Arabian Nights 1974 ***


The least played blu-ray in my collection is Pier Paulo Pasolini’s 1974 version of Arabian Nights. That’s because, on getting a blu-ray player, the first films that I thought of that I wanted to see cleaned up and pristine are those within the famous Trilogy of Life that starts with The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales. Both films have a wonderfully gauche sense of story about them, using a strange mix of Italian thespians, untrained toothless locals and British tv actors; Robin Asquith and Nicholas Grace from Are You Being Served? feature, as does peak Dr Who Tom Baker, seen enthusiastically soaping his own knob. In their own strange fashion, they’re arguably the best version of Boccaccio and Chaucer respectively, so why doesn’t Arabian Nights have the same charm?

On the third attempt, and after a bit of research, I finally got the hang of Pasolini’s Arabian Nights, but it’s no easy text. Another reviewer compared it to The Sargasso Manuscript, and that’s about the best steer you could get. Instead of telling each story one after another, Pasolini mixes things up by having the tales intersect and diverge without warning; not easy on a first or even a second watch. That said, there’s plenty of pleasure watching regular Pasolini stars like Franco Citti or Ninetto Davoli give their usual lip-smacking performances, and the Iranian locations are absolutely stunning. Production designer Dante Ferretti does his usual top-notch job, and Ennio Morricone conjured us an untypical soundtrack.

Arabian Nights is a curiosity piece now, mainly because such texts have become sanitised; Pasolini, as always, can’t wait to get to the lusty punch-lines, and his version features a veritable forest of gnarly genitals and unkempt pubic hair. But there’s also a drive towards story, and to bringing classic texts to life, that makes Arabian Nights absorbing even as the runt of the litter; it doesn’t offer the conventional excitements of the other two films, but it does offer something else that’s well worth attempting, even if it’ll tax the patience of most viewers. Pasolini, of course, denounced the whole trilogy shortly before he was murdered, but the quality and the ambition he fought for live on.

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion **** 1970


The titles of classic 1970’s giallo can be quite abstract, so it’s something of a relief when Luciano Ercoli’s Barcelona-set drama turns out to be about forbidden photos of a lady above suspicion. The lady in question is Minou, played by Dagmar Lassander, who is introduced planning to tell her industrialist husband Peter (Pier Paulo Cappoli) that she’s leaving him for another man; she sees this as a way of keeping him keen. Before she can get this plan into action, she receives a warning that her husband is a murderer, and is guided to a cassette-recording of him ordering the death of a man using the decompression chamber essential to deep-sea divers. But that’s only the first piece of bait in an elaborate blackmail plot; but who is responsible? Does mutual friend and lover Dominique (Nieves Navarro) have anything to do with it? The prolific Ernesto Gastaldi is the screenwriter here, and he weaves a story of unusual restraint for a giallo; violence and murder take a back seat to intrigue and suspense, and a conclusion that’s both surprising and inevitable in Mametian terms. There’s also an air of sexual expression that’s fairly wild; women invite each other over to watch projected slideshows of their latest nude photographs. Incidental pleasures include a nightclub straight out of Austin Powers and a groovy lounge-core score from Ennio Morricone. If some giallos seem a little nasty, Forbidden Photos is a good example of a non-exploitive one; there’s a touch of Breaking The Waves about the way the female protagonist links her own degradation to her husband’s well-being. It’s a stylish, perverse entertainment, and looks great on this fresh transfer, currently streaming on the Arrow channel.

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have The Key 1972 ****


Also known as Gently Before She Dies, or Eye of the Black Cat aka Excite Me!, Sergio Martino’s giallo is an original and untypical affair that lifts elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Black Cat, but also has a unique angle of its own. A Cat Called Satan would be an accurate title, since a moggy with that name as a pivotal role here; genre favourites Edwige Fenech and Luigi Pistilli star here; he’s Oliviero, an author who hasn’t written a word for years and makes money by selling off the antique furniture in his country pile with his wife Irina (Anita Strinberg) who he likes to humiliate at their regular orgies. After one of his students his murdered, and then his maid, Oliviero becomes an obvious suspect, but is he gas-lighting his wife or vice versa? His niece Floriana (Fenech) picks an odd time for a social visit, and it proves the catalyst for all manner of sexual and violent behaviour, with Satan included in the domino effect of killings, mutilations and seductions. Cream seems to be a theme, and choice cream-related dialogue includes ‘Hey, hot potato, got any cream in your tricycle? ‘ and ‘Satan’s favourite meal is snake-eyes and cream!’; this is a wonderfully lurid, pervy and overheated melodrama that’s constantly surprising. The magic of streaming is that films like this used to be incredibly hard to find and see, often in poor condition. That a potentially huge audience can see this, at the cost of a couple of free subscriptions, promises that such outré fare might just make a mainstream impact again, for the first time since it was made. Viewed on the Arrow Video Channel.

Pasolini 2014 ****


The death of the brilliant Italian film director Pier Paulo Pasolini is something of a JFK moment in Italian culture; conspiracy theories about as to the circumstances that led to his body being found, murdered, apparently run over by his own car. Abel Ferrara is not a director knows for his sensitivity; films like Bad Lieutenant make a virtue of their brutality, but he shows considerable skill in marking out this sympathetic portrait of a creative mind at the end of its tether. As played with customary precision by Willem Dafoe, Pasolini is shown somewhat spent after the catharsis of making Salo in 1975, and one of the novelties of Ferrara’s film is that it evokes colourful scenes from a film Pasolini planned, but never got to make. The presence of some Pasolini regulars including Ninetto Davoli adds to the authenticity, and Pulp Fiction’s Maria de Mederios captures the elan of muse Laura Betti; perhaps this film aims for a niche audience, but that’s no bad thing. Rather than a biopic, Pasolini offers a concise portrait of the artist as a middle aged man, short of love, but still burning with questions that would not be answered in his too-short lifetime. It’s certainly a subject that brings the best out of both director and star.

Africa Express 1975 ***

africa Express

Exploitation film are usually extreme; Africa Express is an odd fish because it’s an Italian rip-off of something, but it’s not clear what. Ursula Andress is Madeleine Cooper, an environmental campaigner who falls foul of big-game hunter William Hunter (Jack Palance). Disguised as a nun, she escapes from a train ambushed by Hunter’s men, and seeks help from a truck-driver (Guiliano Gemma) and his pet monkey (Bibi). This being 1975, Africans are relegated to bit parts in their own movies, and there’s periodic breaks for wild-life photography and a garishly upbeat score. If it wasn’t for the causal racism and goggle-eyed misogyny, Africa Express might be a good family film, which was presumably the intention. Instead, Michele Lopo’s film is something of a time-capsule of attitudes it was acceptable to have in the 1970’s. Andress does the best here, enjoying the chance to play a driven character while not eschewing a smidge of glamour. Another weird choice for streaming on Amazon Prime, this film might seem obscure, but it presumably made enough money to justify a sequel the following year, Safari Express.

Watch Out, We’re Mad 1974 ***


The many films partnering Terrence Hill and Bad Spencer are something of an acquired taste; ironic given that the Italian actors working under pseudonyms clearly have no intent other than to entertain. Watch Out, We’re Mad seen the due as two garage workers who win a dune buggy, only to see it smashed to bits by local gangsters. The two men take their revenge, smashing up cars, motorbikes and property with gleeful abandon. Director Marcello Fondato does a good job with the messy action, interspersing impressive stunt work with the knockabout comedy that was an Italian staple. If the heroes are mad, Donald Pleasance goes completely insane as a Freud-influenced doctor who cheer-leads from the sidelines in this enjoyable slice of hokum.

The Canterbury Tales 1972 *****


Adapting the tales of Geoffrey Chaucer in his own inimitable style, Pier Paulo Pasolini casts himself as the English author to introduce a selection of stories; mixing non-professional actors with familiar faces (Hugh Griffith, Laura Betti), Pasolini creates eight fresh, vibrant and defiantly rude scenarios in a spirit that’s faithful to the texts. The Millers Tale, the Pardoner’s Tale and others are all rendered with abandon, copious male and female nudity, urine and excrement flying across the screen; the finale features huge devils squatting while priests come flying out of their backsides. But there’s also plenty of beauty in the artful compositions and Ennio Morricone’s score, and neat comedy from Ninetto Davoli, channelling Charlie Chaplin with some success.