Thursday, January 5, 2012


Following the accidental death of his star discovery Soledad Miranda in 1970, writer-director Jess Franco floundered through a series of reckless, robotic productions made to fulfill his contract to German producer Artur Brauner. It was only after the fulfillment of that contract, when he began to make a new slate of pictures produced by himself (like A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, 1971) or for producer Robert de Nesle, that his creativity showed signs of recharging, though it was initially expressed in stories involving large, sprawling casts of characters, including a couple of literal monster rallies. His inability to focus on a single central character, as his films did with Miranda, suggested that his exploded muse had yet to reconsolidate in the form of a single face that could bear the brunt of his obsession.

This changed in 1972 when he was persuaded, by his production secretary and two members of his camera team, to meet their sister, a diminutive young actress with both stage and screen experience. Her name was Montserrat Prous. Between 1972 and 1973, Prous briefly inherited the "Dark Lady" mantle vacated by Miranda in Franco's filmography, appearing in a total of seven films, if one counts the unfinished El misterio de la castillo rojo ("The Mystery of the Red Castle"), yet she never took full possession of it. Her collaboration with Franco was doomed by the coincidental arrival on the scene of Rosa Maria Almirall, the student girlfriend of crew stills photographer Ramón Ardíd, who subsequently revealed herself as Franco's true muse and was recristened Lina Romay.
SINNER, which was made after THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF and in tandem with two other pictures (Les Enbranlées and Un Silencio de Tumba), finds Montserrat Prous inhabiting what would soon become the archetypal Lina Romay role, stripping off and hiding her audacity behind a little white lie of a screen name, "Mona Proust" -- much as Soledad Miranda did in her various "Susann Korda" roles. She is remarkably good in all of her films for Franco, especially so in this one, though she never really catches fire as Lina would in FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973). As sparks began to fly behind the scenes between Franco and the future Lina Romay, which would galvanize Franco to complete 10 features in 1973 alone, Prous found her subsequent roles diminishing in importance as Romay's grew, to the extent that her final character role for Franco -- the blind Atlantean in Les exploits érotiques de Maciste dans Atlantide -- is not even given a name. Prous reportedly abandoned the cinema to return to the theater, and when she accepted an invitation to star in an erotic film for director Carlos Aured in 1981, such was the irony of her fate that she found herself playing lesbian love scenes with none other than Lina Romay.

This film was obviously inspired by the then-current success of films like Max Pecas' Je suis un nymphomane and it is atypical of Franco in that it finds layers of lyrical romance beneath its surface crust of druggy, vice-ridden squalor. In essence, the character Prous plays -- Linda Vargas, whose name owes something to TOUCH OF EVIL, much as the story's investigation into who Linda was recalls the structure of CITIZEN KANE -- is a young woman who is raped, sinks into prostitution, and becomes a lesbian and nymphomaniac in her crazed appetite for love and fulfillment, who reinvents herself as a kind of earth angel who gives herself willingly to whoever may be in need to sexual healing. When she finds herself back in bed with the man who first defiled her, she commits suicide over his sleeping body to frame him for murder, and his conservative widow Rosa (LORNA THE EXORCIST's Jacqueline Laurent) investigates her husband's possible innocence by interviewing the undesirables who knew her, learning to look past her biases and make contact with her own secret desires in the process.

SINNER is also one of Franco's most attentively scripted projects, especially in the French version with its dialogue and narration written by the producer's wife, Elizabeth Ledu de Nesle. In the way it presents an emphatically divided binary account of sight and sound, image and narration, the film's schizophrenic technique closely parallels that of his earlier masterpiece EUGENIE DE SADE (1970). Not top shelf Franco perhaps, but among the top contenders, shall we say, of the second tier.

Viewed on Mondo Macabro DVD.    

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