Salò, or 120 Days of Sodom (1975) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This Italian adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's masterwork has managed to stay controversial for nearly 30 years. It was first screened in Britain at the Old Compton Street cinema club in 1977. It was shown in its full uncut version without a certificate. After a few days, the cinema was raided by the police, who confiscated the print and threatened to arrest the cinema owners for indecency.

The director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, stayed completely faithful to Sade's text, but relocated the story from the France of the 1790s to the last days of Fascist Italy in the mid 1940s. By doing so, he posited that the treatment of the people at the hands of the Fascists was unchanged from the way the people had been used by the old aristocrats in the Days of Kings. In both cases, the people merely existed as sub-human slaves, for the pleasure of the state and the plutocrats, to be the property of the rich, or even to be sent to war to defend the other property of the rich.

For those of you unaware of the historical background, Mussolini was deposed and arrested in July of 1943, after which Italy negotiated an armistice with the Allies. The Germans intervened, taking all of Italy's major cities, and liberating Mussolini, who was then established as Hitler's puppet in a "new" Italy (RSI), which was headquartered in Salò in Northern Italy. This lasted until 1945, when Il Duce was killed. The German-controlled Italy of the 1943-45 period was called the "Republic of Salò".

Many people claim that all of this was predicted by Nostradamus in this quattrain:

Weep, people of Milan, Lucca, Florence.
When your great Duc will climb on the chariot.
To move the seat closer to Venice,
When the Roman columns will be replaced.

The film is in four parts, following a "Circle of Hell" structure loosely patterned after Dante's "Inferno".

1) Young people are rounded up by the Fascists. Some are made into collaborators, others into prisoners. All are transported to Salo, to serve as the slaves of four perverted nobles.

2) Circle of Mania: the young people are used for the carnal pleasure of the nobles.

3) Circle of Shit: the young people are forced to consume and otherwise engage in contact with various excremental functions, further degrading them and establishing their complete subservience to the nobles.

4) Circle of Blood: the young people are tortured and killed in grisly ways, thus showing that they are not even considered human by their masters, but rather creatures who exist solely for the amusement of the powerful.

This film has been banned and censored for years, and is recognized as one of the most perverted of all time. That's somewhat misleading.

It is an outré film, but it isn't really as shocking as people have made out. There are some shocking elements. The young people are naked all the time, there are many casual rapes, and there is some explicit shit-eating. In the final portion, there are some flesh-burnings, a scalping, a tongue removal, and an eye-gouging. It's no date film. On the other hand, the sex is not explicit, in that there are no erections or penetrations or even gynecological camera angles. The only explicit gore is the scalping, which looks realistic. Other than that, you can see much more explicit gore in the Italian cannibal films.

I would not recommend watching this film for titillation. There is sex and violence, as mentioned above, but it is unpleasant, and surrounded by lengthy and tedious speeches, poetry recitations, etc.  The film does not come to any kind of a cathartic conclusion, or even much of a conclusion at all.

Although the film manages to be both tedious and grotesque (a deadly combination), Salo is artistic in many ways, and the cinematography is excellent. There are not many outside scenes, but the few that exist are beautiful. The interiors are lighted very effectively, in what seems to be natural light, and the compositions are artful. I would not claim that this film is without artistic merit. Nor would I claim that it is worth watching, unless your curiosity just plain gets the best of you.

It was to be Pasolini's last film. He was murdered in still-unexplained circumstances shortly after the film was completed. The resultant publicity, as well as the bans and censorhip, gave Salo a mystique which it did not otherwise merit, and transformed an obscure art film into a coveted and widely discussed cult item.


See the main commentary. Male and female nudity of all possible body parts from many of the young cast members, but no erections, penetrations, or gyno shots.

DVD info from Amazon

It was a Criterion Collection DVD, and is currently out of publication. It can be acquired in a Region 2 DVD (assembled by the BFI) from and other sources in the UK.

The prestigious British Film Institute, perhaps to atone for the film's long banishment from the UK, has dedicated a very comprehensive website to this film, including comments by the director, excerpts from Sade's book, and a history of the film's distribution. Here is the main page, and here is a history of the censorship of the film in the UK and elsewhere.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. It may be something that you are curious about, although it is basically an art film, almost totally lacking in entertainment value or even in sexual titillation.

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