aka The Perils Of Gwendoline
In The Land Of The Yik Yak
Directed by Just Jaeckin
Severin Blue Ray Zone A (unrated)
Following the sad news a few days ago, of the death at the young age of 59, of actress/model Tawny Kitean, I decided to watch the recent Severin Blu Ray edition of the film which I first saw her in, back when I was in my teens in the heady days of VHS rental tapes in the 1980s. I remember catching sight of Gwendoline in the off licence one road over from where I still live (it's remained an off licence but, alas, it's no longer in the business of renting VHS tapes) and being drawn in by the cover showing a spiky warrior woman and I think there was some blurb that compared the movie to Barbarella, a film which I already loved. I don’t think the one I rented was the heavily cut down US release version of the time, which was re-titled The Perils Of Gwendoline In The Land Of The Yik Yak... the cover certainly was just called Gwendoline here in the UK and, revisiting it a few times over the years in its unrated cut, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in that version which wasn’t in the UK rental release back in the VHS days. That being said, it would certainly have been a pan and scan version then so, a lot of the... well... ‘background kink’ might possibly have been either missing or very fleeting... but it still had all the famous scenes in tact.
So, yeah, in memory of what was probably Tawny’s most famous role (although I’m sure that a lot of people will also remember her for her appearances in 1980s hard rock videos), I thought I’d revisit this and I did so thinking that I must already have put a review of the film up on here at some point since I started NUTS4R2 but, yeah, it turns out I haven’t, so I’m rectifying that now.
Gwendoline is the last feature film (to date) directed by the famous filmmaker Just Jaeckin, whose first movie, Emmanuelle starring Sylvia Kristel, set the world on fire and probably did a lot for the prospect of respectable erotica in a commercial cinematic environment (he also did versions of The Story Of O and Lady Chatterly’s Lover but, I think they’re probably less famous to the majority of general public at large... whereas Emmanuelle started a whole cottage industry of sequels and copycat film series... such as the Emanualle series, where the name was spelled with a single M to avoid copyright issues). It’s based... and I can’t tell you how loosely or faithfully at this point because I’ve never read them... on the Sweet Gwendoline bondage comic strip of the late 1940s and onwards by John Willie, who also co-wrote the movie version with Jaeckin. Back in the days when the activity was just called ‘bondage’ and that word celebrated a number of sins and way before the term BDSM, first coined in 1969 but not, as far as I remember, that commonly used until the early 1990s, was dreamed up as a more descriptive but somehow more sterile moniker. And if you’re wondering, the strip and the film, like most BDSM literature which is almost always pitched, ironically, at odds with the majority of conscientious ‘players’ throughout the world, were quite a way from both SSC* and RACK** activities.
The film itself is actually pretty good. Starting off with colourful butterflies from Jaeckin’s own collection against a black backdrop which house the credits, we hear Pierre Bachelet’s synthesiser heavy score, very much of it’s time but also, actually, a score which still kinda holds up (somebody put a CD out please) accompanying it before we are thrown onto the docks of Shanghai in a period which... looks like it’s supposed to be the 1940s but I could be wrong. Here we find a bunch of thieves who are raiding the crates as they come off a ship, wherein they discover Gwendoline, played by Tawny Kitean, packed in a crate. Gwendoline is a nun who has run away from the convent to find her father, a collector of rare butterflies. Her friend Beth, played by the quite wonderful, Doe-eyed Zabou Breitman (billed here just as Zabou), misses her by minutes and Gwendoline is sold to a slaver who runs the local saloon bar/strip club/gambling den. However, she is inadvertently rescued by the hero of the piece, Willard, played by Brent Huff.
After lots of bickering with Willard and upon learning about the death of her father, who had pursued a rare butterfly into the perilous land of the Yik Yak, Gwendoline and Beth strike a deal with the fearless hero and he reluctantly agrees to be their escort, where they spend lots of time walking around topless and getting captured by natives until they enter what I can only describe as the female, bondage paradise of the Yik Yak queen and her gladiator looking dominatrixes, who capture men for their pleasure (killing them after they’ve been force mated with them to propagate their species) and punishing transgressors of the rules with various deadly bondage contraptions.
And it looks fantastic. I remember not thinking much of the acting back in the 1980s... when I was not as used to watching badly looped dubs but, looking back on it now, Kitean, Brietman and Huff all do pretty well in this and they certainly have good chemistry. This is all the more evident and necessary for some of the risqué scenes they have. Such as the one where all three are separately chained in some tribe's hut awaiting their death sentence and Willard uses his words to make verbal love to Gwendoline, accidentally arousing Beth too. Or the scene where, after winning a gladiatorial style combat in disguise, Gwendoline sits astride the bound Willard and ‘mates’ with him while the Queen and her warriors look on.
The film also doesn’t shy away from violence in this... comical or otherwise (well, comic book would be a more appropriate way of saying that I guess, given the source material). There’s a fair amount of blood spillage (for the time in this kind of fantasy scenario) and women being impaled on, to be fair, wobbly looking spikes... not to mention the tendency of Willard’s trusty grappling hook to lodge fatally in a person's neck instead of where he’s aiming. There’s also a quite brilliant moment when Willard pulls a jailor’s head through his cell bars near the start of the movie and does so with such force that the guy's ears are left on the bars above where he falls. Another scene with the use of a straw and a stray rose thorn as a makeshift blow pipe is similarly spectacular although, the continuity error in the same set of scenes, where the bound Willard’s hat is kicked off him but is suddenly lodged on his head again in the long shot is... a bit of a shame.
Talking of bars with ears on them and such like... the director uses a lot of foreground objects, natural or man made, such as the window openings of a cabin or a rock overhang in the desert to separate the actors from each other or to frame them within their environment. There’s some lovely shot designs here and you can see why this director is as well respected as he is. Not to mention the quite dazzling and obviously expensive, elabourate costume and set design in the film. The story ends on a happy note (against all odds) and, yes, if you do like films such as Barbarella or some of the cinematic excursions of Alain Robbe-Grillet, then you might find that Gwendoline is worth a look. It’s certainly a fun film, for sure but, do yourself a favour and don’t watch the truncated, censored version which runs something like 20 minutes shorter (if memory serves). It’s a little like watching a TinTin cartoon come to life with all the exaggerated characters but with nudity and people being tied up added into the mix.
The cut down Yik Yak titled version is also included on the recent Severin Blu Ray (not that I want to watch that version) and the main film is given the full treatment by Severin, who deliver a good transfer from a good print and include a wealth of interviews with key people from the time. If Gwendoline is your thing (or tied up young damsels in peril, for that matter), then the Severin version is a good one to pick up. And that’s me done with my memories of this film and I hope Tawny rests in peace, wherever she has gone.
RIP Tawny Kitean
August 5th 1961 to May 7th 2021.
* Safe Sane and Consensual BDSM play.
** Risk Aware Consensual Kink BDSM play.