Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Things From the Attic: I, MARQUIS DE SADE (1967)

1967, Baywater, 69m 30s, $19.99, DVD-0

Reviewed by Tim Lucas

Long feared lost, this penultimate feature from writer-director Richard Hilliard (THE LONELY SEX, screenwriter of Del Tenney's VIOLENT MIDNIGHT aka PSYCHOMANIA) supports his reputation as one of the stranger 1960s poets of dark erotic obsession.

A kind of roughie version of Buñuel's THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ, it stars Sheldon Pearson (who looks remarkably like the young Roger Corman) as Donald Marquis (an allusion to the creator of Archie and Mehitabel?), a translator of the Marquis de Sade's works who, while awaiting and fearing the results of a biopsy test, indulges in fantasies of abandoning the bookish life and acting out the more violent philosophies of Sade on a series of women. He meets a wealthy, overweight yacht-owner (Cindy Ellis) and becomes her gigolo, setting his sights on amassing enough money to have "all the girls." One fateful afternoon, intending to find and torture a beautiful stranger, he meets an English woman (Ann Grant) on the beach, who responds to his philosophical regurgitations and picks him up, but soon proves herself the more experienced Sadist. After returning to his cashcow, he invites two other women back to her place, only to discover that their lesbian proclivities exclude him. He then attempts to exact more control by hiring a rented soundstage for an afternoon stripshow-cum-tryst with Russ Meyer starlet Babette Bardot (was this the only time a known actress portrayed herself - as a prostitute?), but even she finally snubs him after an unexceptional hump. After this, Donald becomes more violent, attacking his benefactor and determining to avenge himself against the earlier dolly bird, who he sights in the parking lot of the bank where he's cashing one last forged check.

Opening with credits lipsticked onto the body of a compliant model, this movie is consistent with Hilliard's earlier themes about the disadvantages of sensitive, creative men in the face of abusive female sexual power, but it is unusual for the ways it blends such dark bitterness about male-female relationships with passages of experimentalism and surrealism and puckish humor. It's also pre-Cronenbergian for the way it subtly suggests that Donald's derangement could be based in a tumor that produces extreme fantasies disassociable from his reality, and certainly pre-VIDEODROME in that it includes scenes the viewer likewise cannot readily identify as fantasy, dream or reality. But nowhere else are you likely to find a film that sabotages its protagonist's sexual self-image quite so viciously, with Ann Grant's psycho tease revealed as the far more dangerous character.

According to internet reports, a 35mm print of this film was recovered in Scandanavia. This clean-looking, if not entirely sharp 1.66:1 release (copyrighted by Retromedia Entertainment) runs somewhat shy of that print's reported running time of 73m, indicating that it may stem from a PAL tape conversion master; it does not appear to be missing any footage. An unrelated nudie short, "Hollywood Beauties", rounds out the package.

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