Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
Given a pair of special sunglasses by an Austrian colleague, an English professor discovers
they are X-ray spectacles, enabling him to see through clothes. While utilising his
gift, he is pursued across Europe by Russian spies after the invention.
Paradisio is the single film co-written and directed by the obscure Jacques Henrici. As such some of it falls within a contemporary wave of films called 'nudie-cuties', of which better-known examples today are Russ Meyer's Immoral Mr Teas (1959), and Herschell Gordon Lewis' The Adventures Of Lucky Pierre (also 1961). Nudie-cuties were a fairly short lived phenomenon, combining the characteristics of the burlesque and nudist films which sprang out of the changing market for on-screen titillation. It lasted for five or six years before in turn being rendered obsolete, at least in the US, by the growing hardcore market.
The new, more sophisticated nudie-cuties offered an easy variant of previous grind-house material, and became a genre, which often featured playful or whimsical content. Thus Meyer's Immoral Mr Teas featured a hero who, being previously anaesthetised, is suddenly able to see women naked. Paradisio's sunglasses offer similar advantages to the professor. Via this device he gains special licence to ogle - if not to touch. Nudie cuties were always naughty rather than explicit, a coyness which these days makes a film like Paradisio quaint, almost family, entertainment.
At the centre of Paradisio is Arthur Howard, brother to Leslie, Britain's late, gentlemanly star who appeared as The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), another character who also acts one thing but is secretly another. Obviously a modest success in its own terms (or perhaps just an idea too good not to repeat), Paradisio was remade shortly afterwards, as Mr Peek-A-Boo's Playmates, 1962). Whoever Mr Peek-A-Boo was, one doubts he would have the same impact today.
Besides having brother Leslie, Arthur's son is the respectable Shakespearian Alan Howard - a fact that, for British viewers at least, adds to the ironic pleasure which Howard senior's mugging, reminiscent of a mildly depraved Alistair Sim, brings to the film.
When, two years later, Roger Corman made X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, he gave an ability to 'see through' things some interesting overtones; his hero eventually tore out his own eyes in philosophical anguish. More recently still, John Carpenter's They Live!, offered its own sunglasses, which revealed to shocked wearers an alien presence on Earth. In such films the heroes find changed perceptions upset their world vision, provoking critical, drastic response. By contrast, Henrici's film is nowhere so ambitious, focusing instead on a generally comfortable world, full of near adolescent fantasy in which pleasure, not danger, is ultimately reaffirmed. Its supporting plot is endearingly ramshackle, a peg upon which to hang chaste visions of nudity, even though whose internationally based, glamorous, espionage action reminds one that the genre-setting Dr No was just around the corner.
As a British nudie-cutie Paradisio succeeds well enough, a little more tentative than its American cousins perhaps, but despite or because of this possessing an endearing quality of its own. It also contains some fairly surreal moments: for instance in the cabaret club when a nude lights the professor's long cigar using a pair of extendable hands, or later when he drunkenly contemplates another woman, this time to discover she has three breasts. The professor is also able to use his glasses to detect contraband, spot chastity belts and, most oddly to 'disrobe' famous painting in The Louvre such as the Mona Lisa ("so that's why she's smiling!"). When we first see the hero he is photographing a different kind of 'bird', using mathematics to achieve the best results. His skills in calculation, the only indications of his academic specialisation, will later prove useful during a gondolier chase in Venice. His contemplation of more seductive nature is the point of the piece, one that the spy plot - growing more and more predominant, until it concludes with a chase round the Brandenburg Gate - only serves to interrupt. Thus, as the professor is confronted by a succession of corpses those colleagues murdered by the pursuing agents so he and the audience also contemplate, with more enthusiasm, the persuasive charms of warmer bodies elsewhere.
Paradisio today remains a curio, a relic of a time when the modern adult industry was still finding its feet. A British co-produced film from this date that combines elements of a espionage drama, nudie-cutie, as well as a couple of mild burlesque acts among its attractions is an interesting experience. In the UK at least Naked As Nature Intended, made the same year, was more significant but I'd argue Henrici's film is the more interesting.