Monday 30 May 2022

French Follies (1951)

French Follies, released in 1951, is another burlesque movie. Burlesque movies were simply filmed burlesque shows, shot in burlesque theatres but without a live audience. A lot of these movies got made so clearly they found an audience. And they are now our only means of seeing this odd kind of theatrical show.

Obviously the audiences at burlesque shows were there to see the strip-tease artistes but an effort was made to give the impression that these were actual variety shows, with singers, musical production numbers and comics. When you watch the comedy routines you can’t help thinking that it’s just as well the shows included strippers as well. It’s hard to imagine anyone paying for such truly dire comedy. Burlesque comedy was dominated by the so-called baggy pants comics. Most of the sketches include a considerable amount of sexual innuendo which is possibly the only thing that might have given them novelty value at the time.

The strip-tease routines are of course extraordinarily tame. There is zero actual nudity. Of course no-one today wanting to see naked women is going to watch such movies - you watch them because they’re weirdly offbeat and they’re fascinating from a social history point of view. They give us not only a look at changing tastes in risqué entertainment but also an interesting insight into changing ideas of what constitutes female beauty.

In that respect this one is interesting. This being 1951 you might expect that the strippers would all be extraordinarily well endowed in the bust department. But, with one exception, they’re not. They have perfectly ordinary female body shapes. They do have good figures but they’re not exaggerated. And the girls have much more of a girl-next-door look than you might expect. This movie suggests that if you wanted to earn a living in strip-tease you didn’t need to be built like a sex goddess. What you needed was confidence, some ability to dance and some ability to project personality.

Their ability to dance varies wildly. Ruby Lee can’t dance at all, but her attempts to do so are so bizarre that they’re fascinating. Some of the others do put some pizazz into their routines. The most entertaining is Joanne Bridges, billed as the Sleepytime Gal. When Joanne does her bump and grind she means it. She really bumps and she really grinds. While some of the others are trying to be tasteful Joanne knows it’s all about the sex.

The costumes worn by the girls range from the mildly outrageous to the wildly outrageous. When you’re a stripper but you can’t actually get naked the costumes do matter and in burlesque the idea was to convey an impression of glamour, in fact with the glamour often being more important than the sexiness.

Since the performances were taking place on a stage (and a remarkably small stage in this case) there’s not much scope for fancy camerawork. In fact there’s no scope at all. They just set the camera up and started shooting. There are no close-ups and the camera doesn’t move. It’s very unexciting cinematically but on the other hand it does give you the feel of watching an actual burlesque show in a burlesque theatre.

Friday 27 May 2022

Swamp Girl (1971)

Swamp Girl is a very low-budget hicksploitation movie released as part of a Something Weird swamp double-header (paired with Swamp Country). It’s definitely hicksploitation but despite being made in 1971 it’s not, as you might expect, a sex and sleaze fest. There’s no nudity at all and the violence is very low-key.

It was shot (in colour) on location in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia.

The swamp girl is Janeen (Simone Griffeth) and she lives in the Okefenokee Swamp with her pa. Janeen’s pa is a black man. Janeen is very pretty, very blonde and very white. It’s apparently never occurred to her to wonder if maybe he’s not her real pa.

The swamp girl is a kind of local legend. Nobody is sure if she really exists. Lots of people claim to have seen her but maybe they’d just had too much moonshine whiskey.

Now she’s been spotted again, near a spot where where a dying man was found. The man died of snakebite but the locals are inclined to think that the mysterious swamp girl had something to do with it.

Swamp Ranger Jimmy Walker (he’s a kind of singing swamp ranger) sets off to find out what’s going on in the swamp.

He finds the swamp girl. In fact she saves his life. He tells her that there could be trouble coming for her and her pa. They might not be left alone any longer. Janeen reports all this back to her pa. Her pa then breaks the news to her that he’s not her pa and that she should call him Nat instead and now she learns the truth about her origins. Which begins a series of flashbacks.

Nat had been living in the swamp, working for Old Doc. Old Doc was an abortionist but his main income was from selling little girls into white slavery. He’d been intending to sell Janeen. She would have fetched big money. Nat, who was basically a good-hearted guy, couldn’t bear to think of such a fate being in store for little Janeen so he rescued her and raised her as his own child.

Back to the present day, and trouble is definitely coming for the swamp girl. Firstly in the form of Carol, who has just busted out of a women’s prison farm, killing a guard in the process. Carol and her boyfriend are heading to the Florida state line and they decide that the best way to get there is through the swamp, on foot. Which is of course a seriously bad idea. Their only chance is to persuade the swamp girl to lead them out. If Janeen represents purity and innocence then Carol represents evil and depravity. She’s a stone-cold killer.

The other complication is that Carol’s dad Gifford Martin (who’s a bad ’un) has hired three rednecks to find Carol and they’re heading off into the swamp as well.

There’s quite a body count in this movie, but most of them fall victim to venomous snakes or gators. Yep, one of the characters gets eaten by gators.

There’s also a reasonably good cat fight between Janeen and Carol which will appeal to mud-wrestling fans (although I hasten to add that both girls are fully clothed).

Director Donald A. Davis had started his career as a production assistant on Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space. Not exactly an illustrious start. He went on to direct a number of sexploitation features. He was technically a bit more competent than Ed Wood, but only a bit.

Simone Griffeth is quite good as Janeen but the rest of the acting ranges from adequate to pretty terrible.

The transfer on this one isn’t sensational. It’s a bit dark and a bit murky. Apart from the second feature Swamp Country the extras include a 25-minute short film, Swamp Virgin, which is actually which is actually a very heavily edited version of a 1947 feature called Untamed Fury.

Swamp Girl is somewhat in the style of the hicksploitation movies of an earlier era such as Louisiana Hussey. Of course if you want hicksploitation done really well you can’t go past Russ Meyer’s deliciously steamy Lorna and Mudhoney.

I quite enjoyed Swamp Girl but I have a high tolerance for bad low-budget movies. There’s some great location shooting and it’s kind of fun if you’re in the mood. Worth a look if hicksploitation is your thing.

Monday 23 May 2022

The Black Abbot (1963)

The Black Abbot (Der schwarze Abt) is a 1963 entry in the West German Edgar Wallace krimi series. I’ve seen this one before, but in an English dubbed version years ago.

Edgar Wallace's original novel The Black Abbot, published in 1926, is one of his best. It has all the classic Edgar Wallace ingredients, mixed to perfection.

The movie takes place at Fossaway, the Chelford family seat in England, where a dead body has just turned up.

Scotland Yard are called in but as yet Inspector Puddler (Charles Regnier) and his assistant Horatio W. Smith (Eddi Arendt) can make no sense of the murder.

There’s plenty of scheming going on. Mary Wenner (Eva Ingeborg Scholz) is angling for marriage to Lord Chelford. Crooked lawyer Arthur Gine has an angle. So does his even more crooked head clerk. His angle involves marriage to Gine’s sister Leslie (Grit Boettcher). The butler, Thomas Fortuna (Klaus Kinski) is definitely hatching some plot. The administrator of the Chelford Estate, Dick Alford (Joachim Fushsberger), is up to something. He has some marriage plans as well.

At the bottom of all the scheming is the Chelford Treasure. Nobody has any idea where the treasure is or of its value (it’s rumoured to be a cache of gold but there’s also a rumour that it includes a secret wonder drug) and it may be just a legend. But it may be real. There are people who think it’s worth taking the chance that the treasure really exists.

There are rumours of ghosts, and there’s the mysterious Black Abbot. There are countless secret passageways. There are lots of double-crosses and attempted double-crosses. There’s greed and madness. There’s love and lust, and in this movie they can be as dangerous as greed and madness. There’s an ancient map which could reveal the treasure’s location.

And there’s quite a high body count.

We’re kept in the dark rather effectively as to whether some of the characters are good guys or bad guys.

Franz Josef Gottlieb directed several of the Wallace krimis. He does an effective job here.

As usual with a krimi it’s set in England but shot in Germany and it doesn’t look anything like England but that adds to the fun.

The movie’s cast consists of names very familiar to krimi fans - Joachim Fushsberger, Eddi Arendt and Klaus Kinski. Fuchsberger and Kinski are always good in these films.

Something that struck me forcibly when I started watching these movies subtitled rather than dubbed is how much it changes the performances. I’d always thought of Eddi Arendt as a particularly annoying comic relief actor but it turns out that much of that was due to bad dubbing. He’s actually not that bad, in fact he can be quite amusing.

I now have this movie in an excellent Blu-Ray release from Tobis. Seeing these krimis in the original German with English subtitles makes a huge difference. Tobis also presents the movie in a 16:9 enhanced transfer in the correct aspect ratio (the film was shot in Ultrascope, a German version of Cinemascope).

Tobis have released all of the krimis in their Blu-Ray sets (and on DVD). The majority either include the English dubbed versions or include English subtitles but not all do. These are German releases but they’re very easy to obtain. You don’t need to order them from Germany. The Edgar Wallace krimis have been available for years in dodgy grey-market versions. Seeing them presented in truly excellent transfers makes a huge difference. The visual style in a large part of the appeal of these movies.

The Black Abbot incorporates all the features that you could wish for in a krimi. Deliriously entertaining. Plus of course you get Klaus Kinski. Highly recommended.

Saturday 21 May 2022

Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour (1967)

Belle de Jour (1967) is Luis Buñuel's most famous movie and his biggest commercial hit. It's a fascinating exercise in surrealism and eroticism and it's a movie that is perplexing and challenging, but in a good way. You think you have it all figured out then you watch it a second time and you change your mind completely. An art film that is also utterly entralling.

Catherine Deneuve gives her career-best performance.

You can find my full review here.

Tuesday 17 May 2022

The Sister of Ursula (1978)

The Sister of Ursula (La sorella di Ursula) is a 1978 giallo which has all necessary ingredients (including a black-gloved killer) but of course having the right ingredients isn’t always enough. It was written and directed by Enzo Milioni.

The movie establishes its exploitation credentials pretty quickly, with entirely gratuitous female frontal nudity within the first few minutes. There’ll be lots more of that as the movie progresses. The fact that the murder weapon is a dildo tells you that this is essentially a sleazefest.

Ursula and Dagmar Beyne are two Austrian sisters who have travelled to Italy to look for their mother. It’s something to do with their late father’s inheritance. They’re staying at a nice luxury hotel but Ursula just wants to leave and she wants to leave now.

Ursula (Barbara Magnolfi) is a highly strung girl who has nightmares and she thinks her nightmares might be visions (possibly of the past or possibly of the future). Perhaps she has paranormal abilities. Dagmar (Stefania D'Amario) just thinks that Ursula hasn’t recovered from their father’s death.

The last thing Ursula needs is to find herself in the middle of a brutal murder case but that’s what happens when a hooker is murdered in a rather grisly manner which suggests that this is some kind of sex crime.

Maybe visiting the really creepy old tower near the hotel isn’t a good idea but the two girls visit it anyway. Ursula gets rather freaked out. Visiting the tower turns out to be an even worse idea for a couple of teenage runaways. They were turned way from the hotel and were desperately looking for somewhere to make love.

There are a number of people at the hotel would could be plausible suspects. The choice of murder weapon might suggest that the killer is a man but in a giallo it pays to keep an open mind about that sort of thing. The hotel manager Roberto and his wife Vanessa (who actually owns the hotel) have an open marriage that seems to be heading for the rocks. Open marriages require a bit of discretion if they’re going to work. Vanessa has a lesbian lover, Jenny, and that’s causing some tensions with Roberto.

Filippo is a good-looking young man who has loser written all over him and his obsession with the hotel’s star attraction, singer Stella Shining (Yvonne Harlow), is not exactly being encouraged by the lady.

The discovery of the naked bodies of the young couple doesn’t do much for Ursula’s mental stability.

The final resolution is satisfying in the sense that it’s plausible and it’s definitely been sign-posted. This is a mystery movie that plays fair with the viewer. The problem is that you probably won’t be overly surprised by the reveal at the end. It’s pretty much the only logical explanation for the preceding events.

Apart from the fact that the killer’s identity isn’t quite enough of a surprise the film has a few weaknesses. This is, it has to be admitted, a second-tier giallo from a first-time director who enjoyed more success as a writer. It doesn’t have the spectacular set-pieces and visual extravagance that top-rank giallos offer. There are some good visual touches (the scene with the eyeless statue in the crypt is very creepy) but overall it’s not a movie that is overflowing with style.

On the plus side the locations are used very effectively. And there’s an astonishing amount of female frontal nudity (with some remarkably attractive young ladies) and there are a couple of pretty strong sex scenes. As far as sex and nudity are concerned this movie is fairly strong stuff.

Enzo Milioni’s career as a director was very brief. It’s not that he does a spectacularly terrible job here but in Italy in the 70s there were just so many directors who did this sort of thing with more style and energy.

Shameless in the UK released this movie on DVD and it’s still in print (and it’s very inexpensive). The anamorphic transfer is very good. The only significant extra is an extended interview with the director who comes across as a pretty charming guy.

Summing up, The Sister of Ursula is a competent and reasonably entertaining second-rank giallo with wall-to-wall naked ladies. It’s worth a look if you don’t set your expectations too high.

Wednesday 11 May 2022

Gwendoline (1984), Blu-Ray review

Just Jaeckin’s Gwendoline is a kinky sexy adventure romp, inspired by the fetish comic strips of John Willie. The movie has a comic book feel. It was destined to be a cult movie from the start. Only a cult audience could appreciate such quirkiness.

Jaeckin had made Emmanuelle and The Story of O in the 70s, two of the best-known erotic movies of all time. When he directed Emmanuelle Jaeckin was already a very very successful photographer. He had never directed a movie and was chosen as director largely because he knew how to photograph women. His directing career was sporadic. He simply didn’t need to direct movies so he was able to confine himself to film projects that appealed to him.

Gwendoline, released in 1984, was a change of pace. It’s not an erotic movie as such. It is, as stated earlier, an adventure romp. It’s a sexy adventure romp.

Gwendoline (Tawny Kitaen) arrives in a seaport somewhere in Asia, packed inside a wooden crate. Neither she nor her faithful maid Beth have passports. They also don’t have any money. She is immediately kidnapped by gangsters. They want something from her but they don’t speak English so she has no idea what it is they want. Then Willard (Brent Huff) smashes through the window and takes care of the gangsters. He could rescue Gwendoline but rescuing females in not in his line. It doesn’t pay.

Willard is your typical American square-jawed hero that you’d find in comic books, pup magazines and movie serials. Except that he isn’t. He’s completely mercenary and completely selfish. The typical hero of that type should be not just ruggedly handsome and capable of out-fighting anyone he encounters, he should be pure of heart. There’s nothing pure about Willard. He’s a ruthless adventurer who loves as casually as he kills, with no thought for anyone but himself.

Gwendoline needs Willard’s help to complete her quest. Willard has no intention of doing so. But he’s never met two young ladies quite as determined as Gwendoline and Beth. They manage to con him into helping them. Willard is even more appalled when he discovers what Gwendoline’s quest is. Her father ventured into the land of the Yik-Yaks to find a rare butterfly. He collects butterflies. Very few people have entered the land of the Yik-Yaks. None have come out alive. The quest for that butterfly cost Gwendoline’s father his life. Now Gwendoline wants to find the butterfly. It’s the least she can do for poor old Dad’s memory. It’s an insane idea which seems certain to get them all killed but there’s no reasoning with Gwendoline and there’s no resisting her. And Beth is totally devoted to her mistress, and she can be just as scheming and persuasive.

After encountering countless perils our three adventurers reach the land of the Yik-Yak. It’s an amazon society ruled over by an evil insane queen. The only man there is an ageing scientist, hopelessly in thrall to the queen. He has discovered the secret of the mountain in which the Yik-Yak live. It involves a volcano and a lot of diamonds.

While John Willie’s Sweet Gwendoline comic strips were bondage/fetish oriented Jaeckin wanted to do a comedy adventure romance, but with enough kinkiness to keep things interesting.

The highlights of the movie are the sets and the costumes, and the wonderfully bizarre visual set-pieces. The chariots pulled by girls are a lovely touch.

The problem many people have with this movie is that it really is a lighthearted adventure comedy movie but it has a lot more nudity than the audience of that sort of movie is going to be prepared for. The number of bare breasts defies counting. On the other hand it’s nowhere near explicit enough to satisfy the audience for sex films. You just have to accept that it’s a unique hybrid, a kinky erotic adventure romp.

The casting works perfectly. Jaeckin needed a heroine who was beautiful and striking and sexy but Gwendoline also has to be sweet and innocent and amusing and a bit crazy (but in a nice way). Tawny Kitaen manages to do all that. Brent Huff does the cynical hardbitten adventurer thing to perfection. Zabou Breitman makes Beth more than just a side-kick, and she’s delightful. The three leads combine perfectly.

There’s plenty of kinkiness here but it’s all done in a fun way and in a fantastic way. This is not reality. There’s not a single mention of a real country or a real city and no indication of the time period in which the story is set. It takes place in a totally imaginary world, a kind of dream world, and everything about that world is pure fantasy, so scenes which might have been a little disturbing become witty and amusingly outré rather than disturbing. And it’s basically a good-natured movie.

Jaeckin is a director that critics at the time liked to sneer at. He was dismissed as little more than a pornographer. To a large extent this critical disdain resulted from the fact that Emmanuelle was the most commercially successful French movie of all time. A movie that aims for popular success and achieves it always enrages a certain kind of film critic. Gwendoline was a major hit as well, which made those critics dislike Jaeckin even more. In fact Jaeckin’s movies were successful because Jaeckin knew how to make visually lush movies that look incredibly expensive and work perfectly within the confines of what he was trying to achieve. And he could make ambitious movies and bring them in on time and on budget. His filmography is small but includes three movies (Emmanuelle, The Story of O, Gwendoline) that are the best movies of their type ever made.

Severin have really excelled themselves with the extras on their Blu-Ray release. There are two commentary tracks (one of them featuring Just Jaeckin), there are two interviews with the director, an interview with the producer, an interview with production designer Françoise De Leu and another with Claude Renard and François Schuiten who were responsible for the overall visual concept.

Gwendoline is in my view Jaeckin’s best movie. It’s a rollicking adventure yarn, a love story, an exercise in classy low-key erotica and an orgy of visual extravagance. The budget was enormous for an 80s French movie but paltry by Hollywood standards but visually it puts Hollywood movies of that era to shame. It’s total fun. Very highly recommended.

Sunday 8 May 2022

Barbarella, the comic books

Barbarella is one of the great pop culture icons. Every cult movie fan has of course seen the movie but if you haven't checked out the comics you're missing out on a treat.

Barbarella was created by Jean-Claude Forest and the first Barbarella comic appeared in 1962. The comics are witty, clever, stylish and good-natured. And very sexy.

And at least the first two are available in English translations. My review can be found here.

Tuesday 3 May 2022

The Kyoto Connection (1973)

The Kyoto Connection (also known as Journey to Japan) is one of a couple of movies that Christina Lindberg made in Japan. The Japanese just loved her, which shows that the Japanese have good taste.

She couldn’t speak Japanese but this movie makes a virtue out of a necessity. She’s playing a Swedish girl who can’t speak Japanese and therefore doesn’t understand what is happening to her. Crucially at the beginning of the film she would never have landed herself in such a bizarre situation had she had even a basic command of Japanese. She speaks her lines in Swedish, with Japanese subtitles, and it works.

Ingrid Jacobsen (Lindberg) arrives in Japan by air. There will be a car waiting for her at the airport. The driver will recognise her by the pink rose she’s carrying. Unfortunately she gets into the wrong car by mistake. She gets into the car belonging to a geeky student (played by Ichirô Araki). I don’t think his name is mentioned so we’ll call him Araki. He daydreams about being a revolutionary and makes very ineffective bombs in his spare time. And he daydreams about women. He is a virgin and he is absolutely hopeless with women. He gets so nervous he can’t speak.

He has no idea what to do when this gorgeous Swedish chick jumps into his car. Eventually he decides to take her back to his apartment. He’s still not sure what to do but he figures that raping her would be a good start. She is a bit troublesome about this so he decides it would be a good idea to chain her up.

Since he can’t get a girlfriend in the ordinary way and he now has a stunning Swedish beauty chained up in his apartment he decides to keep her.

This is where the movie’s cleverness comes in, and where it gets disturbing in a clever way. Because she can’t talk to him she has no idea what he intends to do with her. She can’t ask him if he intends to keep her for a week, or a month, or a year. She can’t negotiate with him. She can’t even promise not to struggle if he promises not to hurt her.

She obviously knows he’s crazy but she doesn’t know what kind of craziness it is. Does he understand what he’s doing? Does he hate women? Or has he, in his own bizarre misguided abnormal way, fallen in love with her? How much danger is she in?

He keeps raping her but she doesn’t seem to enjoy it. And if he’s going to rape her anyway he’d prefer for her to enjoy it. So he buys himself a book on female sexual response and starts exploring these things women have called erogenous zones. She starts to respond. She starts to respond in a big way. Now she seems to really enjoy the sex.

They still can’t communicate so he can’t know if she really enjoys the sex or not. Maybe she likes the sex but hates him.

She escapes but she escapes into something much worse. She ends up at a club where she meets some nice young Japanese people who offer to help her. Then she gets brutally gang raped by them. Araki raped her plenty of times but he was never brutal and never really hurt her. Now she’s really mess up. She’s in a foreign country, she doesn’t speak the language, she has no money, she’s traumatised by the violent gang rape. What can she do? There is no-one to whom she can turn.

But actually there is one person to whom she can turn. Araki. In his weird twisted way he seemed to want to be kind to her.

So the movie becomes a very unconventional love story, of sorts. Ingrid has no-one else. Araki has no-one else.

This is very much a 1970s movie, willing to explore subject matter which is, in our modern repressive age, now totally of limits. It explores this subject matter with intelligence and subtlety. In a weird kind of way Araki is sympathetic. He doesn’t understand women but he is willing to try to do so. He tries to figure out what drives Ingrid emotionally. He wants to reach her. His way of going about it is clumsy and wrong but in a way it’s sincere. Ingrid doesn’t understand Araki but she finds that maybe she needs him so she’ll have to to figure out what makes him tick. He’s done terrible things to her but she starts to see that he is still a human being and is capable of suffering.

This movie has some slight thematic similarities to William Wyler’s 1965 The Collector, also about a weird young man who kidnaps a girl. The protagonist in that film is just as crazy, but also has a kind of love for his victim.

And there are other plot twists to come, as we discover why Ingrid came to Japan.

The language issue is the core of the film. He wants to tell her how he feels but can only do so in Japanese and she doesn’t understand a word. She wants to communicate her feelings to him but can only do so in Swedish and he doesn’t understand a word. It adds a real poignancy to an offbeat love story.

Christina Lindberg became a very famous nude model around the beginning of the 70s. She was Penthouse Pet of the Month in June 1970. Interestingly enough in the early 70s she was briefly the girlfriend of the King of Sweden. She broke into movies and of all the nude models who made the jump into movies she arguably had the most impressive career, making a number of movies that are extremely good and at least two that were superb (Thriller: A Cruel Picture and Sex and Fury). She wasn’t a great actress but in the right part she could be quite effective and at her best she had an extraordinary intensity.

She’s excellent in The Kyoto Connection. I don’t need to tell you that she’s also stunningly beautiful. There’s a fair bit of nudity. The sex scenes are quite tame. The rape scenes are not graphic - their shock value comes from the emotional impact they have on Ingrid rather than from being graphic.

Ichirô Araki is extremely good as well, managing to make us care about a character against our will.

Miss Lindberg has had mixed fortunes as far as home video is concerned. Most of her movies are available on DVD but they’re mostly from the early days of the format and the transfers are pretty iffy. Thriller: A Cruel Picture seems to be the only one that has had a Blu-Ray release. This is a pity because several of her movies are much better than you might expect, and more than just softcore porn. Sex and Fury and Exposed (Exponerad) are both excellent. And while Anita: Swedish Nymphet is nothing more than softcore erotica it’s very good if that’s the sort of thing you like.

Cheezy Flicks is a company that doesn’t have much of a reputation and it’s easy to see why. This is far from being an impressive transfer. It’s perfectly watchable but the image quality is of the standard that we happily accepted at the beginning of the DVD era but which most viewers will not accept today. It is at least a 16:9 enhanced transfer. For some reason Miss Lindberg’s movies are not making it to Blu-Ray so for the moment this is the best you’re going to get and it’s an interesting obscure movie and I think the DVD is worth buying anyway. The transfer might not be pristine but it’s OK.

The Kyoto Connection is odd and unconventional. There are occasional moments of offbeat humour. It’s obviously erotic. Any movie in which Cristina Lindberg gets naked this often is going to succeed as erotica but it has plenty of engaging weirdness and a love story that is strangely moving. It’s a very very good movie which really deserves a Blu-Ray release and it’s highly recommended.