QUANTE VOLTE... QUELLA NOTTE, an Italian W. German co-production was directed by Mario Bava at the apex of the late 60's cultural/sexual revolution. Bava had just finished a western and his career had lost its moorings, the master of Gothic cinema found himself adrift in a rapidly evolving demographic shift which saw international film-goers wanting sex, sex, and more sex. This particular project originated with a script by others. Delfino Films produced in association with Alfredo Leone. The novelty of the film is that it takes its structure from the 1950 Kurosawa classic RASHOMON. An event, a first date here, is told from four different perspectives. In RASHOMON the idea was to evoke the shifting nature of truth, implying reality is perhaps subjective, relative. Bava's film makes a Euro-trash riff of this idea, adds nudity, a light orgy, lesbianism, homosexuality, voyeurism, all in a sub-psychedelic environment. This is tame stuff in retrospect, but the harmless comedy was banned in Italy by the censorship board under the aegis of former Bava collaborator Riccardo Freda. I can understand how a cultural conservative like Freda might have seen Bava's gentle jibes at conventional mores as somehow threatening to public morality and decency. However, this film could show uncut on television anywhere in the world today and, if anything, looks rather chaste and is too mild for its intended satire to have more than a superficial effect.
Bava once joked that he made this film so people wouldn't think that he was gay, but homophobia, both the culturally sanctioned type and on a personal level, is one of the persistent subtexts. In the first telling of the story of the date, John Price (Brett Halsey) is depicted as sexist, arrogant, a wily predator who traps and attempts to force Tina (Daniela Giordano) into sex. This is all related after the fact by Tina to her mother in their rather lower middle class apartment. Class-ism plays a subtle role throughout, John sneeringly remarks that it's a nice apartment to Tina's anxious mother who is later overly concerned about her daughter's expensive dress being ripped in the wake of a reported rape attempt. Price's own apartment (note his surname) is upscale in comparison. A typical 60's bachelor pad equipped with a swing (KILL, BABY...KILL!), op art decor, and a mustard curvature of a couch. The second telling is by John himself and his sexual anxiety is underlined by his casting of Tina as the predator. She attempts to rape him, but he "escapes" just in time. Sexual role models are taken to extremes in the these two segments and gender role playing will dominate the third segment. Let's loop back to the opening, though, to get a bearing on Bava's increasingly complex satire.
The action begins with a pan from a close up of a colorful butterfly to a high angle shot of Price driving around slowly, occasionally stopping his snazzy silver sports car to ogle a pretty pedestrian. Price's cruising is compulsive and obnoxious, although he doesn't see it that way. The first shot of Tina is a zoom up to her scantily clad behind as she bends over to leash her pet poodle. The leering imagery mocks Price's sexist ogling and the exact moment where Price's leer ends and Bava's zoom begins is somewhat ambiguous. This might almost be at home in the Doris Day-Rock Hudson sex comedy PILLOW TALK, made in Hollywood a decade earlier but with some of the same cultural/sexual red flags. Rock acts "gay" in that one as part of a subterfuge which will result in the seduction of Doris. In 4X Price becomes similarly gay in the third telling of that night's events. This Chaucerian rendering is narrated by legendary Eurosleaze merchant Dick Randall, the producer of such then daring fare as THE WILD, WILD WORLD OF JAYNE MANSFIELD (1968) and FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS (1973). Randall was also involved in other Euro sleaze epics such as Jose Benazeraf's PARIS EROTIKA (1963). Benazeraf later called Randall and his parter Bob Cresse "gangsters". Here Randall is cast amusingly as the doorman of Price's apartment building. Described as "...a pig with a pair of binoculars" Randall is a sweaty, grotesque pervert whose apartment walls are papered with porno. He cuts out nudie dolls, and pulls out the binoculars to spy on the building's tenants. "The times are sick..." is his pathetic commentary on the sexual revolution, minimizing his own predilections. Price is presented as "mamsy pamsy" in this scenario, and he invites Tina up as "bait" for a lesbian friend, while he frolics with a male partner. There's even a interior tale as we segue to the Club Kama Sutra, where the lesbian relates an odd interlude involving Brigitte Skay stripping and posing in the midst of a bisexual orgy.
The psychedelic decor here, colorful squiggles, bright pink rooms, a fey man getting whipped by girls in leather boots and miniskirts, is all highly amusing in its endearingly dated depiction of decadence. The last rendering of the date comes from a quack "scientist", who has been seen briefly in the solarized credit sequence. This is the most conventional: NOTHING happened. They had a normal flirtation, she ripped her dress on the wrought iron gate, and they drove off into the sunrise. But Bava interrupts that possibility by having the giant hand of the scientist pick up the car, now a toy, as he muses on the ontological questions which have gone unasked up to this point. "Do you really believe things went exactly that way?" In a way, despite "the tarnished figments of our imaginations" this is the same question implied by the false perceptions of events by the main characters of THE WHIP AND THE BODY (1963) and OPERAZIONE PAURA (1966), two of Bava's better Gothics which turn on the possibility that the human mind can imagine its own death and then manipulate events to bring that about. The stakes here might not seem quite so high, and the comedy format allows Bava to cast the ambiguity of reality in a philosophical rather than a visceral-aesthetic mode. Some of the same themes and a time-fragmenting structure would also appear in a another of the director's subversive comedies (although in a blacker shade) with ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO (1971), where generational conflicts turn murderous and make the world of FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT seem quaintly naive in comparison. Reviewed by Robert Monell (C) 2017