This lavish knockabout version of Shakespeare's battle-of-the-sexes farce adds some strange and kinky twists to a familiar tale. The shrewish heroine Catalina makes her first entrance in full male drag. Charging about on horseback, flashing her sword - for all the world like Woolf's Orlando or Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin. When her macho suitor Don Beltran tries to subdue her, he chains her to a pillar. Reminding us of some S&M bondage fantasy from Jess Franco or Bunuel's Belle de Jour.
Such mini-forays into androgyny and sadomasochism are more interesting than anything in Franco Zeffirelli's more famous 1967 film. A pity that director Antonio Roman doesn't make more out of them, and rewrite the whole play along similarly subversive lines. For most of its running time, alas, this film sticks close to Shakespeare's original - i.e. it's crass, sexist and woefully unfunny. This member of the audience had no wish to see Beltran 'tame' Catalina. Especially when she's played by the fiery Carmen Sevilla (all eye-flashing, bosom-heaving splendour) and he's played by the drab and paunchy Alberto Closas!
Proof, perhaps, that you can only do so much with a bad play. At least the production is eye-poppingly lavish, with deliciously over-the-top costumes and Spanish national monuments standing in as sets. A pity they had to photograph it all in ghastly Gevacolor. The print I saw (in the 5 AM 'graveyard slot' on Spanish TV) had faded so badly, it was hard to imagine how splendid it must once have looked. If only some genius could restore the print and fade out the ghastly sexism of Shakespeare's text! Now there's a thought...
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