Monday, July 20, 2009

Salon Kitty (Italy, 1976)

Although films narrating the malodorous deeds of the decadent Nazis have been around almost as long as the National Socialists themselves, the 1970s saw the filmmakers—especially those makers of Euro-sleaze—embrace this genre wholeheartedly, using the mask of history as justification to flash a lot of breast, an occasional penis and a ton of perverse sex and torture. Love Camp 7 (1969) is an early and infamous entry to the genre, but the two films that more or less signal the true beginning of this genre's popularity are probably the Lilian Cavini's pretentious art-house staple The Night Porter (1974/trailer) and the much more honestly exploitive Canadian entry from Don Edmonds, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974/trailer). Once these films and their box office takings whetted the tongue of trash filmmakers, similar films began creeping out of the western world's crevasses with great regularity.
As normal when it comes to such softcore Euro-exploitation, Italy especially took this new pseudo-historical subgenera to heart and regurgitated dozens of perverse-nazis-and-their-sexual-desire films over the next decade. Titles such as Cesare Canevari's Gestapo's Last Orgy (1976) , Erwin C. Deitrich's Eine Armee Gretchen/Frauleins In Uniform (a German entry from 1974), Luigi Batzella's La Bestia in calore/SS Hell Camp (1977/trailer) and Bruno Mattei's two offerings from 1977, Cassa privata per le SS/SS Girls and KZ9-Lager di Sterminio/Woman's Camp 119 tend to sound better than they are, though lovers of trash generally will find something entertaining in them, especially since the horrendous dubbing normally adds so much unintentional humor to the grimy proceedings.
Amongst the more semi-serious but nonetheless equally dated, over-the-top, entertainingly risqué and exploitive arty movies of this time is Tinto Brass' adaptation of Peter Norden's book Salon Kitty, which purported to tell the true story of a bordello set up in Berlin by the SS around the time of WWII. Brass, best known in the USA as the supposed director of the Penthouse produced trash classic Caligula (1980/trailer), used the book as a basis for a slim story which allowed for a lot of breasts, one or two uncut salami, numerous scenes of kinky sex and too many mind-numbing cabaret numbers interspersed with an occasional political lecture.
Ejaculating the facts that Kitty was party to the SS plot to spy on all her customers and that the bordello was actually located in an upper-class apartment building in the central Berlin neighborhood Charlottenburg, Brass also augmented the story with a love affair between one hooker and a disillusioned soldier, not to mention the special details he gave to the sexual predilections of the customers and the "education" of the women chosen to serve the fatherland by spreading their legs.
Salon Kitty is fun to watch in an odd way, and when it doesn't bore it tends to be pretty funny, even if it wasn't meant to be. Still, when one woman cracks up (from not being able to separate her duty to her country from her job as a whore) after a high-ranking Nazi wants to shoot his load while projecting war films over her naked body and she begins marching back and forth screaming "Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!" it begins to become hard to believe that Brass was in any way trying to be serious. (But then again, seeing that he comes from the same land that has given us Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Bernardo Bertolucci and Lena Wertmuller, perhaps he was.)
For a softcore film, the sex scenes in
Salon Kitty are exceptionally restrained. It is the underlying strain of Nazi perversion, blind obedience, decadence and tyranny that comes to the forefront the most in the film, so don't expect any titillating sex that'll make your dick twitch, for sex in this film is anything but sexy.
The story of Salon Kitty is short and simple. The popular brothel run by Kitty Kellerman (Ingrid Thulin) is taken over by the SS and she is forced to move it to a villa they supply in Grünewald and replace her old stable of girls with a new one consisting only of women of true Aryan stock and impeccable National Socialist credentials. Amongst them is the young true believer Margherita (Teresa Ann Savoy, who gave the world a once-infamous crotch shot when playing Drusilla in Caligula), a rather stuck-up bitch for whom everyone seems to have the hots. She falls in love with a disillusioned soldier who tells her of his plans to desert (while standing on a Berlin subway platform as a subway train built circa-1960 rides past). Despite her falsified written reports praising the man's non-existent Nazi faith, she eventually learns that he has been executed. She and Kitty realize that the whole brothel must be bugged and decide to join forces in destroying the megalomaniac Helmut Wallenberg (Helmut Berger), the man in charge of the whole operation. They collect the properly incriminating evidence in a hilarious scene during which Margherita basically follows Wallenberg around and has sex with him while virtually sticking a mammoth microphone in front of his mouth to record his Machiavellian tirades. Once Wallenberg's superior hears the recordings, he sends his man to shoot the naked and power-crazed Nazi in a sauna. The man falls dead, the allies begin dropping bombs and Kitty and Margherita toast with champagne and laugh as the brothel falls apart around them.
All the male Nazis are hilariously over-the-top, their real German accents augmented with lisps that send their deliveries into the realm of caricature. Teresa Ann Savoy is less than a passable actress, and her character never achieves any real depth or becomes in any way remotely likable, rather unlike her heartthrob soldier boyfriend who bites the dust (an out of place and oddly cast John Ireland). Swedish actress Ingrid Thulin, who began her career with such films as Wild Strawberries (1957/trailer), looks all of her (at the time) supposed 50 years of age and more, coming across much like an exhausted 70-year-old transvestite in most of her numerous, overly long and unbelievably boring cabaret numbers. But even if she proves herself no Joel Grey or Liza Minnelli (and also proves that Tinto Brass is no Bob Fosse), her presence gives the film a much needed sense of solidity. One is hard pressed to say that Salon Kitty is a good film, but it is both perversely entertaining and a more than acceptable example of the genre.
As for the real "Salon Kitty", which was actually first located on the third floor of a multi-family house at Giesebrechtstrasse 11 and then later moved to the ground floor in 1942 after a night of bombing, it remained in business into the 1990s. The real Kitty—Kitty Schmidt, born Katharina Zammit—continued her business until 1954, when she died. Her daughter Kathleen continued the business thereafter, followed by Kitty's grandson, but by the early 1990s business was running badly and the bordello was converted into a pension for (mostly) African asylum seekers. But whereas the neighbors had nothing against a house of prostitutes, they did have something against non-white foreigners. The protestations and pressure of the neighboring Good Germans resulted in the pension’s closure soon thereafter.

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