Though he will always be remembered for directing the stunning 1964 historical actioner "Zulu," writer/director Cy (Cyril) Endfield ended his career with a trio of lesser films, among them the 1969 historical biopic "De Sade."
Richard Matheson's script tried to depict the controversial French writer/philosopher and playwright through a series of intermeshing theatrical tableaus, following the indulged and spoiled rich boy from a baptismal childhood thrashing to his deathbed - with plenty of assorted boobery and jiggles to illustrate the lustful wanderings that fed his obsession with pain, pleasure, and getting nabbed by local authorities time and again for being too naughty for French society. Director Endfield imposed the film's non-linear format, which becomes confusing at times, but some of Matheson's scenes, particularly the play-within-a-play montages of unbridled debauchery, foreshadow the Belasco House that formed the core set-piece of his brilliant novel "The Legend of Hell House."
Produced and distributed by American International Pictures, "De Sade" is a strange creation; a biopic that tries to examine the influential periods of the man's life, yet stays true to the commercial drive-in sensibilities of AIP's standard production fare. Sweetened with an international cast, elaborate sets and moody locations, "De Sade" remains dated because of obvious camera trickery - the watery-red 'Sado-Cam' effects and zoom-happy moments - and the candy coloured costumes, poofy hairdos, and pastel makeup reveal the film's late-sixties sensibilities.
MGM's transfer is fairly decent, considering the film's occasional grainy exterior shots, though a few moments of gray-blue-black densities show visible artifacting. It's still a good transfer, but it seems as though Endfield was stuck with a limited budget, and wisely focused on several theatrical scenes to take advantage of the German locations and brightly lit stage sets. (Those scenes look just wonderful). The mono soundtrack is quite clean, and Billy Strange's quixotic score booms effectively as it flips from laid-back orchestral to psychedelic rock during the animated orgy sequences.
The trailer is well-worn, but of note for containing samples of the slow-motion shots used in the orgy sequences without the watery-red tinting. The disc's final extra is a nice little featurette on Richard Matheson. By 1969, Matheson had already written a great deal for film and television, and he highlights "De Sade's" genesis and the final film product. MGM's featurette adds a creative voice to the film's history, and it's nice to hear the writer talk about his/work when actors and directors tend to get the brighter limelight.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan
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