De Sade (1969)



Director:    Cy Enfield.

Starring:     Keir Dullea (Louis Alphonse Donatien, Marquis de Sade), Senta Berger (Anne de Montreuil), Lilli Palmer (Mme. de Montreuil), Anna Massey (Renée de Montreuil), Sonja Ziemann (La Beauvoisin), Christiane Krüger (Laura, Marquis' mistress), Uta Levka (Rose Keller), Barbara Stanek(Colette), Susanne von Almassy (Marquis' mother), Friedrich Schoenfelder (Marquis' father), Herbert Weissbach (M. de Montreuil), Heinz Spitzner (Inspector Marais), Tilly Lauenstein, Ortrud Gross, John Huston (Abbé de Sade).

American International Pictures.



Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

De Sade rides his horse up to a tavern. Some French soldiers come out and ask him: "Louis Alphonse Donatien, the Marquis de Sade?" The commander tells him to dismount or be fired upon. De Sade leans way over on the side of his horse and rides away. The soldiers fire at him.

De Sade rides his horse up to a castle. He opens the door and there are cobwebs all over the place. An elderly man walks by but refuses to acknowledge De Sade's presence.

Abbé de Sade, however, acknowledges De Sade. The uncle asks: "Escaped again have you?" Yes. Abbé de Sade says he was hoping his nephew would show up for they are about to start a play.

The first scene is set on the Montreuil Estate, outside Paris. The Count and Countess De Sade, the parents of De Sade, are speaking to the in-law parents to be by marriage of De Sade to Renée de Montreuil.

De Sade gets offended by he play and gets on the stage and yells: "Stop it! This is ludicrous!" He says the actual marital negotiations were nothing like how they were portrayed in the play.

Flashback. De Sade comes into the castle to talk with his prospective in-laws. Renée sings a song wondering when her true love will come. When De Sade shows himself Renée just runs off into another room.

De Sade goes after her and finds a negotiation already going on. De Sade signs the document and only now does he learn that the pretty young thing he saw run away was not Renée at all. The one who ran away was the sister of Renée, known as Anne.

De Sade says the contract must be torn up because it was Anne who he wanted to marry, not Renée. The parents and prospective in-law parents are shocked that De Sade would think that it was even possible to tear up a marital contract. The police is represented at the table and the man stands close to De Sade. Anne runs out of the room. De Sade chases after her.

De Sade is with another woman in bed. (brief nudity) The woman, named Laura, reads a letter from his father to De Sade in which he says the penalty for breaking a marriage contract is imprisonment. Father urges his son to come back to his betrothed.

So De Sade marries Renée in a cathedral. Walking out of the church De Sade sees Anne again running away. He chases after her, but the myriad guests get in his way. He has to force his way through.

De Sade talks with Renée in the marital bedroom as she lies stiff in bed. He tells her to relax because he only came to give her pleasure, not pain. He kisses her and draws back, saying: "If I wished to kiss a statue, I'd visit a museum." She says she will do her wifely duty, which is hardly a turn-on. So De Sade goes over to a small table and pours himself a large glass of red wine.

There is a scene where De Sade is having an orgy with at least four women. (some nudity) He gets in bed with all four women. He keeps pulling the hair of one woman and she has to cry: "Enough!" De Sade tells her that she is a prostitute, he paid for her and she must give him her pleasure. Or he will punish her. He says that it gives him pleasure to inflict pain on the woman. His lecture is cut short as De Sade is arrested for "vile excesses committed with these innocent girls". De Sade protests that these "girls" are whores. He still lands in jail.

Back to the present. Uncle tells De Sade that he may come out of the jail if he so wishes. He starts to describe the next scene, but De Sade says he has no time for that. His mother-in-law tells him that he must not go to see Anne. She says that she herself was the one who got him out of the Fortress of Vincennes.

Mother-in-law locks a gate so that De Sade cannot get to Anne. She reminds him that in order for him to get out of prison, he signed an agreement that he would stay here permanently with his wife. Besides, Anne is going to her convent and a three-month residence each year is required. She, however, will not become a nun. She will not be a bride of Christ.

She tries to console De Sade and gets very close to him. This allows De Sade the opportunity to grab the set of keys from her hands, unlock the gate and hurry after Anne. But he can't catch up with the stage coach.

De Sade has a little fling with a friend of his wife whose name is Colette. She is a good singer. His mother-in-law interrupts one of their trysts by knocking on the bedroom door. He hides Colette and then goes to speak with his mother-in-law. She says that he has behaved so well these last few months that she will grant him more freedom as the "season" is soon starting.

De Sade takes Renée to the ball. There he meets a pretty woman named La Beauvoisin, the best actress in Paris. Soon the two establish a relationship. De Sade builds her a theater where she and he can act before an audience.  The couple put on a performance of what De Sade calls "The Childhood of Poor Little Louis Alphonse".  The first scene starts with Abbé de Sade (played by De Sade) and two women, his housekeeper and her daughter. It's a sexual farce with the Abbé de Sade having sex with the niece. The Abbé de Sade says that the little rascal Louie is spying on them.

Flashback. The Abbé de Sade catches Louie watching his uncle's little escapade. He tells the boy to come to him. The housekeeper holds Louie tight to her bosom, opens his shirt in the back and the niece now lashes him with the Abbé's stick. The boy is getting a sexual thrill out of hugging the housekeeper so very tight, while at the same time he is experiencing the pain of the stick on his back. These two things get combined in his mind producing a little future sadist.

Back to the present. On stage De Sade jumps on the boy (actually played by a dummy) over and over to inflict more pain. Now De Sade throws the dummy into the audience. Some nudity follows as the men and women are sexually aroused.

Uncle congratulates his nephew on the performance, but he is sure that his mother-in-law will exact a punishment and little Louie, now all grown up, will be going back to prison. Uncle says none of that really matters, because Louie just lives in the present. There is no sense in worrying about future repercussions.

Uncle goes on to say that Louie's wife is six months' pregnant and the family is going deeper and deeper in debt. He tells Louie that he has a surprise for him in the other room. Inside the room is a coffin and inside is the body of his dead father. An elderly man in the room asks didn't Louie love his father? De Sade says that his father let his mother cut him loose when he was only a child. Thereafter, he went from one place to another until he went to his uncle's house and stayed for five years.

Now Louie sees a little baby in the coffin. He rushes over to pick it up.

Flashback. De Sade is now at a christening of his child. The immediate families are there, including Anne. She ducks out of the church as soon as he sees her. He chases after her. She gets away for awhile. He does, however, find La Beauvoisin. They go into a bedroom and they start fighting, throwing or kicking each other around.

He binds her hands together in the front and then rolls her over until she lays down on her front on the bed covers. He takes her corset off and her unmentionables and gives her a spanking with the flat of a saber. She screams bloody murder.

La Beauvoisin tells the mother-in-law she is going to take De Sade to court to punish him for what he did to her. The mother-in-law negotiates a settlement of 1,500 English pounds. After La Beauvoisin leaves, Mme. de Montreuil orders De Sade to go to La Costa with his wife and stay there.

Back to the present. De Sade hears a carriage coming up. He looks outside and sees that Anne is in the carriage. He runs for the door but only sees his uncle. He asks uncle what is he trying to do to him? Why can't he reach Anne? Uncle asks why?

Uncle tells him to count to eight and he will see her. So De Sade counts to eight.

Flashback. De Sade sets up his theater as he wants it. Anne comes into the theater. She tells him that he wrote about the beautiful theater so often in his letters to her that she felt she just had to come and see it.

Anne says she must go. De Sade asks her to run away with him. Anne says she has no right to even be here and Louis and her have no right to talk about running away. So Louis says he will not talk about running away. Since the theater stage is set up like a stage, he says they are completely alone and he would like her to dance with him. She starts to come towards him, but suddenly the only thing that stands before her is her large overcoat and that falls in a big clump on the stage.

A servant shows four prostitutes where to stand. When that is arranged, downstairs comes De Sade. He has two prostitutes stand face to face with one of them placing her hands on the shoulders of the other woman. Then he starts hitting one of the prostitutes with a small whip.

One of the other prostitutes starts running away, but De Sade and two servants grab her and tie her up. And now he goes crazy whipping the back of this prostitute. She screams and screams. The prostitutes and the madam jump on him, take his whip from him and start whipping his back. De Sade looks like he comes to orgasm and then collapses.

Back to the present the present. De Sade is back in prison. But his uncle tells him that all this is just make-believe. He can come out of the prison.

Flashback. De Sade is riding in a carriage with Anne. He says he can't believe she is with him. "'Come to Italy,' I said, and you didn't blink an eye." At his request, Anne says she will never leave him.

They arrive at Baron Rothschild's residence. Anne doesn't want him to go see Rothschild. He tells her they are in no danger and tomorrow they will be in Italy.

But there is danger. De Sade runs into the police again. He throws his saber toward them and then runs back to the carriage. He tells the coachman to get going. The police fire at the carriage.

Now in the carriage, De Sade breathes a sigh of relief, but then finds that Anne is gone and in her place is the elderly man he saw last at the coffin of his father. Louis jumps out of the carriage.

Anne and De Sade are kissing and rolling around in a fancy bed. (some nudity) Anne asks him why is he trembling? He says because now he has something to lose in life. He says and yet it can never be taken from him. And how the police arrive.  

De Sade is back in prison. He sees Anne and her mother speaking together in Anne's bedroom. Mother has arranged a marriage of Anne with the only son of the de Beaumonts. And the only condition to the marriage was that De Sade remains in prison permanently.

De Sade also sees his uncle come to Anne and put the moves on her. He holds her tight and acts like he is consoling her over the imprisonment of his nephew. He says to his nephew: "What say you, Louie? Will the moment when she lusts in bed with me be the moment of reality you seek?" Louie gets mad and busts his mirror into many pieces.

Mother-in-law comes to see De Sade in his cell. He says she has come to gloat over his current condition. He gets up off the floor, turns around to see her and yells for her to answer him. But the lady has tears in her eyes. Why, he asks, is she crying? She says she weeps for his wife who is innocent. And she still loves De Sade despite his faults.

He asks her what if he changes? She tells him he can't change because the Devil owns him. She says De Sade has not only abandoned his wife, but also his children, who love him. And then he grabbed her daughter Anne.

De Sade falls to his knees and starts kissing his mother-in-law's left hand. He begs her to give him one more chance. She tells him that he will never be free from prison again. He will die in prison. She leaves.

Back to the present. Uncle goes ahead with the theater play. His nephew begs him to stop putting on these scenes from the play. But uncle is staging the trial of his nephew. He is charged with killing his sister-in-law Anne.

Uncle asks the sheriff what is De Sade like? "He is evil, he is degenerate, he is an animal to be put away."  De Sade says he had nothing to do with her death. She died of the plague. Now De Sade's three aunts speak out reiterating what the sheriff said.

Flashback. Anne is in a hospital with other plague victims. De Sade says there she died of the plague and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Back to the present. Now all the character witnesses for the prosecution says to keep De Sade in prison forever. A stranger with a mask on shouts out for everyone to stop this outburst. The stranger removes the mask and they see it is Anne. Anne says De Sade is her murderer. Uncle gives the order to behead De Sade.

De Sade asks a gypsy fortune teller about the future and she says a revolution is coming that will rend France a bacchanalia of blood. He asks what will become of him? De Sade will be said to be one of the causes of the revolution. He will be put in an asylum. The gypsy turns into uncle and uncle says he will be in an asylum for 28 years.

De Sade apologizes to his wife for making her suffer. She basically lets him off the hook by saying that she would not have had much of a life without him because she was ugly and a stupid girl. He tells her that they will go together to Paris where she can become healthy again. She replies that her mother would never let that occur.

De Sade dreams of a warm place where he could be with Anne.

Flashback. There is a ruckus in the castle with De Sade, a buddy and five wenches. They are all busy destroying the interior of the castle. He then tells the people to come with him and they will put on a play.

They now start destroying the theatre. And they do a lot of horsing around with the women. (some nudity) Now they switch to tearing up a bedroom. All of a sudden he sees his wife having too much fun He wakes up from his nightmare.

Back to the present. Now De Sade is an old man, still in an asylum. A nun watches over him.



I read a review on IMDB and the person said the film wasn't in any kind of chronological order and couldn't be followed. So I wasn't expecting much from the film. Thankfully, the film is actually pretty good. This going back between the present and the past is often used in historical films. And the flashback is really very commonly used in historical films.

The sections of "back to the present" were largely in chronological order. I did not find the movie confusing. There were lots of things that are different from what really happened, but the film does give a good idea of some of the problems that De Sade faced in his life, such as his sadistic tendencies, his getting in trouble, the punishment his mother-in law pushed for with the authorities and time spent in an asylum. There's a lot of nudity but that is usually very brief with different women in the film.

See Sade (2000) for the historical background.


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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