Color, 1970, 95m. / Directed by Ugo Liberatore / Starring Jane Birkin, Alessio Orano, John Steiner / VCI (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Or, Oxford Blues Goes to Hell. The opening of this oh so mod depiction of Oxford college life circa 1970 offers a word of thanks to the university and its students for their participation in this film, leading one to wonder whether anyone considered just how scathingly the school is depicted here. This Italian production is something of an oddity in that it was filmed on location, and the majority of the cast members retain their original voices. However, anyone seeking a "kinky, sexy, violent thriller," as the packaging describes it, will be quite disappointed. The presence of Italian student Valerio (Lisa and the Devil's Alessio Orano) disrupts the social structure at Oxford, particularly when he establishes a love/hate relationship with Flora (pop chanteuse Jane Birkin), daughter of one of the head professors. Flora's solemn mother (Rossella Falk) has a few sexual peculiarities of her own and leaves her daughter to do what she pleases, a situation which doesn't bother Flora's snobby boyfriend (Italian sleaze vet John Steiner, who does snooty better than anyone). Valerio winds up almost bedding Flora, resulting in his being subjected to "sconcing"-- a horrible, sadistic punishment in which the victim is publicly forced to, uh, drink a pitcher of beer. The film constantly counts down the plot towards May Morning, a traditional annual ritual in which Oxford students put on fancy clothes, dance to groovy music, and make out on the floor until dawn. However, as our two main characters soon learn, tradition also has some painful and violent consequences.

Like most early '70s Italian films, May Morning is primarily a feast for the eyes and ears. The scope photography, mod fashions, and peculiar decor (including a huge dorm room poster of Ewa Aulin in Candy) lift this one out of the rut of average TV movies, and as usual Birkin doesn't shy away from doing a long topless scene for no good reason. Unfortunately, there isn't a single character in the film worth caring about or identifying with, so their sorry fates leave the viewer with little more than an indifferent shrug. The vicious, spiteful sexual assault at the end - not to mention its victim's subsequent reaction - leaves a very foul and dirty feeling over the entire film, and the grating pop score by The Tremeloes(?) even over the ugliest scenes fails to work as effective counterpoint. Director Ugo Liberatore had previously distinguished himself as a screenwriter on such films as Mill of the Stone Women and later directed the much better Damned in Venice; here, however, he seems lost at sea trying to depict British vs. Italian class struggles and ultimately making both sides look like petty, self-absorbed jerks. For a more controlled and effective treatment of the same thematic material, check out The Wicker Man or The Draughtsman's Contract instead. Not exactly a likely candidate for a US DVD release, May Morning has been rescued from oblivion by VCI. The anamorphic transfer looks very good, with the film's age only evident in some film grain and a few odd yellowish colour schemes that may or may not have been part of the original photography. The disc also includes the original American trailer for the film's brief US run (it was also known as Murder at Oxford and Alba Pagana), as well as a transcript of the UMC pressbook. The entry for Jane Birkin in particular is priceless.

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