Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Maria Rohm

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.

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