Submission/Scandal/Scandalo (1976) ***
This film here was my introduction to the bizarre world of Italian softcore porn. When I saw Submission/Scandal/Scandalo on late-night cable (either the late, lamented “Joe Bob Briggs’s Drive-In Theater” on the Movie Channel or the equally late, equally lamented “Showtime After Hours”) one Friday night in about 1987, I had never encountered the like of it. Oh, I’d seen a few movies in which the women took their clothes off a lot, but this was the first flick I’d ever watched where that seemed to be the entire point. You can imagine what an impression it made on my 13- or 14-year-old psyche, and I’m sure you can also imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to see its weathered, sun-bleached box staring up at me from the shelf at, of all places, the Route 3 Blockbuster Video in Crofton more than a decade later. I just had to know-- how well would the movie hold up after all this time?
The surprising answer is “quite well, actually,” though not for the reasons I had expected. Upon re-examination, Submission proves to be rather less titillating than it seemed when I was just beginning my career as a sex-obsessed teenager (is there any other kind?), but believe it or not, that fact is more than compensated for by, of all things, the story! Who’d have thought it? Especially considering the fact that Submission is Italian rather than French...
It would be easy to miss that point, though, because the movie is actually set in France in 1940, during the six weeks, in fact, that it took the Germans to overrun the country. This is a fairly important point because, in a startling display of quasi-sophistication, the film is set up so that the fall of France parallels the inexorable slide of the principal characters into bottomless degeneracy. Those principal characters are a pharmacist named Elaine Michou (Lisa Gastoni, from The Wild, Wild Planet and War of the Planets) and her stockboy Armand (Franco Nero, who had earlier crossed paths with Gastoni in both the aforementioned films). Elaine falls into one of the three character types without which the sexploitation genre simply couldn’t exist, the Unsatisfied Married Woman. Armand falls into one of the other two categories, the Devilishly Handsome Lothario. (No one from the third category, the Sexually Insatiable Libertine [think Laura Gemser or Shannon Tweed] appears in this movie.) When the film opens, Armand, who has some sort of special dispensation that lets him get out of military service provided that he has a paying job, is making himself busy trying to seduce one of his co-workers, a married girl by the name of Juliette (Andrea Ferreol). As a matter of fact, he’s meeting with a fair amount of success (not that getting into Juliette’s pants is particularly difficult, as subsequent scenes make clear) and would surely have scored big-time had the girl’s husband not unexpectedly come to pick her up from work. Armand doesn’t realize that’s happened, though, nor does he realize that Elaine has hung around after hours to do the sort of last-minute straightening up that is normally Juliette’s job, and when he encounters a woman in the darkened storeroom, he understandably assumes that it is Juliette. He is, however, mistaken, and pays for his error with a slap to the face (but-- and this is important-- he still doesn’t know that he had the wrong woman).
The next day, Armand can’t figure out why Juliette is acting as though nothing out of the ordinary happened last night, nor can he figure out why his boss keeps looking at him so strangely. As he puts the pieces together over the next couple of days, he gets to thinking that Elaine would be a far more challenging, and thus more satisfying, target for his attentions, and he begins neglecting Juliette to pursue the older woman instead. When conventional measures avail him nothing, Armand decides to ratchet up the intensity a couple of notches; one night, after everyone but he and Elaine have left the store, Armand coerces a blowjob from her. And because, in the off-kilter universe of European B-movies, all women secretly want to be raped, debased, and humiliated, this incident marks the beginning of an increasingly torrid and increasingly risky affair, marked by escalating exchanges of dirty tricks and mind-games. As the title suggests, Elaine comes out rather the worse for all of this, the development of her character following a The Story of O-like trajectory of ever more drastic... well, Submission to Armand’s ever more exploitative desires. By the end of the film, Armand stands revealed (to the audience, at least) as a completely conscienceless predator, while Elaine becomes his not-entirely-unwilling accomplice. That Submission hails from Italy and not France becomes clear at the movie’s climax, which is so vile, so sleazy, so hideous that its inclusion in a movie whose primary purpose up until that point had been to get your dick hard is sure to leave all but the most odious of perverts profoundly disturbed. I had actually completely forgotten about this part of the movie. The scene works mostly through implication (to show what happens explicitly would actually be illegal), so it may be that I simply didn’t grasp what was going on; perhaps what I was seeing didn’t make sense because it had not yet occurred to me at the age of 14 that this sort of thing might happen. (And yes, I’m being awfully cryptic, but you should know by now that I don’t like to give away a movie’s best trick when it’s something that actually had an effect on me.)
So, the final verdict: Submission is definitely worth the two hours (yes, two hours), but make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you’re looking for non-stop sex, you’re not going to find that here, although I think the movie has as much of that as it needs. If you’re the sort of person whose idea of good smut is the modern-day direct-to-video variety (I Like to Play Games or Indecent Behavior for example), you’re also likely to be disappointed-- there’s no silicone here, and Lisa Gastoni (the principal person you’ll be seeing nude) looks to be about 38 years old (though she’s still got a better body than anyone you’ve ever slept with). Finally, there’s that ending. Just remember that you’re going to get hit on the head with a ball-peen hammer at about the hour-and-45-minute mark, and you should be okay.