Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top Sensation (1969)

It seems there are always new potentials to explore with an isolated movie setting in a mansion, small villa, or castle, where a number of situations with fixed conditions can arise, murders can go unnoticed, and the sexually liberated can binge to their heart’s content. The peculiar sex crime thriller Top Sensation (aka The Seducers) embraces the many possibilities of the isolated story setting but does away with the more conventional remote house and substitutes it with a private recreational yacht, setting most of the movie on the open sea. Cabins below deck are the lavish bedrooms, the control room makes a nice study, and the poop deck is obviously the lounge, for partying, adultery, and all other manner of fun nonsense.

Top Sensation was directed and written by Ottavio Alessi who has writing credits for some thirty-two movies, which include Dick Smart 2007 and Emmanuelle in America, but only two directing credits with Top Sensation being the last film he ever worked on as a director. The soundtrack, by Sante Maria Romitelli, consists of a melodic and epic sounding piece that could’ve come from a Spaghetti Western but does still manage to feel very welcome here and is extremely memorable.

A big selling point to this movie is the fact that it stars Edwige Fenech and Rosalba Neri. Both of these Eurocult goddesses in the same movie, in the same sex scenes together, is a big deal. Fenech hadn’t quite cemented her fame in several giallo films yet at the time the film was made, and so the fact that she and Neri were together in the same movie was probably incidental, but in retrospect it’s a glorious spectacle. However, after watching Top Sensation it should be apparent that this is not the film’s only credential.




Though the story is well written, the premise is an offbeat one. Filthy rich oil industrialist Mudy (Maud Belleroche) has an emotionally immature twenty-year-old son, Tony (Ruggero Miti). She feels that hiring a hooker and flipping on her son's sex drive will flip on everything else and finally cure him of his stunted mental development and drag his childlike mind kicking and screaming into adulthood.

Most of the story takes place during a private pleasure cruise on Mudy’s yacht. Along for the cruise are Mudy's two lovers, the swinging husband and wife pair Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia) and Paola (Rosalba Neri), Tony, and a prostitute, Ulla (Edwige Fenech). Aldo and Paola are extremely interested in discussing oil concessions with Mudy and will do anything to gain her favor, which includes taking turns engaging in intercourse with Mudy and taking part in helping to cure her son of his juvenile mindset. The effort to get her son laid is monitored by a video recorder in Tony’s room, and, needless to say, Tony shows no interest in copulating with either hussy his mother’s fixed him up with.




Interestingly enough, when the yacht gets stuck in a shallow region next to an island, Tony meets a married peasant girl, Beba (Eva Thulin), the pure and innocent type and the exact opposite of Paola and Ulla. Tony responds to her with an emotional maturity that has so far lain dormant. Aldo notices Tony’s startlingly different behavior and quickly invites Beba onboard the yacht. Beba just happens to be handy with stalled yachts and manages to help free the boat of its immobilization. The boat sails, and the old fashioned farmer gal, Beba, is given a giallo-diva makeover by Paola and Ulla.




There is a kindhearted and passive nature to Beba’s personality, be it from goodwill or naivety, that makes her vulnerable to everyone on the boat who wishes to exploit her. Her cosmetic transformation is a stylishly crafted scene and is part of a running theme of the rich and cultured corrupting and taking advantage of the poor and ignorant. Purity and innocence collide with adultery and falseness as Beba stares back at a different person in the mirror and goes cold, holding on to what’s left of her honor and innocence as she finds herself in a threesome with Paola and Ulla, not resisting yet not playing along either.




Exuding her authority and dominance, Mudy barges in and pulls Beba away from Paola and Ulla’s clutches before immediately sending her to Tony’s room. Beba, looking absolutely stunning, appears traumatized in a way but finds a small degree of solace in Tony’s childlike behavior as he welcomes her by showing off his walking toy robot and race-car track (I have to say, being able have a gorgeous female in your room to show off your neat electronic toys to is every boy's fantasy. It’s thought of as a serious mental condition, here, but nowadays we just call that acting like a geek). The two start to connect in an odd way that suggests more of a mental connection than a physical one. When Beba’s husband, Andro (Salvatore Puntillo), eventually comes aboard the yacht, amusing hijinks ensue until things take a dark turn when something goes horribly wrong in the cabin with Tony and Beba.




Of course the offbeat premise of Top Sensation is improbable and ridiculous, but I think this is supposed to be the point. I seem to be detecting some sort of mockery about the idea of sex as immoral and evil. If the child is a symbol of innocence then there’s obviously a satirical message in this film about the loss of innocence through sex, as if a transformation will come over someone once they’ve lost their virginity. As far as childlike Tony is concerned, the loss of innocence leaves behind a corrupt and immoral adult, something his mother Mudy, and the company she keeps, most certainly represents. From his conversations with Beba, Tony confesses to hating his mother and her company. By getting him to have sex he’ll be like them and made into the type of adult he loathes. But sex instead unveils a latent mental disorder, and, when innocence is taken away, a monster is all that remains.




Made five years before the heavily sexually themed Emmanuelle, Top Sensation seems ahead of its time with regards to pushing the boundaries of its sexual content. Nowadays one would probably consider the movie tame, but it still wasn’t as tame as I thought a movie from 1969 would be. However, after noticing the rich-abusing-the-poor subtext and realizing the juxtaposition of nature with corrupt-culture, it should be apparent that the film isn't just a shallow sexploitation.

In contrast to the usual nightclubs, seedy streets, ancestral mansions, or castle settings, the oceanic, sunny boat setting sets Top Sensation apart from most other Italian thrillers of the time. With its isolated and focused setting, every actor gets to play a significant role -- no subsidiary characters here. Fenech and Neri do deliver and prove that there is a reason they are revered Eurobabes in the cult film world. In addition, Eva Thulin is a surprise and another visual delight. The film also takes care to minimally cover the babes-with-guns quota that is usually seen in the popular spy movies of the ‘60s; the little murder conundrum on the boat reminds me a bit of Ian Fleming’s The Hildebrandt Rarity. 




What initially plays out as a frivolous sex drama/comedy turns into a pretty decent thriller, without any cheap twists. Everything unfolds fairly smoothly with a demented conclusion that’s like an Italian rendition of Psycho. But even if the pairing of Fenech and Neri is the only reason you came then you shouldn't be disappointed with Top Sensation either.



4 comments:

  1. This sounds great, and from the photos looks beautiful. I don't normally watch older movies, but I might be sold on this one.

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    1. Hi Jennifurla. Thank you for your comment! I seem to have a way with getting people to want to see the movies I talk about; I just hope they end up liking them when they do. I'm pretty sure the best version of Top Sensation is the Camera Obscura double DVD release, but it is region 2. My DVD player usually has no trouble playing R.2, but for some reason it wouldn't play this one. I had to switch my Windows Media Player to play region 2 to watch it.

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    2. You have a knack for sharing enough detail about the films you cover to pique interest without giving it all away. You also have a knack for finding movie after movie that has flown completely beneath my radar. Typical progression: "Hey, a new post. > I've never even heard of that before. > That sounds interesting. > Man, I wish I had more free time to watch movies."

      Great post, as always.

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    3. Yes. I'm always learning about new movies and have a backlog in my mind of movies I still want to watch, and though I try to allow myself one movie a day, there just doesn't seem to be enough time to cover it all. I wish I could sit down to two or three films a day and write reviews for them all, but I just don't have it in me, nor do I want to skip out on the other important things in life.

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