Review: Only Masochists will Watch 'de Sade'

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday May 17, 2022

Review: Only Masochists will Watch 'de Sade'

Imagine making a dull film about the Marquis de Sade. That's just what director Cy Endfield and writer Richard Matheson managed to do in 1969. "De Sade" received an X-rating, but boasts some of the least alluring sex scenes ever filmed. Imagine tame, cartoonish debauchery. And Keir Dullea ("2001: A Space Odyssey") is wildly miscast; he seems afraid of any nudity, even though tons of poor female extras appear naked all around him. (Perhaps Dullea contractually refused to be nude).

The premise of "De Sade" is intriguing, as we find him recalling his life via a stage in a large theater, while his nasty uncle, the Abbe (a too-game John Huston), terrorizes him. The rest of the jumbled narrative pours on the bodies writhing, but in a confusing psychedelic '60s type filmic style.

It's wince-inducing to watch poor Dullea, in his follow-up to "2001," flailing with a role he seems to want to run screaming from and back into outer space.

Senta Berger and Lilli Palmer are wasted in nothing parts as sisters involved with De Sade — he marries one and forever pines for the other. Only Anna Massey seems aware of the camp nightmare she's in, and plays it to the hilt.

Although Endfield is the credited director, Roger Corman allegedly took over when Endfield got sick, and finished the film for him.

Matheson's non-linear and often incoherent screenplay insists on portraying the titular character as a Casanova-type Lothario never daring to engage him in same-sex acts (when the real De Sade enjoyed male and female pleasures).

"This is a travesty!" De Sade shouts late in the film and the line couldn't be more apropos. The word "sadism" derives from De Sade and his sadistic ways. But only a masochist would enjoy a film that insults both an infamous author and his deviant sexual pleasures.

The Blu-ray visuals are decent enough. The color-tinted orgy scenes (laughably staged) are deliberately fuzzy, I'm guessing, and there are some specks in some scenes. The sound is fine.

Special features include an informative audio commentary with novelist Tim Lucas, with an emphasis on the history of American International. There's also an eight-minute chat with Matheson where he manages to say very little about writing the film.

Anyone interested in De Sade should stream Phillip Kaufman's "Quills" instead.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • Brand New 2K Master

  • New Audio Commentary by Novelist and Critic Tim Lucas

  • Richard Matheson Storyteller - Featurette

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • Optional English Subtitles

    "De Sade" is available on Blu-ray on May 17, 2020.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide ( and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.