Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Top Sensation (1969)

Top Sensation is a sleazy 1969 Italian production which has one big thing going for it right from the start - it stars both Edwige Fenech and Rosalba Neri, and if you’re a fan of European exploitation cinema that’s reason enough to see it. But it has a lot more going for it as well.

The first thing to be considered is the genre question. This is not a giallo although it occasionally gets described as such. It’s more of a slow-burning erotic melodrama which eventually morphs into a twisted erotic thriller. It also has some amusing black comedy moments but it is definitely not a sex comedy.

The movie takes place on the luxury pleasure cruiser owned by a very wealthy woman named Mudy (Maud Belleroche). It was shot almost entirely on the yacht (which to be towed because if they’d used the engines there would have been too much vibration). This gives the film an interesting feel - both claustrophobic and isolated. Which is significant because these are people who have chosen to ignore the normal rules of civilised society.

Mudy has a son named Tony. Tony worries her considerably. It’s not quite clear what’s wrong with Tony but there’s definitely something wrong. He seems to be mentally slow, and he’s distant and uncommunicative. Today he might be described as autistic. He’s a grown man, but he lives in his own dream world, playing with his toy cars and toy robot.
Mudy might not be sure what’s amiss with Tony but she believes she knows how to cure the problem. If Tony could be persuaded to take an interest in girls he’d be OK. Losing his virginity might cure him. She has cooked up a plan to make sure that he does lose his virginity.

She has hired three people to bring this about. There’s Aldo, a good-looking entirely amoral young man. There’s Aldo’s depraved wife Paula (Rosalba Neri). And there’s Ulla (Edwige Fenech), who seems to be Paula’s sexual plaything and Aldo’s as well. If Paula can’t seduce Tony then they have Ulla as a backup. And if women as hot as these two can’t arouse Tony’s interest in girls then what can?

The plan is not going well. Tony is just not interested. Paula and Ulla amuse themselves with each other, Mudy amuses herself with Aldo and the two girls (all the women in this movie are bisexual and omnivorous and generally sex-crazed).

The fate steps in. Aldo runs the boat aground near a tiny island. There are only two people on the island, a peasant named Andro (Salvatore Puntilla) and his pretty blonde young wife Beba (Eva Thulin). And something wondrous happens. Tony actually seems to be interested in Beba. It seems like Tony goes for peasant girls rather than glamour babes. If Beba can be enticed aboard the boat then surely she and Tony can get it on. Meanwhile Paula and Ulla can keep Beba’s husband amused. And of course Paula and Ulla seduce Beba.

Oh yes, something else happens on the island. Ulla has an intimate encounter with a goat. A very very intimate encounter. I just hope it was as good for the goat as it clearly was for Ulla. You’re probably thinking that this can’t be right, even Italian sleazefests of this era wouldn’t go that far. But this movie does. So if the idea of Edwige Fenech making it with a goat is your very favourite fantasy this is the movie for you. It’s a female goat by the way so it counts as both bestiality and lesbianism!

Could this movie offer anything else in the way of depravity? You bet it could, but I can’t risk a spoiler by telling you what it is.

There are those who see some political content to this movie, some kind of commentary on the exploitative nature of the rich. While Italian movies of this period did flirt with political themes I don’t buy the idea of this movie having any political significance. Every character in the movie, rich or poor, bourgeois or peasant, is greedy and amoral. Greed and amorality are what this movie is all about.

One of the things that really makes this movie work is that Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech are so different. They’re both stunningly beautiful women but they’re beautiful in completely different ways and they project entirely different personas. And the characters they play are so different. Neri’s character, Paula, is depraved but she’s clever and actively manipulative and dangerous. Fenech’s character, Ulla, is just as depraved and just as amoral but in a more passive way. She’ll take pleasure when it’s offered and she’ll do anything for money but she just drifts from depravity to depravity. Paula’s mind, on the other hand, never stops calculating the angles.

The entire cast is excellent and it’s perhaps unfair to single anyone out but I do think that it’s Rosalba Neri who walks off with the acting honours. This was a really juicy rôle for her and she grabs the opportunity with both hands. Incidentally she was also the assistant director on the production.

Ottavio Alessi had had a distinguished enough career as a writer but was very inexperienced as a director and, reading between the lines, it’s possible that Rosalba Neri was more of a co-director than an assistant director.

This is a movie that exists in at least three versions. There’s the Italian version, which is sleazy. There’s the US version (released as The Seducers) which is even sleazier and has more nudity. And there’s the German version which includes major changes and has even more nudity. The Shameless UK release offers the Italian cut with some of the sleazier scenes from the US version added. Extras include an alternate ending which doesn’t really change things much, plus there’s a featurette that includes interviews with Salvatore Puntilla and Rosalba Neri. The transfer is generally superb except that a few of the more scorching scenes have had to come from source material that isn’t in great shape.

There’s also a Camera Obscura release which includes both the Italian and German versions.

Top Sensation is prime eurosleaze and it has a plot which takes some deliciously nasty turns. It takes a while for the full twistedness of the story to become apparent. There’s Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech so what are you waiting for? Highly recommend

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