Thursday 30 November 2023

Hot Nights of Linda (1975)

Hot Nights of Linda is a steamy sexually overheated 1975 offering from Jess Franco.

Marie-France (Alice Arno) takes a job looking after the two daughters of a wealthy recluse, writer Paul Radeck (Paul Muller). He’s a writer, so he is therefore a man who deals in fictions. His daughter Linda is an invalid and never speaks. The other daughter is Olivia (Lina Romay). She’s actually his niece and adopted daughter.

There’s a disturbing atmosphere in the luxurious modernist ocean-front Radeck villa (a typical Jess Franco location which the director utilises with his customary flair for getting the best use out of a location). Radeck is a troubled man. He does not seem to have recovered from the death of his wife. It’s not clear why Linda is an invalid but Marie-France does suspect that the problem might be psychosomatic.

Olivia is a strange girl. No-one played sexually obsessed mad girls better than Lina Romay so she’s perfectly cast. Olivia confides in Marie-France, up to a point. Olivia is troubled by a nightmare. It’s the same nightmare every night. It’s a sexual fantasy nightmare. What she doesn’t tell Marie-France is that she remembers seeing a murder. But of course Olivia is mad, so we can’t be sure if this is a genuine memory or a distorted memory, or a delusion or part of a twisted sexual fantasy.

Olivia is a virgin. She masturbates constantly. She clearly has some sexual issues and equally clearly these are a major factor in her madness.

The Radeck villa is under surveillance by a sleazy cop and a young female photo-journalist (played by Catherine Lafferier). Apparently Paul Radeck is suspected of killing his wife. The detective and the photo-journalist take lots of photos, mostly nude photos of female members of the Radeck household, so there’s a definite voyeurism theme here.

Things get crazier. The three members of the Radeck family may all be mad, but they’re not necessarily all mad. And if they’re all mad they’re mad in different ways, although we can’t help feeling that in all three cases there’s a sexual basis to the madness.

Eurocult movies of this era often exist in several different cuts often with different titles. It can be bewildering and that’s especially the case with this movie. Franco claimed that at least ten different cuts of this movie (with ten different titles!) were in circulation at various times, some of which featured hardcore footage.

My main problem with this movie is the ending, which I hated. But according to Lina Romay this was not the ending they originally shot or intended. The ending of the English-dubbed version on the Severin Blu-Ray was added later by the producers and was totally contrary to Jess Franco’s intentions.

The existence of multiple cuts frustrates some eurocult fans but in a weird postmodern way it’s kind of cool. In those case where more than one cut survives you can watch very different versions of the same movie and choose the one you like.

What makes this movie fascinating is that there are at least three different versions that were shot by, and approved by, Franco. Including the hardcore cut in which Lina appears. And some of these versions have totally different endings, which is very postmodern.

There’s plenty of eroticism, all of it unhealthy.

Hot Nights of Linda
is a Jess Franco movie that gets a bit overlooked, largely because it was made at a time when he was making so many movies, and so many of those movies are considered Franco classics. Hot Nights of Linda is however important in being a movie Franco conceived entirely as a starring vehicle for Lina Romay. She’s in top form and she owns this movie completely. Maybe not among the very best Franco movies but very much worth seeing, and highly recommended.

Severin have released this movie in a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack. The transfer allegedly comes from a 35mm print discovered in a Barcelona bordello, which is just such a wonderfully Jess Franco thing that one would like to believe it’s true. The combo pack also includes the French hardcore version on a separate disc.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

The A-B-C's of Love (1953)

The A-B-C's of Love, released in 1953, is one of the six burlesque movies included in the Something Weird DVD boxed set Strip Strip Hooray.

Lillian Hunt is the credited director and she’s credited on a lot of these burlesque movies. I know nothing else about her and I have no idea of the precise nature of her contribution to these movies. Directing a burlesque movie must obviously have been quite different to directing feature films.

In the case of most of the movies in this set we know which burlesque theatres were involved but in this case that information seems to be impossible to ascertain.

The burlesque movie had a brief blossoming in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These were actual burlesque shows filmed live in actual burlesque theatres. Although usually shot without a theatre audience what the movie gives you is exactly what the audience would have seen. This obviously gives these movies a great deal of historical importance. We don’t need to speculate on what a real burlesque show in the golden age of burlesque was like.

This is both the strength and the weakness of these movies. They show burlesque as it really was, both the good and the bad.

The good is represented by the strip-tease routines which offer a kind of innocent naughtiness and cheerful sexiness, qualities totally lacking in popular culture today.

These strip-tease artistes would have been horrified to be told they were part of the sex industry. They considered themselves to be in show business. They could dance and they devised and then worked up their routines the same way that any other live theatrical performer would have done. They were not just taking their clothes off. They were putting on a show.

For the most part they were quite unembarrassed by the taking off their clothes part. They were never completely naked. They would strip down to a G-string and pasties.

Having said that, how much the girls could get away with varied enormously from city to city. It was entirely up to the whims of the local authorities. On the rare occasions that they could get away with dispensing with the pasties they would do so. On even rarer occasions audiences in some places might get a “blink and you’ll miss it” glimpse of the girl without her G-string.

In a burlesque movie it’s G-strings and pasties. While considered somewhat scandalous at the time if released today these movies would get at most a PG rating.

The strip-tease routines have plenty of nostalgia value and some are pretty impressive.

The bad in burlesque is represented by the other entertainments on offer. The strip-tease routines were just part of a burlesque show. There would often be straightforward musical numbers and dance routines (this movie offers us a frenetic fully clothed tap-dancing routine).

The songs were usually not very good. Some of the dance numbers are OK.

But the worst part of burlesque was the comedy, and there was a huge amount of it. The comedy was usually provided by what were known as “baggy-pants” comics. There were dirty jokes but they were not the problem. The problem is that this style of comedy was excruciatingly unfunny. You wait for the punchline is these sketches but usually there is no punchline. Sitting through the comedy routines is an ordeal.

Comedy of course is a very individual thing. Maybe audiences of the time actually enjoyed this brand of comedy.

The burlesque movies give us the lot. You get half a dozen (occasionally more if you’re lucky) strip-tease routines but you get at least one straightforward musical number and a lot of comedy.

How good a particular burlesque movie is depends entirely on how good the strip-tease artistes are. They’re the reason you’re going to watch these movies. Everybody’s Girl (1950), Midnight Frolics (1949), 'B' Girl Rhapsody (1952) and French Follies (1951) are pretty good - the strippers are good and their routines are clever and erotic in that delightfully vintage 1950s way. The A-B-C's of Love is the weakest such movie I’ve seen so far. The strip-tease routines are not that great.

These burlesque movies won’t appeal to everyone but if you have an interest in burlesque or vintage erotica they’re essential viewing. And if like me you just enjoy oddball movie genres they’re intriguing. There are however much better movies in this genre than The A-B-C's of Love.

Saturday 25 November 2023

Mission Bloody Mary (1965)

Mission Bloody Mary, released in 1965, was the first of a series of three eurospy movies featuring Ken Clark as American secret agent Dick Malloy, Agent 077. It was an Italian-French-Spanish co-production. It was followed by From the Orient with Fury (Agente 077 dall'oriente con furore) and Special Mission Lady Chaplin (Missione speciale Lady Chaplin).

Confusingly it appears that Agent 077 was named Jack Clifton in the European versions but renamed Dick Malloy in the English dubbed versions.

Mission Bloody Mary begins in a typical eurospy way. Someone has been causing US military aircraft to crash and they have stolen a new super H-bomb nicknamed the Bloody Mary.

It’s obviously a case for the CIA’s top agent Dick Malloy, if they can tear him away from the case he’s working on at the moment. That case happens to be a beautiful blonde. Agent 077 hates leaving a job unfinished but he promises the blonde that he’ll be back to finish the job.

Agent 077 finds his contact and of course she’s a glamorous female, Dr Elsa Freeman (Helga Liné). There’s another glamorous female who seems likely to be more dangerous, a Chinese stripper named Kuan (played by Mitsouko).

The bodies slowly start to accumulate. And people are trying to kill Dick Malloy, so he must be getting close to something.

The CIA can’t provide Dick with much information. They know the Black Lily is involved, but they don’t know whether the Black Lily is an organisation or a person, or whether it refers to a man or a woman. The Black Lily might be operating independently, or on behalf of the Chinese or the Soviets. And that bomb could be hidden anywhere.

There will of course be double-crosses. This is after all a spy story. The script provides plenty of twists. Some of them you’ll see coming but some of them you won’t.

There are glamorous women and poor Malloy has no idea which of them he can trust. He gets into plenty of tight corners but he’s a tough guy and he can slug or shoot his way out of most situations.

Ken Clark was one of those American actors who realised that they weren’t going to reach the top in Hollywood but might do a lot better in Italy. He made peplums, spaghetti western, eurospy and action movies. He was the ruggedly handsome American type who prospered in 60s eurocult movies. He makes a more than adequate square-jawed wise-cracking hero.

Helga Liné and Mitsouko add some glamour. The other cast members are all perfectly competent.

The major difference between the Bond movies and eurospy movies was of course money. The makers of eurospy movies did not have the budgets for elaborate sets, fancy gadgetry and spectacular action set-pieces. They had to rely on more conventional action scenes. A lot depended on just how good a director was at staging such scenes. In this case Sergio Grieco proves to be very competent. The action scenes are excellent.

And there are plenty of them. Pacing is crucial to the success of these kinds of movies. The lower the budget of the movie the less forgiving the audience is going to be of slow patches. This movie has no slow patches. It just keeps powering along.

Director Sergio Grieco had a fairly typical career for an Italian genre director. He made peplums, swashbucklers and quite a few eurospy movies. Later he dabbled in poliziotteschi and sex comedies.

This was 1965 so there’s no nudity but there are some witty sexy moments. A good place for a woman to hide a secret message is in her bra, especially if she can be sure that the man for whom the message is intended will get the chance to look inside her bra. And Mitsouko gets to do a strip-tease routine.

At one point Malloy has to make sure that a female agent is not an imposter. To do so he will have to make a careful examination of her left breast. Fortunately one of Malloy’s secret agent skills is persuading young ladies to remove their clothing.

The violence isn’t graphic but the fight scenes are quite full-blooded.

Mission Bloody Mary has relatively few of the outrageous and fantastic elements that populate a lot of eurospy movies, in fact it has almost none, but it manages to provide plenty of excitement, and it’s stylish enough in a slightly gritty sort of way. On the whole this is a top-notch eurospy offering and it’s highly recommended.

The German Pidax Jack Clifton Agent 077 DVD boxed set includes all three 077 movies, with the English soundtracks as well. The transfers are fine.

I’ve reviewed the other two Agent 077 movies, From the Orient with Fury (1965) and the superb Special Mission Lady Chaplin (1966).

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Fräulein Leather (1970)

Fräulein Leather is a 1970 sexploitation feature written and directed by Nick Phillips.

Nick Phillips was actually Nick Millard, the son of legendary exploitation movie figure S.S. Millard (known as Steam Ship Millard and one of the notorious Forty Thieves of the exploitation movie business). Nick Phillips carved out his own niche in the business and had a long and prolific career. For some reason he doesn’t get as much attention as people like Russ Meyer, Doris Wishman and Joe Sarno but he does have some claim to being an interesting sexploitation auteur.

The 1960s-70s was the heyday of offbeat non-mainstream movie-making. There were avenues for the distribution of weird and wonderful oddball movies, avenues that no longer exist. If you wanted to make totally off-the-wall movies one of the best ways was to make sexploitation movies. All the distributors cared about was that your movie had enough nudity and simulated sex to make it saleable. Apart from that you could do what you liked.

There were American sexploitation movies that incorporated surrealist and fantasy and sci-fi and arty elements and lots of all-round weirdness, one notable example being Venus in Furs (1967). This was an ideal environment for Nick Phillips.

Nick Phillips gets comparatively little attention because his movies were very overtly erotic indeed and were very very low-budget productions with a bit of a ramshackle feel. As a result he’s a bit too disreputable even for critics who are prepared to celebrate Metzger, Meyer and even perhaps Wishman.

The movies of Nick Phillips are also heavy on the fetishism. Foot fetishism features in a lot of his movies and in this case there’s plenty of leather fetishism as well.

Like most Nick Phillips movie this one was shot without synchronised sound. Phillips makes a virtue of a necessity and decides to at least make the voiceover narration a bit interesting. It’s a woman’s rambling interior monologue.

Suzanne is a housewife who is disturbed by her lesbian sexual fantasies. The entire movie is an extended fantasy sequence. Women do often have quite lurid sexual fantasies and Suzanne is no exception. She fantasises about becoming part of a small circle of lesbians who are rather experimental in their sexual tastes. Leather boots are very prominent.

The voiceover narration explains Suzanne’s unhappy marriage and her conflicted feelings about her desires. She finds her fantasies humiliating and disturbing but very exciting. She analyses her feelings and is not always comfortable with the conclusions she reaches.

It’s probably no accident that when the movie opens she is lying in bed reading Camus. You could call this a sexistentialist movie.

There is no heterosexual sex in the movie. There are no male characters. The nudity is very explicit and the sex scenes are pretty much hardcore. Censors in those days were not quite sure how what to do about lesbian sex scenes and tended to allow film-makers to get away with quite a lot. There is an enormous amount of sex in this movie. But since Suzanne is obsessed by sex it does at least make some sense that the movie is basically little more than a series of her sexual fantasies.

Apart from one or two scenes shot on location this movie is all interiors, which kept the budget down. Again Phillips makes a virtue of a necessity, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere in which Suzanne is stifled by her own out-of-control fantasies and desires.

This is unapologetically a sex movie and if the sex on offer is not your thing the movie might not be your thing either. It does have an appealingly scuzzy sleazy feel to it, if you like that sort of thing. I do like that sort of thing so I enjoyed it. Your mileage may vary.

Media Blasters have released this movie on Blu-Ray in their Guilty Pleasures line, paired with the very early Nick Phillips movie Nudes on Credit (which is more a comedy than a sex film). The extras include a fascinating interview with the director. He has some amusing stories about the glory days of guerrilla film-making and makes no apologies whatsoever for the films he made (and nor should he).

Sunday 19 November 2023

The Cats (1968)

Duccio Tessari’s I bastardi (1968) is one of those European movies that gets a bit confusing when it comes to titles. It was released in English-speaking markets variously as The Cats, The Bastard, Mod-Cats and Sons of Satan. For convenience I’ll refer to it as The Cats.

This was an Italian-French-German co-production but was shot at least partly in the United States. Certainly all the location shooting (and there’s plenty of it) was obviously done in America.

Rita Hayworth is Martha and she has two sons, Adam (Kinski) and Jason (Giuliano Gemma). She loves them both but especially Jason. One can’t help feeling she may be a bit blinded by maternal love since we see Jason murder half a dozen people in the first few minutes of the movie. Martha calls her sons her kittens (hence the English title).

Adam and Jason are both criminals. Martha doesn’t mind as long as they pay her her allowance and keep her in whisky.

Jason’s killings were intended to wipe out Adam’s criminal rivals. Jason would be paid by receiving the proceeds of a jewel heist.

Everything is going great for Jason. He has lots of money. And he has a cute sexy girlfriend, Karen (Margaret Lee).

Unfortunately things are about to fall apart for him. He ends up grievously injured and is rescued by a pretty lady rancher, Barbara (played for former Bond girl Claudine Auger).

Fate has played a perverse trick on Jason. Barbara is his one chance of happiness. Any sane man would be delighted to win Barbara’s love but Jason doesn’t want her. He obviously prefers bad girls. And he has scores to settle. Revenge is all he can think about. He doesn’t care how much it might cost him.

So this is an obsession movie. It’s also a very dark very violent very cynical movie. Of all the characters in this movie Barbara is the only decent human being. Martha is a crazy drunk. Adam and Jason are psychos. Anyone who trusts Karen deserves what he gets.

We know this is all leading up to a violent finale and then the movie adds a twist that I can absolutely guarantee you won’t see coming. It really is the kind of thing you’re only going to see in an insane late 60s movie. There is a reason for it and when you find out the reason it’s kind of crazy.

Like most European movies that were filmed in the U.S. this movie still feels totally European. It’s a deranged eurocrime movie that just happens to take place in Arizona.

Rita Hayworth does the crazy drunk thing extremely well.

It’s hard to judge Kinski’s performances because of the English dubbing but he manages to get across plenty of Kinski derangement. Giuliano Gemma is effective enough as the obsessed Jason. Margaret Lee oozes sex and treachery.

You won’t get too many chances to see Rita Hayworth and Klaus Kinski starring in a movie together.

Kinski’s groovy sunglasses are a highlight. There’s plenty of that 60s aesthetic if you like that sort of thing (and I like it a great deal).

This movie is on DVD in the Warner Archive series. It’s barebones but it’s a pretty good transfer. The English dub is the only soundtrack option.

The Cats is a pretty decent movie if you enjoy movies about hyper-violent criminals. I liked it. Recommended.

Thursday 16 November 2023

Queens of Evil (1970)

Queens of Evil is a 1970 Franco-Italian co-production directed by Tonino Cervi. It’s a bit hard to decide to which genre this movie should be assigned. It’s not quite gothic horror, it’s not a giallo. It’s really a contemporary fairy tale gothic horror movie.

David (Ray Lovelock) is a young hippie riding his motorcycle to wherever it takes him. He stops to help a middle-aged man with a flat tyre. The man gives him an odd lecture. David expects it to be the kind of lecture that middle-aged guys would deliver to kids in 1970 but this is oddly different. Then there’s a car crash and there are police and David, being a hippie, doesn’t want to get mixed up with the police. He takes a side road and finds a house. He decides to sleep for the night in the shed. The following morning he meets the people who live in the house - three beautiful young women. David thinks their house looks like something out of a fairy tale.

There are some situations in life that are too good to be true. Three gorgeous very friendly babes living alone in a fairy tale cottage in the woods is one of those situations. Maybe he should have taken Liv’s advice. She was the first of the girls he encountered and she told him he’d be smart to leave. But of course he doesn’t. And there’s probably no male in the world who would have hopped on his bike and left. These girls are so friendly and gorgeous.

The girls are Samantha (Silvia Monti), Bibiana (Evelyn Stewart) and Liv (Haydée Politoff). They seem to be sisters.

There’s something else in these woods. It’s a kind of castle, the sort you’d expect in a fairy tale.

David notices that the girls seem to appear very suddenly and then, in the middle of a conversation with one of them, he’ll turn around and she’s gone.

Had David been more familiar with fairy tales he might have reflected that although there are certainly beautiful princesses in such tales not every female in fairy tales is a beautiful princess.

David becomes involved with Samantha. There are some slightly odd things about this house in the woods but David is so entranced by the three women that he doesn’t worry too much.

Of course things will end up becoming rather dangerous for poor David. He has no idea what he’s let himself in for. He’s very young and rather innocent.

Tonino Cervi’s career as a director wasn’t very extensive or distinguished but he does a fine job here. He creates a very subtle sense of unease. David knows there’s something slightly odd going on but it never occurs to him that it might be something to worry about. He’s a live and let live kind of guy. These chicks are a bit eccentric but he’s a hippie so that just makes them more fascinating to him.

Then slowly things become stranger. We know that eventually something really dramatic will happen but when it does Cervi manages to make it quite shocking.

Ray Lovelock was a fine (and versatile) actor and he does the innocent idealistic hippie thing extremely well. We really like David.

The three female leads are very effective. The three sisters seem to be slightly odd and a tiny bit disturbing but the three actresses don’t overdo this. And they manage to make the sisters seem a bit like the kinds of girls you might meet if you ever found yourself in a fairy tale. They’re beautiful and entrancing. They’re also seductive.

For most of its running time this movie avoids gothic horror clichés, or uses such clichés in unexpected ways. The viewer is really not at all sure what’s going on. Are the three sisters just free spirits ignoring the rules of conventional society (in other words are they basically hippies like David)? Is one of them a psycho, or are they all psychos? How dangerous are they? How crazy are they? Are they witches? Are they good witches or bad witches? Is this a giallo or a gothic horror film? We come to suspect that something supernatural or paranormal may be going on. Of course we’re seeing things from David’s point of view, which may be distorted. He’s a hippie. He might be having a drug fantasy.

Things become clearer towards the end but we’re still left with a few questions. And the ending is not quite what we expect. It remains a movie that doesn’t quite slot neatly into a particular genre.

Mention should also be made of the production design which is both dazzling and unexpected. The sisters’ house might appear to be a fairy tale cottage in the woods but no fairy tale cottage has this kind of ultra-modernist interior decor.

Queens of Evil is a wonderful fascinating oddball movie. Highly recommended.

Mondo Macabro’s Blu-Ray presentation looks great and there are some nice extras.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

The Black Cat (1966)

The Black Cat, written and directed by Harold Hoffman, is a very low-budget 1966 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous story of the same name. It was made by Hemisphere Films, better-known for their schlocky but fun horror monster movies shot in the Phillipines.

It’s an attempt to set the story in the 1960s while still retaining as much of the Poe flavour as possible. This is Poe but in the world of crazy rock’n’roll music, miniskirts and go-go dancing. This works better than you might expect.

A rich rather decadent young man named Lou (Robert Frost) lives on the fortune he inherited from his parents. He plays at being a tortured writer. His pretty blonde wife Diana (Robyn Baker) buys him a black cat as a present. He calls the cat Pluto.

The wife is devoted but she feels neglected. Lou spends most of his time drinking and writing.

Lou had apparently been a sensitive child but there are hints that his relationships with his parents were not exactly healthy and he hates his deceased father.

Lou is spiralling downwards into madness, and it’s a mean nasty madness. He comes to believe that the cat is a demon. The key to Lou’s madness seems to be his attempts to blame anybody but himself for his problems. He thinks his father was out to get him. He thinks his wife is against him. And he thinks the cat is out to get him.

He blinds the cat in one eye, and later kills the cat.

If you’re sensitive to animal cruelty you might think twice about viewing this movie. It’s pretty obvious that there was no actual animal cruelty involved in the making of the movie. All the scenes involving animal cruelty are quite clearly faked, but there’s a great deal of implied animal cruelty.

After further displays of madness and evil Lou ends up in a lunatic asylum. A few months later he is released. The well-meaning psychiatrist is confident that Lou is cured. We will soon find out that his confidence is sadly misplaced.

Lou is soon drinking again. He is still obsessed with demons, and when he meets a hooker in a bar he decides she is a witch. He sees black cats everywhere. Things are not likely to end well.

I do enjoy movies about psychiatry, especially if (as is the case here) there is half-baked Fruedianism involved. The combination of psychobabble and demonic obsessions makes this movie even more enticing from my point of view.

Robert Frost might not be a very good actor but he does manage to be very scary. It’s an effectively disturbing performance. Robyn Baker is not the world’s greatest actress but she does OK as the wife who just can’t give up on her husband even as his madness and evil become more obvious.

This is a rather nasty mean-spirited movie but it does have some genuinely chilling moments and some effectively creepy moments as well. Harold Hoffman didn’t have much of a career and he certainly wasn’t a brilliant director but he achieves plenty of menace and foreboding. This is an odd horror movie but it’s strange 1960s gothic decadent vibe is interesting and surprisingly works very well.

It manages to feel like a Poe story and follows Poe’s plot surprisingly closely. The very low budget is obvious and the special effects look very cheap but the sinister atmosphere and the very gothic feel of inescapable impending doom makes up for this. This is a very dark rather effective horror chiller and it’s highly recommended.

This movie is part of a Something Weird DVD double-header, paired with The Fat Black Pussycat. The Black Cat gets a letterboxed transfer. It doesn’t exactly look pristine but I suspect finding a decent print proved next door to impossible. You get some oddball extras including a truly bizarre cat-themed burlesque routine.

Saturday 11 November 2023

The Sex Thief (1973)

The Sex Thief is a 1973 British sex comedy directed by Martin Campbell (who went on to direct a couple of Bond movies including Goldeneye and Casino Royale).

Grant Henry (David Warbeck) is a writer of thrillers. He doesn’t make all that much money out of writing so he supplements his income by moonlighting as a cat burglar. He steals jewels from very rich women. They’re always home at the time and he seduces them as well. Or sometimes they seduce him. They’re married women and they’re mostly married to men who are either past it or just not up to the job of satisfying them. Grant Henry in his guise of cat burglar always satisfies them.

The women always report the burglaries to the police so that they can put in insurance claims but they always neglect to mention that the burglar bedded them after robbing them. They enjoy the sex so much that they don’t want to have to make awkward explanations to their husbands, and they’re so filled with admiration for the burglar’s prowess between the sheets that they don’t want him caught. After all, if he remains at large he might burgle them again and they’d be delighted by that.

To make sure the burglar doesn’t get caught the women give wildly inaccurate and conflicting descriptions of him. The police are baffled. Insurance investigator Judy Martin (Diane Keen) is worried. She might lose her job if the burglar cannot be caught.

Then an American actress named Jezebel, whose film career is going down the spout, decides that a publicity stunt might help. A phoney insurance claim might help as well. She claims, quite falsely, that she is the latest burglary victim but to garner extra publicity she claims that the cat burglar raped her. Seven times.

Grant Henry is outraged. He has certainly had sex with all his burglary victims but the women were always keen. He has never raped anybody. He decides to pay Jezebel back by actually burglarising her hotel room, and by seducing her. Of course in the interests of poetic justice he has to have sex with her seven times. Jezebel has a wonderful time but our cat burglar is a physical wreck after such a hectic night.

Judy Martin was suspicious of Jezebel’s claims right from the start. She’s starting to put two and two together.

Judy comes up with a plan to catch the burglar and there are a few little twists towards the end.

This movie has a slightly more substantial plot than you’d find in one of the Confessions movies. Those involved in the production wanted to make a sex comedy but they wanted it to be a real movie as well.

The 1970s British sex comedies were despised by critics at the time and to a large extent are still despised although in the last few years they have begun to attract a cult following. These movies need to be put in historical context. In the 70s the British film industry was a walking corpse. Over the course of the 60s cinema attendances had collapsed. At the end of the 60s the American money that had kept the industry afloat was withdrawn.

Making movies in Britain became almost impossible. Film companies went broke. By 1976 Hammer withdrew from film production in despair. In the early 70s the wave of sex comedies was almost the only thing keeping some semblance of life going in the industry. These movies ensured that at least some studios would keep going, that film crews would get some work and at least some cinemas could remain open.

The British sex comedies of the early 70s are interesting because producers were only prepared to go so far. These movies included plenty of frontal nudity and plenty of simulated sex but they’re not overly steamy. And combining sex with comedy made the sex seem less threatening. Producers were aware of the need to tread carefully. They were making movies for the mainstream market. They were not making ultra low budget backyard productions. So the sex comedies from 1970 to 1974 do pull their punches when it comes to the sex.

The Sex Thief
was marginally more ambitious than most sex comedies. This is more of a lighthearted sexy crime thriller than a pure sex comedy. It is quite amusing but the focus remains on the actual plot. It’s not a sex film as such.

In The Sex Thief there’s frontal nudity and sex scenes but they do actually serve a purpose in plot terms. It’s a movie that doesn’t want to be seen as celebrating eroticism for its own sake.

The Sex Thief is fascinating as an example of the kinds of movies that British film-makers were making at the time in a desperate attempt to find ways to persuade people to tear themselves away from their TV sets and go to the cinema. It does have some funny moments and as a lightweight romp of a crime thriller it’s fairly entertaining. If you don’t set your expectations too high and accept it for what it is it’s recommended.

Thursday 9 November 2023

Linda (1981)

Linda is a 1981 Jess Franco Spanish-German co-production that has a few surprises in store. It seems like it’s going to be a full-on orgy of sleaze but that’s not how it plays out.

Sheila (Raquel Evans) owns and operates a major hotel on a small Mediterranean island. Her boyfriend Ron (Antonio Mayans) manages the hotel for her. Ron is two-timing Sheila with one of the employees, Betsy (Ursula Buchfellner). Sheila knows how to take her revenge. Sheila has another business on the island, Rio Amore. This is a very high-class brothel. The girls cater for all tastes. Sheila forces Betsy to work as one of the girls in the brothel, where she is subjected to various indignities and tortures. Sheila does not want to kill Betsy. Humiliating her is much more satisfying, and serves the double purpose of teaching Ron to be a good boy in future.

Betsy’s kid sister Linda (Katja Bienert) attends a convent school in Switzerland. She’s about to arrive on the island for a holiday. The nuns warn her that she will have to try hard to retain her virtue in the outside world. Linda however has no intention of retaining her virtue. In fact she has a steamy bedroom frolic with one of the other girls before packing her bags for her holiday. She’s tried women and now she’s keen to try men.

Ron would like to rescue Betsy but he’s scared of Sheila and he wants to keep his job. Sheila is a very possessive vengeful woman.

Ron doesn’t know what has happened to Betsy but he knows Linda is about to arrive so he goes to the airport to pick her up.

You know what’s going to happen. Poor innocent Linda is going to be drawn into the decadent debauched world of Rio Amore. But that’s not what happens at all. Linda meets a really nice boy. They fall in love. The movie has two totally separate plot strands and the Linda plot strand is a tender sensitive love story. Yes really.

The Betsy plot strand doesn’t play out quite as expected either.

This is a movie that constantly seems to be on the verge of tipping over the edge into real nastiness but it doesn’t really happen.

That’s not to say that this is not a sleazy movie. There’s an astounding amount of nudity and a lot of sex. There’s kinkiness. There’s torture. There’s sex slavery. But weirdly it somehow manages to avoid that real nastiness. The torture scenes turn out to be very tame. The sex is strictly softcore. The violence is quite restrained and it doesn’t escalate to anything like the levels you might anticipate.

You could almost say this is a lighthearted feelgood movie about sex slavery and torture. That sounds weird, but that’s how it turns out.

And the main focus is on the love story. In fact two love stories. And they’re both genuinely romantic love stories involving nice people. It’s a “lovers walking hand-in-hand on the beach” movie and it’s a “true love will triumph” movie.

This is definitely Franco Lite. Which is not a bad thing. It’s an erotic movie that celebrates eroticism as a good thing. Even the kinkiness is mostly hinted at, or it’s done in a lyrical rather than grimy way.

There are orgy scenes but they don’t get overly explicit. There’s certainly an atmosphere of decadence and that’s Franco’s focus, rather than graphic sex. And he achieves the decadent feel very effectively.

It’s obviously a very low-budget production but Franco manages to make it visually quite impressive. The glass cage in which Betsy is imprisoned is a nice touch and would have cost almost nothing.

Franco loved erotically charged nightclub scenes with a hint of kink and the floor shows Sheila provides for her clients serve much the same purpose in this film.

The highlight of the movie is the very arch performance by Raquel Evans as Sheila. She spends a lot of time naked and while her sex scenes are not overly graphic she manages to generate plenty of sexual heat. She totally and effortlessly dominates the movie.

Linda isn’t top-tier Franco but its mix of romance and low-key sleaze is rather engaging. Recommended for Franco fans.

Linda had a DVD release which is still available.

Monday 6 November 2023

Never Say Never Again (1983)

Never Say Never Again, released in 1983, is the movie that saw Sean Connery back in the rôle of James Bond twelve years after Diamonds Are Forever. The story of how this movie came about is more interesting than the movie itself but we’ll get to that later.

This is of course a remake of Thunderball which had been the most comercially successful of all the Bond films.

SPECTRE have hatched a plot to steal two American thermonuclear warheads. They naturally intend to use the warheads to blackmail the governments of just about every country on the planet.

Bond meanwhile has been sent to a health farm. There’s a new M in charge of the Secret Service and he’s a health nut. He also disapproves of the unconventional methods of the Double-0 section. Bond witnesses an odd scene at the health farm - one of the female nurses beating up a make patient.

By now SPECTRE’s threat has forced M to recall Bond to duty and send him to the Bahamas. I confess I wasn’t clear why the Bahamas was chosen as his destination.

Bond encounters a beautiful glamorous young woman improbably named Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera). They go scuba diving together, they have sex and she tries to kill him. The audience already knows she’s an assassin working for Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer). Largo is the SPECTRE agent in charge of the nuclear plot.

Bond meets another beautiful young woman, Domino (Kim Basinger in the rôle that made her a star). There’s a curious connection between Domino and that odd incident Bond witnessed at the health farm. Domino is Largo’s mistress. Largo has a huge yacht on which he keeps his many valuable and beautiful possessions and he certainly regards Domino as a possession. Largo is not pleased when he sees Domino being kissed by Bond and obviously enjoying it.

Largo’s yacht is one of the keys to the solution of the puzzle of the present whereabouts of those warheads. Domino is another. Fatima Blush makes numerous attempts to kill Bond. The story builds to an action finale in a series of desert caverns.

The story of this film starts in 1958 when Ian Fleming wrote a screenplay in collaboration with several other writers, most notably Kevin McClory. The screenplay failed to attract any interest so Fleming turned it into a novel with the title Thunderball. And as a result was sued by Kevin McClory. The rather complicated legal settlement allowed McClory to act as producer on the film version of Thunderball but it also allowed him to make further film adaptations of the novel after ten years had elapsed.

By the late 70s McClory had managed to interest Sean Connery in starring in a new film version, which would become Never Say Never Again. This resulted in more legal battles with Eon Films (the makers of all the other Bond films) determined to prevent the making of a rival Bond film which they believed would damage the box office prospects of their own Bond films. They had Octopussy scheduled for release in 1983 so their concern was understandable. The upshot of the court battles was that Never Say Never Again could be made quite legally, but only under certain conditions. It had to be based directly on the Nobel and could not utilise any ideas from the 1965 Thunderball movie. That caused lots of problems when it came to writing a screenplay and many different writers worked on that screenplay. Eventually a workable script was prepared and shooting began.

The script is not the problem with Never Say Never Again, but it’s a movie that does have a lot of problems.

First off, the music by Michel Legrand is awful and the title song is instantly forgettable. The second problem is Connery. Connery was far and away the best screen Bond because he brought a real edge to his performances that no other actor has even come close to achieving and combined this with a subtly tongue-in-cheek approach. Unfortunately in Never Say Never Again that edge is missing. Connery’s performance, surprisingly, is rather lifeless. He also looks too old. He was actually slightly younger than Roger Moore but he looks older. Connery was 52 but at times he looks 62.

The third problem was studio cost-cutting. Director Irvin Kershner had a couple of very cool gadgets planned for the movie, most notably the flying motorcycle. The studio decided that was too expensive. That’s unfortunate because we get this huge buildup to the unveiling of the secret weapon Bond has stored in a crate but when it’s uncrated it’s basically just an ordinary common and garden motorcycle. The flying rocket platforms are a major letdown as well. The gadgets in this movie are truly lame.

It would have been better to do what was done in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and dispense with gadgets altogether and rely on spectacular stunts. That worked in OHMSS because the action scenes in that movie were superb. The action scenes in Never Say Never Again are rather feeble. OK, the underwater sequence with the sharks is pretty good.

Irvin Kershner claimed that he wanted to focus on the characters rather than action. That’s a valid approach for a spy movie, but in order for it to work you need some interesting divided loyalties and some potential betrayals. There’s none of that here.

The one real plus is Barbara Carrera. She’s sexy and deadly and sadistic and huge amounts of fun.

Kim Basinger looks very pretty. Klaus Maria Brandauer is an OK villain. Edward Fox is amusing as M. Rowan Atkinson adds comic relief as a bumbling Foreign Office flunkey.

Overall Never Say Never Again just never catches fire. It’s not a terrible movie but it’s no more than a very average spy thriller and people expect a lot more from a Bond movie. Maybe worth a look if you’re a Bond completist.