Retro Review: Barbarella (1968)

I write a lot of stuff on this blog about serious films. Films in foreign languages with subtitles, films dealing with aspects of sexuality, and films that are sometimes harrowing to watch. But believe it or not, I have also seen a lot of comedy films over the years, as well as films that might be considered satirical, slapstick, or just plain silly.

In 1968, I was 16 years old. I used to go to the cinema all the time, mostly to watch films I had read about, films made by directors I had started to admire, or starring actors I had respect and admiration for. But very often, I was not averse to just pitching up and going in to see whatever was on that night. And one of those nights, I saw this.

You could call it a science fiction film. It is set in the future, has spaceships and distant planets, and some unusual creatures too. But it is unlike any science fiction film I had seen before, or for that matter, since. Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is a space traveller, tasked with searching for the missing scientist, Durand Durand. (Not the pop group, they stole his name, and dropped the D) He has developed a ray weapon that might be used against Earth, so must be found.

Barbarella immediately gets into trouble. After crashing on a strange planet, she is captured by creepy small children, who set tiny robots dolls on her. She is saved by the patrolling child catcher, who takes her onto his ice-craft, requesting sex as payment. By this time, sex on Earth has developed into taking pills which simulate orgasm, so Barbarella’s first real sexual encounter gives her the taste for more. The man tells her that Durand is on Sogo, so she travels on to find him. On the way, she encounters a blind angel, (John Philip Law) who has lost his desire to fly, and a band of rebels led byย  a man named Dildano. (David Hemmings). She restores the angel’s flying ability by having sex with him, but is soon captured by the wicked Queen of Sogo. (Anita Pallenberg)

Barbarella discovers that Sogo is built on a sea of living energy, called The Matmos. Durand has seemingly gone mad, and with the power of The Matmos, he has developed a machine called the Orgasmatron, designed to kill anyone placed inside, using ultimate sexual pleasure. He aims to finish off Barbarella, and puts her into the machine. But he isn’t reckoning with her sexual powers, and she proves to be too much, even for the mighty Orgasmatron.

I know, it sounds silly, and it is. But it is a feast for the eyes, lovingly made, and often very amusing too. Obviously a satire on space films like Flash Gordon, it adds the sexual element, which is never really salacious or unpleasant. It laughs at itself, and the accomplished cast know exactly what they are doing too. Above all, Fonda shines. She looks amazing, (and has never looked better before or since) and manages to play it straight, in many otherwise ludicrous situations. Great support from Milo O’Shea as Durand Durand, and the lurid but imaginative sets all adds up to a real fun film that leaves you smiling.

See, I do ‘fun’ too. ๐Ÿ™‚

54 thoughts on “Retro Review: Barbarella (1968)

  1. Great post ๐Ÿ™‚ I can best sum up Barbarella as a highly enjoyable blend of camp, softcore erotica and social commentary all into one. Do not mistaken my view as faint praise though because it is far from it. Disclaimer: I do not think you have made that mistake and I do not think that it could be mistaken for faint praise, I just wanted to be sure ๐Ÿ™‚ The level of open or subtle comic creativity on display here is worth to that of the legendary Frank Tashlin. When all is said and done, Barbarella would pair perfectly with Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik in terms of a double bill regarding 1960’s adaptations of comic book characters to film. Hey they both came out in 1968 ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, keep up the great work as always ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think I’ve watched it for many years but a friend of mine is very talented at finding funny old films and I’ve watched a few recently. Jane Fonda was very pretty (and she’s keeping well, however). I remember Bette Davis comment (it seems she quite fancied Henry Fonda but he wasn’t interested) that she could not look at her without thinking of her father.

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    1. Bette Davis always had some very quotable comments. ๐Ÿ™‚
      This film was always meant to be old-fashioned, and that has helped it endure down the years.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  3. Great review, Pete.

    I have very fond memories of this film. When I was in my mid teens, we always used to go to my Granโ€™s in Scotland for Christmas and New Year.

    One year, all the adults went out to a dance at the Masonic Lodge, leaving me home alone. After raiding the fridge for a can of Tenantโ€™s and a Babycham, I had a look through the Radio Times for something to watch. I had been reading a lot of science fiction and saw that there was a science fiction film on TV. The film was Barbarella, Like you, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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  4. “Barbarella” is one of my greatest “guilty pleasures.” Like “Young Frankenstein,” it’s a standby filmโ€”always there, ready to be watched yet again. I’m not Fonda her politics, but dang was Jane a hottie back then! And I have to put in a good word for the late Anita Pallenberg. She, too, was “pretty, pretty.” In recent years, there was talk of a remake. I would not have been interested in a remake in the least. You can’t replace the original actors. And a remake would almost certainly dispense with the camp.

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  5. I never saw it and had always thought it smutty and iwhtout value, based on others’ opinions. it sounds a lot more good-natured in this review, so we may rent it sometime–thanks for redeeming silly material!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m English GP, so didn’t have the same issues. But to be honest, I never liked her much as a person.
      (I have bigger issues with the UK Royal Family, and they are very popular Stateside. ๐Ÿ™‚ )
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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