Hell will hold no surprises for them . . .
1971 was quite a year for controversial films – from Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian A Clockwork Orange to Sam Peckinpah’s blood drenched Straw Dogs to Luchino Visconti’s adaption of Death In Venice, but none had the impact of Ken Russell’s historical drama The Devils which graphically portrayed violence, sexuality and religion in a way that hasn’t been seen before or since. The Devils has often been recognised as one of the most controversial films of all time by numerous critics and publications.
The Devils caused an uproar from censors, was banned in numerous countries whilst being heavily edited in other countries, where the original uncut version has still not been shown. The explicit sexual and violent content, paired with its commentary on religious institutions, resulted in significant censorship across most countries which still continues today.
The film tells the true story of the possession of the nuns in Loudun in 17th century France and the fall of the Roman Catholic priest Urbain Grandier who was accused of witchcraft.
At the films’ heart is the political grab for power by Cardinal Richelieu by trying to influence King Louis XIII that the fortifications of cities throughout France should be demolished to prevent Protestants from rising up. Louis agrees, but forbids Richelieu from carrying out demolitions in the town of Loudun having made a promise to its Governor not to damage the town.
Meanwhile, in Loudun, the Governor has died, leaving control of the city to Urbain Grandier, a dissolute, proud and popular priest who champions the defence of the town.
Ultimately, Grandier is falsely accused of witchcraft which is fanned by the local convent abbess Sister Jeanne des Anges a neurotic hunchback, who is sexually obsessed with him. In the meantime the nuns of her convent degenerate into a possessed frenzy which calls for an inquisitor to be summoned who commences interrogations of those possessed.
Grandier is brought to trial, which is nothing more than a show trial.
His fate is sealed and after being found guilty is subjected to horrendous tortures to force his confession and then he is executed by being burnt at the stake; whereupon at his death the walls of Loudun are then blown up.
It would be fair to say that The Devils is not for everyone. It’s hysterical nature, the confronting violence and the combination of religious themes and violent sexual imagery make it a serious challenge for viewers.
The film also arguably boasts Oliver Reed’s best performance on film. Reed had a prodigious talent which he dissipated over the years with his infamous boozy antics, but here he is full of passion and conviction, in a totally memorable performance.
I usually end my weekly movie post with Enjoy. In the case maybe Endure.
22 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #39”
I haven’t seen The Devils, but I probably would have 30 years ago if it was available, now at 60 I’m not so sure I want to watch it.
Thanks for the extended trigger warning.
This faint-of-heart will stay away from it.
Modern education is run by The Devils!
Ken Russell’s The Devils is one of my all-time greatest films, ever. Ken Russell made quite a few really great films although I think The Devils is his best. It’s quite sad that towards the end of his life he went somewhat ga-ga. Altered States, with a lump of wood (William Hurt) in the main role, is absolutely terrible. Oliver Reed was an inspired choice of lead actor in The Devils.
The Devils is a satiric telling of the actual sequence of events in Loudon as Richelieu attempted to smash Protestantism into single, unconnected molecules. The nuns from the Jeanne de Anges convent (ie. she of the ultimate and lethal sexual obsession) actually pretended en mass to have also been Satanised by priest Grandier – and therefore in need of deconstruction – to the point that their weekly cleansing by public exorcism was the subject of voyeuristic tourism from all over Europe and England. They (the nuns) endured this rather than an auto-de-fe. Understandable, I think.
The point to Russell’s satire (yes, exaggerated) is the clinical exposure of cynical power lust, which uses any pretext that may have a chance of success, especially including expedient fools and willing tools. We observe this in so many ways right now. The English are the very best in the world at this satiric genre, so brilliantly surgical while simultaneously entertaining. John Cleese and the Monty Python group are a good example, particularly with Life of Brian. Even Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrels is built on the same satiric ability, with a large number of genuine guffaws on the way through all the carnage.
My favourite belly laugh in The Devils is the sequence where the Richelieu character is being wheeled by one of his minions through a vast library as he (Richelieu) is standing upright on a sort of vertical cart resembling the tool people use to pull frigs etc up stairs, As he is wheeled along the aisles between the vast stacks of books, he occasionally stops to pull some book out, refers to it, pushes it back and is then wheeled on, all the while variously discussing the vilest of political betrayals. As he approaches the huge doors of the library on his way out, he simply yells: “DOORS !!” and the attendants just swing open the cavernous doors for him to be wheeled through. The decadence is simultaneously beyond extravagance and immensely mockable. Perfect satire.
I am with Tony and NFA above.
One question I have is a crituque previoulsy, it was to do with a Clockwork Orange, you mentioned how there were the Mods in England which morphed in to the Skin heads.
What was the history of this.
Thanks in advance.
Death in Venice – Was that point an obsession of a pre pubescent male by a middle age male.
What was point of this film?
Wolfman – I really appreciate your posts. But, focusing on one genre movie is not going to get a lot of responses.
Unless it is The Godfather or something like that, you are limiting your audience and therefore your hard work goes for small reward.
Perhaps you might consider reviewing a genre, or a group of movies within a genre?
I watch lots of movies on Youtube and Daily Motion, and there are some wonderful things out there – like 50s B movies (featuring luscious B girls), British and American war propaganda, the golden era of Hollywood rom-coms (featuring Eve Arden), British feel-good movies like the Huggets series, spy movies (not James Bond) and classic Australian fillums like the Dad and Dave series.
I’d love to revisit and chat about those.
Louis Litt @ 3.46 pm – in essence the Mod sub cult / movement imploded under the weight of its own success and very broadly there emerged the “soft” mods who tended to be more white collary / art collegey types who then embraced the psychedelics and rising proto-hippy Counter culture.
The “hard” Mods tended to be blue collar and eschewed the long haired hippy thing and instead found inspiration in Jamaican ska and Rocksteady culture. Long hair was not good to have when going out for Friday and Saturday night biff, so voila … Skinhead (first generation circa 1968-70).
Thanks johanna – I’ll give it some thought.
Thanks dragnet explains it all.
Now I understand how it morphed into the punk movt.
Dragnet – sorry but you got me thinking – what was the cause of all this violence – in sports, check out English soccer and Aussie rules, in the movies as Wolfie had stated, and generally in society – gun robberies, murders etc
I think some residual crazy leaked into Tommy.
Childhood memories of Man About the House now have a sinister cast, although Louisa Trotter remains unsullied.
I think that there was a class difference between the Mods and the Skin Heads. The Mods were more the children of the middle class whereas the Skin Heads are from the working class, i.e., the “chavs.”
I don’t know what happened to the Mods, they probably put their Lambrettas, usually adorned with multiple rear-view mirrors, away in the garage and took up employment as bank managers.
Wolfman – I saw The Devils in the 1970’s, probably heavily censored for Australian standards, it did leave an impression. I don’t think that I’d want to revisit it.
Hey, Louis, it was me who first made the observation. The mods (who were working class, BTW) largely morphed into hippies with the advent of psychedelia from around ’67 on.
The original skinheads were drawn from the younger brothers of mods (and their peers), who felt a natural revulsion towards the hippie movement and all the attendant peace and love, man. The skins rejected the hippies’ musical tastes (persisting with Northern soul and increasingly with ska and reggae), while adopting a far more extreme version of the mods’ outfits, e.g. even smaller or no shirt collars (including Fred Perrys), extremely short hair (the mods tended to have long hair) and the increasing uniform adoption of Dr Martens boots.
By the mid to late seventies, there manifested a particularly ugly subtype of skinheads, who tended to get into more basic in your face music (for pogoing) while adopting “extreme right” political views that manifested itself in racist idiocy and attendant rampant thuggery.
Ken Russell made some great movies, but like some others above I’ve avoided this one.
P.S. Ken Russell was absolutely addicted to fine music, and no doubt knew the tragic opera by Francis Poulenc – Dialogues of the Carmelites – which has one of the most devastating final acts in all opera.
Thank you to all in answering my questions – I really appreciate it.
Dr Martens boots
Dr Martens boots
The only two pairs of ten holes one might need to complete a collection. 🙂
Dr Martens boots 🙂
Those three clips are enough to make me interested in the whole thing.
Richelieu and Louis XIV are perfect templates for the unholy alliance between a national cabinet and CHOs.
That movie sums up our own times well.
Nicely said Dot.
Unfortunately, the movie is quite hard to source.
fbox dot to for those interested.