The 1954 French novel Histoire d’O, written by Anne Desclos under the pen name Pauline Réage, is notorious because some admirers regard it as an erotic exploration of what later came to be known as BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, masochism), while others disdain it as a vile exercise in sexual objectification. It’s unsurprising that a movie version emerged in the ’70s, when changing social mores allowed for mainstream distribution of films with previously taboo content, and it’s unsurprising that the movie version prioritizes sex over psychology. Corinne Cleary stars as “O,” a Parisian photographer who proves her love for René (Udo Kier) by agreeing to become a sex slave for a group of men living at a country estate; the story then explores how the couple’s relationship changes when René “gives” O to another man, Sir Stephen (Anthony Steel). The film’s director, Frenchman Just Jaekin, previously scored at the box office with another libidinous literary adaptation, Emmanuelle (1974), and he takes a similar approach to The Story of O, combining acres of female nudity with evocative locations, glamorous photography, and insinuating washes of Vangelis-lite synthesizer music.
The film’s fetishism of the female form and the cast of emotionally blank actors belie the posh presentation, however, revealing that Jaekin’s movie is nothing but soft-core porn with artistic pretentions. The film’s third-person voiceover does most of the heavy lifting in terms of explaining the plot, while also providing lurid commentary like “O wondered why she found her terror so delicious.” In addition to lacking substance, The Story of O flops as erotica, because the innumerable vignettes of men and women fondling, groping, mounting, and whipping Cleary quickly become tiresome. The abuse scenes are unpleasant (especially the branding bit—ouch!), and the movie is so cold that it’s impossible to get caught up in O’s journey. It doesn’t help that most of the dialogue sounds like it was either dubbed or looped. Cleary, who later appeared as a Bond girl in Moonraker (1979), is very beautiful, very naked, and very patient with the people who paw at her privates throughout the film, but even her charms fail to sustain interest once the movie devolves into tedium.
The Story of O: LAME