Synopsis: For his sole foray into the sex comedy genre, Mario Bava delivers a swinging orgy of mod design, leering humor and daring late ’60s erotica. American leading man Bret Halsey and former Miss Italy Daniela Giordano star in this Rashomon-inspired tale of a playboy and a virgin’s first date that may or may not have included rape, nymphomania, lesbianism, and groovy inflatable furniture.
eyelights: its core conceit. its execution. its tongue-in-cheek humour. its creative use of a limited budget.
eyesores: its wannabe hip opening credits.
“No two people see things the same way.”
Mario Bava’s versatility knew no bounds. Though he’s mostly recognized as the grandfather of the giallo, he also delved into other genres, including “sword and sandal” epics, westerns, Vikings, comic book antiheroes, science fiction and, most uniquely, sex comedies.
‘Quante volte… quella notte’ is Bava’s only foray into the sex comedy genre and is also one of his less-well regarded. Released in 1971, it takes a ‘Rashomon’-esque perspective on a first date between a handsome playboy and a gorgeous but wholesome young woman.
It’s told in four parts: Tina’s take on the events, then Gianni’s, followed by the voyeuristic doorman’s, before finally getting a more objective one from an unnamed scientist/doctor. Its message is that people ultimately perceive the same experiences very differently.
It’s not the kind of fodder that one would expect from a director who wasn’t especially judicious in choosing his projects (because he felt that he wasn’t a good judge of scripts and that his role was to interpret them as best as he could – not assign them a value).
This is probably one of the best scripts that he’s worked with and there are much fewer flaws in the execution than in even his most cherished works. Though he’s made a few classics in his time, due to production limitations, they were inevitably flawed.
Though ‘Quante volte… quella notte’ is also a low budget production, what works in Bava’s favour is that he gets to re-use the same cast, locations, sets, props and costumes over and over again, assuring continuity. He could shoot each perspective back-to-back.
It must have been as much fun staging alternates scenes as it was watching it. It must have been fun to play, too, because it gave the actors a chance to explore their characters in completely different ways – the stories are often polar opposites, not mere reflections.
In the first, Gianni is the aggressor, an implacable seducer that Tina barely escapes. The second finds Tina as an insatiable maneater, whom Gianni couldn’t handle. The third one finds Gianni as a lure for his lesbian friend Esmeralda, seducing women for her benefit.
This last one was quite a surprise when I first saw it. Given the time it was made in, the fact that three of the four main characters were gay seems quite ahead of its time; you wouldn’t have found that in North American cinema. It might also explain its limited release.
I liked that bit a lot because it was a fresh perspective, but also because it was recounted by the doorman to his milkman friend. Since they were having a dialogue, they talked over the movie, sometimes even commenting on the action as though they were watching it.
It was pretty amusing.
The most challenging bit was the first one, because it found Gianni molesting Tina, something I can’t bear to see. Of course, once we realize that it’s Tina’s way of reassuring her mom that she’d been proper all along, and that the truth is different, it’s humourous.
The picture isn’t just funny, it’s also surprisingly sexy for the genre. Though it’s not very risqué by today’s standards, the second segment finds both Tina and Gianni frequently in the nude, as they press the flesh over and over again. It’s quite a lovely sight indeed.
I can’t say that I found Brett Halsey especially attractive as Gianni, though he had his moments, but Daniela Giordano, a deep brunette with a thin, tight frame and gorgeous eyes, was very alluring to me. In any event, the two together made for a nice combination.
And, yes, both were excellent performers as well – as was the whole cast.
I’m very fond of this picture, simplistic though it may be. Though we’re seeing the same event four times, Bava fills in the blanks between each instead of repeating himself, allowing us to see it very differently each time. It’s smartly done and it’s quite funny too.
Frankly, I’m surprised that ‘Quante volte… quella notte’ isn’t considered amongst his best work; it’s quite a solid effort, and Bava’s oeuvre is inconsistent at best. Perhaps it’s merely because it’s so far removed from people’s expectations of the master of horror.
Well, that’s a shame, ’cause this is a sexy good time.
Date of viewing: July 4, 2017