Sexy, young Tina (Daniela Giordano) is out walking her dog in the park when she attracts the attention of Gianni (Brett Halsey), a smooth-talking lothario in a snazzy sports car. In spite of her strict convent school upbringing, Tina agrees to go out on a date with the handsome Gianni. Later that night she returns home to her mother who notices her dress has been torn. Tina then tells her what happened that night as it turns out Gianni had one thing on his mind. Only Tina’s virtuous resolve enabled her to escape his attempt at rape. Meanwhile across town, friends listen as Gianni recounts his own version of the night’s events which, naturally, proves to be a very different story.
The only sex comedy ever directed (reluctantly) by Italian horror maestro Mario Bava, Four Times That Night drew surprising yet inspired inspiration from of all things Akira Kurosawa’s seminal multi-perspective period drama Rashomon (1950). As in the Kurosawa classic the film presents the audience with four radically different interpretations of the same event that reveal more about the psychological state of the storyteller than the actual events that night. Following Tina’s good Catholic girl account of the evening, Gianni offers his friends a far steamier, almost lad-magazine friendly version re-casting her as an insatiable nymphomaniac who wore him out with her incessant lovemaking. We then have a third perspective delivered from a less than reliable source: the perverted doorman at Gianni’s building played by none other than the film’s co-producer: globe-hopping American trash film mogul Dick Randall. Given this sweaty sleaze-bag spends his spare time making photo collages of naked ladies and spying through binoculars at his racy residents, it comes as no surprise that his version of the story plays like a frustrated pervert’s deluded fantasy. This version amusingly re-imagines Gianni as a flamboyantly fey homosexual luring unsuspecting innocent Tina back to his bachelor pad as prey for his predatory lesbian gal pal, Esmeralda (Pascale Petit). Finally an affable psychologist (Calisto Calisti) appears onscreen to tell us what actually happened and in the process reworks the hitherto sordid scenario into something surprisingly uplifting, profound and even sweet.
Bava was never especially enamoured with this directorial assignment and later remarked he only made the film because at that time any European director that turned down a sex movie was thought to be homosexual. In fact Four Times That Night turned out to be surprisingly controversial in Italy. It went unreleased until 1972 on account of the Italian censorship board at that time headed by Bava’s close friend, mentor and fellow genre pioneer, Riccardo Freda. Supposedly, Freda believed he was doing Bava a favour by withholding the film that he believed was so bad it could damage his friend’s career. However given this supposedly crass, insignificant sex comedy is considerably more ambitious, intelligent and entertaining than just about everything Freda was producing at the time, one imagines a small amount of jealousy came into play. One would go as far as to suggest Four Times That Night actually ranks among Bava’s most accomplished and endearing efforts. What is more the film fits perfectly inside a filmography wherein a major recurring theme was the elusive nature of truth. Granted, typically for an Italian sex romp, a lot of the humour relies on wordplay sometimes lost in translation but the story itself is so strong and consistently amusing, it is remains a remarkable charming work.
At first the film’s attitudes towards homosexuality and date rape seemingly betray an inherently conservative mentality symptomatic of Italian sex comedies at the time. Yet as the fourth story makes clear, the film sets out to satirise the boorish and ignorant attitudes embodied by the doorman. Stylishly sensual rather than simply smutty, the film packs in all the expected nudity and saucy humour but while Bava succeeds in arousing the audience he also proves surprisingly progressive in exposing the more vulnerable side of his characters. It is an undeniably sexy film yet disarmingly sweet-natured and quite perceptive about the differences between male and female perspectives on relationships. Bava’s pictorial gifts and flair for production design ensure this is easily the best looking sex comedy ever made with magnificently groovy costumes and space age lounge décor including the psychedelic swinger’s nightclub of your wildest dreams. Look out for voluptuous Brigitte Skay, later the ill-fated skinny-dipper in Bava’s seminal Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) a.k.a. Bay of Blood, as a Swiss sexpot seduced by slinky lesbian Esmeralda.
While American lead Brett Halsey, who re-teamed with Bava for the inferior but not uninteresting spaghetti western Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1969), makes an affable leading man the film truly belongs to former Miss Italy Daniela Giordano, among the most talented yet curiously least heralded starlets in Euro exploitation cinema. Although introduced bending over in a short skirt for the sake of a crass gag, the beautiful Giordano shines delivering four distinctively different characterisations. And yes, she looks amazing in her impeccably tailored and very Sixties designer mini-dresses. Remarkably, Bava delivers a film steamy enough to satisfy the dirty raincoat brigade but which also rates as an endearing love story.
Italian director/writer/cinematographer and one of the few Italian genre film-makers who influenced, rather than imitated. Worked as a cinematographer until the late 1950s, during which time he gained a reputation as a hugely talented director of photography, particularly in the use of optical effects.
Bava made his feature debut in 1960 with Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan, a richly-shot black and white Gothic gem. From then on Bava worked in various genres – spaghetti western, sci-fi, action, peplum, sex – but it was in the horror genre that Bava made his legacy. His sumptuously filmed, tightly plotted giallo thrillers (Blood and Black Lace, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Bay of Blood) and supernatural horrors (Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, Kill, Baby...Kill!) influenced an entire generation of Italian film-makers (and beyond) – never had horror looked so good. Bava’s penultimate picture was the harrowing thriller Rabid Dogs, while his last film, Shock, was one his very scariest. Died of a heart attack in 1980.