the_key_2d_dualAlthough by name Tinto Brass may sound like a cleaning product the films by the Italian director are quite the opposite and normally rather dirty. But that’s the way we like them! Born in 1933 he is still quite disrespectfully working at the age of 80 and has to date been involved in making over 30 features. He is probably best known for his 1979 historic romp Caligula which was a bloody epic, infamous for the insertion of hardcore scenes which had many of the highly respected cast in a state of shock after it was released without their knowledge of the added content. It also had many problems as one would expect with censors around the world and only existed in a very much truncated version in the UK for years before lovingly getting a triple box set release as an Imperial Edition thanks to Arrow in 2008.  Another film that genre fans will no doubt also remember is another historical movie Salon Kitty (1976) dealing with the decadence and debauchery of the German soldiers in WWII. Landing the same year as Sergio Garrone’s SS Experiment Camp many looked at it as an arthouse movie rather than lumping it in with the Naziploitation brigade not that this stopped it having its fair share of problems with various censors too.


I have flirted with a fair few of Tinto’s movies over the years and seen the likes of Frivolous Lola , Paprika and Miranda but these two new releases on Arrow are both films that I had not seen before so was keen to see how they fitted into the grand scheme of things. Starting off with The Key (La Chiave 1983) for the simple reason that it was the first chronologically I quickly found myself embroiled in a melodrama that was wholly involving and full of twists and surprises, which although I may well have worked out were still great fun doing so over the course of the film.

We are again in the era of WWII but  slightly removed from it in Venice 1939-1940 in the lead up to Mussolini announcing Italy’s involvement with the German allies. It is a time of the black-shirts and we meet our players in the annual New Year eve fascist hotelier’s convention (piss up and dance) and before you ask no Basil Fawlty is not there and certainly not to be found mentioning the war. Amongst those that are though are the films main four cast members, a husband and wife, their daughter and her suitor. The husband is a professor and a lecherous old goat (played by renowned British actor Frank Finlay) but he is a flash in the pan as far as long suffering wife Teresa (Stefania Sandrelli) is concerned. He gets worked up and mauls her providing the film with some of the shortest sex scenes ever filmed. One gets the feeling that due to boredom Teresa is very much repressed and needs some excitement in her life. The professor does too realising there is a frisson between her and her daughters lover Lazlo (Franco Branciaroli) he writes down his fantasies in a diary which of course she reads and decides to write her own in reply. With daughter Lisa (Barbara Cupisti) seemingly doing everything but throw her mother and her lover into bed with each other things move at a volatile and highly charged erotic pace from one scene to another. Naturally as the voyeur we are well aware that this is not a story that is going to end well but Brass keeps things moving well and certainly adds some surprises to the narrative keeping you guessing.


I really enjoyed this. I would not say by today’s standards that the film is shocking but can understand why it caused a stir at the time and led to shots of female genitalia, masturbation and erections being excised from many prints. Of course this edition sees everything restored. in widescreen for the first time on blu and dvd and with newly translated English subtitles over the Italian audio. Probably the main reason for viewing this is down to the voluptuous performance of  Stefania Sandrelli a well-known actress who caused a bit of a surprise really baring all in this film. Although not exactly doing that, the other reason for seeing this is obviously Barbara Cupisti who horror fans should recognise from later parts in Dario Argento’s Opera and Lamberto Bava’s Stagefright (1987) as well as Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989) and Dellamorte Dellamore (1994). The film has a lot of black humour about it and has you sniggering along knowingly at times as the cast get themselves further into mischief and trouble. The Venice setting is great for the scenes shown outside the boudoir and not all of these are completely bereft of naughtiness. The Key is apparently based on a novel by Japanese author Jun’ichirô Tanizaki but I am sure its reach is universal giving it the grounds for this highly enjoyable film. Now however it is time to jump forward nine years and see what Tinto was up to then.

all_ladies_2d_dualWell if The Key showed any restraint it was lost by ‘All Ladies Do It’ (1992) as much as in the difference between the gentle Ennio Morricone score of the former which is now a brazen and throbbing disco one from Pino Donnagio. Throbbing and pumping are good words to describe the film as well as we meet the scantily dressed star Diana (Claudia Koll) who looks like she has returned from a night in a bondage dungeon. We backtrack to see her with husband Paolo (Paolo Lanza) at a nouveau and risqué poetry recital. We try not to snigger at the crudity of the art on offer but it obviously gets some of the crowd hot under the collar including a “soaking wet” Diana who is fingered by the poet’s next door neighbour Alphonse (Franco Branciaroli) and almost ends up defiled by him in the toilets but is interrupted by her husband. Homeward bound it is obvious that Paolo is turned on by the fantasies that he is convinced Diana is having but how will he act when he realises his liberated wife has turned fantasy into reality?


‘All Ladies Do It’ the title of which translates to Cosi Fan Tutte and is  loosely based on the opera of the same name and is a heady romp that is the debauchery compared to The Key’s more decadent feel. Diana works in a lingerie shop with other liberated ladies who have no problems swopping money for pleasure. This is the premise that all ladies do it; all are whores in one way or another, well according to the narrative of the film. Diana inherits a Venice apartment from an aunt who we find was a bit of a whore herself and whilst there gets it on with her cousin and meets up again with Alphonse who is determined to take her anal cherry and does so with panache. It is this defloration that leads to her marriage skidding down the pan (sorry for that metaphor) heightened by the fact that Diana shrugs it off saying that such an act was not actually unfaithful (one up the bum, no harm done if you will). It is here that she really goes off the rails and ends up in all sorts of heady situations including a jaw dropping outside disco, rave, party of perversions where the dancers really let it all hang out and anything goes.


Versions of this previously seen in the UK were soft at around the 85 minute mark. This is the very first uncut release of the movie here at 93 and make no bones about it, it is hard and sexually explicit. It is also full of black humour again and even if like me you don’t take the moral stance of the film and characters to heart that does not stop you enjoying it as it swiftly moves from one scene of sexual excess to another. One gets the feeling that the director was having a lot of fun making this one and yes that is him that visits the lingerie shop with his (ahem) niece in case you were wondering so he really does get to play the part of a dirty old man. It is good that the BBFC have liberally let this one through uncut and it shows that perhaps things are changing as there is little in the way of material here likely to offend the broad minded adults that the film was made for in it.

So if you are interested in dipping a bit further into the world of Tinto Brass these are both well worth checking out. As for the director himself he has since 2010 been working on a film called ‘Who Killed Caligula’ a 3D erotic revisit to Roman times which is bound to be an eye opener in more ways than one.

Pete Woods