Thursday, 22 July 2010

Scandalous Photos (1979)

Scandalous Photos (Photos scandale) is one of a number of very obscure 1970s and 80s French erotic films released on DVD by Nucleus Films on their cutely but aptly named Naughty DVD label.

This 1979 movie combines a B-movie mystery espionage plot with some very tame softcore elements. The results are lightweight in the extreme but it somehow manages to be more likeable and more charming than you’d have any right to expect. The whole thing has a nicely subtle tongue-in-cheek feel to it.

Juliette (Brigitte Lahaie) and her boyfriend Chris are small-scale blackmailers. Juliette pretends her car has broken down and whenever a passing male motorist stops to help (which is pretty frequent since Juliette is an attractive young lady) she seduces them while Chris snaps some incriminating photos.

Juliette however has much bigger ambitions. If you’re going to be a blackmailer, do it on the grand scale. Her idea is that Chris should seduce wealthy heiresses who fancy a spot of rough trade while she will take the photos. Chris isn’t overly bright but she’s confident his considerable skills in the bedroom will stand him in good stead. You might wonder if wealthy industrialists in 1979 would be prepared to pay out big money to keep their erring daughters’ sexual escapades out of the papers but Juliette has thought of this. A group of very rich businessmen are trying to put together a major deal with an even bigger and richer magnate who happens to be a devout and very conservative Mormon. So in this case they will have to pay up or risk seeing the deal go belly-up.

After Juliette and Chris have snared their first victim her father employs famed private detective Jim Ravel to find the two blackmailers. The other three industrialists involved in the big deal are named Bruckner, Mahler and Bartok. I’m not quite sure why everyone seems to be named after a composer. Jim Ravel manages to extricate one of the heiresses from the clutches of the blackmailers and then promptly falls in love with her. In fact the feeling is mutual.

Ravel’s investigations lead him to Juliette’s sister who is involved in a major spy ring. Actually she’s involved in two major spy rings. She’s a busy girl. Her work as a very high-class and expensive prostitute provide a cover for these dangerous but lucrative endeavours. There are the expected twists and double-crosses. We’re not meant to take any of it too seriously and it’s executed with a light enough touch to just about get away with being a gentle spoof.

The movie also takes a sardonic look at the hypocrisy of the rich and powerful and again it’s done subtly enough not to be annoying.

The film’s greatest asset is Brigitte Lahaie. She made her initial reputation as a porn star in both hardcore and softcore vehicles. But those were the heady days when even hardcore sex films had plots, and dialogue. And even scriptwriters! And porn actresses were expected to be able to act. Lahaie went on to demonstrate that she could most certainly act, in movies like Jean Rollin’s Night of the Hunted. And in this movie she once again reveals herself as a competent and charismatic actress.

There’s really not very much sex and nudity in this one, and it’s all strictly softcore and pretty tame softcore at that.

Writer-director Jean-Claude Roy keeps the pacing tight and the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s no masterpiece but it’s a harmless enough time-killer and Lahaie just about makes it worthwhile.

The picture quality on the DVD isn’t great but apparently the only surviving source materials were in pretty bad shape. The occasional speckles and the slight muddiness actually enhance the viewing experience is some ways, giving it a proper grindhouse feel!

Probably only really worth buying if you’re a serious Brigitte Lahaie fan.

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