Tinto Brass – Salon Kitty [+Extras] (1976)
Tinto Brass scored his first major international success with this shocking but stylish tale of decadence in the Third Reich, inspired by a true story. Madame Kitty (Ingrid Thulin) is the proprietor of one of Berlin’s most luxurious brothels, where many members of the Nazi high command are her regular customers. Kitty is approached by Helmut Wallenberg (Helmut Berger), an S.S. official who orders her to shut down her business and act as his partner as he founds a new bordello, which will exclusively cater to the elite of the Nazi Party and the German military. Unknown to Kitty, Wallenberg’s brothel has been staffed entirely by women recruited by the S.S. for their loyalty to the Reich, and each room has been equipped with secret recording devices, which will allow Wallenberg and his staff to not only gather blackmail material against troublesome officers, but to discover who might be expressing disloyal thoughts about Hitler’s regime when their guard is down. Margherita (Teresa Ann Savoy), a pretty young prostitute working for Kitty, is especially devoted to both her job and her country, but when she falls in love with Biondo (John Steiner), a German officer and frequent customer who has grown disillusioned with both the war and National Socialism, she discovers the true purpose of “Salon Kitty,” and sets out to destroy the operation, with Kitty’s help. Both a scandal and a success in Europe, Salon Kitty initially played the exploitation circuit in the United States in an edited version titled Madame Kitty, though the shorter version still earned an X rating.
~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
Salon Kitty is repetitive, banal and repellent. Seemingly offering little in the way of insight and with a narrative that could have been told in half the time, the film presents scenes of perversion and perversity in a somewhat double-faced way.
How, for instance, are we supposed to respond to the sequence where where Wallenberg tests his applicants suitability by having them perform with, amongst others, a deformed midget and a legless man? Do we admire the women’s single-minded dedication to the Nazi cause – lie back and think of Hitler, perhaps? Or empathise with the two men here reduced to the status of lab animals? Find the scene a turn-on or a turn-off?
And yet in this specific context it is perhaps best that Salon Kitty be this way, suggesting as it does the deep – if not necessarily conscious – understanding that the film-makers have of their subject matter.
Nazism was, after all, always about contradictions, whether it be its wooing of both right – “National” – and left – “Socialism” – or the way in which the extermination camps simultaneously reflected both a high point of instrumental rationality – the Fordist/Taylorist death factory – and its complete absence – the value-rational obsession with continuing this programme in spite of the advancing Soviet forces in 1944-45.
Whatever the merits or otherwise of Nazi exploitation – who is it exploiting – there is no questioning that Salon Kitty is a quality product. Ken Adam’s production design is particularly impressive, giving the whole a suitably tawdry opulence whereby the budgetary constraints, such as his need to use a faked perspective to provide the illusion of depth to the clinically white corridor of Wallenberg’s laboratory, adding rather than subtracting from the overall effect.
Away from the name cast, fans of Euro exploitation will appreciate the presence of such reliables as John Steiner (Tenebre) and Paola Senatore (Emanuelle in America).
In the end, the only thing Salon Kitty lacks is the single-minded determination of a Pasolini to go as far as possible without actually killing people. This notwithstanding, the film is far enough out there for one to recommend that sensitive souls steer clear.