Sunday, December 21, 2014

La schiava io ce l'ho e tu no (1973)

An Australian Daybill Poster

La schiava io ce l'ho e tu no (aka My Darling Slave), is a typical mid-70's Italian sex comedy, starring Lando Buzzanca as Demetrio, a Fiat dealer in Palermo who is beset with women problems.  He seems to be enjoying the bachelor life in pursuit of women, until he meets and becomes instantly smitten with Rosalba (Catherine Spaak).  Predictably, as soon as he marries her, Rosalba tries to control his life.  On their honeymoon, she wants to register them at the hotel in her maiden name, instead of his, and she coerces him into wearing less-than-masculine fashions that subject him to stares and chuckles in public.  He sees her as a "ball-breaker."

Unsurprisingly, he soon meets Elena (Adriana Asti), the wife of a Palermo police commissioner and begins an affair with her.  Of course, it turns out that she is crazed and over-sexed.  She is obsessed with Demetrio and drives him crazy with her wacky demands.  To further complicate matters, Rosalba decides that she wants to have children, pronto.  After she brings home a group of what appear to be "challenged" orphans, Demetrio has had enough and leaves Rosalba.  He is convinced that he wants to go to South America to purchase a female slave that will be obedient and submissive to him, unlike Rosalba and Elena (or any "modern" women for that matter).  B-movie cult favorite Gordon Mitchell plays a crazed pilot/expedition leader for the trip into the wilds of South America.

In South America, he acquires Manua (Veronica Merin), a young, beautiful (and topless) tribal woman that he "cleans up" and brings back to Palermo to show off to everyone.  Demetrio's friends are enamored with the situation, but Rosalba and Elena are not at all happy.  Things seem to be going well for Demetrio with the beautiful, submissive, and obedient Manua, until he has her pull him through the streets of Palermo in a rickshaw, which causes a furor to erupt amongst the townspeople.  As things spin out of control for Demetrio, Manua is being deported back to South America, and Demetrio is frantically trying to get appropriate papers for her so that she can stay with him.  She gets to stay, and the film ends with Demetrio having been married to her for seven years, content that she is submissively and obediently by his side trying to always make him happy.

Where to start commenting on this one?  If Edwige Fenech was the queen of 1970's Italian sex comedies, then Lando Buzzanca must surely have been the king (although in the 1960's he had worked in higher-caliber films, such as Divorce Italian Style and Seduced and Abandoned).  It seems like he appeared in dozens of these sex comedies.  I am far from an expert on the genre, but my guess is that this one ranks in the middle of the pack, both for Buzzanca and the genre in general.  It is not as good as Buzzanca's Homo Eroticus in 1971, and it is not as good as some of Fenech's better work.  With that said, I have certainly seen a few of these films that are worse than My Darling Slave. The film's musical score seems pedestrian for this type of film, as does Giorgio Capitani's direction.  The nudity and sex-scene factors are actually rather subdued for the film, with a bit of toplessness from Merin and Asti.  This is one of the 70's  Italian sex comedies that takes it relatively easy in that regard.

This is not the kind of film that holds up well after 40 years for an American viewer, in part because it is so politically incorrect by current standards.  I can only cringe at the thought of what a modern American feminist activist would have to say about this film.  Demetrio has his buddies over for dinner in one scene, and Manua serves it to them topless before patiently sitting on the floor next to Demetrio's chair!  The entire film seems to have what I assume is a very macho, Italian-male tone, and I presume that was the target audience.  It's hard to know at this point just how tongue-in-cheek this film was intended to be in its time.

Catherine is lovely (surprise, surprise) with long, flowing, reddish hair.  Her performance seems average for her, perhaps not great (because of the material), but certainly not bad.  I don't know that the material really allowed her to highlight her comedic abilities.  Asti gives a sufficiently wacky performance, and Veronica Merin is lovely in her only film role (which is all that was really required for her part).  Buzzanca's performance is typical for him.

It would be interesting to hear Catherine's thoughts on her involvement with this project.  My sense is that Catherine became somewhat of a vocal proponent of womens' rights issues in Italy during the 1980's and 1990's, and I have heard her use the term "misogyny" in several interviews.  That makes me wonder if she wishes that she had not done this film, although her character is the strongest female in the film (even if it is part of the masculine view of her as a "ball-breaker").  All-in-all, I would say that this film ranks somewhere in the bottom 25% of Catherine's work.

I have viewed both an English-dubbed VHS version with Spanish subtitles running at 100 minutes under the title My Darling Slave and an Italian-language version running at approximately 96 minutes (although no differences jumped out at me from a quick review of the Italian print).  The color in the English version was significantly washed-out, so my presumption is that a nice print could have only helped my enjoyment of the film.  The English dubbing, as is often the case in such films, can be hard to understand at times.  Whoever dubbed Catherine did a good job; at times the voice sounds a lot like hers.  The dubbing for Buzzanca is not good.  In the narration parts, the voice sounds like a narrator for some sort of 70's travel documentary.

Catherine's name was attached to the project by the fall of 1972 (or so it appears). 
  • The October 4, 1972 Variety reported that producer-director Gianni Grimaldi has lined up Lando Buzzanca, Catherine Spaak and Philippe Leroy for "Pleasure Boy"- a look at night-life hedonism in Rome."
The film was scheduled to commence shooting in Rome and Brazil as early as mid-April of 1973, but for reasons unknown to me, production did not start until May 21, 1973.
  • The March 7, 1973 Variety reported that:  Medusa Cinematografica will produce 'The Slave' in Italy and Brazil starting mid-April with Giorgio Capitani helming and Lando Buzzanca topbilled.
  • The May 9, 1973 Variety reported that "Slave Woman" with Catherine Spaak was "now filming."
  • The June 27, 1973 Variety reported:  Seven Stars MEDUSA THE SLAVE (La schiava) (May 21 start Rome and Brazil) ... Director: Giorgio Capitani Cast: Lando Buzzanca, Catherine Spaak, Veronica Merin.
IMDB shows a release date of October 7, 1973 in Italy.  A lukewarm review of the film (that makes no mention of Catherine) appears in the October 16, 1973 edition of Variety based on a viewing in Rome at the ANICA screening room under the title "La Schiava (The Slave)."  It lists a 100 minute running time.  The reviewer referred to the film as having a "lightweight script haphazardly incorporating farce, satire, burlesque and sophisticated comedy conceived in a male lib spirit."  It goes on to say:

"Unpretentiously tailored for mass consumption, 'La Schiava' should do good biz in Italy, all the Latino markets and in other towns where slightly better than standard Italian sex comedy crowds the wickets.

It's a Lando Buzzanca vehicle and sophisticated sex comic gives a full measure of  his usual routine with each gesture boxoffice-motivated.  Basic talent is there but steady stream of oversexed roles is leading to status shrinkage."
The direction is gay and glib to make the film palatable, but Capitani gets good support from cameraman Sandro Deva, art director Ezio Altieri, editor Renato Cinquini and composer Piero Umiliani.  Pic has a pleasant shine throughout."

I have found no indication that the film received an English language theatrical release in the U.S. or the U.K., but as demonstrated by the poster at the top of this post, it was released in Australia.  I have not yet found any information indicating how the film fared at the box office in Italy or abroad.

It appears that the film has been released in Italy on DVD.  Here is an image of the cover, but I have not actually seen this DVD.  This cover lists a 100 minute running time.

The film was also released on Super 8mm film in Italy at some point:

Apparently the film has also been released on DVD at some point in Japan.  Here is a picture of a Japanese DVD case:

It was released in Germany on VHS video:

Here is an Argentinian VHS release (year unknown) that lists a 90 minute running time:

Here is a photo of Catherine from the film:

Italian posters and fotobustas:

 Spanish language posters and pressbook:

A Mexican lobby card:

A German poster and a set of German lobby cards:

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