SCACCO ALLA REGINA. (1969).
AKA-THE SLAVE/CHECK TO THE QUEEN.
This is yet another example of top quality and intriguing European cinema, that has probably in all fairness not received its just deserts from critics. Scacco alla Regina or Check to the Queen was released in 1969, which was during what I often refer to as the golden age in Italian cinema which began in the late 1950’s and lasted until the late 1970’s.
This period saw more than just a handful of movies released that can quite easily be put in the category of Classic Cinema, and the music that was composed for many of the films released during this period is also some of the best produced both in Italy and around the globe. The film I think can be put in the same genre or type as other examples such as Blow Up, Death Laid an Egg, Deserto Rosso, and others. It is a movie that is sadly often overlooked, passed over, and even forgotten about as it was not that popular at the time of its release, I say not that popular maybe that is incorrect, and it was not given the distribution that it rightly deserved outside of Italy.
The movie directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile is a somewhat outrageous affair, but it retains a down to earth and straight-talking way of manifesting, building, and putting across the scenario to the audience. The plot centres on a young girl Silvia who lives in an expensive house has plenty of disposable cash and does not want for anything in the way of possessions. However, it seems that maybe she is missing something as every night she dreams of being ravished and domineered in a sexual way by numerous strangers. So she volunteers to become a slave to an older woman named Margaret who is wealthy and has a high profile because of her popularity as a media celebrity.
The two initially meet via a mutual friend and seem to get on well from the offset thus make friends quickly, Margaret lives on her own and is lonely, so asks the young girl to movie in with her, offering to train her in the art of modelling and help get her into this as a career. But it does not take much reading between the lines for the audience to work out that there is more than just friendship between the two women, and it soon gets to the stage where neither of them wants to fight the attraction they both have for each other anymore. Silvia then becoming Margaret’s new playmate and paid slave.
The film like so many movies released at this time is played seriously when the overall storyline and ideas behind it are rather amusing and even foolish when one thinks about it. The production has a look about that is dripping in upper class and expensive art and has sets that are straight out of the likes of Vogue magazine and other fashion publications. The movie does possess an air of sophistication, and contains a more than generous helping of nudity, again something that Italian filmmakers seemed to excel at especially in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But most of this is done with great care and the movie remains classy and undoubtably alluring throughout, and not just for the nudity.
Rossana Sciaffino portrays for want of a better word the Mistress, (Margaret) with her slave (Silvia) being played by Haydee Politoff, who it seems is more than willing to carry out all she is asked to do without question.
The film includes numerous sexual impulsiveness, colourful costume changes, and fitting punishments for what are seen as indiscretions, with the appearance of a mechanical horse, a slave auction, and an erotic psychedelic fantasy sequence. It is a slick, sensual and decadent production in all the right ways, successfully fusing sexual fantasy with reality and relaying these elements in an innovative fashion, with the director ensuring that the characters are not just easy on the eye but remain interesting throughout. Photographed, sometimes with the intent to create dream like visuals, which aids the plot and storyline greatly, creating atmospherics and moods to be savoured and appreciated by the watching audience.
The supporting cast too do a sterling job with Gabrielle Tinti in a supporting role as one of Margaret’s male slaves, but the focus is quite rightly upon the characters portrayed by Politoff and Schiaffino, who both give confident performances in quite a few scenes that do not feature dialogue which gives them interesting opportunities to express emotion using eye movements rather than words.
Cinematographer Roberto Gerardi does a remarkable job of capturing this with some surprisingly anxiety inducing camera angles and close ups. Skilfully edited, well-structured and superbly paced, it is an entertaining blend of late sixties pop-art style and the exploration of sexual quirks and erotica. All aspects of which are handled tastefully, a review of the film remarked that this is more Arthouse than Grindhouse. Which is a comment I must agree with.
The music is by Maestro Piero Piccioni, who produced an equally sensual sounding soundtrack, the composer utilising the steamy sounding and seductive tones of Edda Dell Orso throughout the work. Her unique aural performances adding so much to the storyline and images as it all unfolds.
This is without a doubt one of Piccioni’s best film scores, and within it we do hear gentle nods to a sound that is predominantly associated with Ennio Morricone. Piccioni’s varied and creative music underlining subtly the various scenarios on screen, in a very similar style to that of Morricone’s Season of Senses, Vergogna Schifosi, and Metti Una Sera a Cena which were also released in 1969.
Piccioni adding to this underlying jazz orientation, and introducing Hammond organ performances, and up-tempo flourishes which are heard in the form of subtle sambas and pop infused pieces with interesting orchestration giving depth and a sense of authenticity to the proceedings.