The divine muse, that impervious bitch. Joseph Losey finds himself in the Babylon of post-L'Avventura Europe, and extravagantly loosens his belt in the face of so much luxuriant debauchery -- the turf of Antonioni and Fellini, only Losey vigorously rolls in the decadence instead of pretending to despise it. Stanley Baker is the exiled antihero, "part-time writer, part-time guide," a sham Welsh novelist camped out in Venice (his book's title, spotted briefly, is L'Étranger en Enfer); Jeanne Moreau is Eve, the succubus who arrives out of the storm in a lavish gondola and prowls through Baker's lair in an unbroken take timed to Billie Holiday. She smites his advances with an ashtray, but he is obsessed; the femme fatale beckons him to her boudoir only to slam the door in his face, with the camera overhead to pick up her mocking laughter. The temptress is sullenly opaque ("What do you hate the most?" "Apart from men? Old women") but to the feeble artist she's the mirror reflecting his existentialism, enough for him to trade his lovely bride (Virna Lisi) for a whipping across the face -- "Don't fall in love with me" is Eve's warning as the embracing couple disappears in the background, a lobster fills the screen. The jazzy milieu blows the lid off Losey's barely suppressed hysteria, his obsessions stream out voluminously, promiscuously; this is the Old World of T.S. Eliot and Masaccio, though the modern couple is busy peeking through peepholes at buildings, lost amid statuary and symbols (the fractured mask favored by a slinky nightclub performer reappears later to be worn by the hero, drunk and sprawled on the marble floor in an impromptu evocation of crucifixion). A watershed work, a furious whirlwind vision of a contemporary Eden that, governed by the laser-beam scorn of Moreau's gaze, may have never really been "naked and unashamed." Cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo. With Giorgio Albertazzi, and James Villiers. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce