April 25: Bava Forever — Bava died on this day 43 years ago. Let’s watch his movies.
Often, we put Italian genre directors into buckets. Fulci was only the godfather of gore, which ignores his contributions to giallo, westerns and decades of comedy films in favor of the last fifteen years of his life. Similarly, Bava is often thought of for his contributtons to horror film when the truth is he did everything from peplum and Eurospy films to crime and science fiction movies.
By 1971, Bava had been through his successful mid 60s run of having American-International Pictures bring his movies to America, as well as his attempt at making a western, Roy Colt & Winchester Jack, and was a year from pretty much kickstarting so many of the themes of the slasher in A Bay of Blood and then having a small career resurgenace and reaching America again with Baron Blood.
Bava had a lack of confidence and when that was combined with his shyness, he rarely took advantage of opportunities which would have made his name more internationally known, including working in Hollywood. In interviews — which appear in Troy Howarth’s The Haunted World of Mario Bava — he comes across as pretty rough on himself, saying things like “I accept anything they give to me. I am too willing to accomodate any difficulty. This is not the way one creates masterpieces. Also, I’m too cheerful and the producers don’t like that: they want people who take things very seriously, and above all who take them seriously. But how can I?” and “I think of myself as one who manages to get along. I don’t care about being successful, I just want to go on and on.”
So when Bava needed another movie to make, this commedia sexy all’italiana was what it would be, the first of three collaborations between Bava and American producer Alfredo Leone. Instead of the simple titilation and dated jokes you expect from the form, instead Bava creates a racy Rashomon of a date gone wrong, which we learn has led to Tina Bryant (Daniela Giordano, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key) having her dress torn and John Price (Brett Halsey, The Devil’s Honey) with a cut on his forehead.
The first version of the story is Tina telling her mother (Valeria Sabel) that she was like Joan of Arc and John was the devil. After dancing at a disco, she went into his jet set swinger’s flat and when he offered to change into something more comfortable, he came out nearly nude and tried to assault her. She barely escaped and her expensive dress paid the price.
Or maybe John is right. He’s an innocent man who was trapped in the spider’s web, a woman who was more sexually voracious than him, someone who literally lives up to the film’s title, demanding four rounds of sexual congress and still being unsatisfied to the point that she injured him. For an Italian man, this is quite an admission.
But the real story? The perverted doorman (Dick Randall, who may be living up to his role; he made so many exploitation movies that he was involved in are to be worshipped including The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield; The French Sex Murders; Pieces and Slaughter High) thinks that the couple who keeps showing up in these stories — George (Robert H. Oliver) and Esmerelda (Pascale Petit) — are both gay and that John has been dating George and needs to bring a woman home to satisfy Esmerelda, who drugs poor Tina and takes advantage of her and then John does the same. This story is written through binoculars, as if someone was writing their own fan fiction of this movie and is shown to not be true.
What may be is what the scientist sees. John and Tina have fallen in love and decide to wait to sleep together. He tries to take her home but the front gate of his apartment building is stuck. The doorman is drunk and looking at a dirty magazine, so when John tries to lift his date over the gate, her dress is torn and she accidentally scratches him. He tells her to tell her mom that he tried to attack her so that she doesn’t get in trouble for ruining the dress. She tells him to tell his friends that she was insatiable. The scientist says that the truth is in there somewhere, but he does know that before John took her home, they went and watched the sun rise together.
For someone known for horror and murder, the truth is that nobody shoots a gorgeous woman quite like Mario Bava. He is approaching them not as objects or things to be exploited, but instead from his place of shyness. They are perfect creations to be placed upon a pedestal and fawned over, explored and shown to others for their glory. Giordano, Petit and Brigette Skay (Zeta One, Isabella, Duchess of the Devil) have never looked more irrestiable.
He’s also less interested in the sexy parts of this movie — not that they’re skipped, mind you — and more the foibles of modern society and how women and men are supposed to play the games of love and sex. Every man wants a Tina who is a lady in the street and a tigress in the sheets, but every man is also worried that when the fantasy arrives that they have been roleplaying their whole lives in solo acts that they will be able to measure up. And when the woman wants more than them — four times that night — it can hurt them more than any words or physical attack could.
There’s also a different look at the characters and nearly a different film in each segment. Tina’s is chaste and John’s is slightly saucy, while the doorman is pretty much a Dick Randall movie, which makes him playing the character an intriguing bit of meta commentary.
Written by Charles Ross (Caught In the Act!, Nympho: A Woman’s Urge) and Mario Moroni, this would be a lesser film in anyone else’s hands. But when you see the way that Bava frames the scenes, how the colors threaten to explode out of the screen and even the minor moment when Esmerelda uses a swing to attempt to seduce Tina — and the camera gets closer and closer to her through the scene itself and a repeating POV shot — that makes you realize that you’re getting what is a master class in how to really make a sex comedy.
Bava probably shrugged, realized he did too much and wasn’t paid enough, and started looking for his next job.