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Salon Kitty
cast: Ingrid Thulin, Helmut Berger, Teresa Ann Savoy, John Steiner, and John Ireland

director: Tinto Brass

133 minutes (18) 1976
widescreen ratio 16:9
Argent DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Barry Forshaw
For many years, Tinto Brass' Italo-German production Salon Kitty was only available in a heavily cut form, but nevertheless enjoyed considerable notoriety for its depiction of the sexual excesses of the Nazi regime (Brass' film is principally set in a brothel, staffed by girls of good Aryan stock and impeccable National Socialist credentials; the girls were used to worm secrets out of indiscreet clients). In fact, Salon Kitty begot an entire subgenre: the Italian Nazi excess movie, with a graphic sexuality of Brass' film shored up with equally unflinching violence. But now that a director's cut of Salon Kitty is available with nearly 18 minutes of censored material restored, it's possible to judge the director's intention, hopefully shaking off the excrescences that have gathered since the film's release.

How does it look in the 21st century? The good things first: it was a considerable coup for Tinto Brass to acquire as his set designer the man who bids fair to be the finest in the history of the cinema: Ken Adam, no less, fresh off turbulent work with Stanley Kubrick. His settings for this vision of a decadent Reich are full of his trademark glittering surfaces, uncluttered expanses and modernistic design; this is probably the film's key asset (as the sleeve cannily notes, along with "frequent sex").

But Brass has another ace in the hole: the eponymous Kitty (the vulnerable Madam who takes on the corrupt Nazi Wallenberg played by Helmet Berger, in a replay of his role in Visconti's The Damned) is incarnated by one of the great actresses of the cinema, Ingrid Thulin, long one of the most reliable muses of Ingmar Bergman (before younger actresses such as Liv Ullman usurped her). Her performance is more mannered than her work for Bergman, but retains a pathetic dignity; appropriate in the face of the sexual shenanigans her character is ringmaster to. Another plus is the vocal dubbing of her Kurt Weill-like songs by the English jazz singer Annie Ross (past her best, but supplying the right Lotte Lenya-like note). And (probably best of all for most people) the restoration of the highly stylised, in-your-face eroticism that became the director's stock in trade is still eye opening, even in the 21st century. The nudity is almost non-stop, and most of the orgies contains shots of labias and semi erections that really would have brought about the fall of western society had we been allowed to see them.

On the debit side, there's a salutary reminder that Brass was never a sympathetic director of actors: most are encouraged to play full-out (including a Nazi officer who comically shouts every single line of his dialogue), and who labour under the disadvantage of acting in something other than their native language (this comprehensively sinks Helmut Berger's performance: his English simply isn't good enough - even in post-synch - to pass muster). The visual style is kinetic, but subtlety is nowhere to be found, and are other mysteries such as the presence of the American actor John Ireland, top billed, but given virtually nothing to do. Nevertheless, it's always a cause for celebration when censorship is routed, and a director's intentions (however dubious) are given their head - anyone who would argue with this proposition is a clearly not a cinema buff.

DVD extras: interview with Tinto Brass.

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