Written by: Christopher O’Neill on May 27th, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, March 2nd, 1976
Director: Tinto Brass
Writers: Ennio De Concini, Maria Pia Fusco, Tinto Brass
Cast: Helmut Berger, Ingrid Thulin, Teresa Ann Savoy, John Steiner, Bekim Fehmiu
Blu-Ray released: May 30th, 2011
Approximate running time: 133 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85.1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: English, Italian, French and German DTS 2.0 HD Master Audio; original English Dolby 2.0 audio
Subtitles: English; English for Italian-only scenes
Blu-Ray Release: Argent Films
Region Coding: Region 0
Retail Price: £19.99
Berlin, 1939 – Europe is on the brink of World War II and SS Officer Helmut Wallenburg (Helmut Berger) is instructed to take control of the infamous Salon Kitty bordello, which will be used to specifically service high-ranking Nazi officials and foreign diplomats. Under much protest, Madam Kitty (Ingrid Thulin) is forced to give into Wallenberg’s demands and he enlists twenty young women, all National Socialists from respectable backgrounds, who are willing to perform any act of debauchery in the name of patriotism. The most enthusiastic recruit is Margherita (Teresa Ann Savoy) who has turned against her bourgeois family by pledging her allegiance to Hitler. What Kitty, the prostitutes nor the clients realise is that every room in the brothel is under surveillance and their activities are being monitored and recorded for the use of the Nazi Party. But Wallenberg abuses his position, using the information to blackmail Germany’s social elite and this thirst for power makes him increasingly reckless. Meanwhile, Margherita’s ideals are conflicted when she begins to have feelings for Hans (Bekim Fehmiu), a disillusioned Luftwaffe pilot who reveals in confidence that he plans to defect to Britain. When he is executed as a traitor soon afterwards, Margherita discovers Wallenberg’s surveillance operation and, with the help of Kitty, orchestrates revenge.
Salon Kitty (1976) plays as a curious companion piece to Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969), not just because both films depict decadent Nazi Germany and share Helmut Berger and Ingrid Thulin in the cast, but also in the grandiose set design and the ever-roaming and zooming camera lens. The style and content is simultaneously extravagant but also grotesquely over-wrought, finely illustrating the bloated excess that comes with all-consuming power. Where the two filmmakers differ is Visconti’s film reserved most of the on-screen depravity for the controversial ‘The Night of the Long Knives’ sequence, which makes the crisp elegance illustrated in the remainder of the narrative seem even more corrupted and despicable. Brass takes a more direct and cruder approach by revelling in the explicit sordidness throughout the entire film and pushing it into the audiences faces as far as it can go. This, no doubt, was prompted by the two films being bridged by two other pictures by Italian directors, Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (1974) and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), which dealt with the dying days and aftermath of World War II in an extreme and confrontational manner.
What differentiates Salon Kitty from all of these earlier films is that it skirts between being both an earnest arthouse picture and a commercial exploitation movie, and cynically proved popular enough in the latter market for the film to essentially spawn the Naziploitation genre which followed. Despite this, it is difficult to see Salon Kitty – especially in its full, uncensored version – as anything other than the work of a director whose intentions are sincere in conveying that absolute power corrupts all. The salacious material is layered on in abundance, it is pushed to nihilistic extremity and the footage is disturbing rather than titillating. The activities in the brothel are a metaphor of the Nazi Party: sex is acquainted as a destructive act of self-serving domination. Only the scenes with Margherita and Hans have any kind of consensual tenderness, to the extent that these scenes stand out as abnormal from the other sexual encounters depicted in Salon Kitty. Brass would continue this theme with Caligula, another mangled and misjudged work that is hardly the straight-forward work of erotica that its producer wanted and lead the public to believe.
Argent Video have issued Salon Kitty on a single layer BluRay, using what appears to be the same HD master that Blue Underground sourced its American BluRay from. The 1080p transfer is presented anamorphic at its correct 1:85:1 aspect ratio and is a composite of the original censored negative and 35mm elements from Tinto Brass’ own vault materials. Unsurprisingly, Salon Kitty was a film that featured footage that was contentious at the time of release and was cut differently in a variety of countries (its Italian release was delayed for several months as it had to be re-edited to suit the censors’ wishes). This edition is the most complete available, and considering the nature of this restoration, it looks very good. Colours appear slightly duller in the restored scenes but overall the transfer looks vibrant, blacks are deep and the amount of film grain gives the image natural texture. Overall, it looks as sharp as it’s going to, and any imperfections are due to the way the film was originally filmed (a handful of shots have a hair in the gate, while the use of zoom lenses mean that some shots lack much depth of field).
As with the Argent Video DVD, the Blue Underground DVD and BluRay, the English audio has a few sections in Italian. A disclaimer before the film reads: “The Director’s Cut Of Salon Kitty includes scenes previously cut by producers due to their strong content. The scenes have now been reinserted by director Tinto Brass, with short parts of dialogue never available in English. These are therefore presented with optional English Subtitles”. This is not entirely true, since most of the Italian-only snippets present on the disc were in English on various video editions released throughout the world. While tracking down the original audio elements would presumably prove difficult, perhaps even impossible, surely an imperfect but more complete restoration could have been created from the various video cassette releases.
There are five audio options. English, Italian, French and German are all presented in DTS 2.0 HD Master Audio and the original English track is also presented mono 2.0. The two English tracks and the Italian track are the strongest, with no hiss or damage and the dialogue and music always clear. The French track (on which Helmut Berger seems to dub his own performance) appears to be unrestored and contains mild hiss, while the German also seems unrestored, and is mixed at a much louder level to the rest of the audio options, sounding quite harsh. As with the English audio, the French and German tracks occasionally switched to Italian in moments where no audio for the respective language was available or ever recorded.
There are two English subtitles options, one is just for the partial Italian-language sections and the other is for the full length of the film. Both appear in yellow font.
Ported over from Argent Video’s DVD release is an interview with Tinto Brass, which was filmed in 2005. This 24 minute interview is in English and, although Brass’ accent is heavy and occasionally difficult to understand, is informative as he recalls working with the cast, the set design, costumes, and where Salon Kitty fits in with his body of work as a whole. It is presented 1:33:1 fullframe and, having been filmed in Standard Definition, looks unspectacular on BluRay but is worthwhile for the content. Also included is a theatrical trailer (4 minutes, 1:85:1 anamorphic) which is also from a HD source and looks strong, although not as good as the main feature. There is also a variety of trailers for other Argent Video releases.