Desperate for work, Marie-France (Alice Arno) takes the only job she can find, on a mysterious island owned by a millionaire. Mr. Steiner (Paul Muller) has two daughters: Olivia (Lina Romay), who slinks around provocatively in minimal clothing and is kept awake at night by terrible dreams, and Linda (Catherine Lafferiere), an invalid. Marie-France's assignment is to take care of Linda, as Mr. Steiner believes that Olivia can take care of herself, but Marie-France quickly finds herself talking to Olivia and investigating the strange nature of Linda's condition. Before long, she uncovers a bizarre web of dark secrets that slowly begun to unravel, sending all of the island's inhabitants (also including manservant Abdul, played by Pierre Taylou, who speaks only in grunts, and two photographers hoping to spy on the Steiners) into an emotional frenzy.
For a film sold on the provocative image of a young girl parting her lips for a ripe banana, The Hot Nights of Linda (or the equally incendiary on-screen title, But Who Raped Linda?) is shockingly dull. The film -- apparently one of Franco's most cut and re-cut to serve a number of international distributors and audiences -- is a tangled mess of dream sequences and flashbacks that are increasingly tough to make sense of. A little exploitation outrageousness lingers around the edges, frequently threatening to make the movie come to life, but Franco never gives himself over to any sort of madness, always dutifully returning from a sex scene or a bit of whipping to the film's rote story.
Mainly, Linda is desperately in need of an anchor for the film to hang onto. After about ten or fifteen minutes, Marie-France goes from protagonist to supporting character, the first of many instances where the viewer is left to straighten the story out themselves. Perhaps Franco was compelled by Lina Romay, who is undeniably alluring in the advertised banana scene, and numerous others in which all she's really asked to do is stare sensuously into the camera and give her best "come-hither" stare. Oddly, though, time after time, this leads almost nowhere -- instead of sensuality, we get a convoluted backstory involving Olivia's recurring nightmares involving her father. To be entirely honest, I'm not convinced I fully understand all the film's twists and turns, but I'm also not convinced Franco knew for sure what was happening, either.
Of the Franco films I've seen, his pacing is frequently slow, and Linda is no exception, but the lack of a clear story makes the deliberation sort of painful. Scene after scene goes on and on, stretching a brief 80 minutes into what feels like three hours. Sexually charged glances are drawn out into sexually charged stares. The depth of character dialogue rarely extends to a shower conversation between Marie-France and Olivia about their bodies, and contains no spark or style. Not to keep talking about that banana scene, but the moment is drawn out to the point where Romay undoing the knot on her bikini bottom isn't even a relief. The investigator characters snapping pics and spying from across the way are an obvious attempt to pad the runtime to feature length, adding a bit of slapsticky comedy to an otherwise oddly serious movie.
If all one watches Franco for is the nudity, there is certainly plenty of skin on display, but in all other respects, The Hot Nights of Linda is a disappointment. By the time the film dips its toes into chintzy operatic violence near the end, it's too little, too late. It shouldn't take much for Franco to make good exploitation out of a deserted island with four beautiful women on it, and yet he struggles. It's quite telling that the film's final note -- a moment which would be an insult in any other movie -- is one of the only memorable moments in this misfire.
Perhaps my Google search skills are just failing me, but I couldn't find any evidence that the painted artwork adorning Severin's Blu-Ray was from a poster, which is impressive -- the provocative image of Romay licking the tip of a banana is exactly like any number of VHS covers I remember from when I was younger. The Blu-Ray and DVD discs are stored in a standard Blu-Ray case with no insert.
The Video and Audio
As with many European films from the 1970s, this Blu-Ray transfer is a mixed bag. Taken from a 35mm print discovered in a Barcelona bordello (!), this transfer is very soft, with colors that are starting to shift and a fair amount of scratches, lines, and other print damage throughout the picture. The image is flat, with blacks not quite crushing but certainly not offering much dynamic depth. On the other hand, this is undoubtedly the best presentation the film has been given since its theatrical release, with clarity that easily rises above even the best DVD transfer. A pleasing amount of grain is visible, giving the whole transfer a nice film-like appearance. Definitely more positives than negatives, picture-wise. Sound is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track that will potentially require the viewer's hand on the remote at all times to adjust the volume as dialogue becomes hard to make out. Music, on the other hand, has a surprising crispness. No subtitles or captions are provided, unfortunately, which would have helped with the quieter portions of the film.
"Hot Nights With Jess" (16:17. SD) sits down with the director as he discusses the complicated production of Linda, including how and why the film ended up with so many alternative edits. Although the piece bears a 2013 copyright, it looks a little dated (the director passed away in April), and features burned-in yellow English subtitles. It's accompanied by "Lina and Jess" (12:08, SD), seemingly recorded on the same day. Romay married Franco in 2008, and the two have a good rapport in this interview piece, discussing their working relationship and other details about the shoot. Amusingly, Franco still sort of dominates the conversation. Since this interview was recorded in English, there are no subtitles, which is too bad, as Franco has a thick accent. The final interview is a fresh one: "Stephen Thrower on Linda" (11:55, HD) sits down with author Stephen Thrower, who chats about Franco's insane work ethic and how the film fits in with Franco's body of work.
A couple of other short clips wrap up the disc: "Fantastic Fest Lifetime Achievement Award" (1:35, SD) shows Franco, with Romay at his side, picking up a trophy designed to look like a sword back in 2009, and a reel of outtakes (5:31, HD). These are not gag outtakes but more like deleted scenes, all involving further sex and nudity. The sound is missing from one of these clips, and it is presented silently. An original theatrical trailer is also included.
The first 2500 copies of this release will also include a bonus disc featuring a racier edit of the film (entitled the "Rare Banana Version" -- subtle).
Francophiles will be pleased to see another one of the director's films released on Blu-Ray with a strong presentation and a decent selection of extras, but the uninitiated may find this particular film to be a bit of a bore. Still, I suppose the package is meant for the former, not the latter, so this comes recommended for the quality of the package itself.
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