Blue Underground // 1976 // 133 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 19th, 2010
Tinto Brass' Uncensored Director's Cut
When the Nazis wanted intelligence from foreign diplomats, they didn't just steal documents or pay informants. No, they took over a whole brothel, stocked it full of women loyal to the State, and then recorded the pillow talk to gain enemy secrets. It's a scary plan, and the idea of secret Nazi orgies have been grist for the exploitation mill for decades now. Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS may be the most famous, but the award for classiest Nazisploitation flick would probably go to Tinto Brass' Salon Kitty. Employing name actors and rich sets, Brass creates an air of decadence and depravity, around which he weaves a story of love, obsession, and the effects of power. Now out on Blu-ray from the indie studio Blue Underground, Salon Kitty could easily stand in the front ranks of a hi-def exploitation movie collection.
Salon Kitty takes the infamous Nazi brothel as its subject. Power-hungry Wallenberg (Helmut Berger, The Damned, an SS officer, recruits the Reich's twenty most beautiful and willing National Socialists. Things are going well until Wallenberg crosses the wrong prostitute (Teresa Ann Savoy, Caligula), who takes her revenge against the horrific sexual atrocities done in the brothel.
Tinto Brass has spent most of his decades-long career as a director making soft core erotic films, usually comedies. And yet, he'll almost certainly go down in cinematic history for a pair of films he directed in the 1970s: Salon Kitty and Caligula. Both are hardcore (in more than one sense) examinations of powerful men slowly disintegrating when they take their escapades too far. In fact, Salon Kitty makes watching Caligula a much more tragic experience. In Caligula we can see the heavy hand of producer Bob Guccione adding extra sex scenes forcing certain actresses. Salon Kitty is where Tinto gets to let it all hang out. He hires excellent actors (like Helmut Berger), makes amazing use of a strong art department to dress the brothel, and films it all with his eye for detail. Surprisingly, it all works.
I'm not, however, sure how it works. That is to say that the mixture of serious attempt at historical presentation (as shown by the story's origins and the lavish set design) with the focus on kinky (including forced lesbianism and amputee sex) is a very strange thing. If the Nazi trappings were less well-rendered it would be easy to write them off as an excuse for the depravity (much like Ilsa). However, without the kinky sex, Salon Kitty would be just another stuffy portrait of mad Germans run amok. And yet I can't really see what point Tinto is trying to make. He's not saying anything new about the Nazis, nor really connecting sex and power in a fundamental way, and this isn't an unusual portrait of madness (unlike Malcolm McDowell in Caligula). This isn't really a knock on the film, but rather an appreciation: despite the sometimes muddled point of Brass' film, it still retains a fascinating power.
Blue Underground knocks another hi-def disc out of the park with Salon Kitty. The 1.85:1, AVC encoded transfer looks amazing for a film of this vintage. Most shots are clean and detailed, with an appropriate amount of grain. There are some soft shots scattered throughout the film, but they look intentional. The grain can be a bit much sometimes, but it's well-rendered and to be expected on a film like this. Finally, colors are strong, with the contrasting red and black of the Nazi regalia looking especially strong. For audio we get a pair of DTS-HD mono tracks. One is in the original Italian, the other an English dub. Since it was an Italian production pretty much all the voices were dubbed in post anyway, so it's a tossup as to which you want to watch. Both sound fine, with only a little bit of hiss, though there's no reason to expect lots of sonic range from either track. Extras are ported over from the previous disc, and include a 15-minute interview with Tinto Brass and an 18-minute interview with the film's production designer Ken Adam. The pair give a pretty clear sense of how the film came to be and what exactly went into the production. We also get eight minutes of radio spots and trailers.
I would almost hope I didn't have to say it at this point, but Salon Kitty will be pretty strong medicine for many viewers. It's not quite as depraved as other '70s staples, but there's still ample nudity, sexuality, and just plain violence going on in the film. The fact that the violence clashes so completely with the rich surroundings will likely only heighten its effect. Be warned that Salon Kitty is not for the faint of heart.
Salon Kitty is an odd example of exploitation fare, with the depths of its depravity matched only by the opulence of its design. This film makes a worthy companion to Tinto Brass' later epic Caligula, and fans of the film are probably going to want to upgrade this Blu-ray for the increased visual appeal. For those who haven't seen the film yet, the rich textures of Brass' vision really shine on Blu-ray, making this the only way to see Salon Kitty.
The Nazis are in serious trouble for their shenanigans, but Salon Kitty is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (Italian)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 133 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Unrated