The late Joe Sarno is fondly remembered by many as one of the true greats of sexploitation cinema. He did, after all, help fashion the genre in the early 60s with directorial efforts such as MOONLIGHTING WIVES and SIN IN THE SUBURBS.
But it was until 1967, when the American filmmaker took his wares to Sweden and filmed INGA in Stockholm, that he really made a name for himself. Shot in stark black-and-white and benefitting from a focus on storyline that, typically of him, never shied away from the psychological complexities of its sexually motivated characters, it was easy to see why some dubbed him the "Ingmar Bergman of sex movies".
And now, here it is, presented in a formidable 3-disc set by the kind folks at Retro-Seduction Cinema (a subsidiary of Alternative Cinema).
Disc one gives us the main attraction.
INGA (a.k.a. I, A VIRGIN; JAG – EN OSKULD) focuses on the titular character, portrayed with tact and enigma by the beautiful Marie Liljedahl as a child-like teenager who we first see pensively going through the toys she once played with as a youngster.
Inga is on the cusp of adulthood when her parents die and she is sent to live with her reluctant aunt, the 32-year-old Greta (Monica Strommerstedt). Greta is skint, having spent much of her funds on the upkeep of her young lover Karl (Casten Lassen). She can’t see how tending to a 17-year-old orphan will help with her finances.
Until, that is, friend and occasional lover Einar (Thomas Ungewitter) expresses a desire for a young woman to satiate his needs. Greta has just the person in mind …
Inga, however, is a curious but coy virgin. She’s not averse to teasing the odd cock, but unsure of giving herself away – be it to Einar, Karl (who also takes a shine to her), or any of the men that she encounters while living with her strapped aunt.
An admirably earnest, considered piece of work, INGA may well prove to be a little too slow and tame for some tastes. But if you like your soft-core exploitation with a little more focus on story and characters than normal, then this should serve you well. Performances are good, the low-key sex scenes are genuinely erotic when they come, and Liljedahl makes for an authentically beguiling heroine.
With its poppy score, wild fashions and even wilder, bohemian-style club scenes, INGA also offers hugely vivid glimpses into the late 1960s. It’s like we’re there, thrown back in time – scary.
A poignant air to the plot adds weight to proceedings, and yet Sarno never allows INGA to buckle under pretension: it is, after all, a film shot in Sweden to capitalise upon that nation’s then-notorious sexual liberalism.
INGA became a massive hit and prompted Jess Franco to cast the relatively inexperienced Liljedahl as the lead in his EUGENIE … THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION. Poor girl.
The film is presented in both Swedish and English dubbed versions, both of which preserve its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
The English version looks unexpectedly superb in this sharp, detailed, well-contrasted transfer. Restored from the original 35mm negatives, it’s hard to imagine INGA looking any better than it does here. Occasional softness cannot dampen my enthusiasm for an otherwise brilliant presentation.
Likewise, the English audio is clean and consistent throughout.
The Swedish version has a softer, slightly more damaged print and quieter soundtrack. Also, it comes with burned-in English subtitles.
Disc one opens with a window-boxed static main menu page, offering a soft nudie photo of the lovely Misty Mundae replicating the original film’s most famous promotional still (boobs fogged out) set to the fabulous strains of The Good Grief’s James Bond-esque 60s pop tune "Middle of Nowhere".
There are no scene-selection menus.
Extras on this disc begin with a great commentary track from the always listenable Sarno, and his co-director/costume designer on the film (and, later, wife) Peggy Steffans-Sarno. As usual, Sarno provides a healthy amount of well-remembered information with a welcome mix of detail and wry, sometimes self-effacing humour. His modesty is tempered by Peggy, making for an altogether engaging and even warm proposition.
An audio interview with Liljedahl is a great find by Alternative Cinema. This was recorded in Sweden in September 2001 and runs for 9 minutes. Set to a stylish montage of stills – some monochrome, others seeped in Day-Glo pink – the questions appear as on-screen text while Liljedahl responds to them in English. It sounds like she’s maybe reading from a script, but it’s still an interesting listen. Her recollections of working with Sarno, the evolution of her character (or lack thereof), and fond memories of her co-stars are all worthwhile, as is the revelation that she was an accidental actress: her chosen career was to be that of ballet dancer, prior to bagging this role.
Two window-boxed trailers also turn up. They’re both quite similar in content and in great condition. They also do a good job of conveying the film swinging sensibilities. Note legendary distributor Jerry Gross’ name on the second trailer (his name also heralds in the English-language feature version of the film).
Also on disc one but not listed on the DVD packaging, we get 9 minutes of surprisingly well-preserved outtakes (more groovy clubbers dancing etc), and the usual vault of trailers for other titles in the Seduction Cinema range. On this occasion, these include MUMMY RAIDER, EROTIC VAMPIRE IN PARIS, GLADIATOR EROTICUS, EROTIC SURVIVOR 2, VAMPIRE OBSESSION, EROTIC MIRROR, SEXY 6TH SENSE, 2069: A SEXY ODYSSEY, NAUGHTY STEWARDESSES, FEMALE ANIMAL, MASTER’S PLAYTHING, THE SEDUCTION OF INGA, I LIKE THE GIRLS WHO DO and THE POSSESSION OF NURSE SHERRI. Hmm. I spy a recurring theme.
Disc two proffers THE SEDUCTION OF INGA, Sarno’s 1969 sequel.
Inga now lives with no money in a shithole apartment, where she’s bugged by the strumming of a budding musician in the apartment beneath hers. The guitarist, Rolf (Tommy Blom), meanwhile, wants to have his end away with Inga. Well, who wouldn’t?
But she’s preoccupied with pining for previous beau Karl, narrating mournfully to us viewers, and worrying about the pimp in her tenement building who she’s sure she recognises from another life …
Inga is then introduced to a successful and older writer, Stig (Lennart Lindberg). He takes her out for a spin in his sports car, and then ends the day by offering her the job of being his secretary while he writes his latest book. He’s a gracefully senior man, with money … so, of course, she agrees.
But Rolf is still in the background, vying for Inga’s attentions. Which is all good and well, until sexy Greta (Inger Sundh) arrives on the scene – provoking previously unheard-of lesbian desires within the confused Inga …
Right from the start, it’s apparent that a lot has changed for this film. For a start, it’s in colour ("color by Deluxe"), and Inga – still portrayed by Liljedahl – is a lot more confident as she narrates over the opening credits. She tells us that she’s now 19 and much more worldly wise as a woman. What’s more, Sarno gives us full-frontal female nudity in the first minute, thanks to an inhibition-free shower scene (the preceding film avoids bush shots).
The music is more hippyish, the fashions more indicative of the early 70s and the cynicism more apparent: it’s a film that’s very much of its time. Even if Sarno’s take on the "rock ‘n’ roll" ethic is a tad embarrassing.
Liljedahl is rounder in the face but fitter than ever physically, as the frequent bouts of nudity example. The warm colour schemes help the sex scenes along, as do Sarno’s naturalistic approach and focus on writing characters who think as well as fuck.
The film has a harder edge, both in tone and content, to its predecessor. Having said that, those looking for hardcore thrills are still going to come away seriously short-changed. Still, the soft-core shenanigans of this film were enough to convince Liljedahl that she didn’t need to pursue the life of an actress any further …
SEDUCTION is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and looks quite ropy in this soft, bleed-heavy transfer. Actually, the transfer itself is okay – it’s the source material that’s flawed. But, I doubt we’ll see better. Sadly.
English mono audio is decent throughout the film.
Beyond the static main menu page (no scene-selection menus again), we get more interesting extras:
"Innocence Lost" is a 20-minute featurette taking a retrospective look at the film, with insights from Joe, Peggy and a still-hot Liljedahl. The three of them are interviewed separately, but share a good memory and somewhat bittersweet recollection of the film and its impact on its star.
"Memories of Inga" is an 11-minute audio essay on the film by its producer, Vernon Becker. It’s set to footage from the film and is yet another fascinating listen.
"Inga’s Theme", by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, is a music promo clip consisting of clips from both INGA and SEDUCTION. Yes, this is the very same Benny and Bjorn who would go on to make two quarters of ABBA! It runs for just under three minutes.
Finally we get a 101-second ‘preview’ of Sarno’s 2005 film, LUST FOR LAURA. Did this film ever get completed? I don’t recall it.
Over on disc three, the fun begins with an alternate cut of SEDUCTION. Grainy, letterboxed and perhaps offering better detail than the version on disc two, I’m at a loss as to how the film might otherwise differ here.
The real attraction here is THE INDELICATE BALANCE, another 1969 offering from Sarno.
Again, the Ingmar Bergman comparisons ring true in this stylishly shot, perceptive and character-driven slice of Swedish melancholia.
From the snowbound landscapes, to the detached relationships exposed through regretful performances and unapologetically human dialogue, this is as much about the drama as it is the (infrequent) eroticism.
Bear that in mind, and you’ll not be disappointed by what is in essence a well-made and quietly absorbing film.
The story concerns a young man who takes his new bride back to the family home, where an awkward reunion with his siblings and parents ensues. In particular, it gradually becomes apparent that the rest of the family are aware of the mother’s incestuous feelings towards her returning son …
It’s dark stuff and handled with delicate yet sombre hands by Sarno. It’s certainly a world away from the porno films he went on to make in the 1970s AND 1980S, such as A TOUCH OF GENIE and DEEP INSIDE ANNIE SPRINKLE.
BALANCE comes in an uneven transfer, presenting the film window-boxed and with further widescreen letterboxing. It looks okay at times, with decent colours and solid blacks. But there is excessive print damage at other times, and a few occasions where the print appears to have been sourced from videotape.
Swedish mono audio pops and stutters a few times in the earlier stages, before settling into a more reliable proposition. English subtitles are burned-in.
The static main menu page doesn’t offer scene-selection menus, but does provide access to the following bonus features:
An audio commentary track on BALANCE, which finds the affable Peggy Sarno on good form with moderator Gary Hughes.
A veritable shitload of trailers ends proceedings: LUST FOR LAURA, BUTTERFLIES, GIRL MEETS GIRL, VAMPIRE ECSTASY, SWEDISH WILDCATS, THE SEDUCTION OF INGA, INGA (both versions, as seen on disc one), SINFUL WIVES, NEW YORK WILDCATS, EROTIC DIARY OF MISTY, CHANTAL, DRACULA, BITE ME, THAT 70S GIRL, SCREAMING DEAD, SIN SISTERS, SEXY AMERICAN IDLE, SPIDERBABE, LUSTFUL ADDICTION, PLAYMATE OF THE APES and DR JEKYLL AND MISTRESS HYDE.
The three discs are housed in a single keepcase packaging. Inside the casing, you’ll also find a 12-page booklet with solid liner notes from the always reliable Bruce Holecheck and Michael J Bowen, as well as an encoded card entitling you to 30 free minutes from Seduction Cinema’s VOD service.
The condition of the bonus films’ transfers notwithstanding (all are uncut though, save for BALANCE – which Sarno had suggested, prior to his death, may be missing some rare footage), Retro-Seduction Cinema’s set offers a pretty definitive release of one of the most iconic entries in the annals of sexploitation cinema.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Retro-Seduction Cinema|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|