In 1970s, many European intellectuals, especially those on the left political hemisphere, became obsessed with the rise of Fascism. Which wasn't so hard to expect, because the social turmoil of 1960s and economic decline of 1970s seemed to be the good breeding ground for many dangerous ideologies. In such times, when political involvement could be associated with noble artistic passion, many filmmakers tried to warn the present generations of dangers that lurk ahead by giving the look of pre-war Europe and circumstances that led to phenomena like Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Of course, there were also authors who jumped on the bandwagon for othe, less noble, reasons. For them, moral depravity of Fascism could be explained to the audience by explicitly showing sexual depravity of those times. Which, naturally, made some of those films very popular among teen audience.
One of such filmmakers was Italian director Tinto Brass, who later made career shooting expensive and stylish soft porn. Salon Kitty, his 1976 film, is very losely based on the novel by Peter Nordern, a book that deals with bizarre yet true story that took place in the first years of WW2. In 1939, Walter Schellenberg, one of the heads of Nazi intelligence service, has set up the elite exclusive brothel in Berlin with clientele comprised of top Nazi officials and foreign diplomats. None of the customers knew that the girls employed there were all Nazi agents and that all the rooms happened to be bugged. The most bizarre thing is the fact that not even Kitty, nominal madam of the brothel, didn't know the real purpose of that enterprise.
Screenplay by Tinto Brass, of course, simplifies the story and changes few names. Schellenberg is now Wallenberg (played by Helmut Berger), ambitious Nazi official who wants to use the brothel in order to blackmail his way to the top of Reich’s hierarchy. Kitty Kellerman (played by Ingrid Thulin), apart from being madam, has a second job as a cabaret singer. Caught in the net of depravity is sweet innocent girl Margerithe (played by Teresa Ann Savoy) who had been thrown into brothel. There she falls in love with customer Hans Reiter (played by Bekim Fehmiu), disenchanted Luftwaffe pilot. When Margerithe discovers that her lover had been executed for defeatist speeches he made in the brothel, she finds out that the place is bugged. She informs the madam of the real situation, and both women decide to confront Wallenberg.
Those who tend to bash Roberto Benigni for exploiting Holocaust as the topic of comedy would probably go bananas watching this film, which uses the darkest pages of European history for cheap sexploitation. But, although Salon Kitty doesn't happen to be anything more than rather more stylish and expensive soft porn (although not very successful; some of supposedly erotic scenes are quite unappealing), it does try to have more multidimensional characters and even something resembling dramatic conflict - this time between power-hungry and scruples Wallenberg and hedonistic womanhood symbolised by Kitty. Unfortunately, Brass seems to overuse other cinematical references, probably thinking that he could repeat the successful interaction of Berger and Thulin in Luchino Visconti's The Damned. The most noticeable and irritating is Ingrid Thulin's unsuccessful attempt to imitate Lisa Minelli's musical numbers from Cabaret. All in all, Salon Kitty is failure, although with some very interesting moments.
RATING: 4/10 (+)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on May 9th 1999)
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