Sunday, February 11, 2024

FRANCO FEBRUARY - DAY 11! MARQUIS DE SADE’S JUSTINE (1969) (Blue Underground 4K UHD + Blu-ray Review)

Day 11 of Franco-February offers up one of Jess Franco's most lavish Harry Alan Towers produced flicks, Marquis de Sade's Justine (1969). If you're only familiar with Franco's more cash-strapped and anemic productions this might be an eye-opener for you, he was a a capable craftsman when given the proper resources and this is proof of that, also notable for featuring madman Klaus Kinski as the Marquis de Sade. Blue Underground this flick the deluxe treatment with a killer Dolby Vision enhanced 4K presentation and wealth of extras, including a fantastic commentary with  Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth, and the always appreciated featurette with Stephen Thrower. 

4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray

Label: Blue Underground
Rating: Not Rated
Duration: 124 Minutes 11 Seconds 
Region Code: Region-Free
Video: Dolby Vision HDR 2160p UHD Widescreen (1.66:1), 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HD MA with Optional Optional English SDH, Français, Español Subtitles
Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Romina Power, Maria Rohm, Klaus Kinski, Mercedes McCambridge, Akim Tamiroff, Howard Vernon, Rosalba Neri, Jack Palance

Another one of Jess Franco's most lavish '70s productions has arrived on 4K Ultra HD! This was the first of Franco's partnership with notorious producer Harry Alan Tower, an adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's story of Justine, wherein sisters Justine (Romina Power, Carnal Circuit) and Juliette (Maria Rohm, Venus in Furs) are orphaned after the death of their father. With no money to pay for their education the young women are booted from the convent and sent out into the streets with only a small amount of gold to see them through. The more lascivious sister Juliette takes refuge as a whore at Madame de Buission's brothel where she becomes the lesbian lover of whore Claudine (Rosemary Dexter, Eye in the Labyrinth). The younger and more virginal sister Justine chooses not to live the life of a whore and puts her faith in a priest she meets on the streets, only to be cheated of her gold by the frocked bastard, and so begins her descent into a series of misfortunate, depravity and corruption. 

Justine finds shelter as a maid working for an innkeeper named Monsieur du Harpin, but when she refuses his advances she is framed for the theft of an amulet and sent to prison as a thief. In prison she encounters an aged murderess named Monsieur Derroches (Mercedes McCambridge, 99 Women) who enlists the young woman's aid to free themselves from the prison, which she does. The daring escape involves a fire which burns the prison to the ground, killing both guards and prisoners. Once freed Justine is betrayed by Derroches who offers the nubile woman to her lecherous henchman as a reward for their services. She only narrowly escapes the rape when the men begin to fight among themselves, quarrelling over whom should have the honor of deflowering the young woman first. As viewers we are privy to the parallel adventures of her sister Juliette (Rohm, Eugenie), who along with her lover Claudine have murdered Madame de Buission and made off with her gold, but Juliette turns on her lover in a moment of greed, drowning her for her share of the gold. Meanwhile Justine finds herself a servant to the Marquis de Bressac (Frank Horst, The Cat O' Nine Tails)  who asks for her help in poisoning his wife (Sylva Koscina, The Crimes of the Black Cat). When she refuses the Marquis frame her for the murder of his wife, branding Justine with the mark of a murderess on her breast. Afterward the long  suffering Justine ends up at a monastery where she feels she may have finally found salvation, only to realize she's ended up amidst a cult of sex-crazed Monks lead by deviant Father Antonin, actor Jack Palance (The Shape of Things to Come) in one of his most crazed performances, and that's no small feat my friends - the actor is clearly drunk, slurring his words, and chewing-up the scenery like you won't believe. Spotted amongst the eurocult all-star cast are Franco regular Howard Vernon (She Killed In Ecstacy), who tortures the poor young woman before she manages to escape their clutches and into the awful hands of fate who continue to deliver blow after blow to the virtuous young woman. In true Sade form those with vice profit from their deviancy while the virginal Justine only finds cruelty and betrayal at every turn, each vignette of her story further worsening her situation as she slips from one corruption to the next. Unfortunately actress Romina Power is a bit too doe-eyed and non-expressive in the role of the tortured Justine, while she's not as awful as Franco recounts in the bonus junk she is not on par with Rohm, or the revered Soledad Miranda (Vampyros Lesbos) either, though I admit she does exude a certain naïve innocence that works well enough. At times she looks like she might me a be strung-out or otherwise emotionally disengaged. Madman Klaus Kinski (Jack the Ripper) appears in a weird and unnecessary framing device as the imprisoned Marquis de Sade, the white-wigged author who seems to be penning the story of Justine as he paces around his cell looking bored and more than a bit little frustrated. At over 120-minutes long I think the movie is a bit padded with fluff that easily could have been excised, but it's always nice to see Kinski in a Eurocult-classic, the guy's face is worth a thousand lunatic words and he exudes madness, even in a wordless role. 

As mentioned previously we have Jack Palance as Father Antonin, on the extras Franco says the actor would start drinking red wine at 7a.m. and not let up from there, and it shows in his performance - he is unhinged and completely unrestrained. Maria Rohm (Franco's Venus in Furs) doesn't get a lot of screen time but she's solid, I can see why Franco used her more prominently in Eugenie just a few months later, she has a classic old Hollywood beauty about her, but is also sexy and quite charming. This is a lavish production from Franco and producer Harry Alan Towers with wonderful period costuming and some great locations, with some great lensing from cinematographer Manuel Merino who lensed a few of Franco's finest, notably Vampyros Lesbos. There's also a great symphonic score from Ennio Morricone acolyte Bruno Nicolai (All the Colors of the Dark) that complements the movie with a wonderfully dramatic score with sweeping orchestral compositions. This marks the beginning of a Sade theme for Jess Franco, tales of the elite and powerful of society corrupting the innocent and the naïve, themes we've seen in How To Seduce a Virgin (1973) and the even more erotic (and xxx-rated) The Hot Night of Linda (1975), but it was these movies with producer Harry Alan Towers that were the most lavish and beautifully shot. If you're only familiar with Franco's more cash-strapped productions this might be an eye-opener for you, he was a a capable craftsman when given the proper resources and this is proof of that. 

Audio/Video: Marquis de Sade's Justine (1969) arrives on 4K Ultra HD from Blue Underground a brand new 4K restoration from the original uncensored camera negative with Dolby Vision HDR color-grading, and the results are outstanding. The 4K resolution offers more refined grain structures, the Dolby Vision HDR infused colors are more vibrant, and there's increased depth and clarity to the image in general. The previous BU BD was pretty great, but this is as much as an upgrade to my eyes as the Blu-ray to the DVD. Onto the audio we have a solid English DTS-HD MA Mono 1.0 track that has a nice fidelity about it, balancing the dubbed-dialogue and the symphonic Bruno Nicolai score very nicely, optional English SDH subtitles are provided.

New to this edition is a terrific tag-team Audio Commentary with Film Historians Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth, plus we get the 8-min On Set With Jess – Interview with Star Rosalba Neri who talks briefly about her time making the film with Franco and what he co-stars were like. A very cool new addition is the shorter U.S. version of the film under the title Deadly Sanctuary (96 min), which is presented in HD for the first time ever. Last of the new stuff is a Newly Expanded Poster & Still Gallery

Archival extras carried over from previous edition start off with the 20-min The Perils And Pleasures Of Justine containing interviews with Co-Writer/Director Jess Franco and Producer Harry Alan Towers. Franco goes into the tone of the screenplay, the shooting locations, how this was an expensive production for him at the time and touching on the various cast, including the notoriously drunk Jack Palance, his unhappiness with the casting of Romina Power and her performance, and how he found it rather easy to work with Klaus Kinski, who is famously portrayed as one of the most tyrannical actors of cinema by directors such as Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God) and David Schmoeller (Crawlspace). Franco also speaks about the censorship the movie faced and the various cuts of the film.

We also get the 18-minute Stephen Thrower on Justine, the noted cult film author speaks about the movie and the differences in the source materials and what ended up onscreen, and for someone like myself who is not well-versed in the literary works of Sade I found it very interesting. He also puts the movie into context among Franco's other movies, this being one of his largest budgeted productions at the times, also speaking about the cast of the movie, though he doesn't savage Power's performance quite a much as Franco himself. The disc is buttoned-up with 
the 4-min French Trailer

The 2-disc UHD/BD release arrives in an oversized black Scanavo keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork which comes housed is an embossed window boxed slipcover. As gorgeous as this edition is I'm still hanging onto the previous 3-Disc Limited Edition BD/DVD/CD set, which features exclusive bonus junk not found here, these include a 20-page Illustrated Booklet with writing on the film from Thrower adapted from his book "Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco", and the CD Soundtrack featuring Bruno Nicolai's exquisite score. 

Special Features: 
Disc 1 (4K UHD Blu-ray) Feature Film + Extras:
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Film Historians Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth
- French Trailer (4 min) 
Disc 2 (Blu-ray) Feature Film + Extras:
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Film Historians Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth
- The Perils And Pleasures Of Justine - Interviews with Director Jess Franco and Writer/Producer Harry Alan Towers (20 min) 
- Stephen Thrower on JUSTINE - Interview with the author of “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco” (18 min) 
- NEW! On Set With Jess – Interview with Star Rosalba Neri (8 min) 
- French Trailer (4 min) 
- NEWLY EXPANDED! Poster & Still Gallery
- NEW! DEADLY SANCTUARY – The shorter U.S. version in High Definition (95 Mins 41 Sec)

Marquis de Sade's Justine (1969) gets a luscious looking 4K UHD upgrade from Blue Underground, improving on the already terrific limited edition Blu-ray with a fantastic new 4K scan from the original camera negative enhanced by the 4K resolution, the Dolby Vision HDR color-grading and some cool new extras. This is total Eurocult catnip, while is still not my favorite Jess Franco flick it is one of the best looking and most lavish of the Franco releases.