Gwendoline (1984) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Gwendoline is a cult masterpiece by Just
Jaeckin, who also brought us Emmanuelle. It is based on an adult comic
strip called The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, which was created by
John Coutts and appeared in Bizarre magazine between 1948 and 1959.
Think "Perils of Pauline," but with a large helping of bondage
fetishism. The film was widely released, and played in the US as The
Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak. It was once available
in the USA on video tape, but those copies have become collectable,
and the only DVD is an Italian one for Region 2, which offers either
French dialogue with Italian sub-titles, or dubbed Italian dialogue. I
had previously worn out two VHS copies of the film, and therefore
wasn't bothered by the language problem on this DVD because I knew it
Thus begins my favorite sequence of scenes in the film. Rather than Willard, we see his grappling hook enter the room where Gwendoline is being held captive, right into the neck of the head bad guy.
All three must fight constantly to survive. The film builds to a formal battle in which the most eligible women, including Gwendoline, battle to the death for the right to screw Willard and then kill him. After defeating the other women, Gwendoline is nervous about losing her virginity, but her maid points out that, after killing other women in hand-to-hand combat, screwing is easy.
Gwendoline has its weak points, and I'll get to those in a minute, but it has one truly extraordinary strength. It had the most exotic and beautiful photography ever seen in a soft-core erotic film up until that point. Just Jaecklin had a wonderful visual imagination, and he knew how to get the optimal mileage from his cinematographers. (Emmanuelle, The Story of O and Gwendoline had three different cinematographers, although all three films look splendid.) Jaecklin outdid himself in this one. In fact, it seemed that he was trying to create as many different types of locales as possible, just to show off. The story starts in the teeming streets of the port of Singapore, proceeds to an exotic bordello and casino, thence to sinuous tropical rivers lined dramatically by palm trees, thence to thick African-style jungle inhabited by exotic tribes, thence to dramatic desert scapes, and finally to an imaginary underground kingdom filled with campy Art Deco architecture and stylized machines. There is even a chariot race, ala Ben-Hur, except with the "horses" consisting of leather-clad B&D chicks! All sections are photographed well, and the visual story-telling can be outstanding. The first five minutes of the film set up the entire premise with nary a word of narrative nor expository dialogue, just by showing the necessary incidents with compact camera movement and a bit of editing. Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg would tip their hats to the effectiveness of the wordless exposition. Indeed, Jaecklin pulled off a credible homage to Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, which clearly inspired this film. Gwendoline may have been the most professionally imagined and filmed soft-core of all time until Jean-Jacques Annaud filmed The Lover and raised the bar so high it may never again be cleared.
Gwendoline's storyline and dialogue can be fun as well, so I have no quarrel with Tuna's affection for this film. The script even includes one of the greatest lines of all time: "It's raining, take your clothes off." In fairness, however, we might point out a few flaws:
1. The acting is just dreadful. Jaecklin seemed to ignore acting in most of his movies. He liked the kind of leading lady who seemed like a childish and nearly mindless bimbo, someone who could feign wide-eyed innocence and seem younger than her years. His favorite leading lady was Sylvia Kristel, who was actually reputed to be exceptionally brilliant and sophisticated, but whose screen persona seemed especially dense and immature. Kristel was too old to be playing the virginal naïf in this film, but if Jaecklin was looking around for an American actress who was as much like Sylvia Kristel as possible, he hit the jackpot in Tawny Kitaen. Kitaen's line readings were a bit rough around the edges, but she seemed like Helen Hayes compared to Brent Huff, who was in his first major movie role - and it showed. He was 23 when he made this film, and he was just too young and immature to be playing the crusty world-weary adventurer ala Indiana Jones. He read his lines like, and generally seemed like, a high school kid - albeit a very handsome and buff one. Kitaen eventually became a self-parody and was not able to sustain a real acting career, but Huff did manage to hang in there, and still works regularly, now usually typecast as an authority figure. His characters often have a military rank or titles like "agent," and "officer." He almost always works in films you never heard of, but he does work! It actually took him quite a while to establish his B-list career. Immediately after Gwendoline, the best he could come up with was Nine Deaths of the Ninja, a film rated a sterling 1.6 at IMDb. His "sorted by rating" list at IMDb looks like this:
As you can see, he had no rated films between 1986 and 1992, by which time he was 31 and, I suppose, had grown into his "Agent Taylor" roles.
2. There is virtually no nudity in the first 42 minutes of Gwendoline, and there is absolutely none from the stars during that period. That's a long time to wait for the two leading ladies to get out of their shirts because of the rain. To be balanced, however, one must note that the last 40 minutes, the portion in the land of the Yik-Yak, presents virtually wall-to-wall breasts, and thong-clad bums, and that includes Kitaen and Zabou as well as the evil queen's anonymous henchwomen and minions.
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