"She's a girl who knows how to make herself liked. And you have to hate someone to kill them."
Teenager Nancy Thompson (Jenny Tamburi) returns home from boarding school after her mother, Dorothy (Zora Gheorgieva) dies of an apparent suicide. She moves into the family's cottage with her mother's best friend, photographer Gianna (Rosalba Neri) and her stepfather, Marco (Silvano Tranquilli), who are having a not-so-secret affair. But when Nancy's relationship with Marco becomes closer, she starts to wonder if her mother's death was really an accident. Could Marco or Gianna have killed Dorothy? Or perhaps it was the housekeeper, Magda (Dana Ghia). In her search for answers, Nancy finds herself walking a dangerous tightrope – but is she really the innocent girl she appears to be?
Smile Before Death (not to be confused with Death Smiles on a Murderer) is basically a clumsy re-tread of Sergio Martino's Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, wherein an innocent-looking young girl inserts herself between a couple that shares a murderous secret, playing both sides to her own advantage. It's still entertaining, though, full of twists and double crosses and a clever and surprising resolution. But the storytelling relies too much on flashbacks and most of the movie is a long, bloodless stretch between the opening death scene and the three kills at the very end with characters plotting against each other.
- Hiram Keller appears in the small role of Paolo the gigolo. You may remember as Lord James MacGreiff in Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye. He has an exotic, European look about him so you may be surprised to learn that he was, in fact, an American from Georgia.
- Roberto Predagio's theme song is a peppy, giggly little tune featuring scat singing by Edda Dell'Orso that will stay with you when the movie is done. It recurs throughout the film, even when the tone calls for something non-peppy and non-giggly.
- The original Italian title is Il Soriso Della Iena, which translates as The Smile of the Hyena. None of the titles make any sense.
- The cottage where most of the movie takes place is swanky and ultra-modern and features some of the most awful abstract art you've ever seen.
- The resolution to the mystery is great, but then there's a disappointing, tacked-on ending. It's meant to be an ironic twist but just comes across as clumsy and anticlimactic.
Shortly after she arrives, Nancy eagerly models for Gianna's photos, trying on different looks and acting out different personalities. Later, while reviewing the pictures, Nancy declares that none of them capture the "real her." She asks Gianna for an impromptu photo session and... well, apparently the "real" Nancy is naked all the time.
In fact, Nancy starts off shy and demure but after only a few days (and a brief montage to show her personal growth) she has no problem stripping in front of people, even at the most inappropriate times.
Smile Before Death lets you know right off the bat that it's a giallo, by showing a wounded, bloody Dorothy writhing on the floor in this frilly yellow ("giallo") housecoat. Or maybe it's an evening gown. It's hard to tell.
Later, during the aforementioned fashion shoot montage, Nancy acts out different roles including a Hollywood vixen, a sex kitten, a high-society fashionista and... a squirrel?