Studio: Blue Underground
Theatrical Release: April 3, 1969 (Italy)
Blu Ray Release: December 15, 2015
Director: Jess Franco
Review by James Klein
Jess Franco films may be the most reviewed DVD / blu ray’s on this website. We have seen so many Franco films, it’s hard to even remember all of them (the man has directed over 200 films). However, his 1969 erotica Justine is not only his most expensive film he’s ever directed but also one of the biggest missed opportunities in his career. Justine is an X rated film trapped inside an R rated body. As opposed to his usual over-the-top exploitation shenanigans such as gratuitous and full frontal nudity, explicit violence, and at times horrific moments / sequences that make you feel like you are in a fever dream, Justine is an art film, an erotic snoozefest despite some sudden Franco-esque moments.
When sisters Justine and Juliet are thrown out of a orphanage, the two sisters split and go their separate ways. Juliet is the outspoken, brash sister who quickly turns to prostitution and soon murder where Justine is the virginal, naive girl who has to find her way in life within the bleak French outskirts. When Justine fights off the advantages of a nobleman who she works for, she is thrown in jail where she meets Madame Dusbois (Mercedes McCambridge, best known as the voice of Reagan from The Exorcist) who has devised a plan to escape with the help of some of her fellow thieves.
After a daring escape, Justine breaks free from Madame Dusbois’s clan as they try to rape her. She ends up falling in love and living temporarily with painter Pierre (Mike Brendel from 99 Women) until the law comes looking for her to take her back to jail. Running off blindly, happens to come upon a covenant where she meets several monks lead by Antonin (played by Jack Palance who is so over the top and nuts that I wish to God he was in the movie more). Antonin is a sadist and his study of pleasure and pain with several young female runaways is the films one truly dark and somewhat shocking moment. Why his character floats around makes absolutely no sense but I still loved it, especially the look on Palance’s face as he glides about.
Meanwhile, in the films biggest WTF moments, the movie has sequences edited into the film of the Marquis de Sade himself sitting in a jail cell writing this particular story, with images and visions of all sorts of unclothed women appearing before him, tormenting him. De Sade is played by the King of Cuckoos, Klaus Kinski (check out our review of Venom here). When you cast someone like Kinski, one should never cast him in a role where he plays a mute and just sits around looking miserable or confused. I didn’t understand this casting decision (Orson Welles was asked to do the role originally!) and wished Kinski had a different part, one where his over the top talents could be appreciated.
Despite the tame tone of what should be an exciting exploitation film, the movie suffers the most mainly because of the films star Romina Powers as Justine. She is drop dead gorgeous, however her acting is pretty bad. Looking bored and unexcited, her take on the role of Justine just does not fit at all. Maria Rohm who plays Juliette is a much more exciting and charismatic actress but she pretty much disappears after the mid-way point until the very end.
Justine though is a gorgeous movie and it’s probably Franco’s best directed film that I have ever seen. Franco’s use of the camera with some really neat close ups and strange shots using different lens keeps the dull story from becoming intolerably boring. He still utilizes his trademark zooms and out of focus shots throughout the film so don’t worry, Franco Fans. With a budget of close to a million dollars, this watered down, Caligula-type erotic drama looks gorgeous.
Blue Underground went over the top with this jam-packed three disc edition. There is the blu ray, the DVD, and also a CD of the films romantically elegant soundtrack by Bruno Nicolai (Run, Man, Run). Also included inside the blu ray package is a booklet featuring stills from the film, poster art, and an essay by Stephen Thrower, a Franco scholar. The blu ray transfer…wow…well, it looks pretty damn good. Justine is given a 4k transfer from the original camera negatives and the results are breathtaking, especially for a film made 47 years ago. Colors are rich, warm, and amazing throughout providing plenty of color pop throughout the 124 minute movie. I still can’t get over how there isn’t one bit of print damage to be seen on this disc. The 1.0 DTS -HD Mono track works just fine however I noticed the music at times was a bit too loud with dialog missed by certain actors. Given that a lot of the film is dubbed with almost all of the sound effects added in during post production, I shouldn’t expect the movie to sound perfect.
The special features are decent, although a commentary track by historian Thrower would have been nice (he provides a short featurette instead). My favorite special feature is the interview with the now late Franco who opens up about everything on the making of Justine. He disliked Romina Power and thought she was a goof, he loved working with Kinski, Palance was drunk everyday on the shoot, so many great stories to hear by the late director. There is also a very very long French trailer of the movie as well as the lame poster and still gallery.
I hate not recommending a blu ray when the company, in this case Blue Underground, goes out of their way to make a killer disc only to provide viewers a movie that isn’t worth taking a look at. Oh wait…there is the Jack Palance sequences. Try and find the film and just watch his scenes, you won’t be disappointed in those moments at least. The rest of this watered down skin-flick on the other hand…
Blu Ray Rating: