So Sweet…So Perverse/Così Dolce…Così Perversa (1969)

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)‘Don’t get yourself so upset. You see corpses everywhere…’

A philandering playboy, caught in a loveless marriage, becomes intrigued by the mysterious blonde who has taken the apartment upstairs. Before long, they are having a passionate affair, but she is still seemingly in thrall to her abusive ex-boyfriend…

In many ways, this is the archetypical late 1960s Giallo thriller. This cocktail of death and sex is served up by journeyman Italian director Umberto Lenzi, who had just come off the similarly themed ‘Orgasmo’ (1969). Why is it so typical Well, there’s a small cast of principals whose loyalties and alliances are continually suspect. There’s a low body count, no blood to speak of, and the nudity is kept mostly under wraps. There’s also a twisting plot more reminiscent of a ‘mystery of the week’ than the kind of borderline horror picture that helped to inspire the American Slasher craze of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Our less than perfect protagonist is Jean-Louis Trintignant, already experienced in this kind of picture. Here, he’s a casual businessman approaching a mid-life crisis. Why is a little hard to understand. After all, he’s hitched to the beautiful and wealthy Erika Blanc, and they live in a wonderfully gothic old building in the centre of Paris. But Trintignant is a serial player with a roving eye and other wandering parts of his anatomy, and his various infidelities have left him at loggerheads with Blanc. Enter beautiful blonde Carroll Baker, who takes the apartment upstairs. Blanc had wanted to rent it for expansion purposes (or perhaps as a retreat from Trintignant), so the couple has a key. Trintignant finds a dropped earring in the elevator, which seems to belong to Baker, and well, you can guess the rest.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘This is the last time I let the boss drive me home from work..’

As usual, the game is to guess who’s in league with who and what they might be planning to do to someone else. The wild card is the last member of our featured quartet; violent bully Klaus (Horst Frank), who runs a photography studio. He still has some hold over Baker despite their relationship being over. Or is it?

Baker was getting quite experienced at playing out these kinds of scenarios, and she’s the stand out here. Her character turns on a dime so many times that it sends Trintignant into a complete spin, and constantly wrong-foots the audience. Is she victim, or perpetrator? Damsel in distress or cold-hearted femme fatale? Elsewhere, Blanc gets a bit of a thankless role as the cast-aside wife, but there is a nice piece of business where she walks around her flat staring up at the ceiling, following the sounds of Baker and Trintignant making love in the flat upstairs. There’s also some casual exploitation with stripper Beryl Cunningham in a ‘swinging’ party scene, and Helga Liné is completely wasted as a family friend. It may have been a nothing role, but at least it was another credit for the hardest working actress in 1960s Europe.

Probably the film’s greatest asset is that Lenzi resists a lot of the tricks and flourishes he’d employed on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), although there is one sequence where he throws the camera around and puts coloured filters on the lens. But it’s brief, and most of the time he chooses to shoot in a way that serves the story, rather than distracts from it. The twists are better executed too, happening more organically throughout the film. This helps to keep the audience interested, even if the final resolution isn’t particularly satisfying and the end product is ultimately a little bland.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘Thank you, but I’m not interested in a new set of vacuum cleaner brushes.’

The film’s most remarkable feature is the presence of so many people on both sides of the camera who became closely associated with the Giallo film. Behind the scenes are co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi and producer Sergio Martino, both of whom leant their talents to many similar outings.

Baker had only just finished working on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) with Lenzi and went on to star in half-dozen or so similar projects into the 1970s. Here, she is dubbed by another actress in the English language version; presumably, her voice-track not being available after the original Italian dub. It’s not as disconcerting as similar instances involving actors such as Christopher Lee, as her voice is not as distinctive, but it’s still a little distracting.

A solid thriller. Not a bad example of the genre, but a little unmemorable.

Death Laid An Egg/La Morte Ha Fatto L’Uovo (1968)

Death Laid An Egg (1968)‘Now we want to try to conceptualise the chicken as the principal actor in the drama of modern life.’

A couple who run a state of the art chicken farm are unhappily married and both obsessed with her pretty blonde cousin. The arrival of a handsome publicity agent proves to be the catalyst that prompts intrigue, plans and betrayals that lead to murder…

Curious early Giallo picture from director and co-writer Giulio Questi, which tends to polarise audience opinion. The story itself is not too unusual; from the moment we learn that wife Gina Lollobrigida is the one with the money and husband Jean-Louis Trintignant is without, then we know we’re on familiar territory. Add live-in cute cousin Ewa Aulin and handsome suit Jean Sobieski to the mix, and it’s obvious there’s some plotting, double crosses to come and murder in the wind. The relationship dynamics of the quartet shift as often as their suspicions of each other and the story is quite well developed. There’s a couple of clever twists along the way too, even if the final wrap-up is a bit of a non-event.

What set this one apart is the way Questi handles the material. For a start, there’s his directorial style. He frequently favours extreme close-ups of the actor’s faces, which can be more than a little distracting and can over-exaggerate the performances of his cast. At tines, there’s some truly manic editing too; an early sequence of Trintignant driving is cut together with roadside publicity hoardings at such a rate as to almost qualify as subliminal advertising. It’s hard to see what Questi was going for here, unless he was attempting to show Trintignant’s fracturing psyche but, if that was the case, there are subtler ways to get that across.

There’s also a definite undercurrent of sleaze to these proceedings. Trintignant is regularly consorting with prostitutes, despite his declared love for Aulin, and these secret visits always involve his trusty blade. When Lollobrigida finds out about his infidelities, the two women talk it over. Their solution? To visit some downtown bars so they can learn to ‘dress like whores’ with Aulin insisting on choosing Lollobrigida’s underwear for her afterwards. It’s more like two teenage girls playing dress up than a serious response to a marital crisis. Additionally, a lot of the action is accompanied by Bruno Maderna’s avant-garde soundtrack. This is not music so much as an exercise in dissonance, an experimental cacophony that distracts from the story rather than serving it.

Death Laid An Egg (1968)

‘I feel like chicken tonight…’

But all that really takes second place to something that sits front and centre throughout the movie. And what is that something? Well… it’s chickens. Lots and lots of chickens. lf it’s not endless shots of the birds pecking seed in their cages at the farm, then it’s a visual reference to eggs of some kind. In almost every scene.

There are also several sub-plots about the fowl creatures that go absolutely nowhere; Sobieski presents Trintignant with some publicity drawings of chickens dressed as men for a new ad campaign, the farm’s former workers gather silently outside the new automated facility and allegedly commit vandalism on the premises. We also have mad scientist Renato Romano conducting some vague experiments with radiation. These lead to the birth of quick-growing birds with no heads or wings, which a disgusted Trintignant destroys in a fairly unpleasant scene. What has any of this to do with the main plot? Not a lot, as far as I could make out.

Death Laid An Egg (1968)

‘There’s nobody here but us chickens…’

Furthermore your enjoyment of the film may well be affected by how you feel about animal welfare. Although there are no specific scenes of cruelty, this is still a long, long way from free-range chicken farming and the sight of the birds cooped in their small cages may be upsetting for some. And its also probably best not to dwell on what happens to Lollobrigida’s dog.

Is the adoption of these ruthless methods of egg production supposed to reflect the greed and moral vacuum shared by our main protagonists? Was Questi’s intention to highlight issues of animal cruelty in modern agricultural processes? Does the brief musical fanfare that accompanies the closing credit card confirm that it was all meant to be a black comedy anyway? Not a clue.

Questi only had a short career behind the camera, his most notable other picture being ‘Django Kill!’ (1967) from the popular series of Westerns. Aulin starred as ‘Candy’ (1968) opposite Marlon Brando and had already appeared with Trintignant in ‘I Am What I Am’ (1967) another rather unusual stab at a Giallo film. She quit the business at the tender age of 23 and has kept out of the spotlight since. Lollobrigida, still looking fabulous in her forties, was coming to the end of a long career that included starring roles opposite David Niven, James Mason, Alec Guinness. Bob Hope, Rock Hudson, Sean Connery, Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart.

Unusual, one-off thriller that’s baffling and irritating in equal measure, but maybe worth a watch for curiosity value alone.

 

Journey Beneath The Desert/L’Atlantide/Antinea, l’amonte Della Citta Sepolta (1961)

Journey Beneath The Desert (1961)‘Yes, you love me…you filthy beast!’

A commercial helicopter flying over the desert is warned off when they fly too near to an atomic testing ground that is preparing a detonation. The weather turns bad, forcing the crew to land. After saving the life of a wandering tribesman, they are kidnapped and taken to the fabulous lost kingdom of Atlantis…

If you count GW Pabst’s multi-language versions from 1932 as just the one film, then this is the fourth screen adaptation of Pierre Benoit’s unbearably stodgy 1919 novel about the lost kingdom of Atlantis turning up in the Sahara Desert. Some effort was made to update this undeniably old-fashioned adventure for a contemporary audience; the nuclear threat, the machine guns, helicopter and radio equipment, etc. but the main events of the story remained unchanged and, at times, the developments are just as painfully melodramatic as in the earlier versions of the tale.

Caught in a storm and forced down on a dangerous ledge, pilot John (Georges Riviere), mining engineer Robert (James Westmoreland) and the intense Pierre (Jean-Louis Trintignant) save drowning tribesman Tamal (Amedeo Nazarri) from raging flood waters. What they don’t know is that he’s the regent/head man of what remains of Atlantis and isn’t best pleased when Westmoreland finds a valuable metal in the rocks of their cave. One quick fist fight later and our three musketeers are banged up in the lost kingdom and seemingly at the mercy of the beautiful Queen Antinea (Haya Harareet).

Journey Beneath The Desert (1961)

Dress down Fridays were quite informal…

Atlantis is all flowing robes, flaming torches and ritualistic snake dancing, of course, and it’s not long before Westmoreland and Harareet are declaring their undying passion on various soft furnishings and Nazarri is getting hot under the collar about it.

Complications arise when Riviére breaks jail and this development drives a wedge between our two love birds, with Westmoreland ending up as one of the slaves in the underground mine. (l assume they are mining for the metal he discovered earlier, but it’s never specified, and what they use it for is anybody’s guess). Other romantic tomfoolery involves Trintignant and slave girl Zinah (Giulia Rubini) who seemingly falls in love with him just because he tells her she has a nice name. Must have been something in the desert air!

This take on the story does have some interesting aspects; it’s strongly suggested that the occupants of the city are not the direct descendants of Atlantis at all, but a nomadic tribe who have resurrected the old civilisation and its culture in the ruins. More significantly, that Antinea is a young woman who has been groomed by Nazarri as a goddess; a role she no longer wants. But there are problems with that conceit.

Journey Beneath The Desert (1961)

The auditions for ‘Atlantis Got Talent’ were quite brutal…

When one of our three musketeers is killed by palace guard captain Gian Maria Volonte, she has the body embalmed in gold and enshrined in a temple filled with lots of other corpses. In the book (and previous films), this is the tomb of the immortal queen’s discarded lovers. If that’s the case here, then all I can say it’s that, given her age, she’s been a very busy girl! Actually, the script never gets a proper handle on her character at all; her motivations and actions making very little sense from scene to scene.

This does have the look of a troubled production. Scenes in the underground caverns are mounted on quite a large scale, particular with the inevitable slave rebellion inspired by Westmoreland’s arrival. Extras throw spears and fire machine guns, guards leap off high things and dynamite goes boom when required. But if this seems expensive, then some of the matte paintings and the model helicopter certainly do not.

In addition, the film’s final act seems hopelessly rushed, so much so that the impression is that some scenes are missing or were simply never filmed. Trintingant’s obsession with Harareet arrives very suddenly and is never properly developed, so that his (off screen) actions at the climax are baffling and have no credibility whatsoever. The fact that he suddenly becomes the film’s hero at this point as well is almost laughable. Although he does discover that radioactive fallout respects a ‘safety perimeter’ so there is that.

Journey Beneath The Desert (1961)

‘Ok, which one of you had baked beans for tea?’

Perhaps this sense of an unfinished project is down to the change of director in mid-production. Frank Borzage was a Hollywood veteran with a number of notable films under his belt, such as ‘Liliom’ (1930), ‘A Farewell To Arms’ (1932) and ‘History ls Made At Night’ (1937). Unfortunately, he fell seriously ill during filming and had to step aside.

His replacement was Edgar G Ulmer, a filmmaker who now has the far better reputation, thanks to a number of notable low-budget cult triumphs: ‘Bluebeard’ (1944) with John Carradine, Noir drama ‘Detour’ (1945) and spooky alien invasion drama ‘The Man From Planet X’ (1950). He also directed the Karloff-Lugosi classic ‘The Black Cat’ (1934) before a love affair with the wife of a close relative of the studio head derailed his career at Universal.

lf the melodramatic source material seems a strange fit for the early 1960s, then the fact that George Pal’s big budget Hollywood production ‘Atlantis, The Lost Continent’ (1961) debuted on most European screens on almost the same day might go some way to explain its existence. However, this film did not reach the UK until 1964 and did not debut in the US until three years after that, which is a pretty good indicator of its quality.

A strangely disjointed experience which has possibilities but suffers from a muddled script and poor execution in general.

Col Chore ln Gola/Deadly Sweet/I Am What l Am (1967)

Deadly Sweet (1967)‘Water on a woman’s body is like dew on rose petals.’

A young Frenchman in debt to a London club owner finds the man murdered and a beautiful young woman on the scene. Rather than go to the police, he takes her home and begins his own investigation…

Terribly dated Italian murder-mystery that’s often mentioned as an early example of a ‘Giallo’ thriller but is really more of an exercise in over-indulgence by director Tinto Brass. The story is simple enough; unemployed actor Jean-Louis Trintignant stumbles across pretty blonde Ewa Aulin in the back office of a sleazy club owner. Problem is that someone’s hit the bossman over the head with a blunt object and he’s not going to be cutting crucial shapes on the dancefloor anytime soon. Given that he is likely to be a prime suspect himself, Trintignant decides to solve the crime rather than call the authorities, although I suspect the fact that Auliin is rather a cute little blonde may have something to do with his rather insane decision.

From there, the mystery develops into a seemingly complex plot involving a stolen photograph, a midget, a kidnapping and the local underworld. Unfortunately, all this is just set dressing and misdirection; in fact, the story is nothing more than a series of opportunities for director Brass to get his cinematic rocks off. We get split-screen, quick cuts, coloured filters, split-second inserts and random switches from colour to black and white and back again. Allegedly these changes to the colour pallet were because of technical issues with lighting some locations, but it was more than likely a deliberate artistic choice. Quite often this seems to be nothing more than a knowing homage (or satire) of the Hollywood Film Noir, but as seen through a 1960s ‘New Wave’ lens.

There are also endless references to pop culture; Trintignant’s tiny flat is decorated with shots of Bogart, Gable and other classic film stars. There are brief ‘pop art’ insert when punches are thrown during fight scenes, much in the manner of the ‘Ker-Blam!’ captions in Adam West’s TV ‘Batman’ show. There’s a scene in a photographer’s studio where Aulin strips behind a screen while Trintignant flails away on a drum kit, eventually getting his clothes off and making like Tarzan as the film speeds up in the manner of a silent comedy. The stolen photograph also turns out to be just the MacGuffin that drives the plot, much in the manner of Antonioni’s ‘Blow Up’ (1966), which gets referenced more than once. Rather tellingly, not only do we never see this picture, we never even find out what it’s supposed to show! Yes, my friends, it’s THAT kind of movie.

In the end, the audience doesn’t engage meaningfully with any of the characters because we find out next to nothing about them; they are just archetypes. Trintignant spouts Chinese poetry and shoots a man dead without batting an eyelid, which is odd as l thought he was just supposed to be an out of work actor? Aulin brings a mischievous beauty to her femme fatale that goes some way to explaining Trintignant’s rather wayward decisions, but she gets little opportunity to do anything else. The performers, and their roles, are simply props for the director to use.

Deadly Sweet (1967)

‘Pretentious, moi?’

Trintignant has had an epic career in European cinema and is still acting as of 2019 at the age of 88. He was showered with awards for his role in ‘Amour’ (2012) and starred in Costa-Gravas’ ‘Z’ (1969) and Kieslowski’s ‘Three Colours: Red’ (1994) amongst many other prestigious projects.

Aulin, on the other hand, retired in 1973 at the age of 23, just five years after taking the title role in ‘Candy’ (1968) starring Richard Burton and Marlon Brando. Brass went onto notoriety as director of the infamous ‘Caligula’ (1979), although he did ask that his name be removed from the film when he discovered the producer’s intentions to insert hard-core pornographic footage filmed without the knowledge of the film’s big-name cast. After that, he carved out a niche as a filmmaker specialising in erotica and has enjoyed considerable artistic and commercial success in that arena ever since.

When interviewed about this production, Brass claimed that he ‘wanted to make a film in ideograms; like Chinese writing where a symbol indicates a whole concept.’

And that’s pretty much all you need to know.