Ah, the French! The whole world is looking around for an Indiana Jones-style screenplay, resurrecting old projects and launching dubious attempts at new franchises? And the French decide that the best way to go is to take an old fetish comic series from the ’40s, and make a movie of it – with lots of nudity, a poor excuse of a plot, and Tawny Kitaen. What could ever go wrong?
The movie makes Bo Derek’s Tarzan look like the real thing, and was distributed in 1984 as Gwendoline or, on some markets, I kid you not, as The Perils of Gwendoline in the land of the Yik Yak.
Some of us saw it back then, on the big screen, and have the scars to prove it.
The plot, courtesy of IMDB: Gwendoline arrives in China in a box, and is helped out of her immediate predicament by a female contact and a devil-may-care adventurer. She’s on a mission to find her father, who was last seen searching for a rare butterfly in the Land of the Yik Yak. They confront the evil Cheops in an attempt to find Gwen’s lost father and the butterfly, and face many other challenges to their mission.
And it might seem a pretty straightforward, and not very original, adventure yarn, right? Only, it’s not…
Yes, this is the sort of movie that features chariot races, the chariots being pulled by half-naked ladies. And you should see the French trailer!
There is a lot of bondage and fetishism in the movie, and nudity, nor should we be surprised: the brainchild of cartoonist John Willie, Sweet Gwendoline was a comic series that appeared first in a magazine called Bizarre in 1946. It was a parody of old movie serials like The Perils of Pauline, and the storyline was basically an excuse to show its leading lady tied up in a variety of fetish-pleasing ways.
John Willie collaborated to the script of the movie with the director Just Jaeckin, the man that had given us the soft-porn Emanuelle and L’Histoire d’O, plus a take on Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
The star of the movie, Tawny Kitaen, was at the time the partner of David Coverdale, the singer of rock band Whitesnake, and many might remember her in the band’s videos. Her personal charms were never in question, but her acting was somewhat… unpolished. Indeed, Zabou (aka Isabella Breitman), that played the role of her companion/maid, was a much more accomplished actress (and went on to a career as a film director), even if the director seemed more interested in showing her without clothes than acting a believable role.
The movie is a mess, that slides here and there into Barbarella territory, and remains a curious sexploitation take on the lost world/pulp adventure themes. Admittedly, this was never about the plot or the story anyway.
And no, there was no sequel, and no franchise ever developed out of this film. It is today mostly forgotten, but you can find DVD copies on the market: the American version is 18 minutes shorter than the French, and one wonders what was cut.