• Marquis de Sade’s Justine

    Released by: Blue Underground
    Released on: December 15th, 2015.
    Director: Jess Franco
    Cast: Romina Power, Maria Rohm, Jack Palance, Mercedes McCambridge, Klaus Kinski
    Year: 1969
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    The Movie:

    Directed by Jess Franco, adapting source material written by the Marquis de Sade, 1969’s Justine opens with a scene in which the Marquis himself (played by Klaus Kinski) is marched up to the Bastille where he is to be imprisoned for the audacity of his writings. Even prison can’t stop him from putting pen to paper, however, as he sets out to write the story of Justine (Romina Power) and Juliette (Maria Rohm), two sisters orphaned and sent to a convent some time ago. When the funding that was paying for their Catholic education runs dry, the two sisters are sent out into the world at large where the naïve Justine and the more worldly Juliette run afoul of all kinds of miscreants and scoundrels.

    Before too long, Juliette is hanging out at a brothel where she falls into a torrid affair with a lesbian named Claudine (Rosemary Dexter) while Justine finds work as a maid at a local inn. Unfortunately for her, she’s fired after being wrongfully accused of stealing valuables from one of the guests and left to her own devices. From here she winds up falling in with another lesbian, a criminal named Madame Dusbois (Mercedes McCambridge) and gang of rowdy hooligans and, after they’ve had their fun, she winds up with an affluent gay man named Marquis de Bressac (Horst Frank) who plans to coerce the poor girl into murdering his wife.

    Before it’s all over with, however, Justine will wind up in the sinister clutches of a sex cult lorded over by the nefarious Antonin (a completely sloshed Jack Palance)!

    It’s a bit long the long side but Franco’s take on de Sade’s Justine is an interesting and generally well made movie. The cinematography is consistently impressive and it adds a certain elegance to the decadence portrayed in many of the film’s set pieces. While the movie never goes as far as you might expect it to, often pulling back just as you think it’s going to go over the edge, but it goes far enough to work. Franco’s direction here is quite a bit more restrained and traditional than what we’d see only a few short years down the road, but there are enough of his trademark flourishes evident throughout the picture (including a brief cameo from the man himself) that you’re never going to mistake the film for someone else’s work.

    In terms of the casting, Kinski’s really just here to sort of bookend the main event so he isn’t given that much to do outside of skulking around looking intense, but if you’re going to have someone in your movie skulking around and looking intense, Kinski is a good choice and he does it well. Palance is on another planet here, clearly drunk off his nuts and just going for it while Mercedes McCambridge steals a few scenes as the salacious lesbian predator. Rosemary Dexter is also good as… another lesbian while horst Frank is amusing in his role as Bressac. It is, however, Romina Power and Maria Rohm that do the bulk of the heavy lifting here. Power is quite good as the more innocent of the two sisters, she just looks naïve and vulnerable and as such she has the right appearance to make the role work. She’s also quite beautiful and as such, you can see why someone with both her physical traits and her charming innocence might be a magnet of sorts for the sort of person she seems to attract in the film. Maria Rohm as her more worldly sister is also very good here and they make quite an interesting duo in this picture. Add to all of this a fantastic score from composer Bruno Nicolai and it’s easy to see why this one remains a fairly popular in Franco’s massive filmography.


    Blue Underground presents Justine on Blu-ray in its proper 1.66.1 widescreen aspect ratio in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer that, like their efforts on Eugenie, really stomp the old DVD release (which looked fine for its time) into the dirt. Taken from a new 4k scan of the original 35mm negative, the image is almost pristine and shows really no real print damage while at the same time it benefits from nice, natural looking grain. Colors are reproduced pretty much flawlessly and skin tones look great too. Black levels are strong and deep while the disc is free of any compression artifact issues, edge enhancement problems or noise reduction smearing. Detail and texture are vastly improved as is depth and clarity, while contrast looks just fine. Really, this is a pretty huge step up from what we’ve seen before for this film.

    The English language DTS-HD Mono track, which comes with optional subtitles available in English SDH, French and Spanish, also sounds quite good. The jazzy score has nice depth and range to it while the dialogue is clean, clear, nicely balanced and easy to follow. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and this just sounds more natural and lifelike than the thinner sounding DVD release.

    Carried over from the past DVD release is the twenty –minute featurette The Perils And Pleasures Of Justine which interviews Franco and producer Harry Alan Towers. This is an interesting look back at the making of the film, with some amusing stories about Palance’s drinking, Kinski’s difficulties, the locations, the storyline and more. New to this disc is Stephen Thrower On Justine in which the man who wrote Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema Of Jesus Franco spends roughly seventeen minutes on camera talking about the film’s history, how it fits in with some of the other films that Franco was working on during this period, his thoughts on the performances and some of the visuals and quite a bit more.

    Aside from that, the disc also contains a French theatrical trailer, a pretty extensive still gallery of photos, stills and artwork, menus and chapter selection. Included inside the clear Blu-ray case alongside the disc is an insert booklet of liner notes from Thrower that offer further insight into the film and a very welcome bonus containing the entire original motion picture soundtrack from Justine, composed by Bruno Nicolai.

    The Final Word:

    Justine is, even with some obvious flaws, a pretty well made take on the Marquis de Sade’s work and while it’s on the tame side by today’s standards, it’s still got enough spice to work. It’s also very elegantly shot and benefits from a great score. Blue Underground’s Blu-ray release for the film looks and sounds fantastic and not only that, it includes some solid supplements as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!