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Just Jaeckin’s Gwendoline (1984) is the career culmination of the director’s primary filmic concerns: adventure films and skin flicks. The first hour of Gwendoline makes the most of these strengths while also adhering relatively closely to the source material. Gwendoline is based upon John Willie’s comic Sweet Gwendoline which first appeared in the forties. Sweet Gwendoline was a bondage book, slightly more extreme than the more widely known early Wonder Woman stories, that featured the buxom titular character traveling to exotic places and getting tied up for one reason or another. This basic premise has echoes in Jaeckin’s earlier Emmanuelle (1974) which played apart in the film Gwendoline.

It’s in the second half of Gwendoline that things become interesting. The production design of the futuristic city inhabited almost exclusively by women owes more to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973) and to the science fiction stories of Guido Crepax than to John Willie’s comics. Bondage gear, gladiator battles, torture and ritualistic sex make up the world of the film’s third act, directly opposing the aesthetics of all that preceded it. Yet this is when the film becomes most enjoyable. Invention overtakes mediocrity in campy spectacles that would have been the envy of Ken Russell. The structure of Gwendoline is essentially taking the first hour of Emmanuelle and tagging the last half hour of Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968) onto it.

There’s a snarky, self-satirizing tone throughout the film that could have served as a better unifier of its disparate parts if the cast had been up to it. The bulk of this kind of dialogue falls on the character of Willard (Brent Huff) who does have a certain presence but lacks a good sense of timing. The character of Gwendoline (Tawny Kitaen) never really seems to be in love with her rugged protector Willard, no matter how hard she tries. The scene stealing performance comes from Zabou Breitman as Beth, Gwendoline’s trusty sidekick.

Gwendoline is still Just Jaeckin’s most entertaining foray into light erotica. I generally found Gwendoline offered pulpy images that were less offensive than its mainstream counterpart Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom (1984). Believe it or not, Jaeckin is more adept at playing with form and style within the pulp vernacular than Steven Spielberg seems to be.