(director: Cy Endfield; screenwriters: Richard Matheson/based on the book by Gerry Levy; cinematographer: Richard Angst; editor: Max Benedict/Herman Haller; music: Billy Strange; cast: Keir Dullea (The Marquis De Sade), Lilli Palmer (Mme de Montreuil), Senta Berger (Anne de Montreuil), John Huston (Abbe de Sade), Anna Massey (Renee de Montreuil), Sonja Ziemann (Le Beauvoisin); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Samuel Z. Arkoff/James H. Nicholson; MGM Home Entertainment; 1969-USA/West Germany)

“It was pure torture sitting through this dull version of the life of Marquis De Sade.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Just so much mush and European debauchery. The American International Pictures’ low-budget exploitation art film is carelessly directed by a disinterested Cy Endfield (“Mysterious Island”/”Zulu”/”Hell Drivers”), replaced midway by several uncredited directors (John Huston to producer Roger Corman to British director Gordon Hessler). It has a miscast Keir Dullea playing the unbalanced Donatien Alphonse Fran├žois, the Marquis De Sade. It could do nothing right but the costumes, otherwise it was pure torture sitting through this dull version of the life of Marquis de Sade (1740-1814).

Talented novelist and screenwriter Richard Matheson dismissed this as one of the worse screen adaptions he was involved with. It’s based on the book by Gerry Levy. The bio uses a theatrical framework to tell the so-called real story of the naughty Marquis, and offers sex orgy scenes that are as tedious as the rest of the picture.

The Marquis De Sade is fleeing the French police and arriving at the seedy cob web filled villa of his wicked uncle, the Abbe de Sade (John Huston), where plays were once staged. Uncle makes his bad boy nephew watch a play about his life, but the Marquis becomes annoyed that the play tells lies and insists on telling the real story. It begins with how he was tricked into signing a contract to marry Renee de Montreuil (Anna Massey), and then told he cannot change his mind after learning that Renee is plain looking while her sister Anne (Senta Berger) is a hottie. The Marquis settles down to married life by having orgies with whores, and pining fruitlessly after Anne. The orgies upset Mme de Montreuil (Lilli Palmer) so much, that she had her son-in-law arrested. We’re told that the Marquis spent a third of his 74 years in prison. In prison, he wrote fiery anti-government tracts that helped him become famous as both an artist and libertine. Flashbacks tell how uncle reared his nephew from childhood to be a masochist, having his maid whip him until he enjoyed it. The filmmaker also offers other pseudo psychological reasons for the Marquis’ odd behavior, which all seem silly.

Any aim to make the Marquis a tragic figure, framed for the murder of Anne and sentenced to life imprisonment, is corrupted by all the garbled messages and the incoherence of the story (veering back and forth between reality and fiction, so much so that it’s easy to lose track of what’s real).