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Breakthrough lesbian domination film deserves a revival
All those video companies reissuing vintage European films seem to have missed this classic, one of the flashiest movies made during the '60s soft porn era when lesbian cinema was emerging. I was fortunate to finally see it on collector's circuit-DVD, after wondering for 40 years about this particular title (never released in the U.S.).
It is basically a story of female bondage, as glamorous, desirable model/jet setter Margaret (played by Rosanna Schiaffino), takes in the plastic/perfect Silvia (young Haydeé Politoff) and grooms her for some great undertaking -presumably she will become a model. With various servants tending to every detail of Politoff's physical aspect (hair, nails, makeup, clothing, etc.) film's early reels promise the prospect of an ALL ABOUT EVE twisting storyline, but such is not the case.
Instead Silvia is subject to Margaret's every whim and flighty change of mood, a female slave who is humiliated at every opportunity. She's not there to do menial work, no there are innumerable servants for that. She's a plaything, almost a real-life doll. One could imagine the film being made on a similar premise (as are many Japanese anime efforts) of her being a realistic robot or sex toy.
I won't spoil the ending but it caught me by surprise, in its cynicism and complete refusal to return the viewer to a moral universe. I know the production code was dead by 1969, and never even existed in European-based cinema, but still the filmmakers' adherence to an amoral position was novel.
Technical credits throughout are sumptuous, with lensing in widescreen Techniscope and an emphasis upon glamor and pastel color schemes. The film it most closely resembled for me was Henri-Georges Clouzot's finale, LA PRISONNIERE, but without that master's penchant for experimentalism.
Director Pasquale Festa Campanile presents his tale, adapted from a famous novel of its day, in straightforward fashion, letting the actors and the incidents accomplish his task. He never stoops to the glossy surface effects of a Radley Metzger, who would have been the logical director for this material had it been a U.S. project.
Film seems a followup to Festa Campanile's greatest hit THE LIBERTINE, and not surprisingly Politoff closely resembles that film's star Catherine Spaak. Oddly enough, Metzger released that film & made a lot of money with it Stateside via his Audubon Films label, but passed on QUEEN. Politoff is one of the great beauties of her era, and I have enjoyed seeing her in everything from Eric Rohmer films to CEMETERY GIRLS to BORA BORA, but show biz being mainly about luck she never made the big time. And she never generated a latter-day cult like Edwige Fenech.
Schiaffino had a more conventional career with its momentary successes, and any fan of either her European work or her high profile Hollywood assignments will want to see CHECK TO THE QUEEN. She was never lovelier, gets to chew up the scenery a bit, and even avoids the endlessly topless shots Haydeé must provide. The male lead is Gabriele Tinti, future cult figure opposite Laura Gemser in umpteen films, but at the time this was made a more mainstream actor, costarring opposite Marlène Jobert in Charles Bronson's best film RIDER ON THE RAIN. The always-reliable Romolo Valli is terrific as Schiaffino's very decadent friend.
In sum, if you wondered what obscure film Lou Reed might present in a private showing if friends were visiting him in the Village, say John Waters and Quentin Tarantino, I think CHECK TO THE QUEEN would be the perfect selection.
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