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Friday, September 20, 2013

Top Sensation (1969) review


Rosalba Neri (Paola), Edwige Fenech (Ulla), Maud De Belleroche (Mudy), Maurizio Banuglia (Aldo), Ruggero Muti (Tony), Eva Thulin (Beba), Salvatore Puntillo (Andro)

Directed by Ottavio Alessi

***WARNING! This review contains an image of nudity***

The Short Version: Leaving nary a stone unturned, this rare Italian sex thriller sets a course for a myriad number of subjects and taboos during its carnal voyage at sea. Politics share beds with such topics as bestiality, incest and rampant sexual deviancy. Of course, all this leads to murder in a shocking finale that portends to be a morality play by capping the last shot with a biblical quote, no less! On this 'Love Boat', everybody screws everybody one way or another. Starring two of Italian genre cinemas most sensual, and popular actresses, TOP SENSATION is a top film for fans of sleazy European movies. 

A dominating, abusive oil baroness whisks her mentally deficient, pyromaniacal son off on a yacht cruise in the hopes of turning him into a man via sexual stimulation. To do this, she invites a greedy, sex-hungry married couple and a voluptuous prostitute along for the voyage. When the young man shows interest only in matches and his toys, a break comes when the yacht runs aground near a small Mediterranean island inhabited only by a beautiful farm girl and her oafish husband. Coming out of his shell, the boy shows a strong interest in the peasant girl. Tragically, the resulting culture clash leads to disastrous consequences.

Italian cinema has had a long history of taking themes not uniquely their own and making them so. They've also shown a tendency to take pure escapist entertainment and make a blatant political statement out of it. Their westerns are arguably the most famous example whereby politics glaringly raided the typical 'Cowboys and Indians' scenario. The crime pictures that replaced them were understandably political; even more so. Their horror films didn't escape subtextual social relevance, either. TOP SENSATION is, on its outer crust, a sexploitation picture that takes advantage of many opportunities to showcase its cast of lovelies both in bikinis and out of them; wantonly indulging in their carnal proclivities. But at its core, it would seem the director wanted to explore other areas outside of the female form.

About ten minutes into the film, it becomes apparent Alessi's movie is not only about sex, but about social class warfare via the seduction and subjugation of the gullible and the peasantly. This leftist cinema oasis propagates the myth that the rich are all evil and the poor are all naive, existing only as toys of the wealthy to be manipulated and played with; and discarded when their purpose is served. Like any other tale of good vs. evil, it makes for interesting cinema. The prime theme here -- at least in this reviewers eyes -- is greed. Greed takes shape in multiple forms, whether it be sexual or monetary. Greed knows no social status, and this is displayed in the film.

Without giving too much away, there's only one character in the picture who is remotely virtuous -- the inexperienced goat herder, Beba. Her character is devoutly innocent. Once she is enticed aboard the yacht, her mud-caked shoes and wooden staff she wields are a stark contrast with the gluttonous surroundings of the modernist interlopers. This barely inhabited island likewise clashes symbolically with the fancy seafaring vessel. The island represents purity. It's uncorrupted just as its two bumpkin occupants are uncorrupted. On the flipside, the yacht represents lust, greed, and decadence in its purest form.

Granted, Mudy, the overbearing, bossy, butchy businesswoman is the only wealthy character presented to us. We don't know how she accumulated her riches -- on her own, or inherited -- but all of her guests want a piece of her pie. The married couple, the devious Aldo and unscrupulous Paola, will do anything for an oil concession. The bubble-headed prostitute Ulla has dollar signs dancing in her head, as well.

Beba's husband Andro is revealed to be a chauvinist at one point; providing the catalyst by which the equally domineering Mudy takes advantage to sway Beba into liberating her femininity. Even here, Mudy's intentions are anything but good. Her pep talk isn't to awaken Beba from a doting housewife, but to manipulate her into awakening her son's libido. Unbeknownst to Mudy, her son Tony harbors deep hatred for her -- the origin of which we never learn. Tony is the most emotionally scarred character in the movie; at least from what we're given visually. 

Taken into context, Alessi's movie is populated by fragile, easily influenced, deceptive, or unstable characters. Nobody is totally free of guilt. 

When it's not politicizing social classes, TOP SENSATION moonlights as an erotic thriller; the camera frequently making love to its curvaceous cast, yet its sex and sleaze quotient titillate without going too far. With voyeuristic intention, Rosalba Neri (in one of her best roles) and Edwige Fenech (in one of her earliest roles) are the real reasons to watch. Not to mention that the yacht itself is rigged with surveillance cameras!

There's not only lesbianism and voyeurism, but a scene of bestiality wherein a goat takes a liking to one of Fenech's breasts before dipping between her legs to bring her to orgasm! The taboo of incest finds room amongst the carnal deviancy as well. If you view the ten minutes of additional scenes from the US version, you'll see even more sex, extended and alternate nude shots not present in the Italian release. Furthermore, nine minutes of additional scenes from the German version (mostly new footage shot for that market) are included on this set.

Sante Romitelli's music has some good cues, even though its catchy main theme feels out of place given the subject matter. The picture closes with this soaringly romantic theme; ironic in that the few remaining alive will not be for very long.

Camera Obscura's double disc DVD is the best version available of this rare, nearly lost film. It's not perfect, though. There's noticeable gaps in the script suffered by a drought in some of the characterizations; although we're teased with just enough exposition for some to get an idea of how they operate. The many nude scenes easily distract from this, although the social subtext is omnipresent. It often feels like there's two movies being made here. Diehard Euro fans will dig it regardless. The ingredients of a trash classic are present and accounted for, yet the film never quite goes too far over the top. Still, there's enough to offend passersby, and plenty to satisfy fans of European sexploitation fare.

This review is representative of the Camera Obscura R2 2 disc DVD.

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