Bring up the name Tinto Brass and, if you recognize it at all, the first thing that comes to mind is Caligula, the notorious and grotesque X-rated Roman epic produced by Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione (who also added explicit footage into the already sleazy spectacle). There’s also the Nazisploitation Salon Kitty (the film that earned him the Caligula assignment) and finally a string of lighthearted erotic romps notable for their fascination with the ample derrieres of his usually unclothed leading ladies.
But before he plunged headlong into Eurotica, Brass was a free-wheeling cat mining a vein right out of the nouvelle vague. We’re not talking Godard, mind you, but here was an ambitious young Italian director looking to break out of the comedies and westerns cranked out by the industry by getting young and hip and groovy, dabbling in social satire and pushing the boundaries of film conventions and subject matter.
And thus was born Deadly Sweet (aka I Am What I Am, 1967), a spy thriller turned kooky murder mystery romp. Adapted from a novel by Sergio Donati (a frequent screenwriting partner of Sergio Leone and Sergio Sollima), it plays like a psychedelic Bond spoof directed by Richard Lester. Jean-Louis Trintignant is the out-of-work actor who spots sex kitten Ewa Aulin (the Swedish baby doll of Candy) at a disco and rushes her out of a murder scene and into pop-art playground of shifting film stock, multi-pane split screens, and Mad magazine gags. Brass embraces the creative energy and anything-goes culture of sixties cinema and tosses every pop culture impulse he can grab into the film: comic books, experimental cinema, the French New Wave, the British New Wave, cinema verité street scenes, Antonioni’s Blow-Up (a visit to a photography studio turns into an impromptu fashion shoot), TV’s Batman (Pow!).