Let’s begin with a German comedy of the Hitler era, Der Scheidungsgrund (1937). It starred Eastern European actress Anny Ondra, who had been the first of a run of glamorous blondes who inspired the creative imagination of Alfred Hitchcock:
Here she is with her co-star in the film, Paul Hörbiger:
And here’s what he does to her at the end of the film:
Sticking with Anny Ondra for a moment, here’s what her co-star Oldrich Novy does to her at the end of their film Duvod k Rozvodu (1937):
Spot the similarity?
The two films have not only the same star but the same story, the same sets and the same director, Carl Lamac. They also have the same title: Grounds for Divorce, respectively in German and Czech. In effect, they’re the same film – made twice over, for audiences speaking two different languages in two different countries. The disadvantage for Anny Ondra being, of course, that she got spanked twice!
Europe is a continent full of boundaries, but also one with an impulse to override those boundaries, sometimes aggressively but latterly through the more benign processes of diplomacy and political union. In the film industry, that will sometimes mean shooting multiple versions, though since the 1930s it has become more usual to keep the same visuals and just record a new soundtrack – which means that, for instance, on the Region 2 DVD of Blue Hawaii, manufactured for distribution across western Europe, you can hear five different vocal performances of the spanking scene, in the various vernaculars, even though the footage you see is always all-American Elvis and Jenny Maxwell.
But language isn’t the only thing defining boundaries and affecting the way movies are made and distributed: there are big cultural differences too. One relevant case in point may be illustrated by the 1961 British sci-fi film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, which happens to be almost exactly contemporary with Blue Hawaii. It’s not a film with a spanking scene, in any version, although its female lead, Janet Munro, was previously spanked by Robert Shaw in the television play One of Us (1957). Here she is in the film:
Only not in the version you could see on British and American release!
My point is that British film-makers of the 1950s and early 1960s were aware that attitudes to screen nudity were more relaxed in continental Europe than in their own offshore archipelago, so that additional footage showing more skin, and sometimes whole alternate versions of scenes, would be routinely shot for use in the export print only.
Disappointingly, there’s no evidence that any spanking scene in a British movie was ever shot in an alternate ‘European’ version. Admittedly it’s a small body of material: there are only sixteen known mainstream British film spankings up to the big mid-1960s change of taste. Here’s the latest of them, The Iron Maiden (1962):
Now, much as I’d love to see a variant version in which Anne Helm is spanked more ‘continentally’, on the seat of her panties, the fact is that the German print of the movie…
… is no different from the British one! And that’s no great surprise, given what we saw last time. European nations do indeed have boundaries of cultural taste concerning bodily exposure, and these did sometimes have an impact on how spanking scenes were perceived and circulated between countries (which will be a subject for another time). But what matters in the first place, it seems, is the primary market in the home nation, and therefore where the spanking is positioned in relation to the particular country’s internal cultural striations – which takes us back to the dichotomy we’ve already explored, between spanking on the seat of the skirt and on the seat of the panties.
Very occasionally, there are two versions of the same spanking scene, each on a different side of the boundary. But unlike the multiple language versions of Der Scheidungsgrund, this has nothing to do with selling the scene to different national markets with different cultural requirements, tastes and standards, and everything to do with the context in which the scene is being presented and used.
Time for another Viennese stage production of Kiss Me Kate by way of illustration. This one dates from 2004, and starred Matthias Kostya as Fred and Patricia Nessy as Lilli. It was a relatively raunchy production in which Lilli’s legs were often unencumbered by Kate’s period skirt,
and one thing that photo makes clear is that, when her skirt was raised for the spanking, she was also unencumbered by period bloomers! But you’d have to look very closely at the spanking publicity photo to notice that it has been lifted at all:
In a publicity photo, they needed to have a clear view of both performers’ faces, and the best way of achieving that with the spanking as staged was to shoot Lilli head-on. The result was, not a wholly different version of the scene, but a representation of it in which the skirt might just as well not have been raised.
That’s mainly circumstantial, you might demur. But here’s a more suggestive example of the difference between how Kiss Me Kate was performed and how it was publicized, from Germany in 2015. On stage:
But in the publicity shoot:
The publicity image achieves a compromise: it suggests the raising of the skirt without actually effecting it. And that was surely because advertising has to operate in a more public domain than the show itself, and must not only sell the production but also avoid giving offense to people who might see the poster but who probably won’t be coming to see the show. It helps that it does it with a splendid spanking image!
To see an even more unmistakable example of a taste boundary affecting how a spanking scene is presented, we go back to 1962 and Le Masque de Fer (The Iron Mask), a dramatization of Alexandre Dumas’ novel in which the French King’s identical twin brother has been imprisoned, with the death penalty decreed for anyone who dares to look upon his face.
Starring as D’Artagnan is Jean Marais, best known outside France for playing the less beautiful of the two title roles in Jean Cocteau’s haunting fairy tale, La Belle et la Bête (1946), but better known in spanking circles for what he did to Danièle Evenou in Le Saint Prend L’Affut (1966):
The other half of the equation is supplied by Claudine Auger, who was Miss France of 1958 and the runner up in that year’s Miss World contest.
She was later the principal girl in Thunderball (1964), the only James Bond film to include an explicit spanking threat (only not to her). Her she is with Sean Connery:
And if that’s an opportunity squandered, at least Jean Marais won’t let us down!
The plot of Le Masque de Fer gets underway when Cardinal Mazarin orders D’Artagnan to fetch the Man in the Iron Mask from his island prison. But Isabelle, daughter of the keeper of the fortress, is in love with the prisoner, and helps him to escape. The plan entails her engineering a situation where she is obliged, for medical reasons of doubtful authenticity, to bathe naked in the sea – so all the guards have to avert their eyes to avoid seeing…
And that means they also don’t see the Man in the Iron Mask’s daring getaway; so when D’Artagnan arrives, his charge is gone. He escorts the keeper back to Paris to make his excuses to the Cardinal, and Isabelle comes too. En route, they catch up with the escaping prisoner, unidentified because unmasked, but in trouble with the local law. Isabelle asks D’Artagnan to rescue the unknown unfortunate, on the promise that, if he does so, she will tell him the whereabouts of the Man in the Iron Mask. Afterwards, she leaves in the carriage, and when D’Artagnan catches up on horseback, he asks her if she has anything to say to him. Her answer is, not until the next stop – which comes quicker than expected, because D’Artagnan halts the carriage forthwith.
Her conversation begins with admiration and compliments and continues with evasion. So he takes her out of the carriage to hear in private what she has to tell him. Her father is doubtful, but D’Artagnan assures him: ‘Government business.’ But even in private she keeps trying to change the subject. ‘Where is the Man in the Iron Mask?’ he asks. ‘Would you like to smell my flowers?’ she replies. And when he presses the point, she admits that she doesn’t know where the ex-prisoner is at that precise moment. She only knows where he was at the precise moment she made the promise. Or, to be more precise: ‘He was escaping.’ And that understandably infuriates D’Artagnan, with precisely the following consequences:
‘Ça, Mademoiselle de Saint-Mars, vous l’avez bien mérité!’ he says: ‘This is well deserved!’
And watching from the carriage, her father caps the scene with a wry remark: ‘Government business seems to mean something different from what it did when I was a young man.’
As with many a bloomers spanking on film, there’s the incidental interest of spotting the actress’s own modern panties beneath the bloomers:
But what matters for my argument here is the fact that this wasn’t the only version of the spanking scene they shot. The version filmed for the movie’s trailer is very similar, except in one key respect:
Only Isabelle’s skirt is raised, and her petticoats remain in place. Her bloomers only appear in the film itself. The trailer had to be less racy because it might need to be shown in a different context, such as when a more family-oriented film was on the main bill. There couldn’t be a clearer illustration of the taste boundary operating within a single country.
But what about between different countries? That takes us into a new phase of the investigation…