Dir: Don Edmonds | US Drama
The commonly made observation that a particular old film today looks tame by modern standards always depresses me, representing as it does, a reflection on how debased modern tastes have become: and becoming more debased by the minute. For that reason it comes as something of a relief that ‘Ilsa’ still looks pretty revolting today, even if it doesn’t begin to compare with the sheer relentless nastiness of nihilistic shockers like Kōji Wakamatsu’s Violated Angels (1967) and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo (1975), and is partially rescued by the childish sense of glee that makes the films of the late Herschell Gordon Lewis bearable.
Two distinguished Polish feature films have depicted the experience of women held in Nazi concentration camps, Wanda Jakubowska’s The Last Stage (1948) and ‘Andrzej Munk’s Passenger (1963). Over the years there has been occasional trash with pretensions set against the backdrop of The Holocaust, such as Roger Vadim’s soporific Le Vice et la Vertu (1963) and Liliana Cavani’s sleazy The Night Porter (1974). And then there is simple trash like ‘Ilsa She Wolf of the SS’.
Less cheesy looking than anticipated, and with professional-looking photography, generally good acting and unpleasantly convincing special effects by Joe Blaso, the film is shot on the sets left over from the production of the TV series ‘Hogan’s Heroes’. ‘Camp Nine’ only seems to be holding about a dozen prisoners, and George ‘Buck’ Flower as Dr.Binz could easily have wandered in from an episode of the original series.
The character of Ilsa herself is loosely based upon the genuine antics of Ilse Koch (1906-1967), the wife of the commandant of Buchenwald best remembered for her taste in lampshades. She makes love to male inmates like a praying mantis until the unprecedented staying power of – guess what! – an American, sends her to hitherto undreamt of heights of ecstasy and exposes her Achilles heel. Ilsa has a theory that women are capable of enduring more pain than men; a theory that if proved will result in better use of the so far underused resource of German womanhood on behalf of the war effort. Nobody who has read the relevant section in William Shirer’s ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ will, alas, be surprised at anything they come across in this film (such as the decompression chamber, immersion in water and deliberate infection of prisoners in order to test medical treatments). The sequence when Ilsa is alone with The General (as she refers to him throughout) also indicates that someone involved in the film was aware of the gossip concerning the Führer’s own personal sexual predilections.
Set in the very last days the Third Reich in 1945, it goes without saying that no serious attempt has been made to get the period right, but even so Ilse’s rather ugly seventies hairstyle is distractingly anachronistic, especially worn loose as it is when she’s in uniform (all her other female staff have their hair more plausibly tied back in buns) and if she’d just let it down occasionally during her more – er – unrestrained moments the contrast could have had more visual impact. The late Anne Ridler looked more authentic to the period – and was far hotter – in her brief role as an SS torturer in 633 Squadron (1964).
Many will find simply discussing such a disreputable trivialisation of Nazi atrocities so nonchalantly grossly offensive. But as an earlier user has pointed out, Nazi-porn pulp novels known as ‘Stalags’ were popular in 60s Israel; and this movie’s portrayal of the Nazis as sadistic perverts would probably offend most Holocaust deniers too. (Although an American-German production, the film was of course banned in Germany.)
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