Fascinating action/sex film from French cult master
Max Pecas is my favorite French porn director, comparing his work to endless disappointing efforts from his leading peers Jose Benazeraf and Jean Rollin. An obscure title "The Black Hand" from his oeuvre is quite enlightening as to the age-old issue of how would a ghettoized porn director handle directing a mainstream film.
Russ Meyer in America got the chance with 20th Century-Fox in 1970/71 and both his famous (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and forgotten/reviled (The Seven Minutes) are fascinating examples.
But most pornographers (Joe Sarno an obvious example) never get a shot at making a real film that doesn't rely on porn content (soft or hard). Here Pecas is making an action film in which he shows skill at eliciting consistently effective acting performances in both lead and supporting roles, clean/evocative action outbursts in the Jean-Pierre Melville mode, and idiosyncratic style points all the way. The inclusion of partial nudity and sex is no more jarring than in any 21st Century major movie, and not the crutch one would expect.
Stolid hero played by "James Harris" (sounds like Kubrick's collaborator of "Bedford Incident" fame) is weakest element, especially as casting has him matching physically his opposite number nemesis. Otherwise we have a very colorful cast: a sexy white-haired evil genius Jean Topart, who is wont to pontificate on East/West relations when he is not humping some young babe; 3 beautiful babes led by genre favorite Janine Raynaud, who is sort of a red herring (introduced in a striking scene playing chess against the evil one, and smoking a pipe), since the other gals seem just like eye candy for many reels before emerging as Janine's equal in skulduggery); and even a mysterious dwarf who tortures a beautiful blonde in the film's second scene.
Opening is stark action-man cinema, very well directed and emblematic of the fact that Pecas is directing a real movie, all the way. After that, the dwarf sets off a series of strong BDSM and fetish content scenes that are up to the domestic '60s level, popularized by Bob Cresse in films like Hot Spur and Love Camp 7. Name your kink and it is effectively (soft-core only of course) interjected at the proper moment here.
The spy/intrigue content is verbally played up but has little impact here. Style is everything with a baby-doll impersonation by the blonde member Anny Nelsen of Topart's troupe loaded with interesting shtick, and the nihilistic finale very skilfully blocked and staged with enough final reel twists to fill a boatload of movies. A 21st Century emphasis on gore has made Pecas's action and death scenes seem very tame, but I enjoyed them for that very reason of lacking the explicitness cop-out.
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