Wednesday, July 18, 2012

126. MIDNIGHT PARTY (1975)

This explicitly naked but non-hardcore sex farce by Jess Franco was shot simultaneously with two other features, the erotic sci-fi item SHINING SEX and DE SADE'S JULIETTE (which circulated only in a Joe D'Amato-supervised hardcore re-edit called JUSTINE AND THE WHIP). It stars Lina Romay as Sylvia, a nightclub stripper known professionally as "Sylvia the Lips" (presumably due to her then-unusual shaved pubis), who opens the film rolling around on a bed, flaunting her body, and breaking the fourth wall by telling us that she has lots of sexy adventures that she wants to make movies about, and offering her sexual services to anyone out there who might help these movies to get made! There is also a point in her spiel where she introduces this first example of her filmed memoirs by saying "Lina Romay in..." -- at which point the title of this film should have appeared onscreen, but despite this being the one Franco film with the most different titles and variants extant, none of the versions managed to place its main title card where the footage implicitly said it belonged! 

Sylvia's nickname hints that this film may be allied, in some way, to Franco's series of tongue-in-cheek thrillers about the "Red Lips" detective agency, which began with LABIOS ROJOS in 1960 (featuring lady detectives Christine and Lola) and which most famously teamed Janine Reynaud and Rosanna Yanni (as lady detectives Diana and Regina) in the 1967 diptych SADISTEROTICA (on DVD as TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS) and KISS ME, MONSTER. As in LABIOS ROJOS, the film's principal source of menace is a sadistic villain named Radeck, played here by Franco himself, who arranges for Sylvia to be invited to a party at midnight where she is seduced by her host Joe di Loggia (Yul Sanders) and his wife Marilyn (Evelyne Scott) and later awakens from the threesome to find both of her latest lovers gruesomely murdered on the bed. Radeck subsequently orders two servants (Ramón Ardíd and Monica Swinn) to administer Chinese torture to Sylvia while he questions her about whether or not she knows a man named Spencer, and Ardíd and Swinn double-team her whenever he limps on his wooden leg out of the room.

What we have here is essentially a PERILS OF PAULINE type of serial, compressed into a frolicksome feature with lots of LITTLE ANNIE FANNIE-type nudity and orgiastic pile-ons, played with wall-breaking winks and the sort of old-fashioned rinky-tink piano music associated with bordellos and vaudeville. Recklessly photographed at times (all the more painful for having a 2.35:1 ratio), this is not one of Franco's most successful comedies, nor is it very erotic, but it is of great interest to his devotées for its anarchic spirit, its willingness to puncture the conventions of its chosen genre, and for the utter abandon of Romay's comic performance, filmed when she was arguably at the apex of her beauty. With Pierre Taylou as Sylvia's spoiled stay-at-home husband; "Charlie Christian" (actually the early Franco-championing film critic Alain Petit) as guitar-slinging Marxist Red Nicholas, who is heard performing fast and slow versions of his original song "La Vie est une Merde"; and Olivier Mathot as Sylvia's private detective lover Alphonse Gaultier -- who appears in the French version, more authentically, as Franco's recurring private eye hero Al Pereira (who, in other films, has been played by everyone from Eddie Constantine to Jess Franco himself). 

The English-dubbed version, quite funny and well done, credits the film's direction to James Gardner -- not one of Franco's usual pseudonyms and thus possibly the name of its dubbing director. (Unforgivably, the film gives top billing to Monica Swinn, then starring in other Eurociné releases like HELLTRAIN, though she plays only a minor character.) Franco's English performance sounds like it was dubbed by Max Adrian (a veteran of many Ken Russell films, including SONG OF SUMMER and THE DEVILS), while the director dubbed his own French performance. His acting is credited onscreen to "Jess Frank," while the French video alternate credits list him as "David Khunne" (one of his old screenwriting aliases!). Franco was credited as director on both the film's French and substantially shortened German versions, while an extensively re-cut Spanish version with the misleading title LADY PORNO was credited to "Tawer Nero," a beard for another Eurociné director, Julio Perez-Tabernero (CANNIBAL TERROR), who used his own name to "produce" the variant.

Viewed on an all-region German import DVD from Topfilm, bearing its German title HEISSE BERUHRUNGEN, which is available (while supply lasts) from Diabolik DVD.

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