In 1974, porn went mainstream with the release of Just Jaeckin's film Emmanuelle, a riff on The Story of O shot with the soft-focus style of a Vogue magazine spread that scored a huge box office hit worldwide. A flood of inevitable sequels, imitations and rip-offs soon followed, among them a series of Italian films which became known as the Black Emanualle series, devised by producer Mario Mariani and director Bitto Albertini who brazenly sidesteped copyright concerns by dropping the second m from the Emmanuelle title. Compiling a definitive filmography of the series is tricky with so many official and unofficial films and spinoffs but it's generally agreed that the series includes Black Emanuelle (1975), Black Emanuelle 2 (1976), Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976), Emanuelle in America (1976), Emanuelle Around the World (1977), Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977), and Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade (1978). The series' lynchpin was Dutch-Indonesian model Laura Gemser, a mesmirizing beauty first spotted in a minor role in Emmanuelle 2, and elevated to her first starring role in Black Emanuelle...
A simple amalgam of sex film and travelogue, the sliver of a plot concerns international photographer Mae Jordan (otherwise known by her nom de plume Emanuelle) sent to African on assignment where she indulges her sexual appetites among the wealthy decadent European expatriates she stays with... Black Emanuelle is a lazy film. The story offers a number of dramatic situations as Emanuelle hops from body to body, bed to bed seducing both of her married hosts, but there's barely a ripple of jealousy or betrayal in her wake. Perhaps, a commentary on the jaded lifestyles of the bourgeoisie but I doubt it. Even Emanuelle’s photographic work is largely forgotten - at one stage she declines a trip to the foothills of Kilimanjaro, and instead seems content to snap nude pics of her female host posing against the scenery, and there's a token sequence where Emanuelle takes her Nikon with her on safari to photograph some very nervous looking animals - and who could blame them with an Italian film crew nearby.
Of course in these kind of films melodrama is just padding between bonking sessions and thankfully Black Emanuelle is loaded with sex and nudity. Gemser looks particularly fresh-faced and beautiful here and commands complete attention in and out of her clothes. Gemser makes it with most of the cast, men and women, as well as some lucky incidental characters, but wisely refrained from taking part in the hardcore scenes. The hardcore footage was actually shot on set, and aside from the use of obvious body-doubles, these scenes are not too jarring unlike say the hard cut of Franco's Female Vampire which had its hardcore inserts filmed much later. Still, the film has a strange innocent charm, hardcore and all, in some part due to the gossamer soundtrack of Nico Fidenco, and director Bitto Albertini photographing Gemser amongst some lush scenery, including one marvelous sequence where Emanuelle seduces one of her suitors against the backdrop of a magnificent gushing waterfall. Only once does the film get genuinely down and dirty, when Emanuelle is gang raped by a loutish football team, and in that odd convention of 70's Cinema comes to enjoy her ordeal.
For English-speaking fans Black Emanuelle has been difficult to get a hold of in it's full strenght version. At the time of writing, there is no official DVD edition in the US. In the UK the film is available courtesy of Optimum, and while it features a decent transfer (and is very cheap), the BBFC saw fit to remove well over a minute of hardcore footage, leaving some very jarring edits. Thankfully, there's an alternative - Italian label Stormovie put the film out in 2008 in it's full uncut version and includes the English dub track. The non-anamorphic 1.85 transfer taken from a clean, damage free print is generally very good, if slightly soft looking (which is most likely how the film was shot), and sporting a faint greenish hue. The English audio track is for the most part adequate although some dialogue can lack focus - no English subs are provided but you can't have everything I suppose. The only extra provided on the disc is a French trailer, but the DVD comes with what looks like an excellent booklet about the film, with some nice poster art but sadly only Italian text is provided. The disc is currently available at Amazon.it and is highly recommended.