Director: Jess Franco
Severin Films

Severin raids TWO FEMALE SPIES WITH FLOWERED PANTIES on Blu-ray (and bestows their spoils to customers who buy direct).

Busted for prostitution in Paris and serving a year sentence, Cecile (Lina Romay, FEMALE VAMPIRE) and Brigitte (Lynn Monteil, SADIST OF NOTRE DAME) are sprung from the joint by American senator Connolly (Olivier Mathot, THE DEVIL'S KISS). He offers to have their sentences commuted if they travel to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands to perform for a month's engagement at a nightclub as a smokescreen for Cecile's assignment to observe and photograph anyone coming or going from a villa of businessman Morale (Albino Graziani, NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES) across from her hotel room. In no time at all, she lights upon a kidnapping operation being carried out by club owner Forbes (Yul Sanders, CRIMSON) and his wife Irina (Muriel Montossé, THE INCONFESSIBLE ORGIES OF EMMANUELLE) who hypnotizes and brainwashes women with her fire opal ring to sell as sex slaves to millionaires: the latest victims being actress Adriana Rinaldi (Susan Hemingway, LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN) and heiress Estrella (Doris Regina, OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES). Suspecting that Cecile is working with the police, the Forbeses abduct and torture her but she is rescued by gay choreographer Milton (Mel Rodrigo, SINFONIA EROTICA) who finds a hiding place for her at a hippie commune in the mountains. When the Forbses snatch Brigitte and threaten her life, however, Cecile must confront them herself as Connolly finds his attempts to bust the ring blocked on the bureaucratic level.

Despite the French/English title, TWO FEMALE SPIES is not a "Red Lips" film – that series that started in the sixties with LABIOS ROJOS followed by the better-known back-to-back duo TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS and KISS ME MONSTER and the DTV feature RED SILK – being a far more cynical and downbeat film with its own share of comic verve. There are fewer lesbian dalliances apart from some seemingly endless performances acts on stage while the heterosexual encounters are mostly rape scenes (including Brigitte's ravishment of gay Milton) or exploited for comedy. The torture scenes are also more sexualized than those of THE MIDNIGHT PARTY with Romay's crotch being prodded with a switchblade and her breasts burnt with cigarettes. Mathot's senator is a letch but seems to have noble intentions but every other official is either blatantly corrupt or morally-compromised (and attempt to compromise the senator by claiming Cecile is transgender under the impression that he has slept with her instead of Brigitte), with Milton and Cecile ultimately having to rally the hippies against the capitalist pigs that are the Forbses while Morales is sacrificed to a political cover-up when the authorities realize that Connolly has unearthed more than they can sweep back under the rug. The photography credited to Gérard Brisseau (who Franco claims to have only met once despite his credit on a number of Franco's de Nesle productions) is murky with a lot of out-of-focus shots, making one appreciate even more the contribution of Juan Solar (BLOODY MOON) to Franco's eighties productions. The score credited to Franco and Daniel White includes some familiar-sounding jazzy tracks that might have been recycled from earlier work or appeared in later Franco productions.

Unreleased in the United States, the only way to see TWO FEMALE SPIES WITH FLOWERED PANTIES in English was by way of a Dutch-subtitled cassette of the English version. When the film finally hit DVD, it was in its Spanish version titled ÓPALO DE FUEGO (MERCADERES DEL SEXO) from Manga Films in Spain without English subtitles. This version revealed that there were substantial differences between the Spanish original and the French/English version, with Eurocine commissioning nearly a half-hour of alternate footage (shot in Portugal around the time that Franco was helming SINFONIA EROTICA) and altering details of the plot in the dialogue (more about that further down). The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed widescreen presentation looks quite good when one takes into account the original photography in which many shots were not so much soft-focus but out-of-focus, the night exteriors were underlit, the dungeon interiors were starkly lit, some of the nightclub interiors were underexposed so that the spotlight gel sources did not flare in the lens while others were allowed to do so for effect (along with close-ups of Montosse's opal ring). Colors may have faded a little, but the overall color scheme of the wardrobe, costumes, and locations seems to have eschewed any saturated color apart from some unconvincing stage blood and some lipstick. Had the film been issued on DVD before from a film-sourced transfer, I might have concluded that the Blu-ray is not a significant improvement over SD but it definitely blows the tape-sourced Spanish version and the Dutch-subtitled tape out of the water (many of the same actors and the Las Palmas settings would be better served cinematographically in some of Franco's early 1980s films). English and French dub tracks are provided in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 with the former actually sounding a bit more dynamic even though it was derived from VHS since Eurocine was unable to provide the English track. English SDH subtitles for the dub and an additional track translating the French track reveal differences in the scripts (as well as a tendency for the English track to add offscreen voices).

Extras start off with "Two Cats in the Canaries" (10:28) in which the late Franco discusses shooting in the Canary Islands, the local actors, the scenery and architecture (the cave-like structure the hippies lived in was an ancient monastery), the film's debt not to the "Red Lips" movies but to Gérard de Villiers' SAS spy novels, as well as his admiration of George Cukor. Another archival interview comes in the form of filmmaker Donald Farmer's chat with late composer Daniel White (11:51) from 1993. He does not get into specifics about any of the films – noting that some of the films on which he is credited used tracks he had composed for other films – but he speaks reverently of Franco's knowledge and tenacity as a filmmaker, his dislike of Harry Alan Towers, and working with the Lasoeurs at Eurocine. The interview was shot in some sort of shop with noises from a cash register often intruding upon the talk (along with White's cough and attempts to relight his pipe), but the subtitle translation makes it less of a distraction when one takes into account the paucity of print or video interviews with White. "Stephen Thrower on TWO FEMALE SPIES" (28:46) is an enlightening discussion as the author of MURDEROUS PASSIONS: THE DELIRIOUS CINEMA OF JESÚS FRANCO contextualizes the film as a transitional work following his stint with Erwin Dietrich in Zurich, whereupon he and Romay returned to Paris (following the dissolution of their marriages to Nicole Guettard and Ramon Ardid, respectively) and found that the production arm of Robert de Nesle's company had fallen on hard times, their latter day collaboration netting the extremely low-budget and personally unsatisfying COCKTAIL SPECIAL, ELLES FONT TOUT, and JE BRÛLE DE PARTOUT. TWO SPIES preceded his deal with Golden Films and was a co-production with established Spanish company Triton and Estudio-8 (which Thrower believes may have been a Portuguese version of Franco's Spanish company Manacoa Films) with Eurocine coming in later after Franco's silent rough cut was shown to them. Thrower discusses the differences between the Spanish and French versions, including some continuity issues and how it is necessary to pool together the cast and crew lists of both versions to arrive at a list of the actual participants (although Susan Hemingway is credited in neither). The outtakes (8:50) include some video-sourced snippets as well as some cleaner time-coded silent footage that suggests that Eurocine may have had some or all of the Spanish footage in better quality than the Spanish DVD (which might have allowed for a reconstruction if they still had the film from which the timecoded video was struck). The English theatrical trailer (2:07) has a video-burned Dutch copyright but no Dutch subtitles, and is narrated by the voice actor who dubbed Jack Taylor in FEMALE VAMPIRE and Paul Muller in HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA.

The major extra is a bonus DVD of the Spanish version (90:15) titled on the menu screen OPAL OF FIRE, MERCHANTS OF SEX in what appears to be either a rip of the Manga DVD or the Spanish owner's tape master slowed down to the correct 24fps running time (the Spanish DVD was ~87 minutes) with the 1.33:1 framing retained in a 16:9 pillarbox and optional English subtitles for the Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish track. The differences are apparent right way with a different title sequence over a sequence of Irina hypnotizing Estrella with her ring. This sequence is exclusive to the Spanish version and establishes that the girl has been held for some time before we meet her much later in the French version. Connolly's assignment for Cecile are heard as a voiceover as she settles into her hotel room, so Mathot does not appear until later in a club audience scene in which Cecile pretends to have just met him and sets him up with Brigitte (who really has never seen him before unlike the French version). Other additions include a bit in the Forbes' car as they try to entice Cecile with an invitation to their country house (presumably having targeted her as a potential sex slave before learning that she is a spy), Cecile finding a dead boy in her hotel room closet which Milton nonchalantly rings someone to "clean up." He takes a roll of film from the corpse, has it developed, and gives the photos to Morales who tells him to kill Cecile. In addition to a lengthy stage performance by Cecile and Brigitte, there is another lengthy one titled "Salome 2000" in which another performer runs a phallic whip handle over her body and makes out with a wax severed head. Connolly's confrontation at the consulate features the same dialogue but it is split between two different actors. The last major addition is a sequence in which Milton visits Cecile at the hippie commune and reveals his true identity (and sexuality). The quality is inferior to the Blu-ray given the tape source as well as the fact that much of the Spanish-exclusive footage is darker and the 35mm print utilized is rife with scratches, dings, and dents and the master subject to at least one noticeable drop-out, but it is an invaluable addition that reveals differences from the French version visually and aurally. The cover is reversible and a limited run available from Severin Films directly comes with a pair of flowered panties. (Eric Cotenas)