Mario Bava's lone sex comedy came at a very odd time in his career, sandwiched between the creepy Baron Blood (1972) and his artsy and bizarre thriller Lisa and the Devil (1973). Four Times That Night also marked an end to the director's once busy filmmaking activities, as what followed Lisa were two feature films – Rabid Dogs (1974), which remained unreleased for twenty years, and Shock (1977) – plus an episode of a TV series, Venus of Ille / La Venere di Ille (1979), co-directed with son Lamberto before Bava more or less retired from formal film directing.
Four Times was produced during the heyday of the genre – even Lucio Fulci took a poke at the daffy genre with The Eroticist / All'onorevole piacciono le donne (Nonostante le apparenze... e purché la nazione non lo sappia) that same year – and for his own entry, Bava chose to exploit the mod, swinging sixties imagery of Danger: Diabolik and compositions that evoked a Vogue fashion shoot. Add Coriolano (aka Lallo) Gori's jazz score that veers between sixties bop and fifties Bebop, and you have a strange amalgam that has even less to do with the decade this film doesn't embrace, the seventies.
The most surprising aspect of this film is the Rashomon structure by screenwriters Mario Moroni and Charles Ross (The Sexperts), which has a daytime encounter and its resultant one night stand told from four perspectives: the leggy hottie, who alleges she was raped by the sex-starved maniac (even in American pop culture comedies like Roger Corman's Gas! rape was seemingly treated like a funny poke in the eye, making the woman's retelling in Four Times rather unnerving at times); the stud's own assessment, which had her tagged as the aggressor; the sleazy POV of the doorman, who grabbed a set of binoculars and believes the stud lured the woman to his bachelor pad so his lesbian friend could have some nookie-nookie while he retired to the bedroom with his male partner; and the psychiatrist, who introduces the film, and closes the it with his own summation of what may have happened, leaving it up to the viewer (you) to figure out where the truth lies.
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The sexually aggressive aspects and provocative moments are part of shocks and titillation typical of the genre that prospered in Italy, enjoyed a short explosion in England, and was sometimes treated in pseudo-documentaries like the Schoolgirl Report series in Germany.
Bava's role as director contributed a lush, commercial style to this effort, and arguably Bava's own oddball comedic sensibilities suited the film, as there's some genuinely funny repartee between the stud Gianni (played by American actor Brett Halsey, previously seen in Bava's Roy Colt and Winchester Jack in 1970) and hottie Tina (stunning Italian babe Daniela Giordano, seen in Sergio Martino's Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key).
A prime example of style and humour is the opening ‘stalking' sequence, which has masher Gianni trolling around a park in his flashy sports car, spying on female passersby, and his literal stumbling in front of Tina during what's supposed to be a fine walk in the park with her pooch Coolie - short for Coolie Nose, a name that maybe makes more sense in Italian?– before heading home to her widowed mum. The soon-to-be lovers' banter is sharp, absurd, and appropriately blossoms with innuendo, which Bava compliments with some striking shots and deliciously sexist angles.
Halsey, an American actor who had endured numerous small parts before getting a minor build-up by 20th Century-Fox in major films like The Return of the Fly, The Best of Everything and Return to Peyton Place before falling back into B-pictures like The Atomic Submarine and Twice-Told Tales, fits the role of a tanned masher to a T, and Bava's camera is very flattering towards the actor and co-star Giordano, particularly an extended shower scene in the World's Biggest Circular Bathroom, and their subsequent love scene.
According to Bava biographer Tim Lucas in his commentary track for Bay of Blood, the director wasn't particularly fond of shooting nude scenes, but there's a qualitative difference between filming two horny youths writhing in bed in Bay of Blood, versus two striking actors involved is foreplay. Bava spends a lot of screen time composing shots to flatter their visages, mouths and skin over any graphic naughty bits, with a cool, sky blue colour scheme that elevates the overall look to fashionable Vogue shoot.
Just as memorable is Giordano's nude scene (glimpsed in the DVD's main menu), which is electric not for any cutaways or close-ups, but Bava's lighting, tracking camera movements, and reverse angles that convey potent eroticism without an ounce of vulgarity – perhaps Bava's preferred treatment of onscreen nudity, which also suits the texture of more highbrow sex comedies.
Bava also treats the human birthday suit with some humour, as in the ridiculous scene where Mumu, a German student (played by Bay of Blood's zaftig Brigitte Skay) undresses for Gianni's lesbian friend for some ‘camera tests' in the back room of a pretentious dance club.
(The ‘reluctant' striptease is preceded by some exceptionally pompous performance art, and makes one wonder if European directors were simply trying to be voguish, like Henri Verneuil with his bizarre song & dance sequence in The Burglars, or were poking fun at pop culture eccentricities that were minutes away from being branded passé.)
The differing views that make up the film's narrative is a clever device for minimizing the inherent boredom that comes from watching thin characters getting nekkid, behaving silly, and jiggling and pinching body parts for ninety minutes. Sex comedies aren't known for character depth, and once the Big Scene has occurred, unless the characters are memorable, it's basically a repetition of elements that only diehard fans and connoisseurs of bottoms & boobies will relish, so while Bavaphiles might find the director's erotic digression here to be a work best kept away from his more violent offerings, those with a broader view of the director's talents will find Four Times That Night refreshing because it demonstrates a director with a sense of humour (evidenced through snappy editing, a witty visual style and dramatic use of colour) and versatility in any genre. The sadness is simply how few films and further genre explorations were produced during the director's final decade.
Anchor Bay 's transfer is taken from what appears to be the same surviving shopworn print used for the prior Image DVD, with noise reduction softening quite a bit of nicks and scratches that were present in the older transfer. Only qualms: like Roy Colt, this is one of Bava's oddest and most atypical works, and begs for some liner notes or partial commentary track to place it in context with the horror titles in the 2007 Anchor Bay wave. Certainly one of the strangest aspects of this print – and identical to Roy Colt – is an intermission, which breaks the film in half in spite of a very economical running time.
Like prior their Bava releases, Image's DVD contained a Bava bio by Tim Lucas, a filmography, and a Photo and Still Gallery, featuring 7 images not ported over by Anchor Bay.
The audio mix is pretty straightforward, and Gori's jazz score was his second for Bava, after scoring his alternative Italian version of Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966), titled Spie vengono dal semifreddo, which intercut scenes with comedians Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia with material from the U.S. version, minus Les Baxter's music.
Four Times That Night is available as part of the Mario Bava Collection Vol. 2 from Anchor Bay/Starz Home Entertainment, which includes Bay of Blood / Reazione a catena, Baron Blood / Gli Orrori del castello di Norimberga, Five Dolls for an August Moon / 5 bambole per la luna d'agosto, Four Times That Night / Quante volte... quella notte, Kidnapped + Rabid Dogs / Cani arrabbiati, Lisa and the Devil + The House of Exorcism / La Casa dell'esorcismo, and Roy Colt and Winchester Jack / Roy Colt e Winchester Jack.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan