Saturday, January 18, 2014

Elsa: Fraulein SS (1977)

Written by: Victor Hadria, Marius Lesoeur, Patrice Rhomm
Directed by: Patrice Rhomm
Starring: Malisa Longo, Olivier Mathot, Patrizia Gori

Nothing like sitting down to a movie and the first thing you see is a shot of Hitler with the words, “Eurocine Presents”. Always a sign of high quality. Although this movie is pretty expensive looking for a Eurocine flick. Of course, that's a bit like saying, “A relatively clean truck stop toilet floor”, but still. After some quirky and imaginative credits made to look like a news scroll over some nifty WWII stock footage, we are informed that it's the waning days of the war, and the Nazis have been forced into retreat all over the European theater. Many high-ranking officials are losing faith in Hitler, and a rebellion is beginning to foment.

Into the mix comes Elsa, a former prostitute who has proven so faithful to the Third Reich that she has been given a very important assignment. She is to command a “pleasure train”, a locomotive full of prostitutes that will travel the front lines to improve morale and show the officers a good time. She gathers up a group of women whose families are in some kind of official trouble or owe the party a favor, and instructs them to be available and desirable at all times, and off they go. Their real mission, however, is to weed out German officers no longer loyal to the Third Reich, and execute them. Every room is wired for sound, and in the throes of passion the girls are instructed to encourage the soldiers into seditious talk. Should they say anything Elsa deems seditious, the train is stopped in a secluded area, and the offending men taken into the woods and shot.

Elsa's...lover? Ex-lover? Commanding officer? They have a weird relationship, anyway, but his name is Franz, and he catches up with the train somewhere in Vichy France to check up on how things are going. One of the girls, Liselotte, is actually an Allied spy, and she discovers that Franz is one of those high-ranking officials who is losing faith in Hitler and questioning the wisdom of trying to fight the entire world – especially when it has become increasingly obvious that they're going to lose. She strikes up a relationship with him and convinces him to deliver a letter to her contact informing Allied forces of the location of the train. Elsa discovers Liselotte's plotting, and is just about to pour acid on her face to force a confession and extract information, when the Americans arrive and make with the kaboom.

If you see just one Nazi sex train movie this year (yes, there are more than one of these things), I guess it could probably be this one. Although I would make it Hitler's Lust Train. I haven't seen that one either, but just look at that title! Actually, it's reportedly a nearly identical movie to this one, even shot on the same sets with a lot of the same cast. The only major difference is the absence of Malisa Longo in the starring role. As I stated earlier, this is a surprisingly lavish production for Eurocine. I suppose it helps that there were no special makeup effects demanded of the flick, no zombies to create or gore to display. All the battle and military mobilization scenes are presented through stock footage, and I and many other reviewers have pointed out time and again, European filmmakers have a huge advantage in terms of production value being able to use so many great historical locations without having to build sets.

This flick is more on the sex end of the spectrum than the torture end, and even in that regard it's pretty tame, so it can get pretty draggy. Honestly, the best part of the whole thing is the opening credits. Yes, it carries the stigma of being footage of one of the most disgusting groups of people in human history and the horrors they visited upon the world, but from an aesthetic and history buff standpoint, it's some great imagery. That's not to say there's nothing to recommend it though. In an interesting twist, the requisite bald Nazi with a monocle turns out to be one of the good(ish) guys, and stands up to more torture (that is, a couple of bitch slaps and a kidney punch instead of folding immediately when threatened) from Elsa's henchmen than any of the other officers she executes for treason.

Then there's the train set itself. The interiors are, as one would expect draped all over with Nazi flags. The thing is, instead of being hung straight with one of the swastika arms pointing up, they're all hung at a 45 degree angle so the tops of the swastikas are level, like one of the set dressers had an attack of OCD the day of shooting and ran around with a ruler making sure they were all straight. Thanks to my good friend Ed McEneely for helping me out with a bit of research, in which we discovered that this is actually a big thing among modern neo-Nazi groups. I've never seen it in any authentic WWII images though, so I assume it was a continuity error. Either that or the filmmakers were skinheads. In which case, fuck them. If any of my readers are experts on the topic and have more information on the matter for me, feel free to comment or shoot me an e-mail. Unless you're a skinhead, in which case, fuck you.

My favorite two bits of bizarre quirk, though, are the guy who breaks the ice with one of the prostitutes by telling her Hermann Goering fat jokes, and Gundrun, the whore who also plays piano and sings. Actress Pamela Stanford (who also played the titular witch in Lorna the Exorcist) includes this brilliant little tic, which she does several times so it's definitely an acting choice and not just a fluke, where she flicks out her tongue in a manner that suggests a snake or lizard. It's subtle, it's not repeated to the point of becoming absurd, it's not directed at any of the other characters, it's not lascivious or suggestive in any way, it just makes her look like a reptile, and it's worth watching the movie for her performance alone.

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