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Worth viewing, but it's not the film Franco intended
'Marquis de Sade's 'Justine'' (1968) is easily Jess Franco's most accomplished film, esp. from a technical standpoint, backed by the biggest budget he would ever have. Rich, brilliant colors, skin aplenty, a few perversities, and strange performances from Klaus Kinski, Jack Palance and Mercedes Mccambridge make for an entertaining but relatively tame Franco outing. To boot, Jack Palance's performance ranks as possibly the most bizarre ever seen on film. The dvd includes a revealing 20-minute 'making of' documentary featuring an extensive, contemporary interview with director Franco, and he doesn't hold back. Franco states that Palance was sauced during the entire shoot, drinking red wine all day, each day, starting around 7a.m.
Kinski's role (as de Sade) was originally handed to Orson Welles, but once Welles read the script, he claimed that he simply could not play the part because it included scenes of erotica. In reality, Welles would have had to do a scene with several totally naked women, and this may have made him uncomfortable and nervous. Interestingly, the de Sade character has no lines, and Kinski's scenes are just a bunch of cutaways of him sitting/pacing in a prison cell, mentally tortured, trying to write 'Justine'.
Franco intended to create an explicitly nasty, masochistic film faithful to de Sade's writing; however, according to Franco, he was forced into a watered-down, `Snow-White-lost-in-the-woods' direction because of the producer's decision to cast Tyrone Power's daughter, Romina Power, in the title role. `She was a passenger, wandering around,' Franco scoffed. `She was like a piece of furniture. It was as if I was making Bambi 2'. The role was intended for Rosemary Dexter, who appears in the film in a lesser role.
Franco's version of 'Justine' is not as grim or as depressing as Chris Boger's 'Cruel Passion' (1977), starring Koo Stark, but it's also not as nasty or as perverse. Too bad for Franco fans. --- david ross smith
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