In the Sign of the Gemini/I Tvillingnes Tegn (1975) **½
I think it’s fair to say that Con Amore’s zodiac porn-comedies found their true voice when Werner Hedman emerged as writer and director with In the Sign of the Taurus. While it doesn’t quite make sense to talk about the films in question as a series, strictly construed, Hedman’s first three Sign pictures display a unity of approach that is analogous to that shown by Roger Corman’s Poe movies for AIP in the previous decade. In addition to recycling the same core cast almost as compulsively as the young John Waters, Hedman set all three films about two generations in the past, and imbued them with a sense of humor more characteristic of that era than of their own. Furthermore, he gave an extra boost to their self-consciously dated gags by juxtaposing them with sexual content that would never have been allowed in the old days, even by the most permissive film-censorship regime. But most strikingly of all, Hedman invariably crafted these period sex-romps with an eye toward story integrity that is rare enough in mainstream comedy, let alone among movies that mix their laughs with onscreen fucking. Hedman, in other words, achieved the goal to which the filmmakers of America’s contemporary golden age of hardcore merely paid lip-service. He really did make regular movies that just happened to incorporate lots of unsimulated sex.
In the Sign of the Gemini dispenses with the semi-serious subtext of its predecessor, framing its conflict completely in terms of the competing self-interests of two record company owners, the endearingly sleazy Anthon Master (the ubiquitous Ole Søltoft), whose label can’t seem to decide whether it’s called World Records or Master Records, and the grouchy and criminally inclined Ulrik Ulverstein (the slightly less ubiquitous Preben Mahrt, of Bel Ami and In the Sign of the Taurus), who controls the Onofon firm. The two men are in the midst of a bidding war over cabaret singer Dolores Rossi (Cia Löwgren, from Swedish Sin and Swedish Wildcats), whose popularity has led the press to speculate that she could be worth as much as a million kroner over the course of her career. Master has all the advantages when it comes to personal charm, and the deal he’s offering is better up front, but his label is in serious financial trouble. (Anybody know when the Great Depression hit Denmark?) Unless Rossi can reverse the company’s fortunes all by herself, she could find herself unsigned again in a couple of years if she picks Anthon. Ulverstein, in contrast, is an unrepentant cheapskate and a total jerk, but his very stinginess might make him the better long-term bet. When all three participants in the negotiations come together at a party at Master’s mansion, Rossi makes a very strange pronouncement. She promises to make her decision before Thursday, and she offers to sign with whichever label’s owner can beat her in a game of poker. Anthon agrees to take that challenge on Wednesday afternoon at 3:00, but Ulrik apparently has no such confidence in his card game. Ulverstein’s confidence, rather, lies in Max (Karl Stegger, from In the Sign of Scorpio and In the Sign of Sagittarius) and Walther (Bent Warburg, of The Keyhole and In the Sign of the Virgin), the two thugs he’s hired to accompany him to the party with the aim of kidnapping Anthon Master and keeping him safely sidelined until Rossi’s self-imposed deadline is past. Master’s butler, Leopold (Arthur Jensen, from 17 and Come to My Bedside), can tell that the boss’s rival is up to no good, and he sets Anthon’s four girlfriends— Misse (In the Sign of the Lion’s Lise Henningsten), Bibi (Louise Frevert, of Molly and Justine and Juliette), Anne (Lisbeth Olsen, from The Sinful Dwarf and Bedside Sailors), and Sussi (Anne Bie Warburg, of The Hottest Show in Town and Danish Escort Girls)— to the task of keeping Ulrik, Max, and Walther safely distracted from whatever they’re trying to pull. Meanwhile, Anthon himself puts the moves on Ulverstein’s secretary, Nora (Amorous Headmaster’s Eva Weinreich), in the hope of gaining some insight into his opponent’s game plan. Unfortunately, all Anthon achieves is to get Nora just a tiny bit sweet on him, while the girls, for all their heroic efforts, can’t keep Max and Walther so busy in the guest bedrooms that a chance to effect the abduction doesn’t come their way.
The kidnappers spirit Master away to their secret headquarters— which, in true 30’s style, is a carnival ghost train ride closed down for the season. This is where Max and Walther begin slowly but inexorably dragging defeat from the jaws of victory for their boss, for Anthon needs very little time to convince them that Ulverstein isn’t paying them enough for the job. The two criminals decide to increase their haul by sending a ransom note to the Master mansion, demanding 100,000 kroner for his return, to be delivered to cubicle 13 at a bathhouse downtown. The note also mentions that Anthon will not in any case be released until at least Thursday, which tells Leopold and the mansion girls everything they need to know about who’s behind the caper and why, but it still looks like Master Records (or World Records— whatever) will have to forfeit any chance of taking on Dolores Rossi. But then Leopold brings up something absolutely crucial that only he and his employer know: Anthon has a twin brother. It’s been ten years since the twins have seen or spoken to each other, but Benny Master (also Søltoft, naturally) creates an obvious opportunity for Anthon’s friends to orchestrate a caper of their own.
For some reason, this requires Leopold to kidnap Benny. However, waking up in an Emperor-of-Byzantium-sized bed, surrounded by naked girls, does at least suggest that the terms of Benny’s captivity will be rather more favorable than those his brother faces at the ghost train. Leopold explains that Benny is going to have to impersonate his twin at some sort of sexually charged negotiation (everyone just naturally assumes that whatever Anthon Master does is going to be sexually charged) with an internationally famous cabaret singer, and then hands him over to the girls for a desperately needed crash course in being a ladies’ man. While Sussi and Anne tackle that challenge, Misse and Bibi head over to the bathhouse, not only to deliver the ransom money, but also to stake out cubicle 13 in the hope of catching the kidnappers in the act of collecting, and then trailing them back to their lair. Max makes the pickup dressed in drag, allowing him to spend lots of time peeping on the goings-on in the women’s half of the bathhouse— saunas, showers, massages, nude gymnastics, a couple of girls shaving each other (and incidentally, given the Sign movies’ generally relaxed attitude toward female body hair, it seems awfully curious that all three entries thus far have included a crotch-shaving set-piece)— but he is indeed spotted by Misse and Bibi. Even so, they learn only the general direction of the kidnappers’ hideout, because they are pulled over by the police about halfway into the chase. (No time to waste getting decently dressed when you’re in hot pursuit of criminals, don’t you know…)
Wednesday morning rolls around, and Ulverstein can’t resist paying an early visit to Dolores to suggest to her that he’s heard Master is out of town somewhere. That strikes Rossi as most peculiar, so she phones the mansion to make sure she and Anthon are still on for that afternoon. Benny— now settling in almost comfortably to his impersonation of his twin— confirms that they are, and Ulverstein just barely controls his fury and panic until he’s back at his office. He calls the ghost train at once to tell Max and Walther that they’ve got the wrong man, and to order them to correct their error at once. Meanwhile, Nora has uncovered the secret of Ulrik’s dirty dealing, and she takes it upon herself to rescue Anthon from the kidnappers. She succeeds just after Max and Walther rush off to nab Benny on Dolores’s doorstep, leading ultimately to a succession of cross-purpose chases, mix-ups, and misunderstandings that would do any Marx Brothers movie proud. Assuming, that is, that the Marx Brothers would have liked one of their climactic lunacies to involve a flock of nude women, had the opportunity presented itself.
Given that it’s designed to be an erotic comedy, In the Sign of the Gemini could stand to be both a bit sexier and a bit funnier, but it definitely serves as a signpost toward a viable approach to doing this sort of thing. The sex scenes are about as well integrated into the narrative as can realistically be asked, with only a couple of them approaching the “put the plot on hold” effect typical of even the most creatively ambitious hardcore smut. There is almost always a clear sense that what you’re seeing is happening for a reason, provided that the viewer lower his or her motivation threshold to a level appropriate to comedy, which by its nature admits an elevated amount of absurdity, foolishness, and illogic. Even the few cases where the rationale for a given incident seems overly tenuous or too easy to miss might be attributed to a special handicap faced by the subtitles in this film— it can be hard to pay attention to that text at the bottom of the screen when it’s competing with the image of a good-looking, naked girl! The comedy, meanwhile, relies refreshingly little on slapstick, extracting its humor instead from features inherent in the situation, and in the personalities of the characters. My favorite bit is a running gag in which a freelance inventor (Poul Bundgaard, from The Reluctant Sadist and Dagmar’s Hot Pants, Inc.) repeatedly offers Ulverstein a license on technologies that would revolutionize the recording industry in decades to come— long-playing vinyl records, multi-track magnetic recording tape, stereophonic playback— only to be rebuffed with ever-escalating belligerence by the arrogant tycoon. In the Sign of the Gemini even manages to get a tiny bit of mileage out of the tiresome old man-in-drag routine, simply because Werner Hedman recognizes that the guy in the dress still needs to do something funny in order to be funny. I can’t help but consider it indicative of a flaw in the national character that movies like this were considered commercial non-starters in the United States, while the works of John Holmes helped give rise to a multi-billion-dollar industry.