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Director: Tinto Brass
Blue Underground

Tinto Brass, one of the masters of erotic cinema, has yet to receive his due appreciation on Stateside DVD. With this month bringing both the TINTO BRASS COLLECTION and SALON KITTY to Region 1 DVD, fans of his particular brand of sinema will be more than pleased. Ranking alongside CALIGULA as one of his most controversial films, Blue Underground is up to the task of presenting SALON KITTY in its longest version available anywhere for the first time ever!

At the dawn of the Nazi regime in 1939 Germany, homosexual SS Officer Biondo (John Steiner, TENEBRE, who is introduced in a full-frontal nude shot!) orders his chief officer Wallenberg (Helmut Burger, DORIAN GRAY, before drugs took their toll on his good looks) to infiltrate the decadent brothel of Madam Kitty (Ingrid Thulin, SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS) and train a group of Socialist beauties to service the officers of the Nazi party. One of the recruits, lovely Margherita (Teresa Ann Savoy, later in Brass' CALIGULA), falls in love with Hans (Bekim Fehmiu, THE ADVENTURERS), an officer preparing to defect to the other side. When she discovers Hans was murdered because his testimony was recorded by hidden bugs in each of the brothel's room, she seeks sweet revenge with the help of Kitty and a visiting American (John Ireland, embarrassing as ever).

SALON KITTY can be summed up in two words: very long. At its longest, the film ran 125 minutes on previous home video versions, but now Tinto Brass has made available to Blue Underground long unseen footage from his private collection, pushing the final running time to 133 minutes(!). Quite a sitting for an exploitation film! Not to mention an exploitation film that comes up short on the exploitation. KITTY would be better served by an arthouse crowd, a historical drama based on true-life events and real people, with a smattering of perversion to keep those with low attention spans awake. Sure, there are twisted sexual fantasies re-enacted (one features Giancarlo Badessi, the father of a murdered girl in SOLANGE, going down on a giant dildo made of bread!), the prospective hookers having their eroticism tested by forcing them to sleep with hunchbacks, gypsies, and amputees, a giant orgy, actual hardcore masturbation, and plenty of nudity (male and female), sex, and lesbianism (Brass' obsession with the female ass is just as grand here as his other films). But these sequences take up about 25-30 minutes tops, the remaining film keeps busy following the very lengthy romance between Margherita, as well as the cat-and-mouse relationship of Wallenberg and Margherita and Kitty's attempts to wrench her brothel back from the powerful Nazis. Brass also manages to inject some poignant examples of the cruelty of the Socialist party during the 1930s: one scene, with a little boy having his toy chick crushed by the foot of a monstrous Socialist girl, is incredibly moving. WARNING: those who get sick at animal violence will want to push past a sequence of a pig having its throat slit and being sliced in half in a slaughterhouse!!

What will make or break the purchase for some consumers is the incredible cast! Other than the lead actors, the supporting cast is filled with familiar Eurocult faces. Tina Aumont, with the eyes and lips of a vampire (and who acted for Brass earlier in 1968's HOWL), has a tiny role as Wallenberg's frumpy wife, who is forced to partake in a lesbian scene with Margherita. Malisa Longo, Fraulein Elsa herself, is one of the hookers (I couldn't recognize her). And Paola Senatore, one of Italy's most active players in sex cinema, appears here as a blonde hooker. Check her out as a redhead in EMANUELLE IN AMERICA and with black hair in EATEN ALIVE! She's one of Eurocult's hidden treasures, too bad she's briefly on-screen during a medical lecture and then again when she reveals she has become pregnant during her stay at the salon. With a game cast working overtime to make the sleaze as respectable as possible, the behind-the-scenes technicians have all accomplished a real work of art. The various garish costumes of Madam Kitty and her girls all personify the 1930s and early 1940s perfectly, as does the superb set design, recalling the art deco movement. Kitty indulges in a number of musical numbers, all summoning the spirit of Marlene Dietrich and featuring a strange half-man half-woman makeup job, stylish lighting, and gay chorus boys dressed to the tee (Thulin's singing voice is dubbed by Annie Ross, later of the BASKET CASE sequels!). Despite all its shortcomings, SALON KITTY is still a film well worth seeing. I would advise renting it and if it rubs you the right way, purchase the disc.

To include as many special features appreciating the film as possible, Blue Underground has made SALON KITTY a limited edition 2-disc set. The film takes up the entire first disc, with a U.S. trailer and international trailer and a Tinto Brass bio also included. KITTY is presented Anamorphic in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, preserving the gorgeous cinematography completely, and the remastering job is admirable. Because the transfer was taken from a number of different prints, some shots are much grainier than others, while others are simply gorgeous save for a hair in the gate. Two audio options, English and Italian with optional English subtitles, are included and both are very strong mono mixes. If you select the English track, the exclusive Brass sequences appear in Italian with subs (they never had any English track recorded). The ragged video history of the film makes this the definitive edition to seek out, the only one with Brass' exclusive footage and the second disc of extras makes the package even sweeter.

Kicking off the second disc is a 15-minute interview with the jovial cigar-chomping Tinto Brass, who reveals his inspiration for the film, his working relationships with the various actors, and most interesting, his explanation of his special brand of eroticism. Brass also discusses the importance of set designer Ken Adam, who is interviewed in an additional 18-minute featurette (like Brass, he also has a cigar in hand!). Adam apparently was almost driven mad by working with perfectionist extraordinaire Stanley Kubrick on BARRY LYNDON, so was not only able to regain his self-confidence by working on Brass' film, but also was able to liberate himself by exorcising his memories of the Nazis while growing up in 1940's Germany. He also notes that he visited the real Salon Kitty (located on Kurfurstendam, the "Ku'dam", in Berlin, which I personally walked down regularly when living there!) and found traces of the recording devices!! We are treated a number of sketches of the interiors of bedrooms, the Nazi headquarters, and the parlors of Salon Kitty, some of which weren't used in the finished film, and Adam notes Brass' love of shooting mirrors (go back and watch the movie again to appreciate their constant use). Of the two interviews, Adam's is more fascinating, as he remembers much more of shooting the film and allows more anecdotes to spill forth from his mind. Three radio spots (one :60, one :50, one :30) all sell the film with the "sexy Nazi" angle. And there are not one, but three galleries!! One is of posters and stills, with many behind-the-scenes shots, international posters, pressbooks, and lobby cards, film reviews and news articles discussing the controversial nature of the film, video covers, and book tie-ins. The second spotlights Ken Adam's conceptual art for the set and production designs, all gorgeous hand-drawn portraits of the various interiors seen in the film. The third collects the designs for Jost Jakob's costumes, including hookers' dresses, Kitty's various outrageous get-ups, and various other period clothing for supporting characters.

BU is also unafraid of including DVD-ROM Extras on their discs, something few other companies bother with, especially in the cult market. This feature is the full-length book The Story of Salon Kitty, which has to be accessed via Adobe Acrobat. The book, published in 1974, chronicled the making of the film, with many behind-the-scenes photos and production artwork, as well as historical and character backgrounds. The original Italian language text is included on each page, and at the bottom of the page(s) is a link to the brand-new English translation! You can then return right back where you started and continue exploring! An absolutely incredible extra addition, kudos to BU! Thanks for including it in its entirety in this form rather than just including it as a gallery!

Blue Underground seems game to bring on the controversy with their DVD releases, but I'm glad someone has the guts to preserve these obscurities. Who would have thought that a mere decade after the films were only available uncut on the grey market, they would be presented in uncut widescreen transfers for all to enjoy?? June 24 just might be the most perverse day on the DVD calendar of 2003. With EMANUELLE IN AMERICA and SALON KITTY streeting together, your shower will be working in overtime to wash the filth off! And that's such a great feeling! (Casey Scott)