Peter’s Retro Reviews: Barbarella (1968)

August 4, 2011

Barbarella movie posterby Peter Nielsen

As we stroll down the big movie highway, we turn left at road’o’classics and then another left at cult-classic alley and then come to a full stop when we reach Barbarella. Sprung from the pages of the French comic of the same name, Barbarella is a psychedelic sci-fi adventure of the bizarre kind.

The story is miniscule, but to be fair, this movie is not really about an intricate story. It’s more about visuals and Jane Fonda and her skimpy outfits, or rather… lack thereof! And let’s be honest here! Jane Fonda looks fantastic as the intergalactic secret agent Barbarella.

The movie starts off with her stripping out of her spacesuit with only the opening-credits obscuring her nakedness. But only just, so guys, there’s plenty of eye-candy here. Hell, the whole movie is full of eye-candy and not only for the lads, as Barbarella later meets Pygar, the blind angel. So, ladies… stay in your seats!

Pygar is played by John Phillip Law who has a couple of cool titles under his belt (no pun intended), such as The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and American Commandos. Jane Fonda, of course, also has some good titles in her repertoire. Cat Ballou, Klute and The China Syndrome to name just a few. At this time she was married to Roger Vadim who was also the director of Barbarella. He is also known for starting, his then wife, Brigitte Bardot’s movie career with And God Created Woman.

Pygar and Barbarella

Pygar and Barbarella

Barbarella is sent by the president of Earth to find the mad scientist Durand Durand and stop him from using his Positronic Ray, a sort of death-ray, to cause havoc in the otherwise peaceful universe. She crash-lands on the planet Lythion where she encounters the trapper Mark Hand, who agrees to repair her ship in exchange for sexual favors.

Now, in the time this is set, the far distant future, sex is done in a more “civilized” manner where the only physical contact is pressing your palm against your partner’s. It also involves a pill and correlating your brain-waves??? Hey, I don’t know! Sounds a bit dull to me!

Entering the city.

Entering the city.

This is, however, NOT what the trapper has in mind. No! He wants to do it the old-fashioned way and at first Barbarella finds this barbaric, but when the deed is done, she is singing softly to herself. She takes off, but once again her space-ship malfunctions and she finds herself in the Labyrinth where she meets Pygar.

She asks about Durand Durand and he takes her to Professor Ping because he knows where to find him. The professor is played by the legendary mime, Marcel Marceau. He tells her to go to the city of Sogo (Sodom and Gomorrah, get it?), because that’s where The Great Tyrant lives and that’s also where she’ll find the scientist.

The Great Tyrant is a cruel dictator who uses her Black Guards to ensure that her laws are obeyed. She is played by Anita Pallenberg who is perhaps best known for her romantic involvement with three members of The Rolling Stones. Not all of them at the same time, of course!

Barbarella and Pygar arrive in the city where he is “arrested” and tortured, and several attempts on her life is made. By silly methods, I might add! Death by birds, for instance! Not large predatory birds, but small cute ones. She finally finds Durand Durand, who has no intention of returning to Earth with her, he wants to be the sole ruler of the universe. He straps her to a device called The Excessive Machine which is basically a big organ designed to give its victim pleasure (no pun intended).

Durand Durand getting ready to play The Excessive Machine.

Durand Durand getting ready to play The Excessive Machine.

Played right, it can actually cause its victim to die by pleasure! Yeah, I know… just go with it! This of course fails miserably! Not for lack of trying, though. Poor Durand Durand gives it his all to no avail. Milo O’Shea (The Dream Team, The Verdict) gives a good performance in this funny, but weird scene.

It’s hard to describe this movie properly, but the word “trippy” might do it. It’s basically one big drug-trip. Very 60’s, very colorful and highly sexual, and those expecting a regular sci-fi movie might be a bit disappointed. The universe doesn’t look like in other movies with stars and planets. It’s more swirling colors and bubbles, and as I stated before, very psychedelic. But there are some cool creatures in it and the movie as a whole looks great.

Is it a good movie then? Well, no… not really! But also yes, because it all depends on what mood you’re in. The sheer silliness and innocence of it will put a smile on your face. It’s the kind of movie where you put your brain in neutral and just go with the flow, man! I have! On numerous occasions!

Both the “brain in neutral” and “going with the flow” thing. Nah, just kidding, but I do like this movie and always have. Some of you might not, but then again… maybe you will, but hey… to each his own, right?

Until next time my friends…


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