Friday, August 19, 2016

Retro Review: EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (1977)

(Italy - 1977)

Directed by Joe D'Amato (Aristide Massaccesi). Written by Maria Pia Fusco. Cast: Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Paola Senatore, Roger Browne, Riccardo Salvino, Lars Bloch, Maria Piera Regoli, Matilde Dell'Aglio, Stefania Nocilli, Giulio Bianchi, Efrem Appel, Lorraine De Selle, Salvatore Baccaro, Renate Kasche, Pedro the Horse. (Unrated, 100 mins)

The most notorious of the tenuously-connected BLACK EMANUELLE series--at least in its uncut version--EMANUELLE IN AMERICA is, for the most part, another globe-trotting travelogue with freelance photojournalist Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) engaging in the usual spontaneous sexcapades. Made as a direct response to Just Jaeckin's X-rated, 1974 global phenomenon EMMANUELLE with Sylvia Kristel, 1975's BLACK EMANUELLE (note one less "m"), directed by Bitto Albertini, showcased 25-year-old, Indonesian-born Gemser in the title role (around the same time, she had a small part in the 1975 Kristel sequel EMMANUELLE: THE JOYS OF A WOMAN). Combining the erotic elements of EMMANUELLE with a nod to blaxploitation, BLACK EMANUELLE was successful enough that Gemser was soon starring in all sorts of softcore erotica that were often exported as EMANUELLE movies even though she sat out the first official sequel. 1976's BLACK EMANUELLE 2, also directed by Albertini, saw Gemser replaced by the George Lazenby of the series, one-and-done Israeli actress Shulamith Lasri, credited as "Sharon Lesley." Gemser, meanwhile, was headlining a slew of unofficial follow-ups that were often shot under one title but released as EMANUELLE movies, like Brunello Rondi's BLACK EMMANUELLE, WHITE EMMANUELLE (1976), which paired her with French actress Annie Belle and reinstated the extra "m" to the title; Enzo D'Ambrosio's boring EMANUELLE ON TABOO ISLAND (1976), which featured five-time Oscar nominee Arthur Kennedy at an all-time career low; Giuseppe Vari's nunsploitation outing SISTER EMANUELLE (1977); Mario Bianchi's sex comedy EMANUELLE IN THE COUNTRY (1978); and the Greek-made drama EMANUELLE'S DAUGHTER (1980). In 1978, perennial D-list producer and later serial Bruno Mattei enabler Franco Gaudenzi (STRIKE COMMANDO, ROBOWAR) tried to get a piece of the action, taking an unreleased mondo documentary and having Gemser host introductions to its segments, releasing it under the title EMANUELLE AND THE EROTIC NIGHTS, which received a US release in 1983 as an early acquisition of Bob and Harvey Weinstein's fledgling Miramax Films. So popular were these EMANUELLE films that Albertini would even be hired to direct Chai Lee as an Asian Emanuelle in the 1977 offshoot YELLOW EMANUELLE.

1976 saw a BLACK EMANUELLE reboot of sorts, with a returning Gemser and veteran cinematographer and journeyman director Aristide Massaccesi (better known as "Joe D'Amato") starting a long partnership that extended beyond just the BLACK EMANUELLEs. 1976's EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK was released around the same time as BLACK EMANUELLE 2 and more or less ignores it, with Emanuelle once again an independent, respected, and sexually-liberated journalist (Lasri's Black Emanuelle was a famous model) sent off to investigate something in some semblance of a plot that's just an excuse for a plethora of sex scenes. Gemser and D'Amato would make five of their own EMANUELLEs, with BANGKOK followed by three in a busy 1977: EMANUELLE IN AMERICA, EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD (released in the US in 1980), and the cannibal horror hybrid EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (released in the US in 1984, after the craze had passed, as TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM, presumably to draw in the MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY crowd). The final installment, 1978's EMANUELLE AND THE WHITE SLAVE TRADE, was a quickie padded with significant amounts of recycled and redubbed footage from previous Gemser EMANUELLEs. Another Gemser/D'Amato collaboration, BLACK COBRA WOMAN (1976), co-starring a slumming and probably shitfaced Jack Palance, was sold in Japan as an EMANUELLE film, and several years later, Gemser would resurrect the Emanuelle-as-crusading-reporter act without D'Amato for a pair of Bruno Mattei women-in-prison movies, 1982's VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN'S PRISON (released in the US in 1984 as CAGED WOMEN), and 1983's immortal WOMEN'S PRISON MASSACRE (released in the US in 1985).

Gemser and offscreen husband and frequent co-star Gabriele
Tinti. They were married from 1976 until his death in 1991.
Fans generally cite EMANUELLE IN AMERICA as the high point of Gemser's EMANUELLE run, but that seems most likely due to its shock value. It's rough going for the uninitiated, especially on Blue Underground's 2003 DVD release, which presents the film in its uncut, 100-minute version (VidAmerica's VHS ran somewhere in the vicinity of 82 minutes). It's a typical Gemser/D'Amato EMANUELLE set-up: moonlighting as a fashion photographer in NYC--with ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT PART 2 visible on theater marquees, Gemser riding the Roosevelt Island tram, and Big Apple pedestrians predictably gawking at the camera--Emanuelle is almost killed by a model's crazed boyfriend before calming him down the best way she knows how: with a blowjob. She then gets a hot tip about a sex trafficking ring involving wealthy asshole Eric Van Darren (Lars Bloch). Armed with her sneaky pendant camera with a seemingly endless supply of film, Emanuelle infiltrates his group of Zodiac-named women and going by "Virgo," she's privy to all sorts of high society, EYES WIDE SHUT transgressions, including one of the women (SALON KITTY's Paola Senatore), jerking off Van Darren's prized horse Pedro in a scene of explicit bestiality that was obviously cut from most releases. From there, Emanuelle follows Van Darren's duke friend (Gabriele Tinti, Gemser's husband and frequent co-star--they met on BLACK EMANUELLE and married in NYC around the time of EMANUELLE IN AMERICA's shoot, becoming the Bogie & Bacall of Italian trash cinema) to his villa in Venice, where she witnesses an orgy that includes some onscreen fellatio in shots that never involve Gemser. From there, she goes to an island where D'Amato stops the film cold for a solid ten minutes of hardcore sex scenes and money shots involving previously unseen actors (one of whom is Nazisploitation regular Salvatore Baccaro, best known for his credit "and Boris Lugosi as Ook the Neanderthal Man" in 1973's FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS). While on the island, Emanuelle witnesses a copulating couple carrying on as a brutal snuff film plays in the background. An investigation of the snuff film leads her to the nation's capital (why didn't they call this EMANUELLE GOES TO WASHINGTON?), where she's seduced by a corrupt senator (Roger Browne, a Cincinnati, OH native who spent his entire career in Europe) with a penchant for LSD and getting off on the kind of filmed torture tactics that would make him the ideal target for Videodrome. Then it all ends with a wacky, fourth-wall breaking finale involving Emanuelle and her boyfriend (Riccardo Salvino)--yes, she has a boyfriend--and some comical stereotypes of island natives.

Narratively speaking, EMANUELLE IN AMERICA is a mind-boggling mess with little flow and even less logic. But nobody's watching this for storytelling. The more conventional sex scenes are well-handled--a sweaty steamroom hook-up between Emanuelle and Gemini (Lorraine De Selle) is nicely done--and while it's not quite "Run Cheetah Run" from EMANUELLE AND THE WHITE SLAVE TRADE, it's got a great catchy, "English-as-second-language" Nico Fidenco-penned theme song in "Celebrate Myself." But D'Amato just goes too far for the audience that watched these softcore Euro imports on late night Showtime back in the early '80s. Of course, the hardcore elements would've been trimmed (and were only shot by D'Amato as alternate takes for different territories in the first place), but while I see the demand for cum shots if there was potential for this on the XXX circuit, who other than Pedro really wants to see Paola Senatore (who, big surprise, was doing porn a decade later) give a horse a two-handed tugjob?  Between that and the disgustingly graphic and very convincing snuff film snippets that D'Amato shot, I question EMANUELLE IN AMERICA's definition of "entertainment." Gemser is as lovely as ever here, but the enjoyment is significantly hampered by all the extraneous shit going on. I'll take the drag queen bowling alley brawl in EMANUELLE AND THE WHITE SLAVE TRADE any day. D'Amato would continue dabbling in all sorts of genres (zombies, cannibals, CONAN and ROAD WARRIOR ripoffs) before his death in 1999, spending the final years of his career in hardcore porn. Gemser would be an exploitation staple well into the '80s, with appearances in 1976's VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED, the 1981 Rankin/Bass period epic THE BUSHIDO BLADE, and an unlikely co-starring role with Michael Landon in the 1983 NBC TV-movie LOVE IS FOREVER (where she was credited as "Moira Chen" when producers didn't want her sexploitation notoriety to be a distraction) representing her only attempts at mainstream crossover. A devastated Gemser would retire from acting when 59-year-old Tinti died of cancer in 1991, though she worked behind the scenes as a costume designer on a few more D'Amato productions (including the legendary TROLL 2) before withdrawing from movies altogether in 1993. Now 65, Gemser lives completely out of the public eye. She gave an audio interview for EMANUELLE IN AMERICA's 2003 DVD release, but her last on-camera appearance to date was in an interview for EMMANUELLE: A HARD LOOK, a 2001 British TV documentary about Sylvia Kristel's EMMANUELLE films by REPO MAN director Alex Cox.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah but that bowling alley fight in WHITE SLAVE TRADE is the only memorable part of that fiasco and it happens in the last 10 minutes. AMERICA is still my favorite of the series, with AROUND THE WORLD running a close second. LAST CANNIBALS is enjoyable trash and BANGKOK is pleasant enough. WST and the original BLACK EMANUELLE are the bottom of the barrel in the Gemser Emanuelle series.