DIE MARQUISE VON SADE (1976)

PrintE-mail Written by Michael Coldwell

Spanish director Jesus ‘Jess’ Franco first met his principal leading lady Lina Romay in the early 1970s. They spent the next four decades together making exploitation movies of many hues, some of them rather good, others little more than elegantly-filmed porn with Romay an enthusiastic participant. He was a highly-driven Svengali of sleaze, capable of greatness but more often mired in threadbare drudge-work to keep the wolf from the door. She was a declared exhibitionist with a disarmingly natural screen presence although never much of an actress. After the strangest, longest courtship in film history, they decided to get married in 2008, around the time Franco was turning out his 150th feature. Estimates vary on the exact number he eventually made.

Not that you need to know any of that to enjoy this 1976 chapter from their union but it certainly helps to explain why Franco’s camera so clearly adores Lina Romay. The name-checking of the Marquise (sic) de Sade reflects Franco’s career fascination with the notorious scribe, although the actual movie has nothing to do with him, being instead a re-imagining of Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray from a female perspective.

The plot, such as it is, centres on enigmatic, ageless aristo Miss Gray (Romay). While wandering the grounds of her opulent gaff, she explains the set-up via voiceover. Turns out her twin sister is banged up in an asylum and Miss Gray herself needs to shag the life out of mortal humans in order to stay looking disarmingly like Wendy Padbury from 1960s Doctor Who. While she is unable to experience direct sexual pleasure, her imprisoned sister (also a dead spit for Wendy) feels it on her behalf, so to speak.  She relates all this to a female reporter who turns up the way female reporters tended to do in this kind of thing (see also Joe D’Amato’s Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals). Cue some seriously hirsute co-joinery involving the two versions of Miss Gray, an inquisitive lady visitor, the reporter and (this being a 1970s porn film) some spare bloke with a beard.

Full Moon Features are to be commended for sourcing a very decent print of the uncut version which obviously means you see people going all the way and then going back for seconds. And thirds, if truth be told. But on its own terms it certainly succeeds; there is a dreamlike quality to the location photography and it’s edited and scored with panache.  Above all, there is Lina Romay in her dual role, alternating between cool detachment and unbridled sexuality as only she could do.

You don’t necessarily expect much in the way of extras when delving this deep into the 70s sleaze pit but you do get a fun VHS-quality trailer reel of Franco’s work plus a short retrospective documentary interviewing the late Jess Franco himself and producer Erwin C. Dietrich. This is rather good; Dietrich claims this production was never even sanctioned, being instead one of those notorious ‘extra’ movies Franco would secretly knock out at the same time as the one he was actually hired to make, using the same actors and sets, in order to go double-up at the box office for the same outlay. Challenged on this ruse, Franco mumbles a denial but looks a tad sheepish, the old rogue.

Lina Romay died in 2012 and Franco followed her a year later, seemingly from a broken heart (although the fags didn’t much help). As filmic legacies go, theirs remains a bizarre and filthy trove for connoisseurs of a certain persuasion.  It will certainly take some beating, if you’ll excuse the pun.

DIE MARQUISE VON SADE / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JESUS "JESS" FRANCO / STARRING: LINA ROMAY, MONICA SWINN, MARTINE STEDIL/ RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
 


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