August 10, 2015

Movie Review: Marta (1971)

Once again, I made the trek to the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY, to bear witness to a screening of a rare old movie projected from 35mm elements. The movie is Marta and it is one that I knew absolutely nothing about before sitting down in the theater. Now, having seen the entire movie, I still know absolutely nothing about it. It is the sort of film that when it is over, you look at the person next to you and say: What the hell was that?. It was a bizarre experience of watching a movie I can say I like but am not sure exactly why. It is not particularly good, but it has these strange qualities that make it eminently watchable.

This presentation of Marta was hosted by Chris Poggiali (Temple of Schlock). During the opening, we learned the film appeared often on late night television, and much like Nurses for Sale (which screened a couple of months back), was used as a tax shelter by a group of investors. Of course, most presentations have been of a cut television version and that it is not believed to have had a home video release. The print shown is believed to be the uncut version, being the R-rated US theatrical release print with a run time of ~96-minutes.

The movie was the second from director Jose Antonio Nieves Conde to star Marisa Mell and Stephen Boyd. A year earlier the two starred in The Great Swindle for Conde. It was on the set of that film that the two began an affair. The went to Conde to ask for another film they could work on so the affair could continue. Marta was born. The movie was based on the play Estado civil: Marta by Juan Jose Alonso Millan. It is unknown if the play was already being adapted or if it was adapted specifically for the Mell/Boyd duo to star in.

Marta has four credited screenwriters: Juan Jose Alonso Millan (who wrote the source play), Ricardo Lopez Aranda, Tito Carpi, and director Jose Antonio Nieves Millan. Now, If I had to guess, I would say they each took turns writing pages so as to create the oddest, most nonsensical experience that they could. If that was the goal, they succeeded. This is a strange, strange movie.

As it opens we see Miguel (Boyd) get interrupted in bed with a woman by his mother. He freaks out and kills her. We then cut to some years later, a woman is running through the trees. Miguel spies her with his telescope, grabs a gun and runs out to investigate. He carries her into the house, undresses her, and puts her in bed. When she wakes up she tells him her name is Marta (Mell). She has just killed a man and is on the run. Miguel promises to protect her in his expanse of a house.

It is clear the two are attracted to each other, especially since Marta looks so much like Miguel's wife who ran away years earlier (also played by Marisa Mell). This leads to revelations that Miguel is a pretty messed up individual, his father was crazy, his mother controlling, and he seems tied to the house, too scared to leave.

The movie gets more and more nuts as it never does what is expected. The conversations you would expect to happen never really do. When they are together, she is trying to get him to open up, when they are apart, she is sneaking around the house finding seccret rooms, one with a painting of the runaway wife, another with straps and dirty hand prints on the wall. It is a weird movie that reallky defies explanation.

When the end credits rolled, I am not sure what it was that I watched, nor did I know what the novie wanted to be. The acting is all over the map, spending most of its time in the campy over the top realm. The dialogue was silly and there never seemed to be a point. It felt like a mash of Italian giallo, Hitchcock, and Poe, with a healthy dose of Euro-sleaze. I can do nothing but recommend it, even if I cannot explain it. The best I can say is once Marta starts, just resign yourself to the ride and recognize that logic has been left behind.

Watching this also made me wish there were still films like this being made. I also was reminded of Night of 1000 Cats, they had a great location, limited time, and decided to make up something to fit the location. Watch, if you dare.


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