Salvation Films // 1976 // 109 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // November 7th, 2008
If I cannot capture a duke, at least, then I deserve a lifetime of whoring.
In the history of sexploitation cinema, few authors have had their work adapted as much as the French libertine the Marquis de Sade. This is one of those...with a British twist.
Juliette (Lydia Lisle) and her little sister Justine (Koo Stark, Emily) are orphans at a convent. They are out of money and, unable to care for them any longer, the Mother Superior casts them out to find their own way. On the advice of a cousin, they travel to London to find work in a brothel, where their youthful charms can make them a few pounds. Juliette revels in the idea of libertine debauchery, but Justine wants to keep her purity for her Prince Charming. The sisters may want very different things out of life, but both agree that survival is the most important thing.
I don't know which is worse: the writings of the Marquis de Sade or the films that have come from them. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to be said for debauched nuns, lecherous priests, and big city brothels, but the level of quality from almost anything attached to his name is bottom of the barrel (I exempt Pasolini's 120 Days of Sodom because it does not use the author's name and is really good). This version of de Sade's Justine, directed by Chris Boger, takes British sexploitation to its sleaziest. Now, fairly, that is not quite as sleazy as the French and Italian counterparts but, what this film lacks in grinding, it makes up for with fetishistic naughtiness.
Between the convent lesbianism and whorehouse montages, Boger fits in plenty of action, but he always stops short of the extremes that the author would go. In this case, however, the restraint is welcome. Unless the film is a piece of cutting political satire (see Pasolini's film), those sorts of acts are a little hard to watch. Borger does understand the trappings of the sexy nun film and, though it may not closely resemble de Sade's book, it will satisfy those latent urges of repressed schoolboys everywhere.
The title character is cast well enough in Koo Stark, Prince Andrew's former lover, whose look is of complete innocence. She is a deer in debauchery's headlights and her sister holds her hand all the way down this path. She's here for her look, not necessarily her skills, which is more than obvious within a few lines. I'm used to seeing the horrible dubbing of European exploitation films. Because this is a British film, I thought it was great at first that this wouldn't be dubbed. Unfortunately, it just shines a bright light on how bad the performances really are. This goes for everyone but, nonetheless, they all seem to be having a great time hamming it up in their habits and shifts. Lisle's Juliette is a nice contrast to Justine. It's amusing to watch her make fun of Justine's virginity, braggin about all the money she makes with the loss of her own. Boger's direction is fairly good for its budget. It moves at a decent pace, filled with ritualistic religious scenes and general criminal behavior.
This release of The Marquis de Sade's Justine from Salvation Films is adequate for its cult audience. There has been restoration done, but there is plenty of damage still present and a few transfer errors hanging around. The colors are strong, but tend to bleed into each other in the brighter scenes. The mono sound is clear with little hiss. The best thing to say about the audio is that there is no annoyingly bad dub track, but that also takes some of the fun out it. For extras, we have a still gallery and interviews with both director Chris Boger and writer Ian Cullen, so we can learn how they made this masterpiece.
Were somebody to make a careful adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's books, the resulting film would be ten hours long with hour length-monologues about the power of Libertine philosophy interspersed between sex scenes. When you boil the stories down to their core elements, you wind up with some transgressive sexual writing strung together by a very thinly drawn story. With a minimum of de Sade's drudgery, Chris Boger delivers the goods with frocks and habits flying everywhere.
Guilty, but they'd probably just enjoy the dungeon. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Salvation Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interview with director Chris Bogner
* Interview with writer Ian Cullen
* Stills gallery