Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Downtown (Die nackten Puppen der Unterwelt, 1975)

While Jess Franco made plenty of light-hearted comic-book style movies Downtown (Die nackten Puppen der Unterwelt) in 1975 is probably the closest he got to pure comedy. It’s a private eye spoof combined with a sex comedy, and it’s one of his odder movies.

Franco himself (in one of his best acting performances) plays Al Pereira, a down-on-his-luck rather seedy and not especially honest private eye. He’s employed by the glamorous wife (played by Lina Romay) of a wealthy businessman to take photos of the industrialist having sex with his mistress. It sounds sleazy but not not too dangerous, and Al needs the work. It turns out that it’s actually much more complicated, and involves blackmail and murder, and poor Al is in the frame for the slaying.

He’s also so deeply enmeshed he can’t see a way to escape, and he’s so sexually obsessed by Lina Romay he’s not sure he even wants to escape. And when he gets the chance to play kinky sex games with both Cynthia (Lina Romay) and her girlfriend Lola he’s well and truly hooked. Unfortunately that means becoming a partner in more blackmail, and being an unwitting accomplice in further murders.

Franco is a lot of fun as Al. He’s nervous, fidgety, neurotic, paranoid and totally consumed by lust. Lina Romay sheds her clothes and her inhibitions and gives a lively and entertaining performance, while Franco regular Paul Muller is good as the cynical police inspector who has a certain sympathy for the hapless Al.

And it has a nightclub performance scene. In fact, several nightclub performance scenes. These are always a highlight of any Franco movie, and Lina Romay goes right over-the-top in her strip-tease sequences. There are staggering quantities of nudity in this film, but there are also some real laughs and some genuine fun. And there’s even an actual mystery plot in there somewhere.

This is second-rank Franco, not to be compared to classics like Vampyros Lesbos or Venus in Furs, but if you accept it for what it is it’s rather silly entertaining fun.

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