NoShame Films, the Criterion of Italian genre cinema, has unearthed a minor treat with "Ubalda, All Naked and Warm," a bawdy 1972 comedy showcasing the earthy charms of actresses Edwige Fenech and Karin Schubert. The movie, never theatrically released in the U.S., is standard Italian B erotica of the period, which means that it is handsomely photographed but with pun-based humor that doesn't translate and a Benny Hill level of silliness. (A sample of the dialogue: "Do you serve chickens here?" "We serve anyone.")
The movie is most blatantly a takeoff on Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Decameron" but it also nods to "The Seventh Seal." Pippo Franco stars as Olimpio, a goofy medieval knight returning home from "the war." He encounters various pastoral archetypes, such as an unholy monk, before stumbling home to an impossibly hot wife (Schubert) who, despite being locked in a chastity belt for months, has a team of studs hidden around the house.
Olimpio, repeatedly unsuccessful in bedding his elusive wife, soon finds another possible conquest in Ubalda (Fenech), the wife of brutish miller Oderisi (Umberto D'Orsi). Olimpio's schemes to seduce Ubalda, which include disguising himself as an elderly painter of nudes, raises Oderisi's suspicions, and a good portion of the movie concerns the violent Tom and Jerry rivalry between the threatening Oderisi and the skinny chatterbox Olimpio (Roberto Benigni must have idolized Franco). Eventually, the two men form a truce and decide to simply swap wives, and the two women seem amenable, until they give the guys a major comeuppance. At the movie's conclusion, the local church choir has two new smiling castrati.
Plot, characterization and meaning, of course, are way beside the point here. The movie's raison d'etre is the rampant nudity (no full frontals) of the auburn-haired French actress Fenech and the blonde German Schubert, both dubbed into Italian. Schubert (who would cross over to hardcore porn a decade later) is seen getting in and out of the bath and in bed with a lover; Fenech runs naked through the woods (in slow motion, no less) and hangs laundry wearing a very non-Middle Ages see-through gown. The sex scenes are comic but pretty R-rated nonetheless.
The movie looks wonderful here. The naturalistic cinematography was done entirely during daytime and largely outdoors in pleasant weather, yielding a cheerful rural palette of blues, greens and earth tones, and it has been cleanly transferred to disc. I spotted no dirt, scratches or other flaws. The picture is in the very wide 2.35:1 ratio; on some widescreen TVs, there will be black bars surrounding the picture. The sound is Dolby Digital mono (with optional English subtitles), but as with most Italian movies, all dialogue -- even the Italian -- is dubbed, giving the audio an overall hollow, unnatural feel.
The main menu is a standard tableau of shots from the film with options for subtitles (just English), the 12 chapters and extras. The latter include a long trailer for "Ubalda's" original Italian release, and trailers for three modern-day sex comedies starring Edwige Fenech: "The Sexy Schoolteacher" (a precursor to such 1980s American T&A fare as "My Tutor" and "Private Lessons") and its two sequels. All the trailers contain lots of nudity, which seems a giving-away-too-much approach that Hollywood marketing execs would abhor.
The main extra is a recent eight-minute interview with Fenech, who at 58 is somehow more beautiful than when she made "Ubalda." Speaking Italian, she looks back on her career with fondness but acknowledges that her talents were never going to plant her in an Ingmar Bergman movie. She notes that she almost was cast in the key role of Gradisca in "Amarcord," but that Fellini decided against her because she was too thin for the role. The twentysomething actress, however, did form a close friendship with the maestro and remained on the "Amarcord" set; she says she almost feels like she did appear in that masterpiece. The actress, who ranks high with fans of two Italian genres (the sex comedy and the giallo thriller), barely mentions the movie at hand, except to note that Fellini's cook was also named Ubalda.
The nicely packaged DVD's eight-page booklet includes fine essays on "Ubalda" as well as Fenech and co-star Schubert.
A final extra is "Edwige Fenech's Groovy Sexadelic Reel," which amounts to three minutes of her naked "Ubalda" moments enhanced by psychedelic effects like double exposure, split screen and Warholesque black light.
Hardly a masterpiece, "Ubalda, All Naked and Warm" is nevertheless a welcome DVD, mainly because it helps to fill in a chapter of film history that has been virtually missing from the American consciousness: the low-brow Italian sex comedy, as opposed to the higher art of such classics as "Divorce Italian Style." The regal beauty Edwige Fenech, a legend among a certain species of film buff but unknown to more casual viewers, is in all her glory here. NoShame, which has issued several Fenech films, including "Strip Nude for Your Killer" and "The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh," gives "Ubalda" fairly deluxe treatment. Heterosexual males are the intended audience, and for them, it's all good.