A high end Paris brothel ran by the influential Madame Claude sends the most beautiful and sophistical women to wealthy and powerful dignitaries all over the world to satisfy their most sexual desires. Her lucrative business becomes a governmental target seeking to collect back taxes on the illicit business. However, the French government is the least of her worries when a playboy-aspiring rake and amateur photographer snaps photos of Madame Claude’s clients in compromising situations that can be ruinous to their status. The CIA becomes involved when unscrupulous business dealings involving an American and Japanese companies connect to Madame Claude and her potentially persuasive young women after rumored photographs put the Madame Claude in the middle. Two governments, big businesses, a jet setting brothel, wealthy socialites and a nosy photographer become involved in lies, secrets, and the potential for murder.
Part biography, part fiction, “Madame Claude,” also known as “The French Girl,” is the 1977 released erotic and political thriller based off the real Madame Claude, Fernande Grudet, as her life of prostitution management and scrutiny unfolded before the public eyes in the mid 1970’s. Erotically and elegantly sexy with gorgeous women groomed into lust and ensnared into the lion’s den of exchanging powers, “Madame Claude” became the third film from the immensely successful erotic French director, Just Jaeckin, following 1974’s “Emmanuelle” and 1975’s “The Story of O.” Jaeckin, pressured by his financiers to continue his success in the highly sought eroticism, returns to the randy genre, but this time with a story to his liking, one that is embroiled in the background of a bribery scandal involving aerospace company, Lockheed, at the heart of it. From a script by crime-action writer André G. Brunelin, based off the book of memories of Madame Claude by Jacques Quiorez, Jaeckin splices visual elements of each story together to form not only an arousing sexual lamination but also a cloak-and-dagger tenser of a film. Shot primarily in Paris, with minor shoots in the Bahamas and Washington, D.C., especially the scenes on the faux White House, “Madame Claude” is a production of Orphée Arts of Paris with Claire Duval on as executive producer.
While the titular character is the obvious centerpiece, Jaeckin mingles the characters around each other in a game of espionage chess toward the endgame of checkmate. Keystone to everyone’s problems is Madame Claude, played by renowned French actress and early onscreen sex object, Françoise Fabian, who previously had roles in the paranormal pubescent horror, “Expulsion of the Devil,” a more comedy-friendly brothel film, “Holiday Hookers,” and among many other films predating 1977, but not until later in Fabian’s career did show rocket to success, playing older, more aligned, women that strongly championed feminism, such as portraying “Madame Claude” who used sex as a means to gain control and power of men, and pushed it to the brink of the era’s cinematic limits. “Horsehead’s’ Murray Head plays the photographer schmo, David Evans, making Madame Claude’s life complicated. An about town ladies man, Evans goes to each of Claude’s girls one-by-one and, for some reason or another, they invite the handsomely charming, but brutish, amateur porn photographer into their bedrooms, sleeping his way into blackmail scheme that will bring down the most powerful brothel head in all of Paris while also lining his pocket with not only money but power among the socialites who treat him like the village idiot. Head’s nails down the fast-and-loose aspect of Evan’s personality that treats his stratagem like a game he’s already won, but when the government agencies come knocking on doors, Head about faces Evan’s waggish incompetence to a frightened man looking around every corner for danger. It’s wonderful to see Head interact with Klaus Kinski (“Nosferatu the Vampire”) and Marc Michel as a ridiculed subordinate in an examination of social status as Kinski and Michel flaunt expensive taste and lavish orgies in lieu of decency, but it’s Murray Head, playing the fool with cemented proof that would put all them of into shame, as the aspirer to their life of luxuries. The beautiful Dayle Haddon (“Cyborg”), Vibeke Knudsen-Bergeron (“Spermula”), and Ylva Setterborg stun in just a handful of the very elegant, and very naked, women acting as Madame Claude’s international bound employees. Other cast of characters in “Madame Claude’s” game of lies and spies include Robert Webber (“Death Steps in the Dark”), Jean Gaven (“The Story of O”), François Perrot, André Falcon, and Maurice Renot.
Following his films “Emmanuelle” and “The Story of O,” Jaeckin’s “Madame Claude” strays into an atypical kind of formulaic eroticism downplaying the sexual excursions and discoveries for a more typical crime drama affair. Jaeckin’s directorial abilities can take you on an exotic tour around the world and onto the fleshy planes of some of the most gorgeous and provocative women to ever grace the screen. Yet, “Madame Claude” trims substantially the skin with a more precise execution to be more of an oil lubricating the machine rather than the gear that actually operates the mechanism to entail sex as a misused tool for motivation and bribery. These scenes of fleeting eroticism outright shine Just Jaeckin’s proclivities with mirrored reflections and becoming lost in the entanglement of sexually enflamed bodies and these scenes outright shine Jaeckin’s intent on delivering a corkscrew crime drama with double-dealings, wiretapping, and counterintelligence gathering as what unfolds isn’t clearly delineated between Madame Claude, David Evans, the French and U.S. Governments and the Lockheed scandal that actually becomes sidetracked at times by the infiltrated sex-training of Madame Claude business as the brothel head has to train an alternative misfit new girl and send her to the Bahamas work trip shortly after a quick one-night-stand initiation with one of the Madame’s trusted former beaus. We wholeheartedly become more intrigued and fascinated with Madame Claude’s feminist principles, recruiting subjugated women to use their sexuality to dominate and become wealthy in the process. In more than one scene, Madame Claude flaunts self-admiration in transforming star-crossed girls into young women fortune bound with their promiscuous ways. Madame Claude’s murky backstory caresses her complexities of anti-man without detail delving into the turning point catalyst that made her become who she became to be, an affluent Madame, other than a seemingly emotionally and controllably invalidating romantic experience with a long time friend and business companion, Pierre (Maurice Renot).
Cult Epics sustains another forgotten classic into a celebrated Blu-ray release with a new 4K HD transfer of “Madame Claude” from the original 35mm negative, supervised by the original cinematographer, Robert Fraisse. Housed on a BD50, the region free release maintains the impeccable coloring under Fraisse’s soft glow with no cropping or undue enhances that tries to put out fire with gasoline and, aside from a discolored yellow-greenish, translucent stripe, perhaps a loose film roll, during the opening scene, the image quality is clean and pleasing in it’s natural 35mm grain. The English and French language audio tracks come with three options: LPCM 2.0 mono, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. The DTS-HD Master Audio had the highest marks, slightly topping Dolby Digital stereo with a little more gusto in the pipes. Audible dialogue is clean and forefront, but the engineered dubbing laid over Murray Head and, even, the self-dubbing of Dayle Haddon can be off-putting at times when actors’ voices seem to not be sharing the same vocal space with others on screen. French composer Serge Gainsbourg’s lounge, yé-yé score tuned into that erotic soufflé of light and airy pop music that can be often dreamy with singsongy female vocals, complimenting the softer, sexier side of Jaeckin’s film while also playing into period melodies of the 1970’s. Cult Epics always has down right with resurrecting obscure erotica for not only quality sake but also to arm the hell out of the releases with bonus material. Included with “Madame Claude” is an audio commentary by Jeremy Richey (author of the upcoming book entitled Sylvia Kristel: from Emmanuelle to Chabrol), a high definition, Nico B. produced interview with director Just Jaeckin from 2020, the vintage French theatrical trailer, a promotional photo gallery, and Cult Epics previews. Not the most sensual film shot by the renowned maestro of venereal visuals, Just Jaeckin explores his versatility by acclimatizing familiarity with new horizons surrounding brothel delights with shadow games and the new 4K Blu-ray from Cult Epics is the one, and only, way to experience it all in “Madame Claude.”
Cult Epic’s “Madame Claude” on Blu-ray. Available at Amazon – click the poster!