Mar 16, 2018

On DVD: Monica Vitti and Tony Curtis in The Chastity Belt (1967)

Imagine Tony Curtis and Monica Vitti dressed in period garb, covered in leaves and wrestling with each other on the forest floor. If the thought amuses you, then The Chastity Belt (1967), also known as On the Way to the Crusades I Met a Girl Who…, is bound to do so as well. Curtis was always at his best playing vain, silly characters and Vitti shines when she has the opportunity to face serious situations with a “what can you do?” insouciance. Here the pair plays to those strengths, so while it doesn’t add up to a cohesive whole, this free-wheeling flick, now available on DVD from Warner Archive, has its moments.

Vitti plays a gamekeeper’s daughter and Curtis a newly anointed knight she adores. She resents that he wants to take her, rather than allowing her the opportunity to giver herself to him, but eventually they are married. On their wedding night he is summoned to immediately return to fighting in the Crusades. Intent on preserving his bride until they may consummate their marriage, he snaps her into a chastity belt against her will. Vitti spends the rest of the film chasing her groom, so that she may get the key and free herself.

Monica Vitti and a dog that she resembles
The Chastity Belt is a costume pic frolic in the bawdy spirit of Tom Jones (1963). Filmed in Italy, but with an eye on US distribution, it always feels on the edge of being as bawdy as it wants to be, with just a glimpse of nudity and a taste of sensuality, but more slapstick than anything else. It is a jumble of moments, but some moments can be very good, and like the scene where Curtis flashes a group of nuns as he races by on a bed pulled by a donkey, it is at its best when it gets a little racy.

While it taps into a lot of the counterculture and free love sentiment of the day, in many ways we are at the wrong cultural moment to draw even retro amusement from The Chastity Belt. The film takes light amusement from Vitti being kidnapped, harassed, attacked, stripped naked, wrapped in rope and called “it”. She is told by a supposed wise man that women don’t have souls, by Curtis that she is his to take, and her father gladly leaves her to the knight as if he is lending him a cup of sugar. However, you can also see the tide turning when after all she endures, Vitti dons a glam, jewel-studded suit of gold armor and starts taking things into her own hands.

Tony Curtis and a horse that resembles Monica Vitti
Vitti and Curtis are an odd romantic pair, but well-matched when it comes to humor. Neither of them seems to take anything too seriously and they both know what to do with the array of physical goofing and visual gags the script throws at them. If you look at it as lively fluff, it’s a good time.

The picture quality is marvelous, displaying the gorgeous leads in their colorful costumes beautifully. With the open air feel of the location shots, it can sometimes have the feel of a bunch of hippies frolicking in the country in flowing finery. It is possible that, at least to a degree, that was the intent.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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