08 December, 2007


Above:Rare advert for Les Ebranlees


Alternate titles:
Maison du vice
Dolls for Sale
Vibrating Girls
Directed by Clifford Brown [Jess Franco]
A CFFP production
Producer Robert de Neslé
Screenplay Jess Franco
Photography Javier Perez Zofio, Gérard Brissaud
Music Daniel Janin, Robert Hermel

Transvestites, transsexuals, stippers, prostitutes, sex slaves of a thousand sexes, and combinations of all these categories, populate the low rent world of LES EBRANLEES, surrounding a morally clueless Howard Vernon. This is a difficult film to like, even for the Jess Franco veteran, and it's certainly not for the JF novice/curious. "Vibrating Girls" [there doesn't seem to be an English friendly version on video and it's unclear if it ever played theatrically in any English language print] plays as a rather confusing mess in which some footage may been lost due to an overused source print. 

The fullscreen French video under consideration here lends new meaning to the term "squeezed" in that the image is tortuously stretched to fill the frame and beyond, creating an extremely distorted image. It looks like it came from a battered 35mm print which played every grindhouse in France before being buried for a few decades. This seems somehow appropriate considering this an an ultra-sleazy (even for Jess Franco) foray into a feral Euro-underworld uncovered by the director's favorite private eye, Al Pereira

 The detective has been ably portrayed by Eddie Constantine in the 60s (Attack of the Robots) and Antonio Mayans in the 1980s (Camino solitario, etc.). Vernon, usually appearing as a villain in roles for Franco, Fritz Lang (The 1000 Eyes of Dr Mabuse), and Godard (Alphaville) here shows he is just as adept as the lowdown, but somewhat ethical (considering the company) protagonist who eventually earns sympathy just because he manages to keep a haggard dignity in the midst of the human trash he must deal with. I don't think any other actor could have given this grade Z crime obscurity a sense of gravity amid its porno designation. LES EBRANLEES is all about sex and greed with torture and murder thrown in. It's a termite neo-noir/sexy crime number drowned in blood, sweat and tears.

 The plot synopsis published in OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO bears little or no relation to the version under consideration here. But since the continuity is so choppy, and that it seems to have been designed as a kind of soft-core loop with nude dances, strips, and sex scenes taken as autonomous elements which could be placed at any point within the very brief run time, it's hard then to offer an alternative scenario. Al seems to be investigating a drug/prostitution operation in which a strip club and a nearby hotel are used as staging areas. After brushing off some pimps and thugs, he is abducted by Hansa and threatened by club owner Thomas. Told to shut up and look out for trouble, he hides out with a stripper (Montserrat Prous) attempting to use the sex slave to infiltrate the criminal organization. One could write a separate essay on the delicate beauty of Montserrat Prous in her Jess Franco roles. She has a look which could be described as injured innocence, rather than corrupted innocence. And she plays that role to the bitter end here.

  A lot of the runtime is taken up with Al driving his vintage compact from nightclub to nightclub where he lingers to watch live sex performances. This is the world Jess Franco is adept at creating. There is little differentiation between the scenes which telegraph information. Prous' stripper can charm Al out of his isolation, but when she is tortured to death by the club owner [Doris Thomas] and amazon Hansa [Marisol Hernandez] his revenge is impulsive and furious. The final scene has the sexually ambiguous Dany Sam gutting nude sex partner Anne Libert with a mean looking blade only to get the same treatment while the weapon is still dripping with her victim's blood. But there is more to it than that. Al literally sinks into a universe of moral slime as the sea laps at the beach a few meters away. It's a depressing conclusion which is part of a long list of Jess Franco films which end with the protagonist at the edge of the ocean (VENUS IN FURS, NECRONOMICON, etc). 

The ending recycles us back to beginning in vintage adult loop fashion: The action commences in the middle of an erotic performance (cf: Succubus (1967), Exorcism (1974) at a trashy nightclub where trashy patrons gawk at leather clad Kali Hansa vibrating over a red and white checkerboard stage to the frenetic Janin and Hermel electrified lounge score. The most erotic segment is a minimalist striptease by Montie Prous (who knows that the tease is more important than the strip) as she removes nothing more than her black leather gloves, taunting the viewer directly as Franco allows her to drink in the camera lens with her wide, seductive eyes. It may be the sexiest scene in Franco's entire filmography, and that's really saying something! The lounge-jazz-rock of Daniel Janin-Robert Hermel goes down a lot easier than the film it supports. I'd certainly welcome it on CD.

 Memorable moments include Hansa getting the drop on Al by holding a gun to his private parts, and Al's slow burn when he discovers the stripper has been murdered. These arresting, brief encounters in an episodic, repetitive structure leave brands which play in the memory long after the porno loop design burns itself out. Alternately hypnotic and narcotic, this is a rather grim tidbit which will be of interest to Franco collectors due to its long standing unavailability on video and to those who need to see another chapter in one of the director's longest running roadshows-the Al Pereira Chronicles.Franco's customary appearance is one of his hardest to spot cameos, partaking in some kind of depraved drug/sex orgy, he is seen stoned amidst the nude gamers in the red lit room behind the curtain which Al investigates on his way to bloody revenge. I assume this is the French Videobox release. I've been watching it for the better part of two decades and I would appreciate an upgraded altenative. I would like to see it in its OAR with an English language option to better evaluate the complicated plot and Franco's contribution as director, but don't expect it on R1 DVD anytime soon. Janin and Robert Hermel also composed an equally outre score for Franco's 1973 Sade adaptation, PLAISIR A TROIS.

 I have more recently seen a more accurately letterboxed version which reveals even more atmospheric details of the settings, both interior and exteriors. This erotic factor is almost cancelled out by the violence, which resembles the American "roughies" of the 1960s directed by R. Lee Frost, Michael and Roberta Findlay (The Curse of Her Flesh), not to mention the "Olga" series. But this friendless Jess Franco film really does deserve an OAR, HD restoration.

 (C) Robert Monell, 20020


Kimberly Lindbergs said...

This sounds like a fascinating Franco film even with all its faults. I love Howard Vernon and I can watch him in just about anything. I also like Anne Libert a lot. Thanks for sharing this terrific overview of the film!

Robert Monell said...

Thanks for your comments, Cinebeats. I think I like Franco's film as much for their many flaws as much as their merits. The flaws are so unique and odd, part of their personality.

scott said...

I got to see this a few months back finally. I liked it, but wish it was a bit more coherent and less squeezed on the screen. The actresses,particularly Dany Sam really stood out to me.

hey, any word on films from the estate of Robert de Nestle?

scott said...

any chance of seeing the poster for LES EBRANLEES bigger ??

Douglas A. Waltz said...

Robert, I would have to agree. You may be interested in knowing that the Yahoo! group Eurotrash Paradise is having a Franco Survivor game next year and we're only doing films from the 80's. SHould be interesting.

Robert Monell said...

Scott: you may have the same video dub I own, chopped and fullscreen, not a pretty picture. To see it OAR, w Eng options and uncut would probably be revealing. Even distorted, though, it show Franco to be an interesting visual stylist and master of ambiguity.

I'll try and do something with the poster.

Robert Monell said...

Doug, say hello to Bob Sargent, I can't seem to access his site but he sure was a good film reviewer. His articles in ETC were always informative and well written. I often wish we could go back to those pre DVD, pre internet days for a number of reasons.

Anonymous said...

VIDEOOZE and ETC magazine had a personality and excitement which nothing since, including the material I've read on the internet, has ever really matched.

Robert Monell said...

I agree, They were the pioneers and had that spirit of going into unknown areas which have since had books written about them.