Catherine Spaak is My New Favorite Actress and Here’s Why (Film Recommendations & Lost Media Abound)

You may remember that in the very early days of my blog, I wrote about my favorite lesser known actors and promised a follow-up for lesser known actresses. I haven’t touched that subject again since, making it the largest gap between a first and second installment in the history of theCarbonFreeze. I think the reason why I’ve had so much trouble coming up with underrated actresses’ whose careers I’ve followed is due to two factors. First, Hollywood simply doesn’t give women as much to do beyond “token love interest to be won over in the end,” or the generic wife/girlfriend who supports the protagonist. So, it’s a lot harder for actresses to stand out with a compelling role the same as their male counterparts, who get meatier parts to play. On top of that, women tend to get replaced more quickly in the industry than men; once you hit 30, (and especially 40,) the prominent roles dry up considerably. Whatever the reason, I just couldn’t think of any women in pictures whose careers I’ve followed besides the ones everyone already knows about. (You know, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland etc.) There just weren’t any cool, obscure actresses who left such an impression to where I’d go out of my way to watch a film for no other reason than the fact that she’s in it.

Then, late last year, I saw The Libertine and instantly developed a massive celebrity crush on its star, Catherine Spaak. I’ll admit that initially my interest in her was skin-deep. At the risk of sounding creepy, I thought she was just about the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, on or off the screen. In fact, to this day, if I was asked to describe my gold standard in physical attractiveness (at least as far as it relates to the female sex) I’d say “Catherine Spaak in The Libertine…and just about any of her others films from ’64 to ’69.” It wasn’t until I saw Crazy Desire two months later that I fully recognized Spaak’s acting talent, though. Not that she didn’t put in a captivating performance with Libertine, but Desire is a more difficult role, and she was six years younger during its production. In that particular film, we have to believe Spaak’s character is so adorable and vivacious that a no-nonsense, middle-aged engineer with everything to lose would throw away his dignity to pursue her romantically. At the same time, she also has to be fickle and airheaded like a teenager, enough so the audience realizes she’s not worth the effort but not so much so that we don’t like her. Not many actors could pull off that challenge at 16, but Spaak did and she stole the show because of it. From then on, I was determined to see whatever else she’d done. That’s been my hobby for the past three months or so–tracking down her films and watching them.

I find that Catherine Spaak’s filmography, especially from the 1960s, is full of compelling feminine roles. Either she, her manager or her agent deserve a lot of credit for amassing such a collection of great stories to be a part of. This may also sound weird, but as a transwoman who missed a lot of the big “female milestones” in my formative years, I feel that Spaak’s movies at their best are so well-realized that they serve as a way to experience those moments vicariously. Two of her movies I now count among my top 15 all-time favorites: The Libertine and Sweet Deceptions. These are particularly special, as they represent the most beautifully crafted depictions of women’s sexuality I’ve ever seen on the screen. The first is a risqué sex comedy, where the heroine (Mimi) openly enjoys casual flings without the script depicting her as depraved, misguided or “ruined” for it. While Mimi meets some unsavory men and sexist attitudes on her journey, the script always frames these people as the ones who are wrong, not Mimi herself. It’s the definitive sex-positivity movie and by far the most empowering erotica ever made for women that I’ve seen. The second represents a film-noir whose protagonist is a naïve teen (Francesca), exploring the topic of romance for the first time. While Francesca’s story ends on a less uplifting note than Mimi’s, the film humanizes her as the victim of an exploitative older man. It shows the audience the consequences of taking advantage of young women, the lasting damage done to their confidence as well as their view of the world as the result of 30 minutes of physical pleasure. Yet, Francesca is far from a one-dimensional victim either; we are given enough evidence of her protectiveness to the people around her, and how much others care about her in turn, to know she’s going to come through this disappointing first love as a stronger person. It’s the most timeless and mature film ever made that’s told from a young girl’s perspective, and perhaps the best in the “coming of age” genre overall.

I’ve already written standalone reviews for the three Spaak films mentioned thus far. For the rest of this particular essay, I would like to raise awareness to some of her others movies I’ve seen these past few months. While I’ve gathered copies of all her starring roles which I could find, I have yet to watch every one of them so far, so this is not a complete examination of her filmography. If the remainder of her work leaves as strong of an impression though, expect to see me talk about them in future blog posts. (Either standalone or as another “package” entry, depending on how much I have to say.) I will go in order of my favorite movie to least favorite. Usually when I talk about foreign films I switch between the original language title and English translation for the sake of rhetorical variety. But for my own convenience, in this essay, I’m mostly going to stick to the English titles. (I don’t have as much to say about each, so it’s not as big of a deal to repeat the same name, you know what I mean?)

The “Lost” Catherine Spaak Films

So, before we dive in, I’d like to point out that quite a bit of Spaak’s filmography is unavailable to English viewers and thus, I cannot talk about them. As a lost media junkie, who enjoys tracking down buried gems, I’m making note of these here for future reference.

Several CS movies are available online but I cannot find any English subtitles for them, or the subtitles I have are gibberish and/or don’t sync with the video file. These are, in order of most interesting to least interesting: Con Quale Amore, Con Quanto Amore (1970), Make Love Not War (1966), Cari Genitori (1973), Made in Italy (1965), Cause of Divorce (1972), Burned by a Scalding Passion (1976), Parajos de Baden-Baden (1975), La via dei babbuini (1974) and My Darling Slave (1972).

^Of this lot, I strongly lament being unable to fully enjoy the first two in the list. Catherine looks so amazing in Make Love Not War (1966) that it’s a shame you have to sit through 90 minutes of gibberish to enjoy it. (And the premise sounds fascinating in a “weird art film” sort of way.) The rest, from what I’ve seen browsing through the video files, don’t seem like they’d be my cup of tea anyway. The Italians made great films in the ’60s but the ’70s was full of lesser efforts from previously great talent. Unfortunately, Spaak may have fallen victim to the same decline. Made in Italy is another lame, cheap omnibus film (see below, under 3 Nights of Love), which I usually find to be a waste of time and resources.

Then there’s Il marito è mio e l’ammazzo quando mi pare aka Drop Dead, My Love (1968) which is not available anywhere online–only an out of print DVD without English subtitles.

^Out of all the indecipherable Spaaks out there, this one is by far the most interesting to me. It was directed by the man with whom she did most of her best work, Pasquale Festa Campanile. The premise and screencaps promise a lot of intrigue (a murder plot AND Catherine plays guitar with a monkey?? Sign me up!) And it represents Spaak at her physical zenith. I plan to eventually buy the DVD but I’ll still have no way of knowing what’s going on!

Then there are the Spaak flicks which I cannot find the video or subtitles for. These include: L’hiver (1959), Il Carro Armato dell’8 Settembre (1960), La Vedova Allegra (1968, made for TV) and La notte è fatta per… rubare (1967).

^Of these, two are super early in Catherine’s career, even before her first starring role in Sweet Deceptions. They are probably not that great, probably not a good insight into her talents and are probably “lost lost.” (Which is to say, not just out of print or unreleased, but unaccounted for in any studio or collector’s vaults as well.) L’Hiver in particular is an absolute ghost online, it’s only ever mentioned anywhere in reference to its place in Spaak’s early career. That said, I would give anything to see Vedova Allegra and Rubare, considering the synopses interest me and they represent Spaak at the height of her physicality and stardom. I give slight preference to Rubare because it was not made for TV, and therefore almost certainly has higher production values. This then is my personal “white whale” of Spaak’s filmography right now. (I have found a single listing of a secondhand VHS copy, but paying $50 for a 40 year old videotape from across the Atlantic that is almost certainly in lousy condition and without subtitles is where I draw the line. Especially when I don’t have the technology to make digital copies and the US post office has been unreliable as fuck all year.)

Now, onto those that can be viewed online and understood by English speakers…

The Girl From Parma (1963)

This is one of the saddest, most beautiful movies ever made and I’d strongly recommend checking it out. It’s a younger Catherine Spaak playing a character (Dora) who’s had to grow up very fast, who couldn’t depend on anyone except herself to look out for her own best interests. On some level, this is like The Libertine in that it’s a portrait of a young woman through the context of her relationships with men, except all the guys are losers and lowlifes. And since Dora isn’t independently wealthy like Mimi, she has to make the best of the unsavory options available to her. What follows is a sad yet fascinating story of resilience against adversity. Dora’s acutely aware of the effect she has on men, and often has to be on the defensive, but she’s pragmatic and uses it to her advantage when she can. Often, that’s a matter of survival. There are many scenes where men blatantly try to take advantage of our heroine, or where she’s forced to prostitute herself to get by. In these moments, the emotions hit so hard, and it makes you wonder how you’d act if you were in a situation like that, or if you’ve ever inadvertently come on too strong and creeped someone out. With that in mind, Parma is one of the most effective movies I’ve ever seen at conveying the sense of fear when you’re a woman who has to reject a guy’s advances and he doesn’t take it well. Yet, for all the injuries we see Dora endure, it’s implied that she has suffered unspecified formative trauma in the past as well. (Multiple times, she zones out in a thousand yard stare and other characters have to yell her name to get her to snap out of it.) Dora is arguably Spaak’s all-time strongest role: she knows enough to distrust cops, she’s a woman full of bitterness and rightly so, yet she always lands on her feet.

While this is undeniably Spaak’s movie, the supporting characters turn in great performances as well. Nino Manfredi does a good job as Nino, a small time conman and wannabe advertiser. (Basically he’s like if Eddy from Ed, Edd & Eddy grew up.) It was touching, though, the way Dora was so loyal to him in spite of his obvious character flaws, because he was the only man who ever told her the truth, who ever showed vulnerability. That says a lot about both their characters and made me care for their relationship. Lando Buzzanca steals multiple scenes as Michele, the delusional cop who’s so blinded by lust he can’t see how much Dora despises him. The two distant family friends Dora stays with, Amneris and Scipio, are the comedic relief old, bickering married couple. But their role in the story also serves as a warning to Dora if she should ever settle for a man she doesn’t love–like Michele. Neither of them are happy, Amneris openly flirts with a younger man at a dance in front of her husband and Scipio tries to make a pass at Dora. (Just like every other man in this story.) This is a depressing world full of miserable people whose lives haven’t turned out the way they wanted. It’s gritty but it’s honest and has something to say about human nature. (For example, Amneris always gets angry or shocked whenever Dora makes a comment revealing her sexual experiences, but at Dora not at the men who put her in that situation.)

I wish I had more to say, because Parma deserves far more accolades than it receives, but there’s only so many ways to say “this is great, and this is great, and this…” The dialogue scenes are more compelling than most director’s action scenes, there’s some truly inspired camera movements and transitions, and Piero Piccioni’s score is a joy.

Such an unlikely duo, but I was always touched at how Dora remained devoted to Nino after this scene. She just wanted someone who could be honest to her, who knew what it was like to suffer as she had suffered.

The Empty Canvas (1963)

This one’s great, but I don’t have much to say about it. Spaak plays Cecilia, a coldhearted gold digger who drives men crazy without half-trying. It’s interesting to see Spaak play so many irresistible women with such different motivations and personalities. (Mimi, Dora and Cecilia have all the men chasing after them, but they use sex for fun, survival and enrichment, respectively.) It’s a very straightforward, heavy-handed story that works due to the strength of its cast and crew more than its script. This film is mostly remembered for the famous “covered in money” scene, where Cecilia’s mark (an aimless painter named Dino) realizes just how whipped he is. It’s considered one of CS’ most iconic standalone scenes, where she made the transition from “teen actor” to sex symbol. Even though it’s a sad situation in the context of the story, I have to admit this scene makes me laugh when I watch it because the guy is obviously going thru an existential crisis and CS’ character couldn’t care less. “Hey, I know you were gonna give me half a million dollars to stay faithful to you, but do you think you could give me $40,000 instead so I can have a vacation with my other boyfriend?” Soon after, Dino goes to Cecilia’s former lover’s house and learns from the guy’s widow just how one-sided their love was. The other guy was so subservient and beaten down he even painted a picture of Cecilia riding him like a donkey–a metaphor for their relationship dynamic. Dino realizes the fate that awaits him if he stays with this woman. These two scenes are so brazen and unsubtle that you can’t not get a kick out of them.

Posted directly below is my favorite individual shot from the film. Catherine’s face is illuminated as if by an approaching car’s headlights and then darkened as it passes, to coincide with what Dino is saying. It’s such a small touch but it’s the kind of thing which can really enhance a scene. At the end of the day, film is a visual medium so if you can change the lighting, color or camera perspective in a shot to accentuate the mood or dialogue then do it–even if it’s a five second effect. It’s such an obvious thing to do, but a surprising number of professional filmmakers don’t do stuff like this anymore. In filmmaking, as much information should be communicated to the audience visually as possible. In ideal circumstances the cinematography alone should be able to convey the themes and emotions of not only the film as a whole, but every individual scene. Audio information, like the dialogue and soundtrack, are great tools too, but should always be thought of as secondary. They exist to service the photography, not the other way around. Like, this scene easily could have taken place at Dino’s house or something, but they set it in a parked car by the road so they could do this particular shot. Again, it’s not like this particular scene is some earth-shatteringly brilliant instance of what I’m talking about, but it’s a perfect, easy to understand example of it.

Adultery Italian Style (1966)

Many of these Italian films cannot be neatly classified as either comedies or dramas, as they have elements of both. This is not one of them. Adultery is a lighthearted, fast-paced farce from beginning to end. It also marks the first film Spaak made with her best director-collaborator, Pasquale Festa Campanile, whom she worked with in The Libertine. Campanile is a great director at what he does, and I intend to make a dedicated blog post about his work someday. He and Catherine really brought out the best in each other, in my opinion. She gave him a beautiful young actress with the screen presence to bring his weird sexual fantasies to life. And he gave her empowering roles to play, a new stylish outfit to wear in every scene and flattering makeup/camera angles. With one or two exceptions, they made their best work together and this is among them.

I would be lying if I said Adultery consistently makes me laugh out loud. (I think some of the humor is lost to time, translation and having to read subtitles rather than instantly “hear” the jokes.) But it does make me smile and puts me in a good mood when I watch it. The basic premise is the classic sitcom plot where one character vows revenge for a slight by someone else, but the threat of retaliation drives the transgressor into such a paranoid frenzy that they play themselves. (Of course, this was made before that plot became a tired cliche.) Basically, Marta (Spaak) discovers that her husband (played by Nino Manfredi) has cheated on her and resolves to repay him in kind. She starts planting various clues about a supposed lover, but really she has no intention of cheating. The husband goes nuts trying to figure our who her lover might be, and wackiness ensues.

Marta’s home is not quite as elaborate or chic as Libertine‘s Via Due Torre 37, but it is still a wonderful set full of kitschy furniture, outdoor elevators and mirrored walls. (I don’t know how or why but Italian films from the late ’60s almost always have beautiful set design, from Femina Ridens to Scacco alla Regina to Barbarella.) The art direction as a whole is just plain brilliant–there are even scenes where, I swear to God, Catherine’s outfit is perfectly color coordinated to the house! Unlike many directors of today, who’ve forgotten the basic language of cinema in all their CGI and explosions, Campanile always finds a way to do something interesting with even the most mundane dialogue scene. The best example of this is when Gloria tells Marta there are plenty of guys out there for her to have affairs with, and on cue, guys come in from all corners of the frame! He made a lot of duds in his career, but when Pasquale was firing on all cylinders in the late 60s he really knew what he was doing–or delegated to people who did. (Which is a skill in and of itself.)

The iconic “beaded dress” sequence, and one of Catherine’s sexist moments on the silver screen.

A Complicated Girl (1969)

Perhaps the raciest film on her resume, A Complicated Girl is a strange curiosity for me. In the pantheon of trippy Italian kinky movies, it’s somewhere below the “big three” (Femina Ridens, Scacco alla Regina and Libertine) yet somewhere above Venus in Furs, Il Merlo Maschio and Barbarella. The “big three” tell stories that are multifaceted, timeless and comprehensible. They benefit from stellar production values and surrealistic overtones but don’t rely on them to compensate for a lack of good writing. The lower tier have some really cool hallucinogenic effects, cinematography, art direction and/or music, but weak scripts. They’re interesting, at times as beautiful as any movie I’ve ever seen, but lackluster plots and/or pacing issues drag them down.

A Complicated Girl‘s single closest relative is probably Devil in the Flesh–both have themes about cuckoldry and male competition. Perhaps owing to the faded print I saw, it doesn’t have the same “sleek ‘n’ slinky” quality, nor the allegorical themes, which allow the “big three” transcend the level of mere “sex film” to art. In an indescribable way, Girl feels more like a sleazy ’70s exploitation flick that revels in its own filth and makes no apologies for it. (I’d have to see a properly restored print before I can say for sure, though. I wasn’t impressed by The Libertine‘s cinematography either until I saw the Bluray–now I consider it one of the most beautiful films ever shot.) I’m also not a huge fan of the “blah” wig they have Catherine wearing–it does her absolutely no justice at all.

There are one or two scenes which are so audacious in their lysergic vision that it raises the quality of the overall film, however. The most obvious example being the “I am God” telephone scene early on. It’s to the film’s own detriment that it doesn’t have more moments like that. Other scenes are more grounded visually but still managed to blow me away with their editing and framing. As far as art direction goes, Spaak’s character has a beautiful house. It’s not as timelessly decorated as her peers from the same “big three” films, but her character is not meant to be as fabulously wealthy as the people who own those pleasure palaces. She’s a struggling artist, so her pad is littered with weird, abstract paintings, balloons and other cheap, if colorful, decorations. The soundtrack is a gorgeous bit of lounge/jazz by Fabio Fabor (a lesser known composer, whose work doesn’t seem to have been released on home media beyond an out of print single at the time of the film’s release.) Unfortunately, the film as a whole never really comes together to say anything profound like the best movies in this subgenre. It’s just not of the same caliber as them, entertaining though it may still be.

The two rivals in this film are Alberto (Jean Sorel) and Pietro (Luigi Proietti.) The former co-starred with Catherine Spaak in Sweet Deceptions. The latter co-starred with her in The Libertine. Check out the psychedelic paint job on that antique car

The Warm Life (1964)

I liked this film, but not as much as I wanted to. It just felt like a less interesting version of Crazy Desire, down to the beach setting, love triangle and age gap relationship. Basically, two boys (Fredi and Max) pretend that some random stranger’s beach house belongs to one of their Uncles, and invite Spaak’s character (Sergia) over with the unspoken goal of seducing her. Sergia and Fredi hit it off, Max is the third wheel and grows resentful. At some point, Sergia encounters the real owner of the beach house they’re commandeering (a middle aged guy named Guido) but luckily he’s pretty chill about the felony breaking and entering. Max tries to rape Sergia at one point, but luckily she never rats him out to anyone or tells him to leave. She even gives him a pity kiss in a later scene–and he didn’t even apologize for what he did first! Nevertheless, the guy is sick of being left out and ultimately commits suicide in the climax.

So much of this film just didn’t work for me. There’s too many examples of people letting serious crimes go unpunished for the sake of moving the plot along. Max is also an irredeemable bastard who deserves no sympathy–and I say that as a former loner/odd-one out myself. Yet the movie wants us to mourn his pathetic decision to end his own life at 18 just because Sergia won’t have sex with him, and she is made to feel guilty over it! (You can tell this script was made by men and according to outdated social expectations.) Max was played by Catherine Spaak’s real life husband at the time, Fabrizio Capucci and I’m sorry but I don’t know what she saw in him. The guy is absolutely dead weight on screen. He has no charisma, no gravitas, no grace, no charm and he’s dressed in a boring gray shirt for the entire runtime. I feel absolutely nothing for the actor and pure disdain for the character. (I notice on IMDb that Fabrizio never remarried after Spaak divorced him to marry Johnny Dorelli fifty years ago, and in all seriousness and sympathy I hope he took it okay. It must be hard to be married to the most beautiful woman on Earth and lose her to someone else.)

The saving grace (besides Spaak herself, obviously) is Guido’s character. The scene where he rescues Sergia at sea is by far the best of the film. They have great chemistry together, it’s a funny exchange and I actually wished the two of them would just ditch the young boys and sail off onto their own adventure.

Catherine Spaak was also an accomplished musician who sang on the soundtrack for this movie.

The Man With the Balloons (1968)

This is one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen in my life. Originally a standalone segment in an Italian omnibus film (see below) called Kiss the Other Sheik, it was spun off into its own release, but why and how is hard to ascertain from the sources I could find. There are multiple different cuts of this film and multiple different titles (and I don’t just mean the Italian original and English translation.) It’s about a serious businessman who peddles children’s toys without a child’s sense of wonder for them. After one of his clients brings some balloons to a business meeting, he becomes obsessed with them. Mostly, he wants to know exactly how much air can be blown into a balloon before it pops. Spaak’s role is very minor–her least prominent credit on this entire list–as the token wife with no personality.

What is this film trying to say, what is the significance of the balloons? I’m still not 100% sure, and I don’t think the script wants us to come to a definitive answer. At times, it seemed to me they were a metaphor for the main character’s impotency. (He puts one under Spaak’s shirt and blows it up to look like her belly is expanding, and I thought wanting to know how much air they need was like him metaphorically asking “how much of my baby-batter do I have to pump into this woman before she blows up?” But then other characters would mock our protagonist for missing the point of what a balloon is meant to be in his fastidiousness. “It’s just a balloon! You blow it up, and it pops! Have fun!” In these moments, it felt like a meta commentary on viewers like me who pick apart the meaning of things instead of just having fun with them. (Though, in my mind, the two are not mutually exclusive.) We will probably never get a satisfactory answer to what the message is, if there even is one, and that’s the point. It’s an interesting and fun experimental film, and a curio all film buffs (not just Spaak fans) should see at least once.

3 Nights of Love (1964)

One thing I dislike about Italian cinema thus far is that they really seemed to like their so-called “omnibus films.” (That’s where the film is split into three or four distinct narratives, sometimes with overarching themes or actors and sometimes not.) There are several omnibus films in US cinema too, but I have literally never seen any, nor are they as prominent on this side of the Atlantic. (At least, based on what I’ve read, and my own limited experience as a film buff for the last 15 years of my life.) In any case, this omnibus is cool in that literally every story stars Catherine Spaak. (As far as I can tell, omnibus films where each segment stars the same actor are rare.)

The main intro sequence is so cool–just our heroine posing playfully in front of a series of abstract monoliths. It’s like the same kitschy aesthetic of early TV variety shows of the era. The music sounds like a James Bond knockoff, or perhaps a Hannah Barbara cartoon, and I mean that in the best way. This scene is just so quintessentially early 60s! There’s something really charming, especially as a fan of hers, seeing how proud this movie is to advertise its 18 (!) year old star. It’s hard to get an accurate read on things working backwards from internet scraps 60 years after the fact, but Spaak’s rise must have been meteoric to be prominently headlining 2~5 movies every year from her breakthrough in ’62 on through the end of the decade.

The three stories each involve CS in a different identity, trying to find love. In the first, she’s the widow of a mafia don, still catered to and protected by his hitmen, so everyone thinks she’s beautiful but is too afraid to touch her. In the second, she’s a free spirit who’s hospital bound after a car wreck. Tended to by a young man from the seminary, she finds herself questioning her old lifestyle. In the third, she’s the scandalously young wife of her own former (and anxiety ridden) college professor. Of these, the third segment is the best by far and could have been its own standalone feature with some retooling. The first segment is just the same joke played out over 30 minutes, the second is all a big buildup to the humorous reveal that CS became a nun which we all saw coming a mile away. The third had some real meat to it, and I genuinely had no idea where it was going. (The abrupt ending was a bit of a downer, though.)

The best thing about each film in this Catherine Spaak “rabbit hole” is that she plays a substantially different and interesting person every time. In so many US releases then and now, female leads are often relegated to “the wife” or “the love interest” with personalities that are nonexistent. (You could easily swap Jennifer Aniston’s characters from Bruce Almighty and Office Space and nobody would notice or care, for example.) In this release, since Catherine Spaak’s only playing comparatively one-note roles for 45 minutes at a time, her ability to create an iconic character is diminished. Her mannerisms are noticeably different from segment to segment, so she’s doing what she can, but none of these women will ever be as compelling as Dora and Mimi.

This is a light, forgettable entry in her career. It’s not bad, but it’s not going to leave any strong impression on non-Catherine fans. The sets are bare and look cheap. Spaak is obviously a natural beauty, but I don’t think the costumes or makeup in this film do her any favors. The cinematography and score are nothing to write home about either. With almost every other movie on this list, I go back every few days to rewatch key scenes or listen to soundtrack highlights. I do that with this one too, but only the aforementioned title credits scene.

Even before acid and the counterculture became a thing, there was something so abstract and stylized in every 60s-era piece of media. That aesthetic is just so cool to me but I can’t explain why.

Hotel (1967), Diary of a Telephone Operator (1969) & 18 in the Sun (1962)

These three films left very little impression on me, so I have much less to say.

Hotel is notable for being Spaak’s first (and only) Hollywood production. From what I’ve managed to find on various sources online, the reason she never made another American film is due to preferring the Italian production style over the American. Also, Hotel was an underperformer at the box office and therefore it’s possible the US studios were less likely to take a “risk” on her after that. (Unfortunately, artists sometimes get blamed for things beyond their control in this fickle, degrading business.) Hotel represents a “what if” in the world of Catherine fans–what if it had been a hit, would she have stayed in the US? What if she had, and maybe won an Oscar and had become a well-known starlet among Americans? Unfortunately the movie’s appeal for me begins and ends right there. I really wanted to love this, because aside from Spaak I also greatly admire her co-stars, Rod Taylor and Karl Malden. Unfortunately I just don’t feel anything for the story being told here–I couldn’t care less who owns the damn hotel or what they’d do with it. Catherine, while fabulous as always, just isn’t given much to do either. She plays a distant, refined and somewhat airy French socialite which, in my opinion, is far less appealing than any of her Italian roles. Mimi was full of humor and curiosity–she went out and experimented with kinky sex, regardless of what anyone thought. Dora was full of grit and cynicism after surviving off the lust of men, and she never let herself get pushed around. Francesca was a bold young romantic who could kiss a 37 year old man on the mouth and say “I love you” after only having a dream about him. I didn’t feel as though “Jeanne” (the name of Catherine’s character in Hotel) really had a personality, or a defining moment in the narrative. She lacks the energy, passion and charisma of her peers in Spaak’s filmography. Truly a waste of a great actress, and one of the few missteps in Spaak’s early career.

Diary of a Telephone Operator should have been another film that’s emblematic of why I love Spaak’s career. Being a young woman with a roommate, dealing with all the drama that comes with it (need the room for sex, sharing food, waking each other up, work schedules conflicting) is something I’ve never experienced but would like to do so vicariously through the story. At their best, Spaak’s movies always fill that niche for me, in bringing to life defining “girl moments” I didn’t get to live out firsthand. Unfortunately, I just never really felt a particular connection to these women or their boyfriends. I felt like I still didn’t know them as people when the movie was over, nor did I care what happened to them later. Not helping matters is the fact that the whole film is shot so statically and the soundtrack is pretty bare bones. An interesting premise but a misfire in execution. I’d love to visit an alternate timeline where this core idea was handled by a better director/writer.

18 in the Sun is an inferior version of Crazy Desire without the interpersonal conflict or thought-provoking themes about aging and impossible romance. It’s just a bunch of teens partying in the summer and high school “who’s dating who?” drama. Spaak looks gorgeous and if this film were not associated with her career, nobody would likely even remember it existed. It has no user reviews on IMDb and if I’m being honest I forgot everything that transpired the very next day after watching.

Another example of a charming intro followed by a mediocre film.

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