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Wages of Sin (aka (The Price of Sin), The
1966's Wages Of Sin began life as a German film entitled Der Arzt stellt fest... (which translates to The Doctor Speaks Out or The Doctor's Notes), directed by Aleksander Ford. It was purchased for domestic distribution by exploitation film impresario Donn Davison who brought it to theaters and drive-in's across the country as Wages Of Sin and then later as The Price Of Sin where it played with either a live lecture from a ‘doctor' or a filmed intro from Davison himself (included in the extras on this disc) that made sure everyone in attendance knew that this was the real deal. It would also play with some childbirth films (again, included in the extras on this disc), ensuring audience members over sixteen-years of age would really get their money's worth. As censorship restrictions around topics such as sex, abortion and childbirth were less taboo in Europe than the America of the mix-sixties, this made a whole lot of commercial sense of Davison and his competitors. This wasn't the first European import to be retitled and distributed to make a quick buck off of its likely controversy, and it certainly wasn't the last.
The film is set in a women's clinic in Zurich where we learn firsthand the stories of a few women who have come to the clinic for help. Safe and legal abortion wasn't always available, and that's why they've arrived. As the movie plays out, we hear their stories about the horrors of back alley abortions and the like. While this happens the film's narrative does a surprisingly good job of making the case for women's reproductive rights, covering childbirth, birth control abortion and the importance of easy access to all of this.
Those going into the movie expecting a skin flick had to have been disappointed, as The Wages Of Sin offers very little actual titillation. Yes, there is some childbirth footage here, so the movie delivers on that front. Hosted by Doctor Diener, the film goes over birth rates and certain parts of the world and delves into population growth issues not just in third world countries but in more developed nations as well. It covers the importance of proper sex education in countries where that isn't common. In the more dramatic scenes we see doctor's discussing what's right for their different patients, mulling over how to best take care of them. We see a husband, at one point, get upset over what his wife is going through, and we also see some of the troubles that the doctors themselves go through. Advances in incubation technology are demonstrated and explained, we see a newborn get what is basically a blood transfusion that saves its life and we learn of the importance of X-rays. The abortion debate is covered in a surprisingly mature manner, doing a pretty good job of showing both sides of the argument but landing on the side of freedom of choice.
Those expecting a sexploitation picture or a nudie cutie based on the fairly salacious title won't find what they're looking for here but Wages Of Sin is a pretty interesting artifact that is surprisingly relevant to today's political climate and the ongoing debate around a woman's right to choose what to do with her body.
Wages Of Sin is presented by Kino and Something Weird Video in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and properly framed at 1.66.1 with the with seventy-seven-minute feature taking up 17GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Detail isn't always as sharp in some scenes as others and some scenes look noticeable darker but this could be how it was shot. Still, given the history of this picture and, presumably, the elements available to create a transfer from the picture quality here is very watchable and generally looks quite nice. The black and white film shows decent contrast and the transfers always look nice and natural, always filmic. There are no issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement though eagle-eyed viewers might spot the odd compression artifact here and there.
The film gets a 16-bit English language LPCM 2.0 Mono audio track. Audio quality is fine is limited by the original elements. Dialogue generally comes across fairly clean if a bit on the flat side. This was obviously dubbed into English, so keep that in mind. Overall though, it sounds fine. Optional English subtitles are provided.
The first extra on the disc is a commentary from film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas who does a nice job of delving into the history of this picture, offering some details about the film's director, how it was originally release with a much less exploitative marketing campaign, how it came to be released in the United States in the form it is in on this disc, the way that the film deals with childbirth, birth contrl and abortion and much more.
The disc also includes a second feature, The Misery And Fortune Of Women, from 1929. This fifty-eight-minute film was produced by Lazar Wechsler, the co-producer of the feature attraction found on this disc and was co-directed by an uncredited Sergei Eisenstein! It's a silent film that shows the struggles that women from various backgrounds and classes must deal with in terms of their reproductive health. It's a silent film with English subtitles burned into the print used for this transfer. The film is presented in high definition at 1.33.1 from a reasonably torn print but it's quite watchable despite the print damage. It's quite an interesting film, showing the pros and cons of abortion and how it affects women of different ages and social standings. Some of the cinematography is quite strong and there's some nice cinematography showing off what appear to be some interesting Swiss locations from the era. It's pretty blunt in the way that it makes the case for safe and legal access to abortion at a time when many women throughout Europe had to turn to back alley techniques for various reasons. The film is split into two sections, the first being narrative and showing the stories of a few different women, and the second more of a documentary, explaining the medical procedure itself and a look at proper medical practices. From a sociological standpoint, it's fascinating stuff.
Rounding out the extras on the disc is a vintage Donn Davison medical lecture that was used to preface showings of Wages Of Sin when it played in the United States. Also found on the disc are an eleven-minute short film called Life And Its Secrecies, an eight-minute short called Triplets By Cesarean Section and a trailer gallery. The two shorts would have played with Wages Of Sin at various showings across the country, so it's great that they are included here along with the Davison lecture (that is as much an advertisement to sell books as it is anything else!). Trailers for a few other entries in the Kino Forbidden Fruit series are also provided.
Kino's Blu-ray release of Wages Of Sin is a good one, providing the film in nice shape and with an interesting selection of extra features that do a great job of replicating the material that would have accompanied it during its original American theatrical run and a commentary that does a fine job of diving into the film's background and importance. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.