Franco's 1975 domestic drama, Hot Nights of Linda, aka Brutal Nights of Linda, aka But Who Raped Linda? brought out on DVD from a recently discovered 35mm print which nevertheless shows a certain amount of wear and grain. The print has not been cleaned up much (there are speckles and some minor scratching throughout and reel-changes are noticeable with slightly more wear) but nothing critical or major and in fact it's endearing. The rough grindhouse filminess of the presentation adds the the experience.
Marie (Arno) is sent to a mansion on an island to help an older man (Paul Muller) take care of his daughters Lina Romay (playing the nymphomaniac Olivia) and Catherine Laferiere (playing the crippled/catatonic Linda). Family secrets ensue and a hidden trauma as well as casual and increasingly twisted sexual activities slowly unravel.
It's a fairly typical middle-period Franco with similarities to Female Vampire, Doriana Gray, and Eugenie de Sade. The plot is minimal and loose and stream-of-consciousness: Arno basically shows up to talk, watch, be seduced and sunbathe. The film presages his slower atmospheric and dream-like Golden Films from the '80s. Linda is moody and erotic, mostly due to the naked flesh on display and Arno's gaze. The camera loves her and she knows how to simply watch, as we do. The stunning Spanish location and the house in which it's shot also looks beautiful and tactile with its textures, stone details and plaster walls and plants. A slowburn of perversion and dread permeates. Franco uses some artistic lighting and effects, and there's a great (apparent) post-coital scene between Romay and Arno where Romay explains something while smoking and leaning against a doorframe that's bathed in red light.
Also, in spite of the wear the colors on the print look fabulous. There are occasional focus issues and shifting lighting qualities which no doubt were due to production resources (or lack thereof) and not due to a fading or mis-timed print. The blu-ray looks luminous even though sharpness is not great. Arno's blonde hair particularly seems soft but it's almost an aesthetic element. The shadows, the stone walls and steps, the white plaster and the fleshy bodies on display (no Kate Moss types for Franco) on sunny balconies all create a kind of sterile lushness that makes the film feel warm, hard and mysterious. The DVD looks almost as good.
The intrigue leads to a couple big reveals and nice reversals as things play themselves out and the film loses interest in Arno and becomes more interested in following Romay mess with the servant and investigate her father's secret. Without any big setpieces (no burning buildings or shootouts) the film ends in a gesture towards a suspended state of was-it-a-dream/ambiguity as to what happens next, par for Franco and effective as always. Extras are a great mixed bag of stuff collected from various places including a filmed conversation with Romay and Franco and a short making-of conversation with Stephen Thrower and outtakes.
Also, if you order direct from the Severin site they currently have a limited edition (2500 only) edition that includes an alternate French cut, the "Nuits brulantes de Linda/Brutal Nights of Linda" that is sourced from video. It's pretty grainy/blurry/poor quality but there are alternate nude takes of some of the scenes and a couple added scenes of a sexual nature. The emphasis is more towards hardcore (mostly with women alone) and plays differently, replacing a comedic subplot in the "Hot Nights..." version with a detective taking pictures (?) for more extended naked encounters between Romay and almost every member of the cast including herself. These long interludes loosen the plot to the point of distraction and make the film much more of a sleazy fever-dream. It's a great (if murky) variant. The alternate scenes were shot by Franco on the set, we're not talking about inserts that someone put in later, so while the softer "Hot Nights..." HD version is apparently his preferred version the "Nuits brulantes..." version is also a Franco-shot and worth owning for fans.
Many Franco films from this period are being issued of late, this one is a lesser-known but strong example of his sensual melodramas, Arno and Leferierre (in a somewhat thankless roll) are very good and Romay, although saddled with a pretty bad dub job in the HD version (the French variant has subtitles), is as beautiful and enthusiastic as always.