DE SADE (1969).
First off, do not go into this flick expecting to get any insights into the life or works of the jolly ol' Marquis. And don't let the X-rating fool you, because it's tame stuff. What you get is a preposterous, drive-in level romp through (so-called) debauchery, and though the title character is the Marquis de Sade, the film has as much to do with reality as Soderbergh's recent KAFKA, or endless other screen bios. Produced by American-International, this psychedelic sexual hodgepodge is more like a Bondage & Domination variation of THE TRIP, following the same type of fragmented narrative and bulldozer symbolism (not a huge surprise, because although Cy Enfield is listed as director, he was reportedly fired midway into production and replaced by ever-reliable Roger Corman), lashed together by a few vague script hunks from the pen of Richard Matheson. The movie's major fault lies in the casting though, with Keir Dullea (winner of the Mr. Bland Award for 1969) stuffed into an ill-fitting period costume and giving us a lukewarm, pony-tailed de Sade. Dullea was hot off his long gig in Kubrick's 2001, and probably jumped at the opportunity to work with filmmakers who print after only one take (not to mention, all the nude chicks), but he never gets into the spirit of the piece, instead looking likes he's simply on heavy medication... The "plot" (ha!) primarily has the Marquis experiencing different moments in his life as he roams through a huge, cobwebby castle. And speaking of cobwebby, John Huston is also along for the ride as de Sade's crotchety uncle. We get childhood memories of spankings, a forced marriage to a prim stiff, his imprisonment, paternal traumas, plus every few minutes a 'racy' seduction scene is tossed in to keep the viewer barely awake (Oooh, he's tying up a lady and whipping her butt... Big fuckin' deal). This makes so little sense that they should've gotten Ken Russell to direct the damned thing -- at least he would've had fun with all the play-within-the-play bullshit and fetishes. All Enfield does is tape red gels over the lights in order to devote anything mildly perverse, and the surrealistic orgy scenes consist of hiring some naked extras, getting them soused in the boudoir, and then spinning the camera about feverishly as they paw each other, while bongo drums play in the background (Bongos?!). Lavish, frenzied and utterly ludicrous, it's easy to see what the filmmakers were trying for though -- thinking man's erotica which swirls together events from the Marquis' life and fantasies, as seen through his mad mind. What exactly is reality? And what isn't? And could all this be just a delusion from de Sade's jail cell? Or simply a strange, crappy movie posing as arthouse fodder? The heavy-handed, dime-store psycho-babble is almost unbearable, and though the ladies are lovely and the orgies of destruction quite indulgent, the film is never arousing. And in the long run this murky melodrama does a disservice to the good name of the Marquis de Sade.
© 1993 by Steven Puchalski.