aka The Perils of Gwendoline In the Land of Yik-Yak
Director/Screenplay – Just Jaeckin, Based on the Comic Strip The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline Created by John Willie, Photography – Andre Domage, Music – Pierre Bachelet & Claude Viland, Music Arranged by Bernard Levitte, Art Direction – Francoise Deleu. Production Company – Parafrance/Films de L’Alma/G.P.F.L.
Tawny Kitaen (Gwendoline), Brent Huff (Willard), Zabou (Beth), Bernadette Lafont (The Queen), Jean Rougerie (Darcy)
Gwendoline and her maid Beth arrive in China, come to find her father who has gone missing while searching for the rare black butterfly. They are captured and sold to the local crime kingpin but are saved by the sailor Willard. Gwendoline alternately bribes and forces Willard to help search for her father. Fleeing hoods and river pirates, they journey up river, through jungle and across desert and finally to a lost underground city where women rule.
Gwendoline is based on the cult adult comic strip The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline. Created by British artist John Willie (real name John Coutts), Gwendoline appeared in Bizarre magazine between 1948 and 1959 and maintains a healthy afterlife today in reprints. John Willie was really the first fetish artist. Willie took a serial heroine a la Pearl White in The Perils of Pauline (1914) and brought out the inherent sexuality – Gwendoline was kept in a decorous state of undress throughout her adventures, while Willie took great delight in the BDSM opportunities offered by seeing the heroine tied up by the villain.
The film version comes from French director Just Jaeckin, best known for Emmanuelle (1974) and various other classy softcore films such as The History of O (1975) and Lady Chatterly’s Lover (1981). The film was cut from its original 106 minute runtime to 88 minutes for US release, although this has been restored in the 2005 dvd release. In US release, it was also given the deliberately silly retitling The Perils of Gwendoline In the Land of Yik-Yak, although this would only appear to be on its poster.
Gwendoline is a silly affair. For the most part, it is merely annoying. The first half plays into all the jingoistic cliches of the exotic adventure. Gwendoline is another of the screaming virginal heroines perpetually falling into peril to be saved by her male companion, the adventures through Chinese gangland and the encounters with the natives contain the tiredest of cliches, not to mention racial caricatures. The slapstick tone taken throughout indicates Just Jaeckin’s lack of interest in the adventure aspect. In the first half, it is only the bickering between Tawny Kitaen and Brent Huff that gives the film any drive, and this is shrill and extremely irritating.
It is only after the film arrives at the lost city that interest picks up somewhat. Here the film leaps off the deep end into full-fledged fetishist fantasy, featuring bizarre torture devices, half-naked women in black leather, as slaves, engaged in gladiatorial combat and fighting to make love to a bound virile man. A considerable amount has been put into the lost city scenes – the sets are impressive and there are even staged indoor chariot races.
It all has a mildly erotic charge, although perhaps the most erotic moment in the film doesn’t involve all the topless women in black leather but is a peculiarly appealing scene where Brent Huff and Tawny Kitaen are tied up in a hut by the natives and he ‘makes love’ to her by first stroking her face with a straw held in his teeth and then telling her what he would do in words.