Monday, February 22, 2016

Marta (1971)

Austrian actor Marisa Mell (born Marlies Theres Moitzi) is remembered by most as a sexy ‘60s cult icon, particularly as Diabolik’s girlfriend/partner-in-crime, Eva, in Mario Bava’s comic adaptation Danger: Diabolik (1968), but Mell also starred in a fine line of Euro-thriller dramas, usually playing the seductive swindler-murderess type – Death will Have your Eyes (1974) and Diary of an Erotic Murderess (1975) to name a couple. Her particular attention-grabbing, statuesque presence could make the most routine mystery plot a delight to sit through. However, she was underutilized in her movie career in certain respects; considering her demigoddess-like physiognomy, it’s unfortunate that she didn’t play more fantastical or otherworldly characters in fantasy or horror films; and along with Margaret Lee, I thought of her as a Eurospy girl that should’ve eventually been a real Bond girl.

A number of Marisa Mell starring vehicles currently suffer from not having proper releases, such as a little seen Spanish/Italian mystery thriller, directed and co-written by Jose Antonio Nieves Conde, called Marta aka …dopo di che, uccide il maschio e lo divora. I had been interested in checking it out for a while, and when a reader mentioned the film to me, I was finally driven to track down a copy and watch it. The version I first watched didn’t have the best image quality, but even worse was that it had all of Marisa Mell’s nude scenes edited out (the nerve), but I liked it enough to buy a DVD-R of the uncut version, which, sadly, was of even lower image quality; Marta is obviously in need of proper restoration.

Marta is based on a Spanish play Estado civil: Marta (1969) by Juan Jose Alonso Millan, who apparently also had a hand in the movie adaptation screenplay. The film stars Marisa Mell as the titular character, but it's also very much about, if not more about, the other lead Miguel, who is played by Stephen Boyd (Golden Globe winner for best supporting actor in Ben-Hur (1959)), so it perhaps would’ve been more fitting to call it Marta-and-Miguel. I suppose just calling it Marta does make her seem a little more alluring. The film’s menacing Italian title translates to “... After which, the male kills and devours.”

The movie puts a lot of stock in Marta and Miguel’s lustful but torrid relationship and the secrets each one may or may not be harvesting, and I think it succeeds for a number of reasons, one of which includes Mell and Boyd’s genuine chemistry (and it’s not just their complementary chin dimples). Mell and Boyd would develop a real life love for each other after the filming of Marta, and knowing this makes their near “soapie” character interactions that much more meaningful. 

A lot of details in their onscreen relationship here seem to me to mirror the two actors’ lives that would transpire during and after back-to-back filming with co-starring roles in Marta and The Great Swindle (1971), also directed by Conde. Marisa fell in love with Stephen while working with him on the set of The Great Swindle Marta, but he would decline her advances at first. However, by the time they were filming Marta The Great Swindle, they had become an impassioned, entangled couple. They eventually got married with a non-legally recognized gypsy wedding but would eventually separate, with it being noted that Boyd had become physically unwell from the intensity of the relationship. Aside from the gypsy wedding, there are a few parallels with the development and breakdown of Boyd and Mell’s relationship and with Miguel and Marta’s in the film, almost as if the movie foreshadowed real life in a way. 

(Update April 1st, 2017: Thanks to alpheratz9 the author of the excellent Stephen Boyd blog for alerting me of my mistake of mixing the order of films, Marta and The Great Swindle)

The premise is that an insect collector, Miguel, lives alone in a castle mansion in the country outside of Madrid with two servants (George Rigaud and Isa Miranda), and one day this amazing woman, Marta, suspiciously enters his life; she claims to have murdered someone in self-defense, and Miguel decides to keep her hidden from the police in his castle for the time being, as she looks just like his wife Pilar (also Mell), who left him two years ago. Romance and complications arise as Marta may not be who she claims to be and Miguel struggles with the guilt-ridden, tormented memory of his deceased mother (Nelida Quiroga). The main plot conflict seems to be a “who’s-deceiving-who-here?” sort of thing, trading the suspicion back and forth as to which one of them is the real antagonist. 

The filmmakers also have a fascination with filming Marisa Mell in front of mirrors. In fact, the film has a fascination with Mell in general, and for that is highly recommended to her fans that haven’t seen it yet. My particular favorite is when she dons the majestic dress, Miguel’s wife’s old gown, and the twirl and graceful bow she enters the scene with. She just seems gorgeously ethereal here, like the prom-date of your dreams.

Miguel’s inner torment seems to stem from an opening nightmare-memory scene, which is, of course, tied to the denouement. This particular sequence introduces viewers to insane-Miguel. It has a dreadful looking green tint to it though, but it’s still an effective, violent start that segues into a pleasant intro credits montage in the country to introduce viewers to sane-Miguel. The juxtaposed music is a poppy ‘70s song by Piero Piccioni, “Right or Wrong” that I find most agreeable, with a memorable melody that comes up again later during a love scene. The lyrics anticipate a tormented love that has yet to be, which is suitable for the romance to come in the film, but listening closely, the lyrics almost sound like they could be about Boyd and Mell’s real life affair.

If you were to briefly know him, Miguel would seem like a pretty even keel kind of guy. That is until you touch a certain kink in his mind, which is related to his mother. Norman Bates much? Backstory exposition involving Miguel and his estranged wife Pilar reveals that his mother did not like her at all (her unapproving glare gives me chills).

Eventually, Marta begins to pose as Miguel’s wife Pilar, to fool people, including the police (Howard Ross and an actor I can’t identify playing the inspector), into thinking she’s come back to him. It’s a little funny that Miguel just happens to have a short blond wig on hand that is the exact hairstyle Pilar had. Mell had a distinctive look yet also a chameleon-like ability to look nearly like someone else whenever her hairstyle changes (or when she wears a wig). This was something I first noticed with her part in Fulci’s Perversion Story (1969).

Though not quite a horror movie, a number of gothic horror tropes are in place, such as the celebrated candelabra, painted family portraits, secret passages and rooms, peepholes in the walls, dark family secrets, see through lingerie, etc.

The movie does imply certain growth and development dilemmas, such as the reluctance to abandon one’s childhood home, with the story painting it either as a place of protection or a prison. Miguel physically and mentally retreats into the past to escape the unsatisfactory conditions of the present (holing up in his mansion), being held back in the shadows. His inner demons prevent him from fully maturing, in a sense, from boyhood to manhood, with his mother being the most important figure to him. When any other woman becomes important to him (i.e. when he falls in love), his mother grievously disapproves, deeming her a “whore.” This results in a lasting complex in Miguel to equate any woman important to him to his mother (overlapping love), which has a toll on his sex drive, not to mention his sanity, and woe unto anyone who would insult his zeal to preserve the past and the memory of his mother.

Marta is definitely talky, with a slow burn plot development and a somewhat downbeat ending. It’s a familiar story yet one that’s difficult to pinpoint exactly; and it did remind me again why Marisa Mell was so captivating. If you’ve seen enough Eurocult thrillers with the ‘mansion-in-the-past’ drama theme, you probably already know the deal when it comes to the story. But Mell and Boyd both give great performances, and the location is perfect for this kind of film. If a slightly gothic, slightly erotic, gloomy, but still kind of fun, Marisa Mell mystery drama is your kind of thing, then there’s no reason to not add Marta to your collection, or at least as a place holder until it gets a proper release. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

"The past is the only thing you can be sure of; nothing can erase that." -- Miguel/Stephen Boyd


  1. I definitely liked her in Diabolik and wanted to see more, and this one does sound like my kind of thing. Great write-up.

    1. Thanks Rob! Yeah, it was a toss up between this one, The Great Swindle, and Diary of a Murderess, and Marta ending up being my choice mainly because it fits the mold and has a lot of interesting things about it to write on. Perhaps not he most original but the style, sincerity in performances, and mood were are strengths. Be sure to check out Perversion Story also if you haven't yet.

  2. Great review! One of my favorite Stephen Boyd roles!

  3. Ps; one minor correction....Boyd and Mell first met on Marta, and then became a couple during filming of Great Swindle. :) more on my blog if you care to visit! Thanks again...

    1. Thank you so much for reading and sharing on your marvelous Stephen Boyd site!! As to the order of the two films and when the affair started, when I was in the early stages of writing this review for Marta, I had described that they met during the filming of Marta and started their affair during The Great Swindle, as it is usually reported, but when I read an article (from Mirko on his Marisa Mell blog: where the author references Marisa Mell's autobiography in regards to the order of the two films, I couldn't help but change it. Have a look at the linked article and let me know what you think.

      Much respect,

  4. Great review! One of my favorite Stephen Boyd roles!

  5. Hi again! I have the whole Marisa Mell chapter about Boyd translated here if you want to read it too...

    Mirko sent it to me! He runs a Marisa blog and I run a Boyd Blog, so we exchange a lot of stuff! Marta did come first in the order of things per Marisa Mell...:) anyway, loved your review and posted on my blog! If you ever find a clearer version of the European Marta let me know...I have the same copy you have with the tracker! Argh!

  6. Yeah, Mirko has the order flipped around in that blog. I had to read the whole story so he was kind enough to photocopy her chapter from her impossible to find autobiography and email it to me. It's fascinating and heartbreaking to read!

    1. Thank you so much for clearing that up for me. I'll make the corrections in the review and credit you for pointing out my error.

    2. I love this review! Makes me long for the blu ray release!!!

  7. If you ever watch The Great Swindle you can see the chemistry has changed between the two actors...not the tension underlying everything like Marta.

  8. One more note! Just posted this today enjoy!


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