The fact that a film based on a famous BDSM comic even became a movie is kind of amazing, but then you realize the French were involved. The concept was born from the mind of one John Willie (real name: John Coutts), a British artist and photographer known for his fetish work in the 1940s/50s. Yes, your parents were freaks too! Of course, S&M stuff was kept on the downlow and while Willie was living in Canada he started up a magazine called Bizarre. It was a self-published work that allowed Willie to exorcise some sexual demons as the issues were filled with drawings and photos of bondage. In issue no. 3 he debuted the character of Sweet Gwendoline, a damsel in distress in the tradition of Hollywood serials. The only difference is when Gwendoline found herself tied up there was lots and lots of rope involved. Willie only published 23 issues of the magazine before he passed away in 1962. Sweet Gwendoline, however, would live on.
Original Varitey ad (click to enlarge):
Interest was minimal. Haha, just kidding, interest went through the roof and in July 1983 the company bragged in Variety that they had raised the film's entire budget of 35,000,000 franc ($4,500,000) in presales. Looking to play to an international market, the filmmaker opted to cast two Americans in the lead roles. For the male lead, they recruited former male model Brent Huff. For the titular role of Gwendoline, they cast another relative unknown in Tawny Kitaen. Filming took place the summer of 1983 and the film debuted in France in February 1984. It would hit most of the rest of the world throughout the year.
Amusingly, things came full circle in the early ‘90s as EMANUELLE sequels producer Alain Siritzky tried to get a TV series launched from Willie’s work. Much to the dismay of young lads everywhere, it didn’t get off the ground.
Pre-sales ad for proposed series: