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Very far from VERTIGO
A down-on-his-luck musician thinks he's impersonating a missing millionaire as part of an inheritance scheme but it's only a smokescreen for a Nazi war criminal trying to escape the Mossad...
Although both films use French crime novels from the pulp team of Boileau-Narcejac as source, Sergio Gobbi's MISDEAL (aka EVIL WOMAN) bears no resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO as far as plot goes and there's no reel comparison, artistically, either. That said, MISDEAL is still a sort-of-suspenseful cat-and-mouse thriller with an ironic ending that comes as no big surprise despite the twists and turns the tale takes to get there. The WW II flashback relationship between Elsa Martinelli & Robert Hossein predicts the one between Charlotte Rampling & Dirk Bogarde in THE NIGHT PORTER a half-decade later. Led to believe MISDEAL was adapted from the same Boileau-Narcejac novel Hitchcock used (D'Entre Les Morts/From Among The Dead), this wasn't at all what I was expecting but it didn't suck, either. 7/10
Night, er, Day Of The Nympho
As dawn breaks, vacationing nymphomaniac Adriana (Jean Seberg) is having sex on the beach with a quartet of men she met the night before while her husband (Pierre Brasseur) and his chauffeur cruise the coast looking for her. After the foursome amble off, Adriana has sex with a mute beachboy before making her way to a seaside bordello where she has sex with its lesbian madame (Danielle Darrieux) and one of the customers. Afterwards, Adriana walks into the sea but gets rescued by an ex-pat poet (Maurice Ronet) and they have meaningful sex (for at least one of them, anyway) while her husband and his driver begin combing the beach where it's revealed they've had enough of her antics and plan to kill her. Adriana knows this and is almost ready...
(and contrary to another review on this site, Adriana doesn't drown herself)
Although novice director Romain Gary claimed this adaptation of his own short story was influenced by Joseph Conrad, it positively reeks of Tennessee Williams at his most operatically perverse, right down to the hoary allegory of birds coming to die on the beaches of Peru. The story, akin to a Greek tragedy that unfolds over the course of a day, is as compelling as it is preposterous and its realization is both pretentious and hypnotic. I'm not sure how much of the black comedy was intentional but Gary definitely knew what he wanted from his leading lady (then-wife Jean Seberg) and got it despite the NY Times' assertion that "she doesn't resemble a woman lost to an empty passion as much as a little girl about to lose a spelling bee." Told by everyone she's got the devil in her, Seberg's Adriana is the quintessential femme fatale and the film, as Variety noted, "is reminiscent of early Hollywood films about (them)". The ethereally beautiful Jean has a nude scene (albeit covered in sand) and has sex with almost everyone in the movie but it's the "adult subject matter" that earned THE BIRDS COME TO DIE IN PERU the first "X" rating in the U.S. The stylized showdown's satisfyingly sadistic and oh, what the heck: 10/10!
"In Paris, BIRDS IN PERU has been damned as the worst film ever made and praised as an outstanding work of art." -Jean Seberg
"It is, in fact, a daring and accomplished work and I'd find it difficult to name another writer who has changed media so effectively in a first try." -Films And Filming
"BIRDS IN PERU is about as self-indulgent as a movie can get...(it) has most of the defects of a very bad home movie: it is unintentionally funny where it is not flat...The scenes are not remotely erotic." -Time
"BIRDS IN PERU is the kind of movie I find infinitely more entertaining than overrated limburger like THE LION IN WINTER...(it's) blessed with an authentic personal signature." -Village Voice
Twin Devils (2006)
Men In Suits: a Roland Dane "Best Of"?
MEN IN SUITS: *beep* BY THE BOSS isn't on Roland Dane's IMDb cv but it does feature the Mangiatti twins and since the director's last was in 2007, I'm thinking this 2009 opus is more than likely a bunch of "office-related" vignettes from his previous films (including TWIN DEVILS, the only one to star the Mangiatti brothers) strung together by an annoyingly snarky narration cracking wise on "men at work".
The smarmy voice-over that connects these all-male sex scenarios kind of made me nostalgic for the "Golden Age of Porn" (early 70s to early 80s) when the action often came wrapped in a kinky narrative tale. Scary stories like the "No Exit" existentiality of THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES, the Twilight Zone-ish PANDORA'S MIRROR, the horrific THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, and the downright disturbing THE DESTROYING ANGEL were among the best the adult film industry had to offer and could even prove thought-provoking; in essence, proving there was more than just one thing on their minds. Unfortunately, the Hungarian-lensed MEN IN SUITS didn't deliver in that department until the climax (or one of 'em, anyway) when a voyeuristic security guard turned in a couple of accountants for going at it after hours which got them summoned to the bosses office the next day. The "head" honchos were played by identical twins Fabrizio & Fernando Mangiatti who briefly quizzed the culprits in Hungarian before giving them what for every which way (and talk about a "tongue-lashing").
I was greatly relieved there was no incest although the siblings do share a lollipop at one point if you know what I mean and look deeply into each other's eyes while plowing others in tandem. Some of the sex was quite frisky in a Three Stooges sort of way with lots of slapping, pinching, ear twisting, nose tweaking, and spitting along with a popular position that can't be replicated without a chiropractor present (if you must know, lay on your back and throw your legs over your head until your toes touch the floor while your partner plays pile driver. Use a wall to support your back). I was neither turned off nor on by the mostly mechanical goings ons but I will say there was way too much shorn shrubbery and too many humongous tattoos (no one's Jewish, either) but Euro endeavors like this can also offer educational advice and anyone wondering what to do with their dropped drawers can make like a Magyar and park 'em on their sex partner's head.
These guys didn't exactly put the "hung" in Hungarian but they made up for it in looks and I have to wonder why the twins didn't come to the U.S. and try their luck in the entertainment industry. Looking almost as good in their business suits as they did in their birthday suits, the boys were definitely male model material and what's amazing is that a few of the film's stars also make legit wrestling and thai boxing videos. Maybe I'm out of touch but wasn't porn the "kiss of death" for any real show biz aspirations? I'd love to complete my "doppelganger collection" with a magazine cover of the macho Mangiatti brothers and I only wish it were GQ.
The Candidate (1964)
"Super sleazy" cheese "ripped from the headlines"
Samantha Ashley (the pneumatic Mamie Van Doren), the mistress of ruthless Buddy Barker (Eric Mason), campaign manager for "The Candidate", is hauled before a Senate Sub-Committee hearing and her explosive revelations (told in flashback) rock everyone's world...
The NY Times called THE CANDIDATE a "super-sleazy political drama" and the "ripped from the headlines" fictionalization of Attorney General Robert Kennedy's investigation into Capitol Hill wheeler dealer Bobby Baker really lives up to that psychotronic hype. Under Barker's svengali-like influence, Mamie goes from Miami Beach party planner to swinging Washington "hostess" who "introduces" a down-on-her-luck Brit (the equally pneumatic June Wilkinson) to Barker's boss, a conservative Republican senatorial candidate from Massachusetts (Ted Knight) running on a "family values" platform. The straight-laced pol falls head over heels in love with the bad girl from Blighty and he cries like a baby when he can't get it up. It's all downhill from there, naturally, and the bitter end comes when the candidate suffers a fatal heart attack as he and the Committee are treated to a Barker-produced stag film ("Steam Heat") starring June and a midget plumber.
Oddly enough, the candidate isn't the star of the show here -Buddy Barker is- and he's the same kind of sh!t-heel George Peppard was in THE CARPETBAGGERS which was made the same year. It's Barker's activities as a pornographer and pimp (the real life Bobby Baker was alleged to have procured women for President Kennedy) that concern the Sub-Committee and he also cheats on Mamie with an inexperienced "political groupie" who he gets pregnant at an orgy one night. He pays for the kid's abortion but that only makes things worse because she's raped by the doctor during the procedure and goes insane. Although she can't speak, she's wheeled in to testify (!) and upon seeing Barker, she leaps out of her wheelchair to collapse in his arms. Just when you think it can't get any more off-the-wall, it does and the melodramatic climax comes in a deserted courtroom lit only by lightning from a raging thunderstorm outside with no happy ending for anyone involved.
In 2008, Barry Lowe's "Atomic Blonde: The Films Of Mamie Van Doren" called this film "lost" and thank God it's now "found" because I've never seen anything quite like it for 1964 ...or any other year for that matter. And what's really crazy is the fact that cinematographer Stanley "The Magnificent Ambersons" Cortez gives this silly slab of sleaze a classy, professional look. June's a marginally better actress than Miss Mamie but it's gravel-voiced B-movie bad girl Robin Raymond as their Hedda Hopper-esque attorney (with flamboyant chapeaus and a cigarette holder) who takes top honors in that dubious department. It's a weird mixture of exploitation and innocence from a time when a girl in trouble was ruined if the man didn't marry her and as jaw-dropping as some of the sexploits were, the "orgy" where Barker gets the girl pregnant consists of everyone doing the twist in Halloween masks.
Back in those "Happy Daze", publicized political sex scandals weren't as common as they are today and when they did occur, they blew big (like Britain's Profumo affair) but although they've lost their power to shock over time, THE CANDIDATE seems as topical now as it was then. Like the thematically-similar THE CARPETBAGGERS, there's supposed to be a European version with nudity and although it was filmed at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood far from Poverty Row, I'm not sure where something this "adult" was exhibited. Grind houses, most likely -but then again, the film was reviewed in the NY Times so go figure. And what I wouldn't give to see the Euro cut (sigh). 11/10!
Pandora's Mirror (1981)
Sultry Veronica Hart plays Pandora, a NYC gal who wanders into an East Village antique shop one afternoon and becomes mesmerized by an old mirror in which she sees sex acts taking place. She's gotta have it but the proprietor tells her it's not for sale ...although she can take it home for a day or two if she likes. Back at her apartment, Pandora watches the mirror's history unfold- it was carved during the American Revolution from an oak tree struck by lightning and she's nearly driven crazy from lust seeing its previous owners have sex through the centuries. Among the vignettes are one from the Revolution, one about a gangster, and another about an old-time Hollywood star. It's a high-end XXX film with a beautiful leading lady, impressive cinematography, a soundtrack that includes the VERTIGO score (as well as "Ommadawn Part One"), some highly-charged erotic action and, best of all, an eerie ending with Pandora getting "sucked" into the mirror to become its latest tale as it goes back on display in the antique shop. It's the perfect second feature for Jonas Middleton's XXX "porno chic" horror yarn, THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (1976).
I actually met the lady -briefly- back in the early '80s at a strip-mall opening of a video store when they were all the rage. I couldn't believe how petite she was and she looked gorgeous in a gold-glitter knit sweater and jeans that were spray-painted on like THE HITCHHIKER's. Ms. Hart was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed almost to the point of over-eager (coked up or scared to death?), darting here, there, and everywhere, tossing her curly dark mane about. She was definitely "on" and looked genuinely surprised when I told her why I loved PANDORA'S MIRROR but once it became clear I wasn't buying WANDA WHIPS WALL STREET (the VHS she was hawking), she didn't stick around me and my friend much longer. Before she signed photos for us and scampered off, she did say she studied acting in England and appeared on the London stage as "Randee Styles". The autographed pic ("To _____ , you make me hot and randy -keep it up! Love Veronica Hart xxx") hangs in my den to this day.
Adventurous supervillain serial
Arthur Bernede's "Belphégor: The Mystery of the Louvre" was a 1927 "criminal adventure" novel along the lines of FANTOMAS and JUDEX (which the author co-wrote with Louis Feuillade) that spawned a silent serial, a comic strip, a French TV mini-series in the mid-1960s, and a 2001 movie with Sophie Marceau & Michel Serrault. The four-part TV adaptation (72 minutes per episode) was a big hit with viewers at the time and it's reputed to be an "important landmark in the history of television":
"Think of co-incidence as an island: drain the water and they're all connected to the mainland". That's what an old man at a rummage sale tells a young college student in Part 1 and when the vendor commits suicide at the same time a guard in the Louvre is murdered after a phantom is spotted near the statue of Belphegor ("god of deceit and malice"), the student takes the geezer at his word and sneaks into the museum at night to connect the dots. He also gets seduced by a sophisticated femme fatale (Juliette Greco) and teams up with the Police Commissioner's teen-aged daughter to try and catch this "ghost" who comes and goes at will, impervious to bullets. The Commissioner's told by important people to drop the investigation and his daughter is kidnapped and released as a warning to do just that. In Part 2, the student finds a secret passage under the museum where Belphegor is being brought to life a la Frankenstein but when the police follow, the catacombs are flooded. The student turns up a few days later and refuses to speak of what he saw, saying only that the investigation should be dropped. What the hell's going on?
In Parts 3 & 4, the college student attempts suicide and the Commissioner uncovers a clue in Cagliostro's former abode which leads to a secret society of Rosicrucians guarding the secrets of Paracelcus, a sixteenth century alchemist whose recipes for gold and radium are hidden in the Louvre and could prove disastrous to mankind...
"The Phantom Of The Louvre" is a good/bad "supervillian" who's more like the Golem than Fantômas and his "mystery" is closer to THE DA VINCI CODE-meets-PHANTOM OF THE OPERA than it is to JUDEX but it's got the same kind of fantastique "thrills, chills, and spills" its more famous predecessors have. The body count may be low and there's more surprise than suspense as the story picks up momentum in the second half with plenty of chases, cliffhangers, and revelations right up to the tongue- in-cheek ending that pokes fun at what's gone before. Akin to a krimi, it's way ahead of anything American TV was doing at the time and the on- location black & white photography in around Paris make the mini-series an eye candy time capsule, as well. The only cast member I recognized was Juliette Greco, the next-to-last mistress of that ol' studio system satyr Darryl Zanuck in his dotage.
Le vice et la vertu (1963)
Vadim's Axis allegory falls somewhere between SALO and ILSA
Although both had been published separately nearly a decade before, the Marquis De Sade's "Justine, Or The Misfortunes Of Virtue" and "Juliette, Or The Prosperity Of Vice" were combined in a ten-volume set during the French Revolution (1797) and promptly banned for the next two hundred years or so. In "Justine", the heroine's "resistance to 'things as they are', in her incorrigible unwillingness or her inability to learn the lessons of the world...a world ruled by laws of wickedness, where only crime pays, where there are only victims and tyrants, the latter always right and the former wrong perforce -in this, the given and the possible world, Justine's virtue is unreasonable and unreasoning: It is not miscalculation, it is aberration". Her tormentors think she's mad and are fascinated by her, seeing Justine as "something irreducible, something insurgent and unconquerable...and even more troubling than all the barbarities she undergoes." Justine's sister Juliette, on the other hand, is just the opposite and prospers accordingly.
In Roger Vadim's VICE & VIRTUE, Juliette (Annie Girardot), the amoral French mistress of a Nazi general assassinated for treason, gives herself to his executioner, SS Oberführer Schörndorf (Robert Hossein), and together they flee Paris for Berlin as the Allies approach. Juliette's sister, Justine (Catherine Deneuve), meanwhile, is married to a Resistance fighter and when he's arrested, she's also taken into custody and consigned to the Commandery, a remote Austrian chalet used as a secret pleasure palace for the Nazi elite. When Berlin falls, Juliette and her lover make their way to the Commandery, an "Alamo" where an unexpected reunion and a date with Destiny await...
Vadim's VICE & VIRTUE and Pier Paolo Passolini's SALO have the exact same premise: in the final daze of WW II, it's anything goes at a Fascist stronghold just before Allied Armageddon -but as striking as that is, the similarity ends there. Passolini's film remained thematically true to its clinically depraved source (Sade's "The 120 Days Of Sodom") while Vadim's is a romanticized, often operatic adaptation of "Justine/Juliette" that ends as a treatise on the wages of sin. Unfortunately, this is antithetical to De Sade's tenets and although V&V can stand on its own merits, it pales in comparison to SALO. Outside of the Comandery, the only thing in Vadim's oddly erotic opus faithful to its source is Oberführer Schörndorf, a Sadean superman (until the end, anyway) and a living embodiment of the Marquis' "Do as thou wilt" philosophy (a creed also adopted by Alestair Crowley for his Thelema religion). De Sade's magnum opus was published during the dark days of the French Revolution and certain parallels can be drawn between that tumultuous time and the fall of the Third Reich so re-imagining the tale in that era (with the SS elite as a secret society of sociopathic sybarites) was inspired and Vadim should get the credit for that. "The Commandary" in both the Vadim and the Pasolini are the "pleasure domes" where the elite can indulge their darkest desires but V&V only hints at what SALO makes explicit.
Unlike Pasolini, Vadim turns De Sade's philosophy on its ear: in V&V, the virtuous Justine is liberated from the Commandery by the Allies and the wanton Juliette is poisoned by her lover but in the books, it's Justine who dies and Juliette who's "liberated" -which is probably why there's no mention of the Marquis in the film's credits. Still, the subject matter was a fairly daring (for its time) "morality tale" even if its depiction was on the tame side. Come to think of it, ILSA: SHE- WOLF OF THE SS has the same premise as both the Vadim and the Pasolini and I'd say V&V falls somewhere between the blatant exploitation of ILSA and the more sober aspirations of SALO.
Les yeux cernés (1964)
A "not bad" French noir and a good "Michèle Morgan movie"
The long-estranged wife of a murdered lumber baron travels to the Austrian alps for her husband's funeral and learns that despite not having seen him in years, she's his sole heir. She also meets the handsome young mill foreman her husband recently sacked and when she receives an anonymous note demanding money in exchange for the name of her husband's killer, she turns to him instead of an ever-present police inspector. Bad move?
Unwise decisions and shady motivations all the way around are what propels writer/director/star Robert Hossein's cat-and-mouse crime thriller and although not all the surprises are exactly original, there's enough little twists to allow the film to stand on its own. The still-handsome Michèle Morgan's mask-like beauty prevents the viewer from getting a bead on her character and that goes a long way in maintaining suspense but it's the sexy Marie France Pisier as Hossein's teenage lover who fires the imagination. Pisier would have been perfect for the role of "Noelle Page" in Sidney Sheldon's THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT had it been filmed in 1964 but alas, by 1977 Marie was a bit long-in-the-tooth for the seductive femme fatale. The same could never be said of Morgan, tho. Although it falls short of "edge of your seat" entertainment, Hossein doesn't let the story flag and knows how to take advantage of the Austrian location which, like Morgan's beauty, is rather cold and remote. Photographed "in glorious black & white" with a bluesy score by Hossein's dad Andre, this French noir's not top tier by any stretch but should please genre fans.
Jew Süss (1934)
Positive propaganda counters a Nazi agenda
German financier Josef Süss Oppenheimer vowed to attain power at any cost in order to help his brethren in the Jewish ghetto of Württemberg and his friendship with Field Marshall Karl Alexander pays off when the war hero inherits a Duchy. Süss becomes the unscrupulous Duke's Minister of Finance and is able to build schools and hospitals for his people but the beginning of the end comes when the lecherous Duke tries to rape Süss' daughter and she commits suicide. Süss concocts a brilliant plan for revenge but it kills the Duke and the financier's arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for having sex with Gentile women, an old law that hadn't been enforced for hundreds of years. He's offered an out if he converts to Christianity and he'd kept the fact his father was Christian a secret ...but will Süss save himself?
Süss is warned early on not to underestimate anti-Semitism which was "here in 1430 and will be here in 1930" so it's easy to see Lothar Mendes' elaborate historical biography as "positive propaganda", a response to the rise of Hitler and the closing epilogue asks for an end to prejudice, hoping it "falls like the Walls of Jerico and people can live as one." (yeah, tell that to ISIS) Here, Süss is portrayed as a philanthropic opportunist foolish enough to think he could harness evil for the greater good and the opulence of the eighteenth century aristocracy is vividly contrasted with the poverty of the Jewish ghetto by German émigré Mendes. Conrad Veidt's tormented martyr, guilty only of being too smart for his own good in a bad world, recalls the actor's THE MAN WHO LAUGHS and is positively riveting. Cedric Hardwicke's Rabbi Gabriel is the financier's solemn moral conscience and Benita Hume (a Mrs. George Sanders) is also very good as the "let them eat cake" Duchess. The U.S. title was POWER and the adult, sexually frank narrative must have been trimmed quite a bit for its release here.
Jud Süß (1940)
Nazi propaganda as historical allegory
"In this film I show primordial Judaism, as it was then and as it has remained until today, substantially unchanged. In contrast to international Judiasm, there is only the Jew Süss, the elegant court financial adviser, the treacherous schemer; in short: the disguised Jew." -Veit Harlan, DER FILM, Berlin, January 20, 1940
In 1737, German-Jewish financier Josef Süss Oppenheimer stood trial for "fraud, embezzlement, treason, lecherous relations with the court ladies, and accepting bribes" and Veit Harlan's anti-Semetic propaganda piece is the Nazi "prosecution" to Lothar Mendes' 1934 British "defense" film of the same name. In the early eighteenth century, no Jews were allowed to enter Stuttgart and the crafty Jew Süss vows to get in and open the way for the rest of his people. Indebted to the money-lender, the weak-willed, blustery lech Duke Karl Alexander allows him in and makes Süss his financial adviser against the advice of the governing Counsel. Soon, the city begins to buckle under the heavy taxation and rampant inflation and after he begins pimping for his sovereign, Süss persuades the Duke to lift the ban on Jews. Next, Süss urges him to disband the Council and proclaim himself absolute monarch but after Süss rapes a Councilman's daughter and she commits suicide, the people rise up and revolt, causing the death of the Duke. Despite his protests that he was just a poor Jew following orders, Süss is tried, convicted, and executed, strung up in a bird cage high above the village square where in real life his corpse hung for six years as a constant reminder. "Jews aren't wise, only clever." The Jews are cast out of Stuttgart again and the film's closing speech warns future generations to do the same ...for the sake of the children.
Correlations between both Rasputin and the court of Versailles are evoked and the Lord is invoked just as often to condemn Jewry in no uncertain terms. One Councilman reads from "Luther" (a Lutheran bible?) which says that outside of the Devil, man has no worse enemy than the Jew and God wants them "scattered like ashes across the earth" (which gave me a bad ISIS vibe) but despite the reprehensible message, there's no denying director Harlan had a sure hand when it came to staging public unrest and the pomp of court intrigue. Lead actor Ferdinand Marian was reminiscent of Hollywood's Joseph Shildkraut in MGM's MARIE ANTOINETTE and he also knew his craft.
Commissioned by the Third Reich's Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, JUD Süß is almost as melodramatic and just as lavish as its British counterpart with the same attention to detail and, long unseen, had acquired a mythically horrific reputation over time. Objectionable to modern audiences everywhere except the Middle East, the film was a big hit in Nazi Germany when first released. Re-examined of late, Veit Harlan's "key historical document...remains a deeply unsettling cinematic experience" with a legit, restored DVD release.
After the war, director Harlan stood trial for "crimes against humanity" and insisted that not only was he ordered to make the film, he actually managed to tone it down considerably. He was given a light sentence and his artistic reputation has been somewhat rehabilitated in recent years. The film's Jew Süss, Ferdinand Marian, was similarly accused and committed suicide in 1946. Although I'm no scholar on the subject, like everything else, the truth about Jew Süss most likely lies somewhere between the British canonization and the Nazi demonization and the contrast between the two films is both fascinating and enlightening. Ironically, Harlan's ANDERS ALS DU UND ICH ("Different From You And Me" 1957) was another long unseen shocker that was alleged to have done for gays what JUD Süß did for Jews but seeing both the cut and uncut versions now, its clear Harlan's film was much more "sensitive" (for the time, anyway) than the homophobic German censor's cut.