a cult favorite, actress Edwige Fenech
has numerous movie moments that are ingrained into the minds of many
Italian men who came of age in the 1970’s. Yet there is one particular moment, running topless in slow-motion
through a field of flowers, that is probably more memorable then the rest. Many words come to mind when trying to
describe this scene: Crude. Low-brow. Gratuitous. All of these are
excellent adjectives to use when trying to sum up 1973’s Ubalda, All Naked and Warm. Besides giving audiences an (extremely) intimate look at Ms.
Fenech, this was the film that famously
(or infamously) proved that the Italian “sexy comedies” could be commercially
viable. Although not a for
everyone, Ubalda is perfect for fans who wish to delve more deeply into the
overlooked cult titles of Italy’s yesteryear.
(Pippo Franco) is a hapless knight who has just returned home after a long and
brutal war. As can be expected, he wants
nothing more than to eat fresh food, have a nice bath, and find comfort in the
arms of his beautiful wife Fiamma (Karin Schubert). Before he had left, Olimpio had his wife
fitted with a chastity built in order to ensure that she remained faithful. Yet when he returns home, he finds that Fiamma
is less then eager to return his affections (even with the chastity belt, she
has numerous other suitors lined
up). After she steals the key to the
belt (a fact which delights her suitors), she informs Olimpio that she has
taken a vow of “chastity”, and suggests that her husband focus his energies
toward making peace with their neighbor instead of making love. Discouraged, Olimpio accepts his wife’s words
and heads over to the home of Master Oderisi (Umberto D’Orsi) in order to make
amends. Yet as soon as he sees Oderisi’s
new wife, he quickly has other ideas.
it turns out, Lady Ubalda (Edwige Fenech), is as equally unhappy in her
marriage as Fiamma is in hers. Initially, she is only too happy to add Olimpio to her list of secret
lovers, but quickly loses interest after his plan to bed her fails. Frustrated at home, both Olimpio and Oderisi
eventually agree to swap wives. Yet
their plan sets in motion a chain of events that will forever change their lives
in a very unexpected way. By the time
the film is over, neither man has to worry about the other ever trying to bed
their wife again.
with a budget of roughly $50,000, the
film grossed more than $400,000 at the box office, making it a huge success. (Although people under the age of 18 were not
admitted into the theaters, it is interesting to think of all the creative ways
that teenagers concocted in their attempts to sneak in). After Ubalda’s
stunning success, the Italian sex comedies (known in Italy as “commedia sexy
all’italiana”) became a huge sensation. Aside from the medieval setting, these films tended to center around
numerous other cliched subjects, such as: nurses, policewomen, and lady medics. Unsurprisingly, many of these films would
follow Ubalda’sexample and give top billing to Edwige Fenech.
Fenech was, beyond a doubt, the
break-out star of the movie. Already
known for her roles in the giallos, Ubalda
made Fenech an instant sex siren. It
is little wonder; gifted with natural beauty, she could light up any screen,
regardless of her role. (The fact that
the film featured her disrobing probably made the screen shine even brighter
for many in attendance). On top of her
more obvious attributes, Edwige Fenech also possessed a natural flair for
comedy. Throughout Ubalda, her
wry humor proves to be the perfect compliment to Franco's over the top antics.
Although her glamor and comedy would never grant her universal recognition,
Fenech would still make a decent career for herself.
Although Fenech has first billing, this does not take away from her co-stars. Both D’Orsi and Schubert do a fine job portraying a paranoid, jealous husband and a sex-crazed wife. That said, most of the credit must be given to Franco. Comedy seems to be something he was made to do, especially when portraying emasculated, hapless characters. While Olimpio is too pathetic a fellow to ever merit sympathy from his failed attempts to woo Ubalda, his dry wit in the face of constant failure is endearing. He may fail every time, but he always picks himself up and tries again. And again, and again, and again…
To be fair, no one would ever mistake Ubalda as a work of art. It’s plot alone is so clichéd that it’s almost laughable, and not in a good way. To put it (very) generously, much of the humor is low-brow and simply does not translate all that well to an English audience (although based on the critical reactions, many native Italians were not amused either). For example, the so-called “chastity belts” that Fenech and Schubert wear look so ridiculously out of place that they are eye roll worthy. Based on their design, they were evidently forged at the village’s Ye Old Victoria’s Secret; obviously crafted as the missing link between medieval undergarments and today's Fantasy Bras. It truly is best to consider these factors before watching the movie. It is clear as day that Ubalda is very much an acquired taste.
What makes Ublada curious is the fact that it belongs to a bygone era. Before censors grew relaxed and home video took rise, silly exploitative movies such as these were the chief source of audience titillation. While no one could call Italian sex comedies “classy”, they were still far removed from the adult films that eventually drove them to extinction. Ultimately, they became a victim of their own content: too lewd to be considered “serious” films, yet also too tame to compete with the infamy of the adult film industry.
Although not carried by Netfix or Hulu, Ubalda was made available by both NoShame Films and Mya Communications (both defunct). Both labels feature a gorgeous transfer that comes from the re-mastered vault 35mm original. Audio is clear and crisp, although there is a disclaimer about the use of subtitles (some dialogue is devoid of any translation, presumably because it would make no sense to non-Italians). Although the Mya Communications edition is easier to find and infinitely cheaper, the NoShame edition is crammed with worthwhile extras. The most prominent of these is an interview with Ms. Fenech, who today is a producer. Although short, the actress gives quite an interesting interview as she talks about meeting Quentin Tarentino and her relationship with Federico Fellini. Amazingly, Fenech was supposed to star in Fellini’s film Amarcord, but he made a last minute casting change. Despite this, she stuck around the set and developed a good friendship with the director. Still a striking beauty, Fenech embraces her role as a sex siren with grace: she explains that although her roles were never going to make her a household name, she is nevertheless thankful for her career and the opportunities it presented for her.
Ubalda, All Naked and Warm is vulgar, silly bordering on stupid, and focuses far too much attention to the “assets” of its leading lady. In short, it has all the ingredients of a cult hit. For fans of b-grade sexploitation films, this might be one of the lost gems you’ve been looking for; highly recommended.