We all know what a spanking looks like. It looks like this:
The pose is so familiar, and so closely associated with a single situation, that, as we have seen elsewhere, it implies that a spanking is happening even when that’s actually not the case.
But in France before the Second World War, spanking tended to look different. We can illustrate that with reference to the legendary risqué magazine, La Vie Parisienne, which, under its late 1930s editorship, often featured spanking anecdotes illustrated with line drawings. There were two of these:
But there were six of these:
And oddly enough, we get exactly the same ratio with the known spanking scenes in French stage plays of the 1930s: one sur les genoux (as the French call OTK) to three sous le bras (under the arm, or SLB). It’s starting look less like a fluke and more like a tendency…
Of course, SLB is not a uniquely French phenomenon. There are also examples from Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s. Danish actor Jean Hersholt spanked Sally O’Neil SLB in Battle of the Sexes (1928):
And all-American Wayne Morris did the same to Priscilla Lane, at length, in Love, Honor and Behave (1938):
But this represents a small minority of Hollywood spanking scenes. During the 1930s, around 70% of American movie spankings were OTK, whereas SLB didn’t even notch up 10%. And to confirm the norm in the English-speaking world, all but one of the known stage spankings in Britain in the same period were OTK (and the exception, Till Further Orders, was OTS). In that context, the especial frequency of SLB in France starts to look like a national characteristic, and certainly a cultural preference.
Maybe it’s futile to attempt to account for tastes, which may be just arbitrary, even at national level. And one thing that’s odd about SLB is that two of the things making it different from OTK point to diametrically opposite explanations of its possible appeal.
Putting a girl across your knee is a complicated operation. There is something sublime about the tangle of limbs here…
… but that very messiness also makes it difficult to stage effectively: there’s a lot that can go wrong. In contrast, tucking a girl under your arm is a much simpler maneuver. Look at how the horse-faced French comedian Fernandel does it to Suzy Delair in their 1956 film Le Couturier de ces Dames (The Ladies’ Dressmaker):
And it’s not only simpler to execute, but also simpler to disengage from afterwards, which is vital for actors needing to get on with the rest of the scene after the spanking: the girl doesn’t have to struggle awkwardly to her feet from an upended, horizontal position, but can simply be put down and let go.
So it’s possible to infer that SLB was frequent because it was more straightforward than OTK. But the argument can cut the other way, too. How many times have we seen the kind of ‘lazy OTK’ that privileges the convenience of the performers over the impact of the scene? The most obvious such solecism is allowing the girl to keep her feet on the floor. But SLB, done well in the same terms, is much more difficult than OTK, which at least gives the spanker a stable sitting position and a low center of gravity. Whereas look at this rare example of Hollywood SLB, Randolph Scott spanking Verna Hillie in the Western Man of the Forest (1933):
With the girl held off the ground under one arm, and probably showing some futile signs of resistance such as kicking her legs, the SLB spanker faces, throughout, a much more demanding physical challenge than his OTK counterpart, who at least is sitting down. It’s a spanking position that, done well, underlines the complete dominance of the spanker with a display of manly strength.
Some slight support for the supposition that the French in particular appreciated such displays, can be found in the appearance of an even more improbable spanking position in the 1952 ‘scenes from a marriage’ comedy Elle et Moi (She and Me). Near the end of the film, the husband Jean Montaigu (François Périer) becomes jealous of his wife Juliette (Dany Robin), and when he catches her with a half-dressed man in her bedroom, the outcome is this spanking:
(She escapes because the upside-down position puts her mouth in close proximity to his leg: she’s got teeth, and she knows how to use them!)
But the 1950s saw French spanking scenes starting to change. As our representative of established tradition, we’ll take the 1952 comedy L’Amour n’est pas un Pêché (Love is not a Sin). It was originally entitled Chiens et Chats (Dogs and Cats), which explains some of the imagery on the film poster:
The story concerns two activists of diametrically opposed social opinions, Eliane Cahuzac (Colette Brosset) and Jacques Loursier (Robert Dhéry), who take adjacent apartments in the same building and attempt to run their respective organizations, one for women and the other for men, from next door to one another. Friction follows, but so does romance, in spite of their entrenched beliefs: they fight like cat and dog. One morning, around halfway through the movie, they meet on the landing and get into an argument, in the course of which the feminist slaps the misogynist’s face. He directs her attention to something on the floor, and as she looks down, seizes her and administers an extended SLB spanking:
But this is the kind of thing the French were starting to see less and less of, on both stage and screen, as the decade continued. What they got instead were scenes like this one from the 1951 comedy Demain, Nous Divorçons! (We’ll Get Divorced Tomorrow!), in which Sophie Desmarets is spanked by Jean Desailly:
Or this one from the 1955 thriller Vous Pigez? (You Get It?), starring Eddie Constantine and Yorick Royan:
Or the 1960 ballet Pas de Dieux, in which prima ballerina Claude Bessy had her little skirt flipped up for a seat-of-the-panties spanking:
One explanation for the shift to OTK might be that French culture was becoming progressively Americanized, and it is notable that the leading actor of Vous Pigez? and the choreographer of Pas de Dieux, Gene Kelly, were both American. But on the other hand, you couldn’t find a less American and more French comedy than Demain, Nous Divorçons!
The march of OTK continued in the Sixties and Seventies, with spanking scenes like this one starring Elke Sommer in Les Bricoleurs (The Decorators; 1963):
Or this one in La Grande Trouille (The Big Scare; 1974), notable as the only movie in which Peter Cushing played Dracula, and (to us) even more notable for what he did to his co-star Miou-Miou:
But the period is also notable for a distinctive spanking pose that looks for all the world like an attempted compromise between la vielle and la nouvelle fessée, between SLB and OTK. Here’s Geneviève Page being spanked in Le Majordome (1965):
And Danièle Evenou in Le Saint Prend L’Affut (1966):
And Marlène Jobert in the publicity material for Julie Pot-de-Colle (1977):
The spanker elevates one knee and puts the girl over it, so that’s a technical OTK that nevertheless resembles the way she’d be positioned if she were SLB.
SLB in its pure form certainly wasn’t dead by the end of the 1970s, as witness this 1983 postcard by Philippe Bertrand:
It would be rash to pronounce it dead even today, but it is undeniable that OTK is now overwhelmingly the predominant position in modern mainstream French spanking, just as it is in the rest of the world. (See here, here and here for some outstanding examples of contemporary French OTK.) As we shall see later on, even stage plays that were originally written explicitly for the SLB pose are sometimes now revived with the spanking done OTK. But however it may be done, there’s one thing we can say with complete conviction: vive la fessée!