In the Sign of the Taurus/I Tyrens Tegn (1974) **½
Details are scarce (if there’s a good book on the history of pornography in Scandinavia, I haven’t found it yet), but to judge from the sheer number of follow-up films, In the Sign of the Virgin must have turned a handsome profit in its home country. On the other hand, the same yardstick indicates that it didn’t do nearly as well when it played in American theaters as Danish Pastries, for none of the five subsequent zodiac comedies appear to have been picked up for US distribution. That’s understandable, as In the Sign of the Virgin was not very raincoater-friendly in comparison to the average domestic hardcore sex flick, even in 1973. I actually score that as a point in its favor, but the Apex hasn’t kept itself in business all these years by catering to my tastes, and neither would any other porno theater, I expect. In the Sign of the Taurus, the first of the semi-sequels, does indeed look like an even worse box-office bet in an American context, for it is nearly as story-heavy as a typical mainstream drama. Again, though, that’s exactly what I like about it. It isn’t often that one sees a porno movie in which most of the sex scenes are also plot points.
The year is 1924, and the setting is a secluded seaside village in Denmark, built on the land of Count von Lieberhaus (Bedside Manner’s Johan Thiersen). The count is both very eccentric and very lecherous, living alone with two beautiful, bisexual housekeepers, and amusing himself by driving out to the beach to spy on the village girls through binoculars while they change into and out of their bathing suits. On the other hand, Lieberhaus is also as generous as he is rich. He pays all the taxes for the entire village every year, and once in a while, he makes lavish just-for-the-hell-of-it disbursals of cash to his tenants, who are thus moved to tolerate the libidinous behavior that they would otherwise find shocking and scandalous. The trouble is, Count von Lieberhaus is rather an old man at this point, and Dr. Andreas Salvesen, the village physician (Ole Søltoft, star of the whole zodiac series), has long counseled him that he needs a little less excitement in his life. The count suffers a fatal heart attack one morning, while perving on beach bunnies and receiving a blowjob from one of his maids at the same time.
Naturally, the first thing everyone wants to know is what happens to all the money. After all, no one in town has had to pay a penny in taxes since the count came into his inheritance, and they’re hardly eager to start now! Mayor Felix Andersen (Preben Mahrt, from The Loves of Cynthia and the mid-70’s Danish version of The Ghost Train) convenes a special meeting of the town council up at the castle in order to hear the terms of the will, which fall decidedly into the “good news, bad news” category. On the upside, the childless lord has indeed left nearly all of his money (less 25,000 kroner each for his housekeepers) in trust to the village, to manage as the council sees fit. But von Lieberhaus evidently had the same lawyer as Cyrus West, Cyrus Rutherford, and Plato Zorba, because his bequest to the town has one very bizarre and troublesome string attached: the money stays in town only if at least one child in the village is born out of wedlock under the sign of Taurus next spring; otherwise, every penny goes to a shelter for homeless cats in Copenhagen. That’s about nine and a half months from now, so folks had better get to fornicating right quick if they don’t want to have to start paying taxes next year. Mayor Andersen swears his councilmen to public silence on the terms of the counts’ will until such time as they can figure out a suitable course of action, but that doesn’t last long. A couple of the more impressively mustachioed junior councilmen (seriously, the makeup department has some amazing period facial hair going on in this movie) tell their best drinking buddies— in the strictest confidence, naturally— and soon enough, the word is out all over town.
Ah, but what to do about the situation? This is an extremely pious little hamlet we’re dealing with here— Pastor Frydenhøj (Karl Stegger, of Amorous Headmaster and Between the Sheets) has seen to that. Its young people, male and female alike, are clueless about sex beyond the wildest dreams of today’s “abstinence only” crowd, and would be hard pressed to fulfill the count’s will should they set themselves to it. As for their elders, I think we can safely rule out extramarital affairs as a solution to the town’s fix. Most of the men are so focused on keeping up appearances that any risk to their reputations would be unacceptable, and the women are doubly obvious non-starters. It’s even harder to imagine those dour old battleaxes wanting to have sex with anybody than it is to imagine anybody wanting to have sex with them! The councilmen swiftly decide that their only hope is Carola, the town trollop (Love Me, Darling’s Lone Helmer, who played a markedly similar role in In the Sign of the Virgin), but Carola sees no reason to saddle herself with a child just so that her hypocritical neighbors can continue to live tax-free. Her price for cooperation is that Mayor Andersen must do the job himself— a price she sets knowing full well that to pay it would forever blacken Andersen’s reputation among the powerful constituency that no one was yet calling “values voters” in 1974 (or in 1924, either, for that matter).
In point of fact, however, both Carola and her boyfriend, Albert (Otto Brandenburg, from Danish Escort Girls and Bedside Sailors), are doing plenty to ensure that the count’s will is satisfied. As I said, the council’s secrecy oath was a colossal joke, and the village youth are more than game to take up the challenge of producing an out-of-wedlock birth the next time the celestial slot machine comes up bulls. They just don’t know how they’re supposed to go about it. That being the case, Carola and Albert begin giving lessons, teaching the town’s lasses and lads all the things their parents don’t want them to learn, but can no longer afford to have them not know. When the town-wide celebration the count decreed be held in his memory rolls around in a week or two, the festivities are apt to go a lot farther than the local guardians of morality want to think about. Meanwhile, there’s at least one girl in town who has no need of Carola’s lessons. Dyveka Andersen, the mayor’s daughter (Susanne Breuning, of 1001 Danish Delights and In the Sign of the Gemini), may officially be dating Hector Frydenhøj, the pastor’s son (Bent Warburg, from Justine and Juliette and The Hottest Show in Town), but she’s been spending a lot more of her time with Dr. Salveson. By this point, Dyveke might even be able to show Carola a couple of new tricks, and I peg her as the probable front-runner in the Great Bastardry Derby of 1924. In any case, one thing is perfectly clear: Count von Lieberhaus’s will, whether satisfied or not, has left the townspeople in no position to wag their fingers at anyone else’s sexual tomfoolery ever again.
There’s a scene fairly late in In the Sign of the Taurus that acts (I suspect deliberately) as a microcosm of the whole film. In it, Carola barges into a meeting of the town council after one of the village girls has indeed been illicitly impregnated, and attempts to shame the lot of them out of obstructing the knocked-up girl’s desire to get married at once. For no obvious reason except that doing so makes the councilmen uncomfortable, Carola delivers this harrangue while standing atop the conference table and stripping. Like Carola’s speech to the city fathers, In the Sign of the Taurus represents a perplexing combination of titillation, naively earnest sociopolitical agitation, and sheer silliness. If you took out all the hardcore sex footage, this movie would fit snugly into the company of Footloose, Dirty Dancing, Don’t Knock the Rock, or any other film in which hedonistically inclined young people in a little rural town teach their elders a valuable lesson about the life-abnegating implications of being an intolerable stick-in-the-mud. Most of those movies are utterly ridiculous, and In the Sign of the Taurus really ought to be, too, but because it was made at the height of the sexual revolution, and because it draws down on sexual hypocrisy specifically, it leaves the puzzling impression that maybe it does have one leg to stand on after all. The closer one looks, the plainer it becomes that even the corniest gags and even the most gratuitous-seeming sex set-pieces tie into the overarching theme in a way you’d never think possible for a porno movie. For example, one of the girls who come to Carola for pointers is so shaggy down south that even Europeans in the 70’s would be aghast at the sight of her. (This being both Europe and the 70’s, however, the desired effect could be achieved only by outfitting the actress in question with a merkin that looks like something out of “Trouble with Tribbles.”) Carola packs her off to the barber, who proceeds to shave her in a dialogue-free scene set to Figaro’s aria from The Barber of Seville. It’s like an X-rated Charlie Chaplin skit, and it’s the kind of thing Benny Hill might have done had he ever been completely free of meddling censors. But the barber (William Kisum, of Love Thy Neighbor and Bedside Dentist) is also one of the stuffiest of the councilmen— one of the most adamant about keeping the embarrassing codicil to the count’s will under wraps and one of the most obsessed with the appearance of propriety. This does not stop him from enjoying the hell out of this most unorthodox appointment, which would never have happened had word of the will not leaked out, had the girls of the village not decided to rise to the occasion, and had Carola not been there to instruct them. This is the sort of thing I meant earlier when I said that In the Sign of the Taurus incorporates plot points even into its sex scenes.
In addition to being a lot more dramatically coherent than In the Sign of the Virgin, In the Sign of the Taurus is also much more successful as a comedy. This is not to say that its sense of humor isn’t still broad, crude, and clownish, but something about the 1920’s setting creates a distancing effect that makes the goofy, unsophisticated tone seem more natural. The scene at the barbershop isn’t the only point at which the film feels like a sexed-up version of something out of the silent age. Then again, there’s also at least one honestly clever gag here. It comes shortly before the reading of the will, when Mayor Andersen declares two minutes of silence in honor of the departed count. But instead of two minutes’ silence, we get two minutes of eavesdropping on whatever pagan underworld accepted von Lieberhaus upon his death, where the old horndog is happily watching a performance that suggests what might happen if the Hustler Club ever launched a competitor to Cirque du Soleil. The camera returns to Castle Lieberhaus exactly on time to rejoin the town council when they commence business. I attribute the shift in character between the first two Sign movies to a concurrent shift in creative personnel: In the Sign of the Virgin’s Finn Karlsson was replaced by Werner Hedman as both writer and director. And while American distributors either paid no attention to the changeover or disliked what they saw of Hedman’s work, the new guy was obviously in touch with what Danish audiences wanted, as he would continue to helm the zodiac films all the way through In the Sign of Sagittarius, the last in the cycle.