There Isn’t a Spanking Scene In… The Barber of Seville

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Count Almaviva has come to Seville to woo Rosina, but incognito, to be sure that she loves him for himself and not for his title. But Rosina’s guardian, the old doctor Bartolo, plans to marry her himself as soon as she comes of age tomorrow, and is keeping her carefully shut up in his house until then. The Count needs to find a way into the house so that he can do his courting before it’s too late. And that means he needs a barber…

The Barber of Seville, the comic masterpiece by composer Gioachino Rossini and librettist Cesare Sterbini, was a flop when it premiered at Rome in 1816, but thereafter its popularity stood the test of two centuries. One thing it doesn’t feature, more often than not, is a spanking scene, but a minority of productions remedy that omission very satisfactorily after Figaro, the wily local barber, visits Rosina as the Count’s go-between. She gives him a letter for her admirer, but Bartolo discovers that she has written it: her fingers are inky and there is a sheet of paper missing. Rosina tries to make excuses, provoking an aria from Bartolo, ‘Un dottore della mia sorte’ (A doctor of my calibre), telling her not to try pulling the wool over his eyes. And from time to time she also provokes…

Sharin Apostolou is spanked by Charles Turley in the 2014 production at Wichita Grand Opera

Sharin Apostolou is spanked by Charles Turley in the 2014 production at Wichita Grand Opera

Before we start talking about this, you should probably know that the Count does get the girl in the end, snatching her almost from under Bartolo’s nose. Go see the opera if you get the chance: it’s joyous, funny and life-affirming, and if you’re lucky there may be a spanking scene too!

Just how and when did spanking first get into The Barber of Seville? It’s impossible to say, and the earliest photographic evidence comes from a production as recent as 2009. More and earlier pictures will hopefully be discovered, but in the meantime here’s Robert Aaron Taylor spanking Lisa Lombardy at the Rimrock Opera Foundation in Montana:

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However, we also know from a review that Jennifer Rivera…

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… was spanked ‘with plenty of enthusiasm’ by Stefano de Peppo at Tampa Opera in 2008. And what’s more, the 2009 Rimrock production was a tenth-anniversary restaging of their inaugural show of 1999. Did that feature the spanking too? To show that business does indeed carry over when the same company mounts a new production of the same opera, let’s return to Wichita Grand Opera, this time for the 2009 production with Joyce DiDonato as Rosina:

There’s another carry-over there, too. The production’s Bartolo was none other than Stefano de Peppo, who sang the role and spanked the Rosina at Tampa the year before. Some singers specialize in particular parts, which means some get to do the spanking frequently during their careers. And that Wichita production has an even better example than de Peppo, because Joyce DiDonato is the doyenne of Rosinas: she has played the character thousands of times around the world, sometimes spanked and sometimes not, depending on the production. She has even done it in a wheelchair after she broke her leg onstage.

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Luckily for her, that was in a production that didn’t include the spanking, but rest assured we will be seeing more of her in due time.

The spanking of Rosina is business that has had time to become traditional, and to invite different realizations from production to production: the fact that it’s widespread, cropping up all over Europe and North America, shows that it’s not a very recent innovation, and so does the variety in the way it’s done. Sometimes it’s straightforward OTK, as in the 2013 production at the University of Tennessee, in which Dallas Noelle Norton was spanked – according to her, for ‘a good two minutes’ in each performance – by both Kevin Richard Doherty…

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and by Aaron Dunn:

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But sometimes it’s SLB rather than OTK, as witness this 2013 production by Opera Samara in Russia:

Sometimes she has to bend over for a caning, as Pretty Yende did at the Norwegian Opera in 2014:

And sometimes the OTK technique can be a little unusual. Here’s Bartolo preparing for action at Knoxville Opera in 2010:

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It looks conventional enough, but what follows seems more like playing bongo drums than spanking:

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But it seems effective: Leah Wool’s Rosina certainly seems to have a sore bottom to tend!

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In fact, they seem to have tried out something similar in the rehearsals for that University of Tennessee production starring Dallas Noelle Norton:

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That picture leads me to another topic. The productions we have been looking at so far are all relatively ‘trad’, but they all reflect the tendency of modern opera towards lighter, less elaborate costumes, rather than the heavily tailored and corseted look of the classic style. This certainly encourages the inclusion of a spanking scene by simplifying the physical process involved. But modern dress helps even more:

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That’s Alessia Martino being spanked in the 2015 production by Italy’s LTL Opera Studio, which was set in a curious but effective mixture of periods, partly the eighteenth century and partly the 1950s: jealous Bartolo wears a yellow frock coat and frills from the earlier period, and Rosina an A-line frock and frills from the later.

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As is often the case with opera, the production was double-cast, with both Diego Savini and Davide Franceschini as Bartolo, and Alessia Martino alternating Rosina with Laura Verrecchia. (They are all represented in these photos.)

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It was a good production from our point of view: not content with spanking Rosina, Bartolo also gives her governess Berta (Lucia Conte and Simona Marzilli) a smacked bottom straight afterwards!

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The production’s trailer includes snippets of both the spanking and smacking:

If you want to see a Rosina who’s not saved by the production’s concern to keep a complicated frock intact, look no further than the Berlin Opera:

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The Barber opened there in 2009 and ran initially for three years with several subsequent revivals and a larger than usual turnover of casts. The Bartolo here is Maurizio Muraro, and he’s spanking Amira Almadfa’s Rosina:

You’ll have noticed that Rosina’s dress even fails to protect her from a central European style skirt-raising. Time for a closer look, first at a 2010 performance with Carlos Chausson as Bartolo and Rosina played by Joyce DiDonato. Well, I did promise you we’d see more of her:

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And here’s the trailer, with an alternative angle on Jana Kurucova’s Rosina:

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Conversely, modern dress is never a guarantee of an excellent OTK spanking. There’s a rather different take on the staging in the version presented by Moscow’s Stanislavski Music Theater, which opened in 2010 and is represented here in a 2014 performance with Roman Ulybin as Bartolo and Veronika Vyatkina as Rosina:

The Moscow Times called this ‘a rather lascivious spanking’.

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I don’t call it technically a spanking at all, nor even much of a whacking, even though he keeps her lying there for more than a minute.

But so as not to end on a disappointing note, and to see a much better use of a minute, let’s revisit the 2014 English-language production at Wichita Grand Opera, and watch the lovely Sharin Apostolou get spanked. By mainstream standards it’s quite an epic, and since Sharin is not only an excellent singer and a very pretty girl, but also a fine comic actress, this one repays watching the whole scene, buildup and all:

‘You call that a spanking?‘ she ad libs defiantly. I’ll say I do. And an outstanding one it is too!

Photographer of the Week: Peter Diablow

Peter Diablow is a photographer who shoots on the edge. He describes his work as having ‘a glamor style, but with a horror twist’: dark, fetish, horror and fantasy themes are his staple fare, and he especially likes working with intense-looking women: ‘the crazier they look, the better’.

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He grew up in Amsterdam, where he is now based, but first encountered fetish and burlesque imagery during an extended stay in the US, where he studied film and shot with the legendary burlesque dancer Dita von Teese. While in Boston he set up Dark Minded Angels Photography as an outlet for his work, which draws on his expertise in cinema: he lights a shoot as if it were a film set, creating a distinctive atmosphere.

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And he clearly prizes the high quality of his visuals:

‘I think artists should never say what they want people to see in their work. I want people to experience it for themselves. If they appreciate the lighting and vivid colors, that’s good enough for me. If they see a deeper meaning behind the image, I’m happy too.’

Over the years, he has returned intermittently to the theme of spanking. Here’s an early example from 2007:

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In 2012, he shot with Monique Sluyter:

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Here she is as a vampire girl getting what all naughty vampire girls need:

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And in 2015, the models were Nathalie van der Wilk…

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… and Mandy Slim:

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And this time it looks as if the intense-looking vampire girl may have the upper hand:

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If you are interested in Peter Diablow’s work, please visit his website.

Spanked for Nothing

Our subject today is a minor movie mystery.

Hard to Get (1938) is a standard Depression-era comedy about a cross-class romance between a self-willed rich girl and a working man. In this particular example of the genre, she is Maggie Richards, daughter of an oil tycoon, and he is Bill Davis, a gas station manager whose establishment she visits when her borrowed car proves to be low on fuel. She is played by Olivia de Havilland, who was later threatened with a spanking by Errol Flynn in Dodge City (1939).

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He is Dick Powell, who later spanked Claire Dodd in In the Navy (1941).

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The car’s gas tank is not the only thing about Maggie that’s depleted: when Bill presents the bill for $3.48, she doesn’t have the cash to pay. Disbelieving her story of a rich father, he won’t extend credit and offers her the choice of working off the debt or going to jail. She tries to drive away, so he lifts her bodily out of the car and forcibly carries her over to the motel chalets that need cleaning – her job for the day.

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The sequence featured heavily in the movie’s publicity.

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But here’s the first oddity:

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In fact, there is absolutely no walloping in the scene, either on screen or as portrayed in the photograph. It is separately posed from the rest of the stills sequence on the poster, with Maggie’s head going a different way, but even if he had the inclination to spank her, he couldn’t: he doesn’t have a free hand.

Even so, there is walloping of a sort coming up, shortly after Maggie has been put to work, when Bill leaves the room for a moment. He returns to find her trying to escape through the window, and she gets a whack with a broom across her departing part.

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Then he sets her straight back to her chores. Ten chalets later, she returns home dirty and resentful, and the main plot of the movie is about her efforts to get even and how she progressively falls in love with him, interlaced with his efforts to sell an innovative business proposition to her father. There’s a moment we should pause over, when she tells her father all about her chalet-cleaning ordeal. She wants him to use his position in the oil company to have Bill fired. He refuses:

‘It appears to me that this young man did exactly what your mother and I should have done years ago – used a broom on you.’

And there’s the second oddity. The remark just doesn’t ring true: the thing that traditionally ‘should have been done years ago’ by the parents of a spoiled heiress has nothing at all to do with a broom, though it might involve the back of a hairbrush.

We might conclude that the father’s line was simply a not very successful attempt at drollery, were it not for two other pieces of material connected with this movie. First, there is the one-line summary of the story offered by the press (and, therefore, supplied by the Warner Brothers publicity department) at the time of the premiere:

‘Small-time salesman cuts up rough with heiress, puts her across his knee and spanks sense into her.’

At this point it’s worth saying quite definitively that there is no scene in the movie in which Bill spanks Maggie: the only assault on her posterior is that single whack with the broom.

Again, we might conclude that this was just bad, inaccurate reporting, were it not for another, quite separate piece of testimony that Olivia de Havilland was indeed spanked during the making of the film. In fact, she was spanked a lot, because this was one of those uncomfortable occasions when the spanking scene just couldn’t be done in a single take. Far from it:

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This can’t all have been brazen lies – can it?

Such a definite statement that there was a spanking scene, even though in fact there isn’t one, can’t reasonably be explained away as merely an honest mistake. But it’s also hard to believe that someone concocted a deliberate, elaborate falsehood, rather than publicize the movie for what it actually was. It’s much more likely that the spanking was filmed, at tedious and uncomfortable length, after which the movie underwent a last-minute alteration and was released in a different version in which Maggie gets the broom treatment instead – wrong-footing the publicity department which had put a few too many of its eggs into the basket of a spanking scene.

In other words, Olivia de Havilland was spanked for nothing!

How plausible is that hypothesis? And was Olivia the only one? That’s the cue for a longer and fuller investigation – beginning next week!

The Three Spinners

The Three Spinners is a fairy tale told in many different versions across Europe, but one thing all the versions have in common – at least until the advent of modern sanitization – is that the story effectively starts with a mother spanking her teenage daughter for laziness.

Today we are mainly concerned with the Czech version written by the folklorist Karel Jaromir Erben (1811-70), almost an exact contemporary of Charles Dickens, who collected many of his country’s fairy tales and created a convenient repository of material for dramatists in the following century. Among his beneficiaries was the television scriptwriter Helena Sykorova, whose first work in the medium was her 1967 adaptation of The Three Spinners starring Jaroslava Tvrznikova as the idle daughter, here named Marjanka, and Libuse Havelkova as her mother. Here’s Jaroslava:

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In this version, the King is looking for a hard-working bride, but finds that all the women in his court are truculently incompetent. Then he sees a beautiful commoner from afar, and sends messengers to bring her to court. They arrive at Marjanka’s house to find her being spanked – and on the seat of her bloomers, too!

This is slightly different from the more familiar German version of the story told by the Brothers Grimm, in which the Queen just happens to be passing by when she hears the noise of the spanking, and decides to intervene. Either way, the story pans out more or less the same: the embarrassed mother lies about her daughter’s shortcomings, claiming that she was being spanked for working too hard, and the girl is taken to court and given a task. She is presented with a room full of flax and told that, when it has all been spun, her reward will be marriage to the most eligible royal – the King in the Czech version, the Prince in the Brothers Grimm.

But the girl is still too lazy to work, even on that promise. She is saved from exposure and punishment by the arrival of three deformed crones, who spin all the flax and ask in return only that they be allowed to attend the royal wedding. The King is delighted to see what a hard-working fiancée he has recruited, and the marriage goes forward with the girl’s secret still safe. Curious about the aged ‘aunts’ who are present, the bridegroom asks them how they came to be so hideous, and they explain that it was through a lifetime of hard physical labor – whereupon the naughty, idle bride is told she must never again do another stroke of work!

The Czechs hadn’t finished with the story, not by a long chalk. In 1984, Sykorova’s script was adapted again for a new television version in which the daughter was renamed and the story retitled Lazy Nitka and the Ruby Ring. In this production, Blazena Holisova played the mother and Nitka was Martina Hudeckova:

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One thing hadn’t changed: Nitka still got spanked!

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In this version, it’s made more obvious how high-handed the royal messengers are, walking in without knocking and so interrupting a fraught domestic moment. It’s arguably less embarrassing for Nitka than it was for Marjanka in the 1967 version, because her skirt stays down, but on the other hand it’s a longer spanking too. And this time the lie about why she was being spanked is prompted as much by Nitka’s shame as her mother’s.

And from there, the next step was onto the stage. In 2016, Tomas Kraucher wrote and directed a musical adaptation of the Sykorova script, for performance by a small Prague-based touring company, Divadlo Pohadka (literally, Fairytale Theater). Mother and daughter were played by Kristina Mihalova and Andrea Waidingerova respectively, and the spanking was again present and correct:

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Here’s the trailer:

And the play is still in Divadlo Pohadka’s repertory, so if you’re in the Czech Republic, why not track down a performance?

Photographer of the Week: Nemna Hierzie

There’s very little to be said about Nemna Hierzie, who’s based in Belgium, photographs the landscapes of that corner of north-western Europe and keeps a low profile. And, not at all incidentally, Nemna has shot an outstanding spanking image featuring a model named Victoria. Here she is:

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In case you’re wondering, she’s aboard a train, and she has company:

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Is he giving her the pearls or trying to take them away? Who knows! But he does have something else to give her:

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To see more of Nemna Hierzie’s work, go directly to Instagram.

Are Thongs Comfortable?

You know, I really don’t care whether thongs are comfortable or not. I’d much rather introduce you to the artist known as Taversia:

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Red-haired Tavi Borrelli is a many-talented person: academic, author, artist, model, dancer, singer, sociologist… she’s done it all. Here are a few of her more immediately obvious assets and talents:

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In the fall of 2016, she made her debut single, which arises out of her academic work in gender studies, and also out of the strange things that certain sleazy kinds of men say to women on the internet, protected by the cloak of online anonymity. Hence that title, ‘Are Thongs Comfortable?’ And, no, I still don’t care.

But what I do care about, and find enjoyable, is the associated music video she shot with Indiana filmmaker Ryq Peden in October, in which she presents the song through two contrasting female characters: a modern business-suited executive and a 1950s housewife. Here she is in one of those roles:

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And when a 1950s housewife burns the dinner, there may be certain consequences:

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In such circumstances it is fair to say that thongs aren’t comfortable. Luckily it’s the 1950s, so it’s proper girls’ panties instead:

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Not that they’ll be very comfortable either, for the next few minutes!

Here’s the video:

If you are interested in Taversia’s work, or would like to get a deeper appreciation of her many talents, please visit her website.

Peace at Home

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Georges Courteline (1858-1929) wrote many, many short comedies during the Belle Epoque, but remains less well known outside France than his contemporary Georges Feydeau. His work contains much social and political satire, but the strand that continues to be enjoyed and revived in his native land deals with a topic that never goes out of date: the tensions and power struggles within marriage.

Courteline’s is a sardonic, witty world in which wives provoke husbands, and husbands take reprisals against wives, sometimes in ways that we appreciate. With hindsight, it’s not a million miles away from I Love Lucy, but with more sophistication and panache. One Courteline wife who gets spanked appears in Le Paix Chez Soi (Peace at Home), which premiered on 25 November 1903 at the Theatre Antoine, Paris, with Gabriel Signoret and Sandra Fortier in the two roles. The play entered the repertory of the Comédie Française in July 1906, with Maurice de Féraudy and Marie Leconte,

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and it has rarely been out of production since; it was even produced in Britain in 1915. There is one slight problem with it, as we’ll see… but, as we’ll also see, modern directors have a good track record of finding a way around that problem.

The home of the title is that of commercial writer Edward Trielle. It is October 1, 1903. Trielle’s 25-year-old wife Valentine arrives, as she always does on the first of the month, to demand her housekeeping money. He usually gives her 800 francs a month – but this time she finds it is 150 francs short.

He explains. Earlier in the summer, for the first time in five years of marriage, he spanked her. Usually he managed to match her ill temper with equanimity, but not this time:

TRIELLE: I lost my patience. I got up, tucked you under my left arm, turned up your skirt and used my right hand in the way washerwomen do at work. I gave you a…

VALENTINE (interrupting): Oh, brilliant! You must be very proud of yourself! Brute! Coward! Boor!

The spanking didn’t have entirely the salutary effect intended. After a while, Valentine continued to misbehave, and Trielle was faced with the prospect of a longer haul for which he felt little enthusiasm:

‘I only needed to keep up the good work: more spankings! But the first one hurt me so much that I had to abandon the idea of doing it again. It taught me how little aptitude I had as a spanker. … So I had to come up with some other way of dealing with you.’

His first thought was to take it out on the furniture. Result: a lot of broken furniture that had to be replaced. Then he hit on another idea: fine her. So the 150 francs missing from the housekeeping represents the sum total of her bad behavior in the month of September.

Valentine takes the news badly. She threatens to kill herself by throwing herself out of the window, but thinks better of it when he obligingly opens the window for her. Result: a fine for the threat, and another fine for not going through with it. Then she packs her things and threatens to go home to her parents. She doesn’t do that either.

Of course, it’s all about the 150 francs – because, it emerges, she signed a promissory note for that amount when making a purchase, and the bill falls due today. There are two problems with that. Firstly, under French law, no wife may sign such a document without the consent of her husband. So she forged his signature – which, naturally enough, is also illegal. And secondly, where’s her expensive purchase? She broke it when bringing it home – so that’s money right down the drain. ‘Naughty children get spanked for less, and deserve it,’ her husband tells her. But in the end, she doesn’t get spanked, and he does pay the bill – whereupon she demands that he also give her the 150 francs outstanding from the housekeeping!

And there’s the problem: Valentine is spanked, and with her skirt up too, but she’s spanked a month or more before the start of the action, rather than onstage. It’s often the case with Courteline that the characters’ behavior is generated by key incidents that have already happened, and early illustrated editions took the opportunity to show some of those incidents. Here’s how a 1917 artist envisaged the spanking of Valentine:

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But by the 1930s at the latest, theatergoers were starting to feel left out. A reviewer of a 1933 production, with René Lefêvre and Mireille (one of those European stars with only one name), declared that the spanking of Valentine should have been the highlight of the play, if only it had happened onstage. And by the 1950s, a way had been found…

Courteline’s plays are generally so short that they are usually revived in anthology shows. This became the basis of the film Scènes de Ménage (1954), which collected three Courteline titles, slightly updated to the year 1910, with a wraparound sequence of the three wives comparing notes on their husbands during an evening out. Valentine was played by Marie Daems,

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and Trielle was François Périer, whose prowess as a spanker, and his manly strength, was demonstrated two years earlier in the treatment he meted out to Dany Robin in Elle et Moi:

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His chance to spank Marie Daems came because this was a movie version of La Paix Chez Soi, meaning that, when Trielle reminds Valentine of the spanking he gave her, the scene can be actually shown, as a flashback. And so, in another feat of strength, Trielle holds Valentine firmly under his arm and spanks the seat of her bloomers. Here they are posing for the stills camera:

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In the movie itself, it’s a more energetic scene, and a greater display of dominant masculinity, as she kicks wildly and he revolves on the spot, spanking as he goes:

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If you look carefully, you can see a slight anachronism: Marie is clearly wearing 1954 white bikini panties under her 1910 bloomers!

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Some more recent stage productions have also managed to incorporate the spanking, though it seems only to have got into the trailer for this one from 2013:

But when the play was produced in Saint Maxime the following year, with Sacha Ekizian as Trielle and Cécile Douelle as Valentine, Trielle did something unexpected when his wife asked him for money.

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He didn’t just tell her about the spanking he gave her a month ago. He gave her a more forceful reminder:

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But it is relevant that his spanking hand is palm upward. This is a scene that turns on Trielle’s unwillingness to go through with the necessary act of spanking his wife, which is why he had to devise a financial penalty in the first place. To illustrate how this works in practice, here’s a video of similar business from a 1997 production:

He puts her in position – but can’t bring himself to do it! Except that sometimes, as in this 2012 Parisian production with Serge Gelly and Josée Laprun… he can!

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Valentine isn’t the only spanked wife in Courteline’s work, so we’ll be back in the boulevards before long!