Ah, the Nazisploitation film. An acquired taste, to be sure. I remember years ago the guy that tattoos me was telling me about the Ilsa movies while drilling ink into my skin, so I rented SHE WOLF OF THE SS thinking I would be in for a laugh. Uh, not the case. In fact, it was a little off putting. And by a little, I mean A LOT. The sheer degradation of the whole exercise led me to not really want to see another Nazisploitation film for awhile. I'm not a huge fan of the women in prison cycle of movies (and not just because I'm a WOMAN), and most Nazisploitation movies kinda follow that format.
However, Tinto Brass' SALON KITTY isn't your standard Nazisploitation flick. The movie opens at the onset of WWII, and SS officer Helmut Wallenberg (Helmut Berger) is ordered to find and train the most beautiful women in Germany to sexually service the highest ranking men and women in the Third Reich. What these female recruits (and their clients) don't know is that Wallenberg is secreting taping all the sexy times action for blackmail purposes. Pretty young prostitute Margherita (Teresa Ann Savoy) and the quintessential madam if there ever was one, Kitty (Ingrid Thulin), discover Wallenberg's plot and plan to expose him.
There are several tropes that set SK apart from it's brethren. Firstly, the women - the prostitutes - are willing participants. They're female Nazis and are selling their bodies to perpetuate the Third Reich. There's not the typical level of degradation at work here; in fact, quite the opposition, making it much easier for this viewer to sit through.
Secondly, Nazisploitation never looked so damn good. No shot is wasted - it's elegantly put together and the music isn't incongruous. Go figure. Yeah, some of the sexy stuff is kinda gritty (a lesbian bondage scene springs to mind) and some of it does seem padded in places, but damn if the costuming, large-scale sets, and deliberate maneuvers on the part of Brass don't make this one of hell of a sight to behold.
Thirdly, there are attempts at wacky humor. You don't get this so much in other movies like this. When an air raid horn goes off, it's coitus interruptus all over the place, as old SS officers in various states of undress flee the salon with their prostitutes flung over their shoulders. And seriously, what is funnier than a dick made out of bread? Little else.
Fourthly, this movie takes place in a brothel, not in a concentration camp or prison. It's a stunning brothel at that - all stained glass and pink settees and luridly made up working girls, with an exquisite nightly cabaret by Kitty herself. One particular performance even has Kitty doing her best Glen/Glenda impersonation, which totally works. That's actually how the movie opens, so it had me at Hello.
Other highlights include:
Group testing of all the women Wallenberg's men bring in for sexy purposes. What erupts is a veritable orgy that seems more art house that grindhouse and looks almost choreographed, complete with live orchestra and light acrobatics all caught on camera, in that someone is filming the whole shebang.
Then comes the sex test - my favorite part! The women are sequestered into cells and then observed making the beast with two backs with various partners. What follows is some midget sex (she doesn't recoil in horror - APPROVED!), a forced lesbian coupling (REJECTED!), and some double amputee reverse cowgirl (you guessed it - APPROVED!). A fool proof system, but of course.
Margherita is a sexy piece. Yes, she looks waaaay too young to even be in this movie in the first place, but she owns her role as the smart-as-a-whip willing call girl in love with a defecting Nazi officer who must avenge his death.
That being said, yes, there's a love story. It is easily the most boring part of this whole thing and feels extraneous. It's the one thing that keeps the WTF factor significantly low for this slice of exploitation. While there are some interesting moments (a giant dildo - and I mean GIANT - and a gimp mask, as well as the aforementioned sex tests and bread penises), it strangely never strays too over the top. There are long stretches of love story/exposing the Nazis stuff that drags, and while Kitty and Margherita bring a very strong female presence here that isn't demeaning or degrading, I still have trouble buying that these two are going to bring down the regime from the inside. Well, not Kitty so much, she just wants her brothel back; and who can blame her, really?
Still, is SK a sexy movie? Not really. Is it interesting? Yeah, sort of. Is there a point? Probably not. Still, I had a good time drinking my pino grigio and waiting for the good times (read: the perverted stuff) to roll.
Come for the orgy, stick around for the double amputee sex, get drunk to the cabaret performances, and leave feeling pretty darn good about Nazisploitation. There's plenty to enjoy here and while not as wild as I would have liked, it still resonates.
P.S. This is based on a true story! Yeah! Well, not the love story/exposing the Nazis blah blah, but there really was a Salon Kitty back in the WWII days and there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding it. Look it up!