Directed By: Curtis Harrington
Starring: Sylvia Kristel, Christopher Cazenove, Oliver Tobias
Tag line: "A dangerous lover. A treacherous spy. A beautiful seductress"
Trivia: This movie was the final theatrical feature film directed by Curtis Harrington
I continue my trek through the Cannon Films archives with 1985’s Mata Hari, starring Sylvia Kristel as the infamous World War One-era spy / seductress who, during her brief career in espionage, was alleged to have gathered secrets for both the French and German Armies. With Miss Kristel (better known for her roles in the Emmanuelle series) as the lead, it’s no surprise that Mata Hari features lots of nudity and a smattering of softcore sex. Unfortunately, not even a steady stream of naked flesh will be enough to keep you awake through this snooze fest.
An entertainer by trade, Mata Hari, a.k.a. Lady MacLeod (due to her brief marriage to a Dutch military officer) strikes up a friendship with two men she meets in a Paris museum: German Karl von Bayerling (Christopher Casenove) and Frenchman Georges Ladoux (Oliver Tobias). Both will fall in love with the beautiful dancer, but when war breaks out Karl and Ladoux find themselves fighting on opposite sides. Several months later, while traveling by train to Berlin, Mata Hari is accused of murdering a German agent (he was actually killed by an assassin while making love to her) and she's taken into custody. During her interrogation, however, Karl (now a Captain in the army) intercedes on Mata Hari’s behalf, and soon after the two become lovers.
It’s through Karl that Mata Hari meets Fraulein Doktor (Gaye Brown), a psychologist who specializes in espionage. Eventually, Mata Hari, spurred on by Fraulein Doktor, agrees to spy for the Germans. Once back in Paris, however, she has a rendezvous with Ladoux, who convinces her to also report on German activity. Torn between her loyalty to two countries and her love for two soldiers, Mata Hari uses her sexual power over men to learn their secrets, all the while knowing that it won’t be long before one side or the other uncovers the truth about her.
Director Curtis Harrington wastes no time whatsoever in Mata Hari; the opening sequence, a flashback set in Java, features a topless Kristel performing a native dance (which is odd, seeing as all the other dancers are fully clothed), and by the 10 minute mark we witness the first of several sex scenes (the tryst on the Berlin-bound train that landed Mata Hari in hot water). But that’s just a taste of what’s to come. Over the course of Mata Hari, Kristel will sleep with members of both sexes, masturbate in bed (while a peeping tom watches through a keyhole), and attend an orgy, where she gets into a bare-breasted swordfight with a woman who accused the beautiful spy of stealing her man!
The nudity aside, Mata Hari is a stone cold bore, failing as both a historical drama (due in large part to Kristel’s lackluster performance) and a spy thriller (on more than one occasion we lose track of which side Mata Hari is working for at that moment, and those scenes in which she is engaged in espionage aren’t the least bit exciting). Even a brief battle sequence, where Mata Hari is being escorted behind enemy lines, doesn’t amount to very much.
So, if the prospect of seeing Sylvia Kristel in her birthday suit is all you require, then Mata Hari won’t disappoint. But if you need something more than that, I’d recommend checking out 1931’s Mata Hari, starring Greta Garbo. It’s not nearly as erotic as this film, and to be fair is far from Garbo’s best work, but it’s still better than this mess.