Black Emanuelle (1975) Black Emanuelle / Wild Emmanuelle / Emmanuelle in Africa / Emanuelle’s Holiday / Emanuelle Nera (1975/1976)       -**½

     “Wait,” you say. “What do you mean the main character in the first Eurosmut movie to misappropriate the name ‘Emmanuelle’ in the title is actually called ‘Mae Jordan?’ That doesn’t make any sense.” You’re quite right— it doesn’t. And somehow the fact that Miss Jordan does sometimes use “Emanuelle” as a professional alias in the film just makes things worse. I mean, this isn’t a case like Forever Emmanuelle or Emanuelle in Egypt, where some overseas distributor slapped an “Emmanuelle” or “Emanuelle” title on some unrelated skin flick in the hope of selling more tickets. The movie was called Black Emanuelle even on its home turf (nera means “black” in Italian), but the character is named Mae, except that she calls herself Emanuelle in one particular context, and the rest of the cast uses both handles for her indiscriminately throughout. What the fuck game are writer/director Bitto Albertini and co-writer Ambrogio Molteni playing at here? In order to understand that, I think we need to look in an unlikely place indeed. Specifically, I think we need to look at The Swiss Family Robinson.

     No, I’m serious. The titular family in that story isn’t called “Robinson,” either (which, after all, would be a peculiar thing to call a bunch of Schweizers). Rather, the name referred to Daniel Defoe’s hugely influential Robinson Crusoe. By the end of the 18th century, when the original German-language version of The Swiss Family Robinson was written, any story in which the protagonists were marooned in a hostile environment, the mastering of which was the main thrust of the action, was popularly called a Robinsonade— or alternately just a Robinson. I believe that’s approximately the sense in which we’re supposed to take Black Emanuelle’s title as well. Not the story of a black woman named Emanuelle, but the story of a black woman who is, functionally speaking, her race’s equivalent to Marayat Andriane’s notorious alter ego. That should perhaps cue us to expect this movie to fall into that weird and almost exclusively Italian meta-genre of post-colonial exploitation cinema, and indeed Black Emanuelle harps constantly on themes of racial consciousness. However, since it is an Italian exploitation movie of the 1970’s, don’t expect any of that harping to be intelligent, sincere, or even minimally coherent.

     So anyway: Mae Jordan (Laura Gemser, from Free Love and Caged Women). She’s a professional photographer (her work usually appearing under the enigmatic byline “Emanuelle”), and she’s just accepted an extended assignment in Kenya. Mae was hired by Ann (Karin Schubert, of Black Venus and Hanna D.: The Girl from Vondel Park) and Gianni (Angelo Infanti, from War Goddess and Gungala the Black Panther Girl) Danieli, planters in a variety of labor-intensive (and traditionally slave-labor-intensive) crops in the Nairobi hinterland. I gather she’s supposed to work on some manner of advertising campaign for the Danielis; the reason I don’t know for sure is because Mae’s official business in the neighborhood never matters for one solitary second. No, what matters is that every person Mae meets while in Africa— both Danielis; Gianni’s partner, Richard Clifton (Gabriele Tinti, of Lisa and the Devil and Journey Beneath the Desert, whom the English dub ludicrously attempts to pass off as a Scotsman) and his wife, Gloria (Isabelle Marchall, from The Red Nights of the Gestapo and Crazy Desires of a Murderer); a variety of Kenyan menials; even an international field hockey team!— instantaneously conceives an insuperable desire to fuck her. The one exception seems to be Professor Kamau (Don Powell, of Voodoo Sexy and Escape from Galaxy 3), an anthropologist friend of both planter couples, but if we may judge from a dream sequence in which Mae is raped by a tribal chieftain with Kamau’s face, she would be more than happy to fuck him.

     Now it should go without saying that everyone who wants into Mae’s pants will get there eventually, with or without her consent— and regardless of whether we in the audience can even figure out which is supposed to be which. We do need to have some kind of conflict here, though, right? One mechanism whereby it arises is Mae’s absolutely peerless mastery of the mixed signal. Seriously, I defy any of you to watch this movie, and then give an intelligible accounting of what Mae actually wants from any of her bedmates, Gianni Danieli especially. To focus just on his case, the first open acknowledgement of the sexual tension between them comes on the way home from a party at the Clifton place, when Mae has Gianni pull the car over in a secluded spot. She asks him for a cigarette, waits for him to light it for her, takes a single drag, and suddenly tosses it out the window as if it had salmonella all over it. Then she explicitly invites Gianni to pounce on her, only to go suddenly cold on him, haughtily ordering him to get back on the road. This sort of behavior continues until the very threshold of the closing credits. Mae lets herself into Gianni’s shower stall after a game of doubles’ tennis to make sure he knows she’s still interested, but skedaddles before he can so much as touch her. She issues a hard veto against sex on the Danieli property when Gianni comes on to her in the backyard swimming pool, only to put on her most baffling “does she or doesn’t she?” performance of all once he arranges to borrow the bachelor pad of an eccentric artist (Venantonio Venantini, from Ladyhawke and The Beast in Space) who lives nearby. Either Mae is a next-level cocktease, or a better title for this movie would have been Emanuelle Goes Off Her Meds.

     The other source of conflict in Black Emanuelle is jealousy. Ann, not surprisingly, is made jealous by her husband’s tireless campaign to bed the woman spending the summer in their spare bedroom, but she’s also envious because he looks like he’ll get to her first. Gloria shares Ann’s envy, just as she becomes jealous of Richard’s dalliance with Mae— even though there isn’t a man in Nairobi whom Gloria couldn’t identify from a dick pic alone. What’s more, she reacts thusly even though Richard knows about her habitual bed-hopping, and is perfectly okay with it. The truly bizarre thing, however, is the jealousy that everyone except maybe Richard directs toward Mae herself. Gianni, Ann, and Gloria alike spend most of the running time in high dudgeon that the woman with whom they’re cheating on their respective spouses isn’t faithful to them. I realize that there’s little to be gained from expecting people’s emotional responses to be rational, but this is downright insane. It’s especially true of the women, neither of whom Mae gives any reason to imagine that their coupling means anything to her. Still, I can’t let Gianni off the hook, either, no matter how often Mae professes to want only him, because her actions consistently show that she’s lying. I can’t recall ever seeing another softcore sex movie in which the entire cast was in such desperate need of couples’ counseling!

     Then there’s the race angle. As I said earlier, with a title like Black Emanuelle, you know there has to be a race angle somewhere. Throughout the film, Mae is constantly faced with reminders that as a black Westerner in Africa, she is effectively a woman without a country. The guy in the seat next to her on her flight to Nairobi (whom she was hoping to seduce until he revealed to her consternation that he was a missionary) talks to her in Swahili, of which she doesn’t speak a word. All of her sex partners eventually ask her to opine on the relative attractiveness of black and white skin, and/or quiz her on the differences between the races’ lovemaking techniques. The Africans who work the Danielis’ fields, wait on the planters and their comparably wealthy friends, and hold low-status jobs in the nearby city and villages all scowl at Mae as if she were some kind of Aunt Thomasina. Professor Kamau is an inexhaustible fount of racial essentialist bullshit, the subtext of which is invariably that Mae, thoroughly Westernized as she is, is living in denial of her true self and nature. Even Mae’s own brain gets into the act, since she’s constantly having weird psychological experiences which I gather we’re supposed to interpret as the land of her ancestors calling to her. Most crassly of all, in her parting speech to Gianni, Mae seems to attribute her insatiable sexual appetite and inability to maintain a monogamous pair-bond to her race, and to imply that she is therefore inherently unsuitable as a long-term partner for any European. It’s all pretty gross, but what makes it arrestingly bizarre, too, is that Laura Gemser so visibly isn’t black, or at least not in the sense of having predominantly African ancestry. Rather, she’s Javanese, and one of the things I’ve always found compelling about her appearance is that she looks as though she belongs to all the world’s races at once. Now obviously some version of all this movie’s race nonsense could equally well be invoked in an Indonesian context, but the fact remains that that’s not what Black Emanuelle is trying to do. Black Emanuelle wants to talk about Africa, so its insistence upon doing so through an actress (and presumably a character) whose family tree is rooted someplace else is, as the kids say, problematic.

     If you’re thinking that all the above considerations have to take a toll on Black Emanuelle’s performance as erotica, then come on up to the head of the class. Indeed, it’s rather startling how un-sexy Black Emanuelle manages to be, especially if you’ve seen a few of the movies that have presented themselves as sequels to this one over the years. (That matter of sequels is a complicated story, by the way, to be dealt with in other reviews.) Part of the problem, much to my surprise, is Laura Gemser herself, who seems at this early stage of her career to have very little idea what to do in a sex scene. She gives the impression of wanting to touch her partners as little as possible— to the extent, in fact, that I’m not convinced she isn’t faking most of the hands-to-flesh contact in the lesbian scenes with Karin Schubert and Isabelle Marchall. But mainly it’s just difficult to keep a good head of steam worked up when everyone is acting like a bunch of high-maintenance psychos all the time, and no one can go ten fucking minutes without saying something cringe-worthy about race relations. Say what you want about Joe D’Amato (who would direct most of Black Emanuelle’s “legitimate” sequels), but he knew how to make a movie sexy even in the face of much more serious subject matter handicaps.



Can you believe the B-Masters Cabal turns 20 this year? I sure don't think any of us can! Given the sheer unlikelihood of this event, we've decided to commemorate it with an entire year's worth of review roundtables— four in all. These are going to be a little different from our usual roundtables, however, because the thing we'll be celebrating is us. That is, we'll each be concentrating on the kind of coverage that's kept all of you coming back to our respective sites for all this time— and while we're at it, we'll be making a point of reviewing some films that we each would have thought we'd have gotten to a long time ago, had you asked us when we first started. For this first 20th-anniversary roundtable, we're keeping it simple, reviewing a slate of movies that we feel reflect the core competencies of our respective sites. So from me, you can expect to see something dark and horrid from the 70's, something garish and fun from the 80's, something from the 50's with a rubber-suit monster, and something smutty and European. Click the banner below to peruse the Cabal's combined offerings:




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