Wednesday, April 28, 2010

'SS Girls' defies genre classification

Every once in a while, I come across a movie that leaves me absolutely baffled as to what the director was trying to accomplish. One such film has made it into the line up for the "Nazis Quit Mini-Blogathon."

SS Girls (aka "Private House of the SS") (1977)
Starring: Gabriele Carrara, Marina Daunia, Macha Magall and Ivano Staccioli
Director: Bruno Mattei
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

This a film that defies classification beyond "Nazi softcore porn," because I can't figure out whether it's an ineptly made spoof or a VERY ineptly made drama. The only thing I know for sure is that it's ineptly made.

As the tide of WW2 turns against Germany, crazed SS officer and former church organist Hans Schellenberg (Carrara) is charged with creating a brothel where, while in the throes of passion, high-ranking military officers will be tricked revealing whether they are traitors to the Third Reich. To this end, a dozen or so young women are trained to be the ultimate weapons of sexual destruction by Hans' sadistic second-in-command (Daunia) and an expert prostitute (Magall).

Allowing for the bizarre premise--that anyone will be stupid enough to reveal they are planning high treason against a murderous dictator to a prostitute in a brothel run by loyal servants of said murderous dictator--the movie starts out logically enough, if goofy. The training sequences where the girls are trained as sexual soldiers (especially the bits where they are fencing in toga-like outfits) are unintentionally hilarious).

In fact, the first half hour of the film plays like a slightly inept spoof of the "classic" Nazi brothel movie "Salon Kitty" (an influence the director acknowledges in an interview included on the DVD). The intense and creepy Nazi commander from "Salon Kitty" is replaced with Gabriele Carrara's Hans character, who starts out with a strange set-up (the greatest church organist ever, yet sexually perverse enough to count a brothel madame and a dominatrix among his close associates... not to mention the fact that he appears to in love with Hitler and Nazism that all he needs is a picture of The Fuhrer and a free hand to get satisfaction. But Hans is all the more rediculous due to the over-the-top performance delivered by both Carrara and the anonymous voice actor who performed the English-language dub for the picture. It's so bad that it becomes good as he mugs and minces his way through the movie, a performance so ludicrously extreme that I'm amazed that he didn't have a long and successful career as a comic actor starting with this movie. (I suspect it might have a little to do with the fact that he probably wasn't trying to be funny, although it's just as likely that he was a stage actor.)

Carrara's performance is so bizarre that I actually found myself liking Hans as the film unfolded, despite the fact he's absolutely repulsive in every way. Of course, my empathy for the character could arise from the fact that Carrara is the only one of two actors who give anything close to a performance beyond "Hi, I'm here for a small paycheck, and I'm putting forth a comparable effort." (The other noteworthy performance comes from Ivano Staccioli, who, as Hans' commanding officer General Berger, seems like he wandered over from a more serious-minded WW2 drama and isn't aware of the inane nature of the film he's in.)

Carrara and his character are at the most extreme and become fully ensconced as the film's bizarre comedic center when he puts a group of Nazi generals on trial for treason--his "girls" successfully loosening their tongues--while dressed like this:

Hans' "NAzi Pope" outfit is a great bit of mockery of the put-on pomp and circumstance of Hitler's Third Reich and so nonsensical that it would have been more at home in a film like "Airplane" than here.

Unfortunately, Hans' trial is both a comedic highpoint and the moment at which the film stops making any sense. With the generals out of the way, Hans' brothel gets used as a way to execute three extremely brutal officers (which begged the question wny they just weren't taken out and shot) and ultimately Hans himself. Hans' demise, and that of all the characters, take place on the very day Hitler commits suicide, and the closing scenes of the film are as strange as everything that led up to it, but are undermined by a out-of-the-blue conversion of Hans from Nazi worshipper to self-loathing Nazi hater, and a truly out-of-place speech by General Berger that seems designed to evoke the sentiment that "Nazis are people too, and the horrors of war are horrors of war, even for Nazis who are exterminating Jews in concentration camps and specially trained sex soldiers in brothels."

To top off an already bizarre experience, the film ends in the most literally incomprehensible way: The final few lines in the version I screeened were hadn't been dubbed into English but were spoken in Italian.

I've said very little about the sex part of this movie, which, obstensibly is its main selling point. This is because I think only the loneliest and horniest fans of these kinds of Nazi boob-fests will find what this film has to offer engaging. There is nudity throughout and there are plenty of naughty bits during the "sex boot camp" montage early in the picture, but it's mostly badly staged, indifferently filmed, and just plain boring. (Except for the scene where Hans almost gets it on with two ladies in a room lined with Nazi flags and busts of Hitler... but it's once again Gabriele Carrara's extreme over-acting that saves the scene rather than its supposed erotic content.)

In the end, despite my love for Gabriele Carrara in this, his only starring role, I can't recommend this movie.