More disreputable sleaze from the Eurociné stable here and it’s obvious that Screenbound Entertainment who have been releasing these films under the Maison Rouge and Black House imprint scored a veritable job lot. The French production company was responsible for putting out a stack of sordid tales between the 50’s and 90’s and watching all these movies it is interesting to see how they tied things together with various directors, crew and actors all working cross title and making things in swift succession. It’s been an enjoyable enough ride as long as one doesn’t go into these looking for anything in the way of high art and as far as famous war films are concerned Elsa Fraulein SS will never be mentioned in the same sentence as great films like Schindler’s List that’s for sure. Patrice Rhomm confuses things by being one of those directors going under many different pseudonyms such as Alain Garnier and films such as Elsa Fraulein SS are known under various titles too, Captive Women 4 being one attributed to this 1977 title which he made under the name of Mike Starr, originally no doubt hoping to fool the American market watching on 42nd Street. Rhomm also directed Helga She Wolf Of Stilberg the year after this one, we reviewed that recently and are still recovering. I had mentioned that as showing some restraint as at least it was not a film that could be considered Naziploitation as it was set in a fictional banana republic; this however is most certainly truly here in the nadir of that notorious sub-genre of exploitation films.

Apart from Rhomm the cast and many who were involved with Helga are all present and correct and Malisa Longo is back in the role of the commandant wielding the whip and causing all sorts of mischief in service to her dedication to the Führer. The plot is far from original and indeed one should take a clue from yet another alt title Fraulein Kitty and look towards the Tinto Brass classic Salon Kitty made just the year before this and doing remarkably well on release. Based on true exploits of the SS, a shock wave of ladies are put together to (ahem) entertain the ranking dignitaries within the German army and see if they could get them to spill the beans on their true thoughts of Hitler and the war. Naturally all conversations are being recorded and as soon as they incriminate themselves it’s a quick case of court martial before they even get the chance to utter the words coitus interruptus. The one real difference between the 2 films (apart the obvious one of quality) is that this joy division (and yep that is where a certain band took their name from) is operating on a steam train.

To give the film its due I was quite impressed on my first ever viewing of it due to the attention to detail on the set decoration, the amount of extras and vehicles that they had managed to pull in and the overall look of the film. It’s done a hell of a lot better than Helga that’s for sure and on the whole the acting is convincing. Scene stalwart Oliver Mathot who we just mentioned on reviewing ‘Crimson’ plays a disillusioned officer who falls in love with one of the ladies and naturally plots abound. Most of the women though are real snakes on a train and prey mantis like on their victims. None are worse than Elsa herself who takes her pleasure on a 20 year old German virgin before outing him as a deserter leading to his swift demise. It is not a film without a conscience, a rare thing in exploitation movies and there’s no denying that the Nazis are made out to be a pretty despicable bunch and are not portrayed in any way that can be misconstrued as flattering. Talking of constraint I was completely surprised that despite ample opportunity there is not one hint of a lesbian twist in the whole film. The love scenes are on the whole laughable with the men fully clothed and writhing around on top of the naked women and the ever present Daniel White score is as usual a real passion killer.

At just 79 minutes this is a train that despite several segments of inserted stock footage does not really run out of steam. It does get derailed to a certain extent due to Partisans on the line (a problem not even Southern Rail has ever managed to use as an excuse) and it all leads to a poignant and heartfelt climax. Presented on DVD (to my knowledge a legitimate Blu-Ray of this does not exist) it would appear that this is the debut UK release of this particular film and it’s completely uncut. I can’t imagine there being any real issues of censorship anyway as apart from some mild flagellation and the most ridiculous burning matches under fingernails scene I have ever witnessed it’s pretty mild stuff.

I went into this one with a real amount of dread but came through it pretty much unscathed. As far as Elsa is concerned she certainly isn’t any Ilsa but this was an enjoyable enough romp which unlike Helga had a certain coherence and sense of a cast and crew who actually knew what they were doing rather than making it up on the run. One amusing thing is noticing that during the latter part of the film Elsa wears her cap right down tight around her head and it’s obvious that Longo must have had a bit of a radical haircut. Another thing I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time looking up the answer to is would the Nazis really have been using a British Pullman locomotive for their troops to ahem ride around on? Perhaps any train-spotters reading this can fill me in on that one?

(Pete Woods)