All the Sins of Sodom is classic Sarno. A photographer named Henning is obsessed by the idea of capturing the essence of female evil in a photograph. When he meets Leslie (Maria Lease) he believes he’s found what he’s looking for, a model who can portray Salome, the priestesses of Babylonia, the priestesses of Sodom and Gomorrah. She will be the centrepiece of a book of artistic nudes that he believes will propel from from nudie photo shoots into the world of serious photography. He already has the contract for the book - all he needs are the right photos.
As well as photographing her he begins an affair with her. Not that that’s unusual - he ends up in bed with most of his models.
His agent also introduces another model to him, a woman named Joyce. He isn’t interested in photographing her but she’s homeless and he feels sorry for her so he lets her stay in his studio (where he also lives).
His obsession with his photographic sessions with Leslie leads to frustration. He just can’t get her to quite capture the look he wants. Then he gets one of the ideas that seem inspired at the time - he will introduce Joyce into the sessions. Joyce will caress Leslie in order to get her into the right mood. Unfortunately Joyce becomes increasingly sexually obsessed with Henning, while Leslie is finding that for her the affair with Henning is more than just a fling - she is falling hopelessly in love with him.
This is a typical 60s Sarno movie, the sort of movie that elevates Sarno above the ranks of the average sexploitation film-maker. He is not interested in sex as a mechanical act. He is interested in sex as an emotional catalyst, a dangerous psychological game and an obsession. He is more interested in what his characters are feeling than in what they’re doing.
Sarno’s movies required his actors to do real acting, and he chose wisely. And sometimes one suspects that he got performances out of actors that no other exploitation director would have got because he challenged them to find the emotional depths in the characters they portrayed.
He was particularly fortunate in finding Maria Lease. She is both sexy, in a slightly exotic way, and a fine actress. And she has a genuine presence. The actor who plays Henning (all the players are uncredited and most of the perfotmers who appeared in these types of movies used pseudonyms anyway so identifying them is often quite a challenge) is also very good. The actress who plays Joyce is less proficient but she certainly has the right qualities of danger and evil.
Steve Silverman’s moody black-and-white cinematography complements Sarno’s directing style perfectly (he worked with the director quite a few times). The lighting setups are extraordinarily bold and imaginative for such a very low-budget movie with excellent use of light and shadow.
All the Sins of Sodom was shot in New York in early 1968, back-to-back with the excellent Vibrations and the sadly lost Wall of Flesh. It’s an object lesson in low-budget film-making with minimal sets used with great skill.
You can see the ending coming up a mile away but it works, and works well, because Henning can’t see it. And that’s the point. Had he been less obsessed with his pet project, had he remembered (if he ever knew) that models are more than just materials with which a photographer works, then he should have seen it coming. This is movie that is as much about artistic obsession as sexual obsession. Henning might well have been a true artist with the camera but he is a failure as a human being.
Retro-Seduction Cinema have done the same sort of very fine job with this movie as with the other Sarno movies they’ve released. The widescreen transfer is excellent, there is a commentary track by Sarno’s wife Peggy, and a number of other extras. Very few sexploitation directors have been fortunate enough to have their productions treated with this kind of respect.