Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: GWENDOLINE (1984)

Beating Cannon’s Indy-influenced adaptation of KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1985) to the punch by a year and a half, perceived erotic filmmaker Just Jaeckin released his own version of “King Solomon’s Mines” and watched it fly over (under?) the heads of American audiences. I say “perceived” as Jaeckin himself, naturally, doesn’t feel he should be pidgeon-holed by that label and sees this film as an exercise in comedy. Whatever. As a critic at the time noted in his review of the film, his name really should be “Just Jaeckin Off”. Don’t get me wrong though, this movie rocks.

The basic premise is an innocent girl, Gwendoline (Tawney Kitaen), and her world-wise female valet, Beth (Zabou), have travelled to the mysterious orient of the quasi-1940s to find her father. Her father went missing on an expedition to find a rare, legendary butterfly and Gwendoline is determined to find him. To do so, she convinces Quatermai – I mean, Willard (Brent Huff), a scurrilous, black market trader and all around salty character, to help her out. After trekking through jungles and desserts, and being captured by natives, they find a lost city, not of gold, but of white stone populated by women who are ruled over by an oppressive dictator.

Based on the notorious underground comic strip “Sweet Gwendoline” by John Willie (John Alexander Scott Coutts), Jean-Luc Voulfow script for GWENDOLINE was extensively re-tooled by director Jaekin, who felt there was no humor and too much sado-masochism. Really? S&M in a script based on bondage art? Huh... damnest thing. Where Voulfow’s script left off and where Jaekin’s vision picked up is hard to say, but as it stands the film is loaded with mid-‘80s exploitation value, just in its themes alone. GWENDOLINE beat INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM to theaters by several months (although it didn’t hit US shores until a year later), effectively pre-dating it’s ‘40s era Shanghai location. It also throws in martial arts fights (which, of course Willard wins with good ol’ American haymakers), shoot outs, kidnapping, rescues, verbal sex, gambling, voyeurism, bondage, fantasy torture, domination, cross-dressing, gladiator fights, objectification, imprisonment, and a plethora of other fetishes.

While fetish heavy, the film is light and fast paced with great action including what is possibly the best hero entrance ever: Gwendoline and Beth are tied up in a crime-lord’s office above a gambling den. A grappling hook flies through the wooden-blinds of the office window and embeds itself in the boss’ throat followed by Willard smashing through the slats and swinging into the room. Never mind that in order to swing on the grappling line into the room, the hook would have to be embedded on something at least one story higher, not in the same room, but whatever. Maybe he fixed up a pulley system outside before making his entrance. It could happen.

In the year it took for the film to reach US shores, it got run through the mill as it were. The film was heavily edited with many of the sequences in the lost city shortened and much of the silly French humor removed (particularly any scene where a woman slaps a man). Uncut and widescreen is definitely the way to go here. On the other hand, I kind of like the US title THE PERILS OF GWENDOLINE IN THE LAND OF THE YIK YAK. It’s appropriate as the film is a sexy, deviant riff on the cliffhanger serials that inspired Indiana Jones, and the novel that inspired the serials. It's sort of like FLESH GORDON (1974), except much slicker, sexier and pulpier.  It’s like a metal band covering an older pop song. It should be crunchy and loud with a sense of mischievous fun and if it doesn’t offend someone, then it wasn’t done right.

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