Thursday, February 18, 2021

MADAME CLAUDE (1977) (Cult Epics Blu-ray Review)


Label: Cult Epics
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 109 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: French LPCM 2.0 Mono, DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono, English Dolby Digital 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Just Jaeckin
Cast: Françoise Fabian, Klaus Kinski, Dayle Haddon, Murray Head, Vibeke Knudsen-Bergeron

Following the worldwide success of the softcore one-two erotic punch of Emmanuelle (1974) and then The Story of O (1975) French filmmaker Just Jaeckin returned with his third film, the sensual thriller Madame Claude (1977),  based on Jacques Quoirez's novel 'Allô Oui, or, the Memoirs of Madame Claude' (1975). The film stars French New Wave icon Françoise Fabian (Expulsion of the Devil) in the titular role of a jet set proprietor of a globetrotting call girl service that caters to elite society, including 
the American President, Howard (Robert Webber, S.O.B.).

Photographer David Evans (Murray Head, Sunday Bloody Sunday) is someone constantly within Madame Claude's periphery, he is currently Claude's star escort, the knock-out Anne-Marie (Vibeke Knudsen-Bergeron, Spermula), whom Evan's puts increasing pressure to snap pictures of her high-society clients. The idea is that he can either blackmail the wealthy men or sell the photos for top-dollar. It's this scheme that lands Evans on the watch-list of the C.I.A. and other powerful elites who do not want their sensitive clients and assets exposed in an embarrassing prostitutions ring scheme.  

A lot of the story digs into that blackmail/cover-up element, as well as detouring into Madame Claude newest recruit, a former secretary turned call-girl named Elizabeth (the stunning Dayle Haddon, Spermula), whom Claude sets out to transform from a naïve girl to a sophisticated woman with plenty of class and sex appeal. Her first assignment is being hired by wealthy industrialist Alexander Zakis (Klaus Kinski, Venom), hired to seduce his son, which she does, but when she begins to fallfor him she learns that maybe she is not emotionally cut out for the strictly sex life of a call girl, no matter how posh a lifestyle it may be. 

The film is not quite the erotic skin ride that Jaeckin's previous films were, but there is still eyefuls of stunning naked women and plenty of sex up on the screen. The movie opens with a scene of a nude woman sprawled out on swiveling plush chair as she seduces no less than the American president! We get  scenes of orgies in sex clubs and elite mansions, plus a rather kinetic hot tub sex scene up against a glass wall that is not only artfully shot but is super-hot. The globetrotting nature of the film also allows for naughtiness to play out in the surf of a sandy Bermuda beach. There's plenty of titillating naughtiness for the erotic cravers, but all of that is diffused with an intriguing bit of spy craft that plays out, though I think it is fumbled a bit in it's execution, in that there are perhaps a few too many subplots that do not go anywhere. 

The cloak and dagger spy-thriller type stuff comes by way of both nefarious government agencies and private dark forces keeping tabs on Murray Head's photographer as they look to acquire his photography negatives, either destroy and/or exploit. To that end we get some clandestine decent deep throat type meetings in parking garages, with shadowy figures stalking and tapping the phones of both the photographer and Madame Claude. The most thrilling if it being a pursuit of the photographer to an Eyes Wide Shut style orgy being held at the mansion of Kinski's character Zakis, which does not end well for the photographer, when a practical joke he played earlier in the film comes back to bite him in the ass. 

I rather enjoyed the film, it's super-stylish, very sexy and fun, and while the marriage of sensual eroticism and spy craft thriller don't exactly marry flawlessly I enjoyed both halves of the story and the inherent drama of both. It certainly does not hurt that both Vibeke Knudsen-Bergeron and Dayle Haddon are stunning beauties who hold the screen with their magnetic beauty, the camera loves these women. Not to be outdone, Françoise Fabian who plays the slightly older Madame still a smoldering beauty here in her mid-forties and has quite a bit of presence. 

Madame Clade (1977) is a gorgeously shot film with attractive lensing by cinematographer Robert Fraisse (Emmanuelle, Ronin), that captures the stylish locations and fashions as well as the sensual beauty of the women. We also get a fantastic score from Serge Gainsbourg that has a cool sounding exotic funk/disco vibe, plus a great pop song by way of "Yesterday Yes a Day" sung by Jane Birken (Death on the Nile), that also adds an elegance to the sensual thriller.  

Audio/Video: Madame Claude (1977) AKA The French Woman, arrives on region-free dual-layered Blu-ray from Cult Epics framed in 1.66:1 widescreen in 1080p HD, sourced from a new 4K scan of the 35mm original camera negative, which was supervised by original cinematographer Robert Fraisse. The overall image is pleasing with an intact grain structure that is well-preserved, though the soft focus tends to dampen sharpness and clarity, but it is an attractive aesthetic that compliments the movie. Early on there is a brief bit of print damage by way of a few vertical lines that pop-up during an airport scene but that was about it, otherwise the source is in great shape. The colors and skin tones are warm and natural looking throughout, the worst I can say of it is that the black levels are not deep black and lean toward gray at times which diminishes shadow 
detail and depth in the darker scenes, but overall this is a pleasing presentation. Be sure to checkout the over sixty screenshots from the Blu-ray at the bottom of the review! 

Audio comes by way of French LPCM 2.0 Mono and a new DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono mix, and English Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles. I would definitely suggest going with the uncompressed French audio options, of which I slightly preferred the LPCM over the DTS-HD, but both sound great. Unsurprisingly the compressed English Dolby Digital is nowhere near as dynamic, the uncompressed audio exports the French dialogue with precision, and the score from Serge Gainsbourg sounded fantastic, it's a very cool funk/disco score that I wouldn't mind owning.  

Extras begin with an audio commentary by Jeremy Richey, author of the upcoming book 'Sylvia Kristel: from Emmanuelle to Chabrol'. Richey offers insight into the production, the adaptation of the novel, the real-life events that inspired it, and the cast and crew who worked on the film. We also get a brand new 2020 interview with the director who discusses his early career as a photographer and how that informed his future as a filmmaker, also getting into the production of this film and what it was like working with the cast and crew, including the mandatory conversation about how difficult it was to work with Klaus Kinski, which is always a fun listen. The disc is buttoned up with a brief gallery of promotional images and the French trailer for the film, plus a handful of Cult Epics trailers including Blue MovieCamille 2000Death Laid an Egg, The Lickerish QuartetMy Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga & JuliePaprika, and P.O. Box Tinto Brass 

The single-disc release arrives in a clear keepcase with a dual-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original movie poster on the front, and while it is not reversible the reverse side features a seductive photo from the film, the Blu-ray disc itself also features an excerpt of the same key artwork. 

Special Features:

- NEW 4K HD Transfer from original 35mm Negative supervised by cinematographer Robert Fraisse
- Original French LPCM 2.0 Mono Audio
- NEW French DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono Audio 
- Original Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English track
- Audio Commentary by Jeremy Richey (Author of the upcoming book 'Sylvia Kristel: from Emmanuelle to Chabrol')
- 2020 Interview with Just Jaeckin (27 min) HD
- Vintage French Theatrical Trailer (2 min)  HD
- Promotional Gallery (1 min) HD
- Cult Epics Trailers: Blue Movie (2 min), Camille 2000, Death Laid an Egg, The Lickerish Quartet, My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie, Paprika, P.O. Box Tinto Brass
- Double-sided sleeve on the first print run. 

Madame Claude (1977) is a sensual true-crime drama with intriguing spy-thriller elements, the mash-up of erotic drama by way of  true-crime thriller might not be for all tastes, but I loved it. Cult Epics does solid work bringing this sensual thriller to Blu-ray, recommended for adventurous lovers of erotic cinema.
Screenshots from the Cult Epics Blu-ray: