Here, kitty kitty - Page 2

Lost in temptation: "Love Kittens" offers four slices of vintage cheesecake

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Laurent's vogue was brief — she retired from the screen a half-century ago, dying just last year at age 74 — in contrast to "Teutonic temptress" Elke Sommer, who still occasionally acts in one of her purported seven language fluencies. She had planned, in fact, on becoming a diplomatic translator when modeling called instead. Winning a pageant on vacation in Italy, she got discovered by neorealist pioneer Vittorio De Sica and was soon hopping around the continent as the latest blonde bombshell dropped in Bardot's wake. By 1963 she'd hit Hollywood, prettying up increasingly dismal mainstream dreck like Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966) and Deadlier Than the Male (1967).

But first she impersonated a Frenchwoman in her two "Love Kittens" opuses, both directed by semi-forgotten Gallic sexploitation expert Max Pecas. She was just 21 — though already very worldly, not to mention curvy — in 1961's Daniella by Night, playing a model whose work travel sinks her in a Roman potboiler of espionage, blackmail, and murder. (This intrigue's gist is summed up by one character's great line: "Apparently, everyone's jealous of everyone else.") Our heroine's virtue is mortally endangered in several circumstances that threaten to separate her from clothing. It would take too long here to explain the pretzel logic by which Danielle must strip before a nightclub audience, then exit with horny American sailors, in order to escape assassination.

In Pecas' 1963 Sommer vehicle Sweet Ecstasy — one should note certain territories saw it as Sweet Violence — she's a crass seductress willing to play free-trade merchandise amid a yachtload of quasi-beatnik spoiled rich kids. Eventually she's redeemed by caring enough to discourage a boy from participating in the craziest variation ever on a chicken contest, involving blindfolded leaps from construction-site cranes.

The difference between these European "sex" flicks and those coming just a few years later is remarkable. There's so much plot, so many name actors (at least ones familiar to arthouse audiences at the time), and so much production gloss floating the tame exploitation elements, with their ludicrous excuses for toplessness. When heavily painted Sommer was steaming up screens as still import-only Eurobabe ("Nudest Elke Sommer is filmdom's friskiest frisk!" Playboy exhaled), her movies weren't exactly classy, but they weren't Z-grade trash, either.

Her Pecas films remain treasure troves for Francopop enthusiasts: the first was co-scored by Charles Anzavour, the second featured songs by Johnny Halladay. By 1968 — still well before hardcore's advent — collapsing censorship standards meant racy stuff could predominate, with only a slender g-string of narrative coverage required. Sommer might have been cheesecake — but she was too famous to give it up that freely.

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