Saturday, August 12, 2006
Maria Rohm is the unsung heroine of Jess Franco, appearing (and often starring) in several of his countless productions throughout the sixties and seventies. Baring a slight resemblance to the blonde German actress Ewa Stroemberg, who co-starred along side the infamous Solidad Miranda in She Killed in Ecstasy and Vampyros Lesbos, Maria Rohm actually starred in more Franco films than either of her more famous colleagues. Regardless, the quality of the Rohm/Franco catalogue showcases director Franco at his most stylistic, mature, and despite the accomplished eroticism, his least salacious (with the exception of the X-rated version of 99 Women). Maria Rohm as an actress commands both a kind of screen discipline and undeniable attractiveness - making the often erotic ventures even more pleasing to the viewer. Some of their best and most highly regarded (or at least highly sought-after) collaborations have thankfully been made available on DVD (in
North America) in the last couple of years - most often thanks to DVD mavericks Blue Underground. Of these selected films, Venus in Furs is possibly the best; it's certainly got the most to show-off. Here, Maria Rohm has the lead role as mysterious beauty Wanda Reed, and she gets a chance to play off a talented cast in conjunction with a slightly bizarre, psychedelic, but yet surprisingly tight script disguised as a supernatural thriller (of sorts). Aside from this leading role, however, most of Maria Rohm's contributions to Franco's cinematic world has been as part of an ensemble cast or in a co-starring slot. Nevertheless, even as she portrays these characters, her screen presence often arises over even the top-billed leading ladies (as in 99 Women, and to some extent, Euginie). Blue Underground has released Venus in Furs, 99 Women (in two versions), Euginie: The Story of her Journey into Perversion, and Justine (a.k.a. "Marquis de Sade's Justine"), all boasting nearly astounding film transfers - or, astounding compared to the old VHS copies previously available - if you were lucky enough to find them at all - and all of these films definitely focus heavily on themes of eroticism, yet with entirely different backdrops. Euginie and Justine were both based on the works of De Sade, the somewhat kinky Venus in Furs was loosely based on the book by Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, and 99 Women is a women-in-prison genre offering. Aside from the sex, all four films are about as diverse as you'll find in Franco's vast filmography, and all were produced within a relative short time span (Justine was 1968 while the other three films were all produced in 1969 - with 99 Women being produced on location during one of Franco's "Fu Manchu" shoots, I believe – consequently, Maria Rohm also co-starred in Franco’s The Blood of Fu Manchu). As much as I love them all, I honestly can't say which of these is my favorite. As a showcase for Maria – Venus wins, hands down.
As a side-note, all of the Blue Undergroud DVDs include in-depth and entertaining interviews with director Franco, Venus also includes and audio interview with Rohm.
I received the new Franco release from Blue Underground (via Amazon) about ten days ago - his 1969 psychedelic romp entitled Succubus. I've seen that this one has been getting some pretty good reviews on the internet - my first experience with this movie (as is the case with many fans) was Anchor Bay's original 2000 full-frame DVD release (the new Blue Underground version presents an enhanced 1.66:1 transfer). Back at the time the AB DVD was released, I not only purchased this one, but also Anchor Bay's Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me Monster (all purchased from a local DVD retailer) as well as ordering Female Vampire and She Killed in Ecstasy - and back in those days, I was a manager for Blockbuster, so I had access to special orders from our Canadian distributors, as well as receiving employee discounts on all purchases. Well, six years ago, my Franco fanaticism was just being birthed, and I had not yet acquired the full-bodied palate required to fully appreciate these masterpieces of pure kitsch genius (as accidental as that genius may or may not have been). After viewing this slew of titles over roughly more than one week, I promptly returned Female Vampire, She Killed in Ecstasy and yes, even Succubus to my place of employment, where I re-wrapped them, returned them (at a slightly inflated refund, you know, for my troubles), and then shipped all of them back to the Canadian video distributor. (I retained my copies of Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me Monster - but we'll talk about those movies down the road). Needless to say, over the last two years or so, I've been trying to recoup my losses, so to speak. Sure, I made a bit of a profit with my video store exploits and managerial shenanigans, but at what cost...? Succubus was soon to go out of print, with She Killed in Ecstasy dangerously close to falling into those footsteps of cinematic oblivion once again, and our local Virgin Megastore was now selling Female Vampire for over 40 dollars! (I quit working for Blockbuster in 2002, so I would've had to go full-price again). Luckily, I managed to track down one of those titles at a used DVD shop downtown for under 10 bucks, while a good friend of mine insisted I take his copy of Female Vampire off his hands for free! (I guess he's in the same boat I was a few years ago). That left Succubus...
When I saw that Blue Underground was set to release it, I couldn't wait. I was like a kid waiting around for Christmas! I pre-ordered it - and getting home from work to find it crammed into my apartment mailbox by a perfunctorial postal employee - I was ecstatic! And as if to thwart the face of any disappointment head-on, I found that was not only Succubus well worth the wait, not only was it so much more enjoyable now that I'd allowed a few years from my palate to acquire the taste of Cinema Franco, not only was it just as kitschy, entertaining, ludicrous and absolutely sexy as any of Franco's best works - I re-discovered that this, Succubus, could indeed be his best work - arguable, okay - but it's certainly now in high consideration for my favorite Franco of all time. No small order, that one.
I'm going to try to do a new post every Saturday - we'll see how that goes for a while.