Topic of the Month November 2011

 
 

Ideal material for sex & crime: nylon in feature films

Some scripts are rejected because the story is much too flimsy. Nylon is a flimsy material, but it has made it to the big screen even so. As an ideal element of sex & crime stories, it enhances the plot of many different films: nylon stockings worn by female movie stars catch the eye and act as a murder weapon in thrillers too.

In the German comedy film “Scampolo” that was made in 1958 and is set on Ischia, the young Romy Schneider plays a 17-year-old Italian orphan who is sceptical about anything artistic. When she borrows some skin-coloured nylon stockings for a rendezvous and puts them on for the first time, she stretches her left leg out in front of her and asks incredulously: “So this is supposed to be beautiful? This is what drives men crazy?!” The answer is yes, as can be claimed on the basis of empirical evidence. Certainly not all men, but definitely the film enthusiasts who have established the communication forum “Films and stockings” at www.strumpfhose.net and spend their time watching stocking scenes that have appeared throughout film history. The explanation given: “There are any number of films in which stockings or tights are ‘simply worn’. Since they are standard pieces of clothing, this is no surprise.” However, what the members of the forum are interested in is not day-to-day life but “films in which tights are used more flamboyantly”, i.e. provide a special kick ...

Nylon stockings combined with more or less seductive poses started to appear on film posters for mainstream audiences (link to slide show) from about the mid-50s onwards and were pretty much ubiquitous in the Swinging Sixties – as a visual attraction for potential cinema audiences in Germany, England and France in particular. Fetishism was not the issue here – “sex sells” was the motto and even the most prominent of actresses were quick to show their legs in stockings or tights. Revealing films starring Sophia Loren (“Lady L”, “Arabesque”), Elizabeth Taylor (“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”), Marilyn Monroe (“Bus Stop”), Ann Bancroft (“The Graduate”), Romy Schneider (“Das Mädchen und der Kommissar”), Liza Minelli (“Cabaret”) or Helen Mirren (“Hussy”) are unforgotten. Well-known directors have made repeated use of the subject too, e.g. François Truffaut (“The Bride Wore Black”, “The Man Who Loved Women”), Claude Chabrol (“The Does”), Brian de Palma (“Dressed To Kill”), Roman Polanski (“Frantic”) and Pedro Almodóvar (“High Heels”).

TV has not been a nylon-free zone either: as Emma Peel in the British secret agent series “The Avengers”, Diana Rigg became a fashionable style icon from 1965 onwards, while attractive actresses in nylon stockings were an essential feature of German thriller productions too, such as “Der Kommissar” (“Der Liebespaarmörder” episode), and “Graf Yoster gibt sich die Ehre” (“Die Erbschaft” episode). Quite apart from the US series “Star Trek”, because nylon clothes are a thing not just of the present but also of the future – at least the way science fiction writers and costume designers imagine(d) it. After all, synthetic fibres have futuristic flair at the aesthetic level, even if they have been established for a long time now, something that the films “Barbarella” (F/I 1968, director: Roger Vadim), “Logan’s Run” (USA 1976, director: Michael Anderson) and “Flash Gordon” (GB/USA 1980, director: Mike Hodges) have taken impressive advantage of.

Nylon has on occasions made it not only onto film posters but even into film titles too. It is not unusual for them to have been B-movies or cheap sex films for simple tastes, but now and then they turn out to be little movie gems that have been wrongly forgotten. Critics saw parallels to Hitchcock’s “Psycho” in the US thriller “The Girl in Black Stockings” that was made in 1957. An outline of the plot: a mysterious series of murders takes place close to a motel in Utah, with young women being the majority of the victims. A lawyer played by Lex Barker, who was to become famous in the roles of Tarzan and Old Shatterhand, tries to find the murderer, assisted by Ann Bancroft, who was later to win an Oscar. The German production “Schwarze Nylons – heiße Nächte” featuring Peter van Eyck, Horst Frank and Helmut Schmid (who were stars at the time) was made a year later: a thriller typical of the era about sex traders and drug smugglers in Tangier, Morocco. Horst Frank appears in “Gehemnisse in goldenen Nylons” too. This spy thriller from 1967 is about an occasional thief named Carlos, who steals a suitcase from gangsters only to discover that it contains secret CIA documents. Everyone starts hunting for them and Carlos gets caught in the crossfire. What role the nylons in the title of the film play will not be revealed here. The original title of the international production (director: Christian-Jaque) does not even mention them; it is simply called “Deux billets pour Mexico” ...

And, finally, nylon makes an appearance not in the form of clothing but as a murder weapon in the German thriller “Die Nylonschlinge” (FRG 1963), a film similar in style to the Edgar Wallace blockbusters, the popularity of which director Rudolf Zehetgruber wanted to take advantage of. The cast chosen for this film included Dietmar Schönherr (as an inspector!) and Gustav Knuth as well as the Viennese actor and former wrestler Ady Berber (1913-1966), who was familiar from the Wallace films “Die toten Augen von London” (FRG 1961), “Die Tür mit den sieben Schlössern” (FRG/F 1962) and “Das indische Tuch” (FRG 1963). Berber was typecast in the role of the stupid, murdering monster who was, however, dependent on and controlled by the real archvillain. It goes without saying that someone completely unexpected is behind the “nylon noose” murderer too ... “This film is far more exciting than most Edgar Wallace films” is how a euphoric thriller fan put it in the Edgar Wallace forum. “The film has a tense atmosphere and is kept alive by the contrast between the two main settings, Elford Manor and the Esquire Bar – the nightclub in London.” The international film dictionary comes to a different conclusion, on the other hand: “confusing thriller”. Our opinion: the nylon can’t be blamed, because the yarn is spun so well that there are practically no convolutions at all, over even 100 kilometres of the fibre ...