Monday, February 18, 2008

Four Times That Night (1969)

It's about time I reviewed something sexy. No, this isn't porn despite what the dvd menu (above) hints at. This is a perfectly harmless Italian sex comedy by way of Kurosawa's Rashoman. I'm going into this particular genre fresh. The only movie I've seen that even comes close is Barbarella (it's not that close). I find it interesting that Four Times That Night was directed by Mario Bava, the godfather of Italian horror. Before Argento, before Fulci, there was Bava. The thing about Bava, however, was that he could never be pinned to one particular genre. He devled into gothic horror (Black Sunday), splatter horror (Bay of Blood), westerns (Roy Colt and Winchester Jack), viking pictures (Knives of the Avenger), and he even tried his hand at a heist film (Rabid Dogs). Of course, Rabid Dogs quickly devolved into Last House on the Left-esque mayhem and didn't stop itself at forced female urination. So, his subject matters were often harsh, often disturbing, frequently bloody and, yet, he never strayed too far from a sense of whimsy. His films often featured rousingly entertaining scores accompanied by a strikingly visual acumen. He's influenced such directors working today as Scorsese, Tarantino and, of course, Argento.

Four Times That Night is an example of Bava's whimsy. This film is pretty fun starting with the neat opening credits featuring some animated nudes and the positively upbeat late 60s jazz music. The plot is pretty simple. Gianni Prada (Brett Halsey) is driving around when he spots Tina Brandt (the exquisite Daniella Giordano) walking her poodle. Upon seeing her, he hits the breaks and immediately yells out "hey! I almost drove off the road! I nearly had a heart attack." She's taken in by this sweet talker immediately. After a few minutes of chit-chat, followed by a few provocative, nearly up-skirt shots, a date is arranged. What follows is Bava's take on Rashoman as the viewer is presented with four different versions of the date; Tina's, Gianni's, the doorman at Gianni's estate, and some weird psychiatrist dude who espouses some bullshit on the meaning of perception, etc.

As Tina arrives at her mother's house after the date, her dress is torn. How did it get that way? Each version of the story is completely different. There's some sexual assault, lesbianism, roofie-ism, homoeroticism, smut-peddling-ism, voyeur-ism, nudi-ism, man-in-a-speedo-ism and various other isms strewn throughout.

The doorman provides, by far, the best version of events when he recalls, to his assistant, spying on Gianni and Tina from an opposing terrace. In his view, Gianni's friends Giorgio and Esmeralda (lesbianishly played by Pascale Petit) arrive to party. Gianni and Giorgio begin dancing together while the naive Tina asks "what are those two doing? Are they dancing by themselves?" Giorgio and Gianni quickly retire into his bedroom whilst Tina still thinks they are just "hanging out". Esmeralda comforts Tina by telling her "she's not Gianni's type. You're not a fireman with chest hair." Esmeralda begins seducing Tina, but her advances are ineffectual until she uses the powerful line "I've slept with thousands of men, but you've never slept with one woman." Also, the date rape drugs were starting to kick in by this point. I loved when, as soon as it looks like Tina might actually be into it, the doorman is shown Benny Hill-ing his way down to the office to retrieve his binoculars. Of course this being the perverted, sex-starved, smut peddling doorman's perception of events, Gianni is clearly gay and out of view.

The material may sound a little extreme, but there isn't a cruel bone in this little film's body. There is some nudity, but it's often obscured by arms, a lamp, or that annoying glare cast on that one little portion of the glass shower. The sets were terrific, including Gianni's gorgeously tacky home. It's refreshing to see a film from this era with such open views on sexuality that still doesn't stoop to the level of pornography (and no i am not condoning roofies).

I guess it all comes back to the psychiatrist. He presents us with the story of the "great deluge" to illustrate his point. He asks Noah's wife about the voyage, but all she can recall is the "awful stench." The dove regretfully recalls how Noah in his haste included only males for certain "unfortunate" species. The giraffe tells the psychiatrist that all he got out of the trip was a "very stiff neck." Of course, we can wonder about the sanity of the good psychiatrist, since he was asking these questions of pictoral representations of said creatures (and the answers were being produced within his own head). Still, his point was that "the truth is always something else." His version of the night in question is, I suppose, the one that makes the most sense. Gianni takes Tina back to his place to build up some trust and show he can control himself. After talking for a while, he starts to take her home. Unfortunately, they're locked inside his gated property because the doorman was up on the terrace spying on them. Tina tries to climb the fence but falls, tearing her dress and scratching Gianni's forehead in the process. They have a good laugh and finish the night off with a drive to the sea so they can take in the sunrise. No sex, no booze, no lesbianism. I prefer to think that "the truth was something else" entirely. I think the doorman seems an honest fellow.

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