Friday, 11 July 2014

Franco Files:
Mädchen im Nachtverkehr /
‘Girls of the Night Traffic’

Of the innumerable sex comedies and caged women exploitation pics produced by Erwin C. Dietrich’s Switzerland-based Ascot/Elite productions during the 1970s, most prove fairly dismal viewing (to my tastes at least). The presence of Jess Franco and Lina Romay on the payroll did at least lead to Dietrich’s company names appearing on a handful of masterpieces and the occasional slice of out-of-nowhere weirdness though – and in the latter category, 1976’s ‘Mädchen im Nachtverkehr’, rather awkwardly translated as ‘Girls of the Night Traffic’, proves a case in point.

This certainly wasn’t one of Franco’s more personal projects for Dietrich – indeed, there seems to be some controversy over how much of it he was actually responsible for, with Dietrich taking credit as writer and co-director on IMDB – but I think that the oddball humour and general garish surrealism found within makes Jess’s contribution clear, adding interest and a sense of campy enjoyment to what would otherwise be a pretty forgettable shot-in-a-week softcore(ish) quickie.

Taking place in a bouncy comic-book world of guilt-free sex and commerce, the story here is thin bordering on non-existent, and centres upon three happy hookers (the only one of whom I recognise is Franco regular Kali Hansa), who lounge around naked on a big bed in their shared flat, recalling stories of adventures with their more unusual clients. I can’t speak for the way the girls’ banter scans in the original German, but the English fan-subs on my copy have them spouting some of the most mystifyingly overwrought double-entendres I’ve ever encountered in a motion picture;

“He rooted around in the belltower. It was sensational.”

“He modestly asked me if I would perform the trumpet angel for him. Why not?”

“I won’t do shock treatment with you. I’ll do ‘shell-seeking’, that’s easy.”

What does it all mean? Don’t tell me, I think I’m happier not knowing.

One brief vignette sees Hansa servicing a Dr. Hichcock-like character who has her reclining in a coffin previously occupied by his late wife, on what looks like an empty, black-draped sound stage, whilst funereal music drones on in the background. The sheer unexpectedness of all this renders it quite fun, and things take a further turn taking a turn toward the bizarre when the man appears to introduce his penis as “mein gondola” and begins shouting “gondola! gondola!” as he thrusts away once the inevitable action commences. Inadequately translated German slang, or just random weirdness? Again, I think I’m happier not knowing.

Meanwhile, another of the girls makes a date with the always slightly terrifying Eric Falk, who here presents an even more unwholesome presence than usual as a sexually inexperienced and apparently mentally deficient foreigner, who says things like “if it not cost too much, I make love, yes?” This is not quite so much fun, but, um…. ok.

Back at the shack, a lengthy sequence of sexy banana eating and sapphic frolics ensues (“honestly, we never get bored”, says someone), until the film suddenly plunges headfirst into the depths of Franco’s erotic-fantastique imagination for a positively dream-like sequence in which one of the girls suddenly finds herself trapped in a bamboo cage amid a set-bound jungle, before the other two approach in military uniforms (presumably recycled from Barbed Wire Dolls, or some similar picture), and things proceed in much the kind of direction you’d expect... until the scope of the scene widens out to reveal that this is actually a stage act being performed in some totally bizarre jungle-themed neon nightclub!

A trademark Franco trick of course, but used to maximum reality-trashing effect here, giving the impression that we’re suddenly adrift in the void, roaming through one of the innumerable such rooms that must be continually operating in the director’s mind.

In a subsequent flashback demonstrating how the girls fell into their current occupation, one of them is seen tootling away on a saxophone, practicing in the hope that she won’t lose her current job in a brass band – another self-referential wink to the mere handful of weirdoes whom one assumes might have been following Jess Franco’s career back in 1976 – before Hansa’s character barges in on the pretext that she’s a burglar trying to rob the place!

Introducing the third member of the trio, we cut to yet another thoroughly goofy vignette in an artist’s studio, where girl # 1 is trying her luck as an artist’s model and attracts the attention of the artist’s daughter/lover (her precise role is deliberately left a bit vague, as if the filmmakers hit on the icky incest theme but didn’t quite want to go all the way with it, or else just forgot or something).

 “It’s nice painting her thighs, when one is used to yours”, says the leery, pencil-moustached artist at one point, and once again, an avalanche of questionable euphemisms add a whole extra layer of strangeness here. “One always looks forward to the opening of a theatre”, says one of the girls when the fella unzips his pants, “but be gentle on the hero, he’s suffering from stage fright”. The camp factor is pushed even further by cut-away close ups to the guy’s paintings, which are absolutely HIDEOUS – air-brushed monstrosities full of fawns and dewy eyed sheep… just wonderfully absurd.

Toward the end of the film, a rather unsavory storyline emerges that kinda anticipates scenarios which were re-used for 1977’s superior ‘Die Sklavinnen’ (aka ‘Swedish Nympho Slaves’), in which the girls are kidnapped one by one by a swinging couple and sold on to Eric Falk’s character (see, I TOLD you he wasn’t to be trusted!), who is working for a cadre of Islamic white slavers who hang out in a smoky Turkish restaurant where some intense-looking musicians choogle away day and night on sitar and tablas (because India, Turkey – close enough, right?).

Here, in a turn of events that ranks pretty high on the list of “scenes you’d be unlikely to see in a motion picture nowadays”, the malevolent, fez-wearing Turks pound away doggy-style at their bored captives whilst yelling allegedly comedic variations on Muslim prayer mantras. The whole thing is so stunningly tasteless it’s kind of extraordinary, to be honest. Indefensible, undoubtedly, but at the same time, the knowingly ludicrous, slapstick presentation leaves it only a stone’s throw away from the kind of outrages a young John Waters was perpetrating at around the same time on the other side of the Atlantic.

If you’ve got a strong enough exploitation-stomach to shrug off a few light-hearted Islamophobic rape scenes though, the rest of ‘Girls of the Night Traffic’ remains 60-something minutes of utterly stupid, frivolous fun – the kind of sex flick that constantly objectifies the female body (that sort of being its core purpose, after all), but without ever feeling the need to get cruel or gross about it, and that slings random elements and jarring, inexplicable diversions together seemingly at random, with no apparent rhyme or reason, leaving us completely in the dark re: what’s coming next.

Though in essence the film is perhaps only marginally sillier than the innumerable hours of Germanic softcore nonsense that emerged from the ‘70s, we can assume that Franco at least was fully aware of the ridiculousness of the project he was involved in, and my guess is that he was deliberately ramping up the camp factor here as far as he possibly could, leading to the kind of movie where you can almost hear the cast & crew cracking up off-screen at the kind of nonsense they’re being paid to create.

On the downside, Francophiles should note that the film suffers from an absolutely chronic lack of Lina, which immediately loses it a point or two in the ‘Kink’ category (who knows, maybe she was visiting family or something on the week they made this one?), but that aside, if you are the kind of person who would even contemplate acquiring and watching a film like this in the 21st century, then god knows, you will probably enjoy it.

Kink – 3/5 
Creepitude – 1/5 
Pulp Thrills – 3/5 
Altered States – 2/5 
Sight-seeing – 0/5


Elliot James said...

This one looks too subterranean for me. I can usually handle Jess's freakshows although Lorna was tough going at times.

Ben said...

Rest assured Elliot, this one's all pretty light-weight in tone - just a slightly weird, silly sex comedy really, the total opposite of the nastiness of 'Lorna..'.