The bill of fare at these cinemas usually consisted of a kung fu film, a horror/slasher offering, an action movie of some kind (western, cop, adventure), an older A-list film, and finally, and inevitably, some softcore porn. The porn usually took the form of a sex comedy, and they came from the four corners of the world, although by the time they made it to Toronto they were usually heavily scratched and missing whole scenes. And in this way I received a beginner's course in sexy-time world cinema.
As for German sex comedies...well, comedy in reference to anything German is probably stretching a point, but they did try. Their films often took the form of traveler's tales, beginning with a group of men and women meeting in a railway carriage, bar or hotel who decide to pass the time by telling stories of sexual escapades. As a storytelling device this format dates back to Boccaccio's The Decameron, but it was an effective way to trot out six or seven erotic tales. And the Germans were all about the eroticism. No fannying about like the English; the German films kept the comedy at its most basic level ("Oh, no! Your badly-behaved dachsund has torn my dress off!") and moved straight to the romping. Germans seem to take their sex seriously.
American sex comedies ran towards stories about horny teenagers in high school. They were dull and predictable, and the teenagers always looked closer to their thirties than their teens. Occasionally the grindhouse would offer up an older American blue movie, the sort of film that featured tales of wife-swapping and lots of polyester clothing. I'd have to say Americans just don't approach sex with any kind of imagination.
And how does Malena fit into all this? The answer is that it's nothing less than a big budget, epically-scaled version of the classic Italian sex comedy, which thereby makes it possibly the worst Italian film of all time. Why? Because it's attempting to hide it's softcore, exploitation roots behind a patina of production values, top quality cinematography, hordes of extras, and the heady combination of Monica Belluci's sex appeal and acting ability. I hope she got a boatload of lira for this film because the director doesn't miss a chance to exploit her body. When she isn't being spied upon while undressing, she's being groped by a conga line of gargoyle-ugly men. On top of all this we have a boy barely in his teens who worships her from afar and likes to imagine himself in her arms, breasts, legs and so on. The plot? Malena (Belluci) is the town hottie and all the men lust after her. Vile rumours circulate that she's bedding men for money, rumours that everyone is happy to believe in. Malena eventually decides she might as well profit from her reputation and becomes a prostitute, largely because it's the only way she can provide for herself in World War II Italy.
Malena is also a blatant ripoff of Fellini's Amarcord, copying that classic's comic tone and style down to the last detail. There's a definitely a case of copyright infringement here. The other film it steals from is Malizia, a classic cheapo sex comedy from the 1970s starring Laura Antonelli, the Monica Belluci of her day. That film was also rife with voyeurism and horny little boys. The most shocking thing about Malena is the respect it's garnered over the years. There are special edition DVDs, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Criterion Collection added it to its catalogue one of these days. This is further proof, as if any was needed, that the film world is still in the sweaty hands of 16-year-old boys.