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Cult Epics presents
The Key (La Chiave) (1983)

"Careful Laszlo, never follow my husband. You never know where you are going to end up."
- Theresa (Stefania Sandrelli)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: August 14, 2002

Stars: Frank Finlay, Stefania Sandrelli, Franco Branciaroli, Barbara Cupisti
Other Stars: Armando Marra, Maria Grazia Bon, Gino Cavalieri, Piero Bortoluzzi, Pietro Lorenzoni, Irma Veithen, Eolo Capritti, Maria Pia Colonnello, Milly Corinaldi, Edgardo Fugagnoli, Luciano Gasper
Director: Tinto Brass

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexuality, language)
Run Time: 01h:45m:16s
Release Date: May 14, 2002
UPC: 063390010110
Genre: late night

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Italian director Tinto Brass came to global attention for his notorious collaboration with Penthouse publisher, Bob Guccione on Caligula. After losing control of that work (Guccione had hoped it would merge the world of art cinema with pornography, and re-edited the film, adding hard core sex scenes not originally scripted), Brass set out to make a series of erotic pictures, with La Chiava (The Key) being one of the first. Set against the rise of Mussolini in 1940s Italy, Brass' screenplay was based on the 1956 novel Kagi by highly acclaimed Japanese author, Junichiro Tanizaki. In the novel, a couple whose marriage had lost its excitement share their diaries with each other, opening up a new world of eroticism. Here, the couple peruse the other's diaries in secret, in an effort to add more realism to the premise of snooping on the clandestine affairs of one's spouse.

English actor, Frank Finley plays Nino Rolfe, a middle-aged art expert whose enthusiasm for his marriage, and especially his sex life, is waning. Celebrating their 10th anniversary, the couple have lost their passion, but the sparks begin to fly when Nino discovers that his much younger wife, Therese (Stefania Sandrelli—Stealing Beauty) is attracted to their daughter's fiancé, Laszlo, played by Brass staple, Franco Branciaroli. Finding his jealousy arousing, Nino sets out to encourage his wife's infidelity. After writing a journal entry criticizing their lackluster sex life, he makes sure the key will be found by his spouse. While uncertain she has read the entries, he also borrows Laszlo's state-of-the-art camera to take erotic photos of his wife, after drugging her. In an act of faux discretion, he asks Laszlo to develop the pictures, enticing the young man with his wife's images. When Therese finds out about Laszlo seeing the photos, it ignites both their desires, and she embarks on a torrid love affair, all the while describing her encounters in the diary her husband is now secretly reading. Nino's ploy appears to be paying off with his wife's new found enthusiasm for sexual adventure, but her appetite will have dire consequences.

Voluptuous Stefania Sandrelli commands the screen with her daunting womanhood, but Franco Branciaroli is much less effective as her suitor. Finlay carries his starring role well, having no problem portraying a kinky, aging lecher. The period setting and Ennio Morricone's upbeat score keep the mood light and playful. Filled with nudity and sexuality, and breaking taboos left and right, Brass challenges his audience, not only by involving a mother with her daughter's future husband, but also with the elder male relentlessly taking advantage of his wife while she is either drugged or asleep. As such, while his sense for eroticism is carried off well, many of the plot points may not be acceptable to many audiences. The story has its comedic merits, enforced by fast motion sequences or slapstick trappings, and the adaptation attempts to draw parallels between the burgeoning fascist movement and the couple's none too discreet fetishes and infidelities. As with most of Brass' work, the cinematography and style is carried out with artistic flair; however his obsession with the female posterior is readily evident.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Key is presented in nonanamorphic 1.66:1. Image quality is generally pretty good, while exhibiting a moderate amount of grain. Colors are well saturated, but black levels are a bit on the thin side. Some sections are a bit dark, and there is some aliasing present. Print defects are fairly infrequent, but minor. Compression artifacts are limited, primarily to the burned in subtitles.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English/Italianno

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is quite good, with the sound on the slightly thin side. The film was shot in English, but like many Italian productions, some of the actors are speaking their native language, which is dubbed later. There are a few normal, source-related technical issues, such as a moderate amount of hiss present, and some crackling; dialogue, for the most part, is not hard to discern.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview
  2. Photo gallery
Extras Review: The principle extra is a 16m:25s interview with director/screenwriter Tinto Brass. He covers the aspects of the original story that drew his interest, his choice of Venice for the shooting location, and his views on erotic cinema as a genre. His comments are sometimes hard to discern due to the combination of the location ambience, his obscuration of his mouth with his cigar hand, and his thick accent. His comments on Venice in particular are sure to raise the eyebrows.

Filmographies for Tinto Brass and Stefania Sandrelli are also included, as is a 10 image stills gallery.

Trailers for The Key, Miranda, and All Ladies Do It (Così fan tutte) round out the supplements.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

The Key is a kinky farce where a couple charge up their sex life via the wife's diary of her steamy affair with her daughter's fiancé. Fans of the director will appreciate his artistic style, but many may find the way the subject matter is handled distasteful.


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