christie. ABUS R0 DVD

The Film

Four couples are spending time on a small island. They seem to be relaxing, but three of the men are determinedly trying to convince Professor Gerry Farrell (William Berger) to sell them the secret resin formula he has devised rather than making it publicly available - he refuses to sell despite their persuasions. The wife of one of the industrialists Marie Chaney (Edwige Fenech) is enjoying the company of the island's houseboy when he suddenly turns up dead and as the killings continue the survivors discover that there is no way off the island nor any way to contact the outside world...

Loosely based on Agatha Christie's 'Ten Little Niggers', 5 bambole per la luna d'agosto takes a uniquely Italian Giallo approach to the storyline. The opening scene appears to set up a very Christie-esque 'murder in a darkened room scenario', but this turns out to be nothing but a prank and instead we get several scenes of characterisation that do not seem to be setting up to a murder mystery film, before the killings actually begin. In a rather unusual twist, the identity of the killer appears to be revealed during the second killing as we clearly see the shooter, but the later killings take place off camera, keeping the audience guessing as to just what is going on - both on the identity of the killer and their motive, as the targets seem to be picked at random.

Similarly, the background storyline has a distinctly European and almost surreal tone to it throughout - we find out very limited details about the characters and their motivations - in particular there is no detail behind the all important "formula", serving to emphasise the lack of interest that the industrialists have in the formula itself as opposed to the wealth that it promises. The pacing is very slow and langurious even for a Mario Bava film - the opening party sequence goes on for almost five minutes without any dialogue (making it more remniscent of a Jess Franco production) and the opportunity to exploit the death scenes for action moments is bypassed as they take place almost exclusively off-camera, however the mystery aspects are enough to keep the film moving and it builds up to an effective if somewhat drawn-out denoument.

Mario Bava could never be described as a workmanlike director and even on a film that could have been a by-the-numbers effort (and he admits in interviews that he had no interest in this project), he puts a lot of effort in, making extensive use of unusual camera angles and dramatic zoom shots to provide a disorientating atmosphere that helps to emphasise the rather surreal script. Following on from the wonderfully over-the-top 'mod' set design of Diabolik (1968), the island house is decked out in a superbly contemporary style. The only real disappointment on the directoral side is the fact that Bava again shies away from nudity and so although Edwige Fenech has several topless scenes, she always has a towel to cover her modesty.

Austrian actor William Berger, best known for his Spaghetti Western roles, is well cast as the professor while the giallo scream-queen Edwige Fenech makes her one and only appearance on-screen for the man who invented the genre - however, she doesn't get much to do here and fans will probably be disappointed by the almost complete lack of nudity in her role. Credited as Justine Gall, a young Ely Galleani (Baba Yaga (1973)) makes only her second film appearance as the mysterious Isabel.

5 bambole per la luna d'agosto has been described as Bava's most divisive production and it is easy to see why, even Bava himself ranks the film as one of his least successful. An unorthodox storyline, even for the notoriously unusual giallo genre, combined with some disorientating camera work take this a long way from Bava's better known productions but it is certainly of interest to Bava and giallo fans.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? William Berger - Austrian actor who appeared in numerous Spaghetti Westerns including Keoma (1976)
Edwige Fenech - Italian beauty who appeared in dozens of gialli including Nude per l'assassino (1975)
Directed by anyone interesting? Mario Bava - often described as the Godfather of the Giallo, he helped to establish the genre with films like La ragazza che sapeva troppo (1963) and Sei donne per l'assassino (1964).
Any gore or violence ? Some blood but nothing gory.
Any sex or nudity? A few brief topless and sex scenes, but always covered up.
Who is it for? Certainly of interest to Mario Bava and Giallo fans.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print is very grainy throughout but colours and detail are generally strong and there is no damage.
Audio English and Italian mono - the audio quality is slightly better on the Italian track and the dubbing on the English track is not as good as some other films from the era.
Subtitles English subtitles for the Italian audio.
Extras None
Availability Only available in the The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Previously released in the USA by Image Entertainment.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print language is Italian.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 16th January 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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