Color, 1971, 112 mins. 55 secs.
Directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Starring Lisa Gastoni, Eric Woofe, Ivo Garrani
One 7 Movies (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Among the hundreds of scores written by the legendary Ennio Morricone, a handful that rank near the very best of his work are associated with films that have been virtually impossible to see for decades. Scan through any greatest hits collection or rundowns of his finest tracks and you'll frequently run into films like La donna invisibile, Escalation, La califfa, and so on, though the advent of Blu-ray and DVD has made some signature titles easier to track down. One title that's been completely out of reach is Maddalena, one of the greatest of all Morricone creations and the source for two of his most essential compositions, "Chi Mai" (a song recorded several times and used in multiple British TV shows and European commercials) and the stunning 9-minute epic "Come Maddalena," a live staple in Morricone shows for his entire career. The multiple soundtrack releases and images of poster art floating around were enough to pique one's interest, but seeing the actual film was an exercise in futility until a surprise Blu-ray release in 2021 from the enigmatic One 7 Movies under its English export title, The Devil in Maddalena. Now that we have it in our hands, what exactly is Maddalena anyway?
By the time this Italian-Yugolavian production got off the ground, Polish-born director Jerzy Kawalerowicz had been established throughout Europe with ambitious black-and-white films like Night Train and the wild Mother Joan of the Angels. However, he had then started to shift gears to more flamboyant color epics like Pharoah, a key entry in the series of Polish masterpieces restored and presented under the banner of Martin Scorsese. Essentially a modern meditation on the story of Mary Magdalene (explicitly referenced in one fantasy sequence) both written and directed by Kawalerowicz, the film came together with Italian producer Franco Clementi (Tepepa) as a showcase for actress Lisa Gastoni, who had starred in two of Antonio Margheriti's '60s space operas and two other major Morricone-composed films, Wake Up and Kill and Grazie Zia. Gastoni's the center of virtually every single scene here from the moment she's first seen gyrating under the main titles as Maddalena, a raven-haired woman prone to flashbacks and visions in which she's a blonde involved in a car accident, marital discord, and random pursuits by men in tuxedos. We gather she's on the run from her husband (Black Sunday's Garrani), but her entire focus shifts at a decadent party when she spies a blindfolded priest (A Challenge for Robin Hood's Woofe) who's been unknowingly shuffled in after performing a mass. Maddalena decides to find out what makes him tick and insinuates herself into his life, provoking him with comments about being only "half a priest" and goading him into removing his collar to go live with the common people for a while. She also uses her own sexuality in an attempt to manipulate him and other men she encounters, but before you can sing "I Don't Know How to Love Him," she discovers that corrupting this particular man of the cloth might have a profound effect on her as well.
Featuring striking costumes by the great Enrico Sabbatini (Camille 2000, A Bay of Blood) and gleaming cinematography by Gábor Pogány (Night Train Murders), Maddalena is a real feast for the senses with that epic Morricone score holding together the fluid transitions between Maddalena's different planes of existence. The cover art promises a skin-filled erotic film, though while both Gastoni and Woofe bare themselves several times during the film, there isn't an actual sex scene to be found. It's a very sensual art film to be sure though, with Gastoni really cutting loose with a fearless performance that crescendos in an incredible ten-minute ocean finale that could leave you a little dizzy when the credits start rolling. Imagine a cross between Death Laid an Egg and Cold Heaven, and you might start to get an idea of what to expect.
The Devil in Maddalena has been touted as the first in One 7's line of releases dedicated to its Italian catalog acquisitions, a welcome step given its access to very obscure titles that English-speaking viewers haven't been able to enjoy. This is only the label's second foray into Blu-ray after a so-so effort with Wax Mask, and thankfully this is a major improvement as well as their best-looking release to date by a long shot. The transfer from the original camera negative looks excellent, which isn't too surprising since it likely hasn't been touched since 1971. Why this doesn't seem to have had a legit home video release until now is anyone's guess, but it's wonderful to finally have this available. The film was shot in English with the lead actors' real voices, so that's the default audio option here with a solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono presentation. The Italian track is also included (DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono as well) without subtitles if you want to compare, but the English version is the superior one anyway in this case.
Reviewed on August 29, 2021