Marquis de Sade's Justine [Blu-ray 4K]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Blue Underground
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (5th March 2023).
The Film

"In truth, the good must often suffer from the thorns of life, whilst the wicked gather nothing but roses."

When their mother dies and their father flees the country and his creditors, sisters Juliette (Romina Power, daughter of actor Tyrone Power and singer Linda Christian) and Justine (Venus in Furs' Maria Rohm) are told by the Mother Superior that they can no longer continue their education at the convent. Naive Justine is frightened by the idea of being turned out with only a hundred crowns; however, cynical Juliette having come to the realization that the "best lesson l have learned here is to look after yourself, for nobody else will" has already arranged somewhere for them to say. That somewhere turns out to be the brothel of Madame de Buisson (The Love Affair's Carmen de Lirio). Justine is immediately uncomfortable – despite assurances from the other girls that she can "remain a virgin" no matter the number of clients – and sets off on her own while Juliette learns the ropes from Claudine (Eye in the Labyrinth's Rosemary Dexter) with whom she quickly forms a more intimate bond. Justine, on the other hand, is duped out of her money by a friar and sent to the boardinghouse of Du Harpin (Mr. Arkadin's Akim Tamiroff) who offers her food and boarding in exchange for cleaning; however, this turns out to be a pretense for his plan for her to seduce and rob guest Desroches (Summertime Killer's Gustavo Re) for which Justine is convicted and swept off to prison for hanging. She evades the hangman's noose with the help of criminal mastermind Dubois (Johnny Guitar's Mercedes McCambridge) who brings her along in her own arranged escape because "you look so innocent."

Meanwhile, Juliette and Claudine have also decided to strike off on their own "By crime, of course: the viler the better, for vice is most amply rewarded." Justine flees an attempted rape by Dubois' gang and appears to find love with chaste painter Raymond (The Brides of Fu Manchu's Harald Leipnitz) but it all too short-lived and she next winds up on the grounds of the libertine Marquis de Bressac (The Cat O' Nine Tails' Horst Frank) who makes her lady's maid to his wife (Lisa and the Devil's Sylva Koscina) in a plot to murder her for her money. She seeks shelter in the monastery of "four good men" – including Howard Vernon (The Awful Dr. Orlof) and Luis Ciges (The Vampires' Night Orgy) – lead by Brother Antonin Contempt (Jack Palance) only to learn too late that the subject on which they meditate and study is "the pursuit of pleasure" and Justine discovers that her litany of "I have been cruelly treated, robbed, falsely accused, imprisoned, assaulted, beaten, and pursued. I have lost all l possess," makes her the most irresistible of "fresh and desirable fruit" in the world of the Marquis de Sade.

"Poor Justine. Willed by providence to fall into the hands of the guilty and to be their prey."

The first of two adaptations of the Marquis de Sade by producer Harry Alan Towers (under the pseudonym "Peter Welbeck" - who had already mined the works of Sax Rohmer and Agatha Christie and would dust off those properties again and again all the way through to the turn of the millennium – and journeyman filmmaker Jess Franco who found the censorious conditions of his native Spain too constraining, Justine was (and still is) Franco's most expensive production, and all of the production value is on-camera from the cast to locations in Barcelona standing in for France (including some anachronistic but "timeless" Gaudi architecture). The film has gorgeously colorful, often deep-focus photography by Manuel Merino (Horror Rises from the Tomb), a lush orchestral score by Bruno Nicolai (All the Colors of the Dark), expansive sound stage sets, and plush costuming for the leads and a ton of extras; unfortunately, all of this is rather squandered on a rather dull, episodic script, the picaresque nature of which is hampered by a passive, witless "heroine" essayed by an actress Power (daughter of actor Tyrone Power and singer Linda Christian) imposed on the production by American financiers (American International's Samuel Z. Arkoff is listed as an uncredited producer at IMDb and there were rumors that AIP was interested in distributing the film) whose inexperience as an actress does not equate to the naivety of the heroine. Power is far outshined by Rohm – given very little to do actually – an over-the-top (and drunk) Palance, a wonderfully-campy McCambridge, and even Una vita violenta's Serena Vergano in a small role as a cool-as-a-cucumber prisoner. Special guest star Klaus Kinski – billed correctly in the opening credits but as "Klaus Kinsky" in the closing ones – worked a day as an imprisoned De Sade, tormented by reproachful visions of Justine and Juliette into writing their tales in one of three dialogue-free roles for Franco and Towers, including Renfield in Count Dracula and a murderous playboy in Venus in Furs.

While there is some copious nudity, whippings, and brandings, the film never quite descends into the tonally-dark areas of Franco's subsequent Sadeian films even as it sets up and then lets fall flat Antonin's coaxing Justine into the realization that, for her, the "ultimate pleasure" is "to endure" and, as such, her Christian suffering is itself a sin and her a sinner. The supporting cast includes Lady Frankenstein's Rosalba Neri as one of Antonin's captives, The Castle of Fu Manchu's José Manuel Martín, The Blancheville Monster's Gérard Tichy, Sadisterotica's Claudia Gravy, and a cameo by Franco himself at the end. Franco would rework the "Justine" story with less frequency than that of "Philosophy in the Boudoir" by adding a pair of orphaned sisters – one innocent, one corrupted – into The Demons (otherwise a loose remake of The Bloody Judge) – and expanding the Bressac episode into a Les diaboliques-style tale of gaslighting in which Justine is more of a supporting character with Sinfonía Erótica. An equally-lose adaptation came out of Sweden with the pornographic Justine and Juliette but slightly more faithful adaptations came in the form of Claude Pierson's Justine de Sade (with Franco regular Alice Arno) and Chris Boger's Cruel Passion which attained notoriety for starring Koo Stark due to her involvement with Prince Andrew a few years later.


Unreleased in the United States until the video era in a drastically-shortened version titled "Deadly Sanctuary" from Monterey Home Video, Justine – unlike Philosophy in the Boudoir – had a British pre-cert VHS release, but it became most widely available during the DVD era with a U.S. release from Blue Underground and a U.K. edition from Anchor Bay Entertainment of the longest version in an attractive 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film has always looked good in the digital format, so Blue Underground's 2016 Blu-ray upgrade received higher marks than their upgrade of Eugenie, the anamorphic, soft-focus photography of which did not pop as much as Justine's deep focus, studio-lit "stately" compositions. It should come as no surprise that Blue Underground's 2160p24 HEVC 1.66:1 widescreen, Dolby Vision presentation of the film and the remastered 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 Blu-ray are stunning, not only in their conveyance of the film's production value in color, texture, and delineation of shadow detail even under the most saturated gels – not to mention details that balance some strikingly compositions in the narrower aspect ratio – but also the rougher edges of the production from the very theatrical make-up in some facial close-ups (particularly Tamiroff, McCambridge, and Kinski) but also the wrinkles and ironed creases of Kinski's white shirt and some jitter that is no sprocket damage or optical but that of the zoom lens at the telephoto end used to capture Kinski's Sade in his cell from all angles to get the most out of the actor's single day of shooting.

The Blu-ray side of the combo also includes a recreation of the "Deadly Sanctuary" cut (95:41 versus the 124:12 original) with a computer-generated title card in which virtually every establishing shot or sequence is snipped out in addition to other transitions and a few longer scenes including the arrival of Juliette and Justine outside Madame de Buisson's brothel that further establishes a universal scapegoating and vicitmization of the helpless with a town cryer warning of arrest and execution of beggars found within the city limits. The cuts seem made more to shorten the film rather than tighten the pace as it still drags at times.


The only audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track of the original English mono mix in which the post-dubbed, post-synched English is flawless while the high ends of Nicolai's score threaten to distort, although the cues sound far clearer here that when Franco would recycle in Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (particularly the barnstorming opening track). Optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided (in which Dubois is referred to as "Dusbois" a couple times).


New to this release is an Audio Commentary by film historians Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth who ponder whether the film really was Franco's most expensive production or The Bloody Judge, discuss the various lengths of release versions, discuss the renewed interest in Sade in the sixties – noting that Franco name-checked "The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade" play author Peter Weiss during the word game in Succubus – and compare the comedic elements of the film to both Benny Hill and Russ Meyer's adaptation of Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. They also discuss the influence of Orson Welles on Franco's career direction, Towers' adaptation, and the merits of Power's performance.

Ported from the DVD edition is "The Perils and Pleasures of Justine" (20:03) featuring separate interviews with Franco and Towers. Franco recalls Towers suggesting Sade and thinking him unfilmable as a "catalogue of atrocities" but being more satisfied with Towers' adaptation than the imposition of Power on the cast in place of his choice of Dexter. Franco has little good to say about her while Towers discusses the casting of McCambridge and Palance. They both discuss filming in Barcelona around the public and the censorship in the country at the time that caused the Spanish producer to pull out of the project even though they continued filming. Towers recalls running into Spain's Minster of Culture later who recognized the Gaudi buildings in the film as indicators that it was indeed shot in Spain.

Ported from the original Blu-ray is "Stephen Thrower on Justine" (17:33), an interview with the author of "Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco" in which he discusses the three versions of Sade's text, Towers' drawing from the version titled "The Misfortunes of Virtue" apart from the darker ending, as well as the Sadeian elements of Franco's cinema in general. He also notes the subtle "subversion" of Towers' moral take in the final shot as De Sade crosses out a final line in his mansuscript.

Also new to this release is "On Set with Jess" (8:17), an interview with Neri who recalls more about 99 Women than Justine apart from dancing with Palance. The disc also includes an expanded poster & still gallery and the film's French theatrical trailer (3:46).


Whereas the original limited three-disc edition included a CD soundtrack and booklet, the new UHD/Blu-ray combo only includes an O-card slipcover.


Jess Franco's most expensive film Justine puts it all on the screen but the script and the lead are the weak points of an otherwise entertainingly perverse diversion.


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