Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Salon Kitty (1976)

The movie opens in an elegantly decorated salon with Madame Kitty (played masterfully by Ingrid Thulin) taking center stage in a gender-bending song number, while a bevy of prostitutes entertain their clients. Set in 1930’s Berlin, this Nazisploitation flick follows the decline of a high-class brothel during World War II.

Power hungry SD chief Wallenberg (Helmut Berger) orders the recruitment of 20 beautiful women, loyal socialists, to work as spies. Young Margherita (Teresa Ann Savoy), who comes from an affluent family with strong socialist ideals, joins this group of women whose duty, according to a Nazi officer, was to “refuse nothing.”

De rigueur of films in this genre, there is a lot of perverse sex going on- the recruits are subjected to a salvo of lurid acts of depravity: bondage, sadism, orgies, sex with an amputee, a hairy brute, a midget. The women who pass these bizarre tests will become whores moonlighting as spies; those who don’t make it are promptly eliminated.

Wallenberg seizes control of the brothel, and replaces Madame Kitty’s whores. They are now housed in a different building, where microphones are hidden in almost every corner, and their every move recorded, unbeknownst to Kitty. Wallenberg intended to use the information on German officers and foreign diplomats to his end- blackmail and power-grabbing. Left with no other options, Kitty accepts, grooms and teaches the girls the arts of pleasing a man.

September 1939, Germany declares war against Poland. The wave of atrocities against Jews are shown in sequences, equaling the brutality and horror with a particular scene that left me disturbed- a slaughterhouse where pigs were suspended on meat hooks while men gouged their eyes or gutted their necks and a endless river of blood staining the floor. In the same scene, women were molested by the butchers, followed by macabre laughter.

It’s business as usual for Kitty. Margherita meets Hans, a ruggedly handsome pilot on leave from the front lines. He awakens her sensuality and the two start seeing each other outside the brothel. Hans reveals that he is reluctant to return to war, resolving later on to revert to the other side, and fight against Hitler. “Man belongs to humanity”, he says to Margherita, “not to a country, race, or religion.” Somewhat smitten by the soldier’s charms, Margherita makes no mention of this in her report.

However, Wallenburg still learns of the pilot’s plan from the recordings, and confronts Margherita. He himself fancied the girl, despite already having a wife. Later on, a comrade of Hans who solicited Margherita’s services told her of Hans’ fate- he was hanged on a meat hook for unpatriotism. Margherita shoots the man for mocking her lover, and she leaves the brothel to return home.

One by one, Kitty’s prostitutes fall. One got pregnant and wanted to keep the baby, but the Germans decided that she was to be eliminated. A girl dies from a seizure, while another takes her life.

Meanwhile, Margherita is now singing a different tune at home and is now defiant against socialist ideals. When Kitty visits her, the two eventually uncover the truth: that the brothel had been monitored all along, and that was how the Wallenberg learned of Hans’ plan to defect. The two hatch a plan to expose Wallenberg.

Armed with a recorder, Margherita seduces Wallenberg and manages to record his revelation that his wife’s grandfather is a Jew, and of his plans to use the secrets of German soldiers to gain power. She submits this to a higher ranking officer, who immediately sent orders to eliminate Wallenberg.

Wallenberg is caught in a bath house and shot in the chest. As he lay on the floor naked, bloodied, and dying, Margherita and Kitty toasted to the success of their plans with champagne. But the whorehouse is bombed, sending a shower of a million broken glass, and a thunderous shudder as the walls crumbled around them.

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