Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties (1980)

It’s pretty hard to dislike a movie with a title like Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties. Especially when it’s a Jess Franco movie and one of the lady spies is played by Lina Romay. This really is a movie about two female spies. Whether either actually possesses a pair of flowered panties is another matter - most of the time these girls aren’t wearing any panties at all. This is a Jess Franco movie.

Franco had made a couple of movies in the late 60s about two female spies (or at least undercover detectives), the Red Lips movies Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me, Monster. These were lighthearted romps. This was a genre that seemed to bring out Franco’s lighter side. Mixed with lots of craziness of course.

Cecile (Lina Romay) and Brigitte (Lynn Monteil) are strippers and they’re facing a year in prison as a result of their strip-tease act. They’re offered the chance to go free, in return for doing a few small favours for the government. Actually it’s not the government as such, it’s an American senator who is spearheading an investigation of the sex trafficking industry. He wants them to work as spies. All Cecile (who is a bit of an amateur photographer) has to do is take a few photos. They will also be given air fares to the Canary Islands and a job as strip-tease artistes.

The girls figure it’s a pretty good deal but it’s not always a good idea to believe government men who tell you they’re offering you a job that is really very simple and involves no danger at all.

Their assignment is part of an investigation into a white slavery racket. White slavery had been a very popular subject for exploitation filmmakers going right back to the 1930s if not earlier. And for obvious reasons - the opportunities for sleaze are practically limitless.

This is one of the many Franco films that exists in several different forms. It started life as a movie called Ópalo de fuego. Then numerous new scenes were shot and it became essentially a different film, Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties. Ópalo de fuego is apparently a much more chaotic film with no real narrative to speak of.

Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties is very much a movie for dedicated Francophiles. Anyone new to Jess Franco’s films would be well advised to start with his 1960s and early 1970s films. By the end of the 70s he was mixing genres with abandon but even more disconcertingly his films were starting to feature wild mood changes. If you’re a fan and you’re accustomed to his approach to filmmaking you’ll enjoy this. If you’re not familiar with his style you might find it bewildering and disturbing. It seems highly likely that he fully intended it to be bewildering and disturbing.

Oddly enough, having said all that, Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties actually has a remarkably coherent plot. Cecile takes on the rôle of spy and she takes her duties seriously. She quickly works out that a woman named Irina Forbes (Joëlle Le Quément) and her husband are kidnapping young women and selling them to billionaires as sex slaves. Mr and Mrs Forbes are seriously evil and depraved people and Cecile is keen to help the authorities. The difficulties are that it is not clear which authorities she can trust, and she is very much a rank amateur.

The plot is straightforward enough but the mood is all over the place, veering suddenly from lighthearted spy spoof and sex comedy stuff to brutal torture, rape and murder. And then it will veer back again. At times it is amusing and charming. At other times it is very unsettling indeed.

This is also, even by Jess Franco standards, a ramshackle affair. Franco was never overly obsessed with getting the picture in focus. In fact this is something that varies widely from film to film suggesting that it was as much a stylistic quirk as it was a result of ludicrously tight shooting schedules. The impression this movie gives is that Franco was embracing the chaos.

There is an astonishing amount of nudity. The sex scenes are not at all graphic but they are unsettling since they range from good-natured sexual romps to rather extreme depravity. The scenes of violence are also often more implied than explicit but what is implied is enough to make any viewer uneasy.

It must have been tough going for the cast but Lina Romay handles things pretty well. She is often adorably ditzy. At other times she experiences stark terror. She even manages a creditable action scene in which she dispatches one of the Forbes’ evil henchwomen with a well-placed kick to the head. She is in fact an oddly believable amateur spy, hopelessly out of her depth but showing a surprising amount of grit. If the villains are intending to destroy her she’s not going to give in without a struggle. She is of course naked for much of the film’s running time but that’s no problem - she was a competent actress with her clothes on and a very good actress naked.

Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties is a wild ride. It gleefully ignores all the conventions of the spy film, and the erotic film, and the sex comedy. Like so many of Franco’s best films it creates its own genre as it goes along.

I’m not sure this movie is a complete success but it can be recommended to Franco fans as an exhilarating example of his bizarrely idiosyncratic style.

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