Sunday 21 May 2023

Twilight of Love (1977)

Director: Luigi Scattini
Writers: Luigi Scattini, Vittorio Schiraldi, Giacomo Rossi Stuart and Claude Fournier, from a story by Luigi Scattini, freely based on the novel Il Corpo by Alfredo Todisco
Stars: Anthony Steel, Annie Belle, Pamela Grier, Hugo Pratt, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Alain Montpetit and Gerardo Amato

Index: The First Thirty.

Completely unrelated to the Filipino horror movie, The Twilight People, released five years earlier, this Italian production is unrelated to anything else in Pam Grier’s filmography too.

In fact, that seems to be much of the point, as the first half of her First Thirty movies was taken up by variations on a theme, a bunch of exploitation movies, especially the women in prison and blaxploitation flicks that made her famous; but the second half is a constant flow of fresh changes, every film being completely unlike the next.

And this one, as far as I can tell, is different from all of them, because it’s a very European “affair” movie. IMDb suggests that it’s drama and romance but the drama is forced and the romance is, well, not very romantic.

At least, as far as I can tell, which is a caveat I have to throw out here because the one and only copy of this film I could find is in Italian, which I don’t speak, and there are no subtitles to be found, even in the fan communities that exist for this sort of thing.

Thus I have little idea of what’s truly going on and everything I say here is shaped by my assumptions, which could well be faulty. Then again, this is an Italian film so it’s highly visual in outlook and, if it’s doing its job, it ought to be universally understandable, even to those of us who don’t know the language.

And hey, it’s inherently international, as an Italian film starring an Englishman, Anthony Steel (who was best known for his marriage to a Swede, Anita Ekberg); and a Frenchwoman, Annie Belle. It’s set primarily in Canada and eventually in the Caribbean. Oh, and I’m only watching because of an American in the cast.

Oddly, it begins in English, because Timmy Thomas sings the theme tune, which explains the original Italian title: “The night of the high tide. It’s where love begins.”

Maybe it does and maybe it does, by the end of the movie, but mostly about sex, opening with a naked young lady bouncing on top of a handsome but quite clearly older man, even if his silver hair lends him a distinguished air. He’s Richard Butler. She doesn’t matter.

Anthony Steel was a British actor and singer who tended to play quintessential Englishmen of bygone eras, though he found a later career in Italy where the size of his roles decreased in time, in part because of a growing addiction to alcohol. Butler was one of his last leads.

Oddly, we’re not in Italy. His commute is on roads with very American roadsigns and we’re apparently north of the border in Montreal, a city with two official languages, neither being Italian. So, naturally all the dialogue is Italian, with an occasional phrase in English sneaking in to hint to us what’s actually going on.

The first words I caught were “blue jeans”, because Butler is the director of an advertising agency and he’s searching for the perfect ass to model someone’s jeans. Photographers take pictures of a slew of naked butts so he can look at them all in close-up on a projector screen. “A touch of class” is the label they’ll overlay.

Other English words I caught were “unisex”, “black magic” and “voodoo”, while others are easy to understand even without translation, such as “magnifique” and “exotico”.

However, they don’t really mean anything. What’s important is that Butler sees a lady in a sauna and finds himself immediately obsessed with her. There are lots of naked people in this sauna, both male and female, though some of them are covered by towels or robes. Nudity is not skimped on here. But she is striking.

She’s Dyanne and she’s much younger than he is. Steel was born in 1920, so was 57 at this point in time, while Annie Belle was born in 1956, making her perhaps 21 and him almost three times her age, even though her hair is as silver as his. Naturally, this is supposedly a romance between the two, though it seems to me that it’s a relatively one-sided romance.

In fact, it gets uncomfortable pretty quickly. We might say that he’s rather forward, going to her apartment and drenching her in kisses while she tries to talk on the phone and trying to unzip her jeans. We might, however, call it sexual harassment, even if she thinks “don’t run away” when a man walks in and jumps on her bed. Does she have a boyfriend? I think so.

Belle had already become a important name in exploitation cinema, having started out in Jean Rollin films like Bacchanalles Sexuelles and Lips of Blood, but progressed to Laure and Black Emmanuelle, White Emmanuelle. She would find her biggest roles at the turn of the decade, in the horror movies The House on the Edge of the Park and Absurd, so this a stepping stone.

Their “romance” ends very quickly. He gets on top of her, she slaps him and he slaps her back. He walks out and she doesn’t look happy. After that, things happen, Butler womanises a series of women, some on a casting couch, and we wonder when Pam Grier will show up.

She shows up fifty minutes in, dancing at a party on the Caribbean island of Martinique. She’s in her element and clearly happy. Grier is “nel ruolo di Sandra” in the opening credits but I’m not sure that she’s named in the film.

And why she’s important we have little idea. We know that Butler has persuaded Dyanne to fly to Martinique to be the face of a perfume ad and everything important focuses on them. I can only assume that Sandra is either there to serve as a backup in case Dyanne doesn’t work out or perhaps as added background to the imagery.

As such, it seems appropriate that she often looks like she’s a model and screenshots seem to be double spreads from a fashion magazine. She looks great, of course, and she spends the majority of her screen time wearing a skimpy blue bikini because they shoot on a small and deserted island and find themselves stranded there for a few days.

However, what’s the point? As decorative as she is, she’s nothing else and that’s a waste of serious acting talent. She is given dialogue but she’s dubbed by an Italian actress, just as Steel and Belle presumably were, and none of it has any importance anyway. Quite frankly, I’d say that her absence from the picture would have made any difference whatsoever to the story.

But hey, it might make more sense if I could speak Italian!

No comments: