There is a certain brand of film that I tend to think of when I think of The Cannon Group. I probably first think about the two Chucks…Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. Cannon released tons of action films featuring these two during the 80’s. Cannon also had their hand in ninja movies, break dancing movies, and lots of other bizarre stuff. But in 1985 they tried their hand at a historical pic with an erotic twist…featuring none other than the actress who played Emmanuelle in the title role. Get ready for some World War I espionage Cannon style in 1985’s Mata Hari.
Sylvia Kristel plays Lady MacLeod, an exotic dancer who performs under the name of Mata Hari. Hmmm, wonder if she’s any relation to Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod? Score one for me for the Highlander reference. Anyhow, Mata Hari attracts the attention of two friends on opposite sides of the war: frenchman Georges Ladoux (Oliver Tobias) and German Karl von Bayerling (Christopher Cazenove). Both men become romantically entwined with her, but they also recruit her for various espionage missions. Her Dutch citizenship makes it easier for her to cross from one side of the conflict to the other.
Meanwhile, an evil female German commander (because there’s always got to be an evil female German commander), Dr. Elsbeth Schragmuller (Gaye Brown), has her own plans for Mata Hari. However, Lady MacLeod manages to stop bed hopping long enough to turn the tables on Fraulein Doktor’s assassination plot…which leads to trouble for Mata Hari despite her heroics.
That’s the best you’re going to get for a plot summary on this one, folks, because this movie makes zero sense. To say it’s story is convoluted and bloated is a severe understatement. Half the time I was completely lost as to which side Mata Hari was currently working for and, honestly, it didn’t take long for me to not care enough to try and figure it all out. Honestly, the director of this film should’ve known better. Director Curtis Harrington has turned out some decent films in the past, including the fun Alien-precursor Queen of Blood. Mata Hari, however, is about as amateurish as they come.
Ultimately, though, I’m sure that Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus (the men behind Cannon) didn’t give a rip that the film made about as much sense as a penguin on a unicycle. After all, they had Sylvia Kristel and she spends a large percentage of the film sans clothing. Though Kristel was known for these sort of erotically-charged roles, it’s not like she couldn’t act. She just doesn’t, for some reason, in this one; giving off a deer-in-the-headlights look that would make Bambi’s mother jealous.
Sadly, the film doesn’t even manage to reach so-bad-it’s-good territory. With it’s opulent sets and soft candle style lighting it all comes off as criminally pretentious. Only one scene reaches an entertaining level of ridiculousness. It sees Mata Hari attending a strange sex party where the guests are all dressed in 18th century costumes. A jealous wife then challenges her to a duel and the two end up topless fencing. It’s like some sort of Kubrickian nightmare where someone threw Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut into a blender.
This is precisely the kind of flick that would be shown during that midnight to 4 AM block of time on Showtime back in the 80’s. The folks that stayed up for that sort of stuff weren’t exactly looking for cinematic excellence. If that was the case, then this film more than fits the bill. Mata Hari is just plain awful. I mean I usually try to at least say something nice about a film, but I’m at a loss on this one.