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Italy 1974
Directed by
Liliana Cavani
118 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

The Night Porter

The 1970s were big on sexual degradation and Liliana Cavani’s film about the sado-masochistic relationship between a SS officer (Dirk Bogarde) and his young victim (Charlotte Rampling) who accidentally meet in late '50s Vienna and resume their fun and games has it in spades. Not surprisingly it was an art-house hit in its day but now that the Zeitgeist has moved on there is little left to sustain attention.

Bogarde had been playing this kind of suave sadist since 1962 when he brought James Fox under his thumb in Joseph Losey’s The Servant and had appeared as a Nazi lickspittle in Visconti’s The Damned in 1969 in which Rampling also had a small part. At the best of times he wasn’t the greatest actor and his success very depended on the director and the material he was working with. Certainly he struck paydirt with Losey and with Visconti, the latter’s Death In Venice being the perfect vehicle for Bogarde’s distinctive brand of stuffy repression and it marked the apogee of his screen career.  Here he’s pretty much serving up more of the familiar tics and mannerismsand Caviani’s portenteous attempts to summon up the dark forces. particularly with the stock unreconstructed Nazis, looks at times more risible than menacing.

The script by Cavani with Italo Moscati might have worked had Bogarde been even vaguely convincing in representing the pathological level of sexual perversion with which they endow his character. As it is he’s more like Gustav von Aschenbach (his Death In Venice character) with a crummy job who yearns for the good old days of the Third Reich when he was somebody. Exactly why everyone is under his spell, including his now married former victim is far from apparent. Caviani tries to engender a mood of malevolence and decay but it remains more of an idea than an actuality on the screen, the film feeling stilted, something exacerbated by the post-production dubbing which exacerbates its dramatic hollowness.

Some films make one feel simultaneous admiration and pity for actors and this certainly applies to Charlotte Rampling here. She specialized in damaged characters but what she has to put herself through here, including singing a cabaret (the hit film with that title had come out in 1972) number topless and sucking Bogarde's fingers looks to be more damaging to her self-respect than anything else.

 

 

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