Nude in the Sand sounds like one of those sex-themed cocktails with names like Between the Sheets, Strip and Run Naked and Sex on the Beach that are offered at trendy under 30 bars but no. It is the English language title of Furia Sexual: Desnuda en la Arena (1969), which is also known as Alone on the Beach, and stars Argentinian sexpot Isabel Sarli. If you know the name, it is probably because cult director John Waters is a big admirer of Sarli’s films and has regularly screened Fuego (1969), probably her most infamous and delightfully campy opus, to stunned audiences over the years. Nude in the Sand may not top the delirious highs and lows of Fuego but it is an enjoyably trashy introduction to the voluptuous Sarli for novices as well as a must-see for fans of Fuego.
Usually cast as an extremely passionate woman whose search for self-fulfillment and sexual pleasure is often thwarted or manipulated by men, Sarli doesn’t stray from the established formula in Nude in the Sand. She plays Alicia, a woman who has recently lost her husband in a car accident. Her young son Adolfito (Jorge F. Barbuto) was also severely injured in the wreck and Alicia must now pay for his expensive medical treatment because her late husband left her with no savings. With no job skills or any work experience, Alicia attempts to get an office job as a secretary but every potential hire ends with her fighting off a variety of eight-handed idiots. What’s a girl to do?
Esther (Fanny Navarro), Alicia’s friend, suggests that she try job hunting in a different country and recommends Panama, even though Esther herself is no longer able to work there for “legal reasons.” She casually mentions that the country is rife with black market profiteers, drug runners and weird men but that it is a great place to make money and live in high style. So off Alicia goes to try her luck as the family breadwinner, leaving little Adolfito behind with her mother and their poodle Cheyenne (with the obligatory ribbon in its hair).
Instead of playing the grieving widow, Alicia creates a new identity for herself, often passing herself off as the wealthy wife of a powerful industrialist. Of course, it is all just a ploy to tease, seduce and bilk men of their money at a fancy resort. While Alicia’s behavior and actions could be classified as prostitution, Nude in the Sand depicts her character as more of a con artist who has been forced by desperate circumstances to make money for her family. And before you know it, she attracts Oscar (Victor Bo), a flashy big spender, who turns out to be a big fraud like her. His come on line to her is “I’m not sure if you’re a woman or a goddess.” Naturally, they are made for each other and become partners in crime, seducing and blackmailing wealthy tourists at the resort and casino. Alicia entraps men in their hotel room as Oscar bursts in to snap incriminating photos of them and then the hustling duo switch roles as Oscar compromises single women.
There is nothing subtle or tasteful about the film’s storyline which plunges you into one sordid situation after another but it zips along in such a crass, no-nonsense manner that you may be tempted to rewind certain scenes to catch the odd visual detail (a maid bringing a rotary phone to Alicia as she sips a cocktail under a tree, the long cord trailing behind her) or to gaze upon Sarli’s body in one of many show-stopping moments such as her nightclub strip scenes or the full frontal nudity of her romps on the beach. Nude in the Sand, directed by Armando Bo (Sarli’s longtime lover and mentor), views the actress through the male gaze but Sarli is such an enthusiastic exhibitionist that you have to admire her unembarrassed commitment to the role. Much of her acting involves caressing herself suggestively, preening in the mirror or striking provocative poses that accent her breasts. She is equally at home spouting ludicrous dialogue like, “I started all this because I needed to for an uncontainable desire to live and to save another life” or withering putdowns such as “What a dumb fatso!”
If some film critics and moviegoers thought Jayne Mansfield was a cartoon caricature of the overendowed female body, Isabel Sarli is even more exaggerated and theatrical. Her onscreen persona is so excessive and flamboyant (okay, not as extreme as Chesty Morgan, who was 72-31-35 shape) that you can see why John Waters loved the Bo-Sarli films and why Divine was probably inspired by her over-the-top appearance and manner.
Part of the film’s looney charm comes from watching Sarli’s constantly changing wardrobe of gaudy, floral print dresses, bikinis, capes, hats and boas…and the removal of them. She even carts around a colorful but feisty jungle parrot as an accessory at one point. Bo also finds unique ways to exploit Sarli’s body via the cinematography of Ricardo Younis. In one overhead shot, Alicia is swimming on her back in the hotel pool with her breasts looking like inflatable orbs that could easily serve as life preservers. In another, the camera travels up and down Alicia’s nude form as she rolls over and over on the beach, covering herself in wet sand. One wonders if Bo ever considered shooting Sarli in a 3-D feature because her body is made for it. This is especially obvious in a nightclub strip number where the camera is fixated on her grinding buttocks for almost a minute, accompanied by cheesy hurdy-gurdy organ music.
As for Bo’s directorial style, you could say it is minimalistic at best, which is mirrored in the cheap interior sets and low-budget look of the film. There is also some bland travelogue-like footage (Look, here is Sarli at the Panama Canal!) that makes this Central America country look especially unappealing as an exotic travel destination. In addition, the movie seems to change tone and genre from scene to scene. One minute it’s a musical with a sensual pop song accompanying Alicia’s lounging and posturing, the next it’s a cautionary soap opera on predatory men in the workplace. The center section of Nude in the Sand as Alicia and Oscar take turns humiliating their victims is played for broad, lowbrow comedy and quickly becomes repetitious and inane (Jorge Porcel as an obese minister who succumbs to Alicia’s charms is especially annoying). Much better is the last part of the movie when it threatens to turn into a noir thriller. Alicia’s romantic interest in Ricardo (Eduardo Frangias), a high roller with police connections, creates trouble for Oscar and soon the latter is on the run for his past criminal activities. He gets trigger-happy and you know it won’t end well…for him. Alicia, however, comes out of it smelling like a rose and her mother and son are none the wiser.
At the time of its release, Nude in the Sand, like most of Sarli’s films, ran into censorship problems in Argentina but the films she made with Bo were tremendously successful with moviegoers around the world. Two of her biggest box office hits, Fuego and Fiebre (1970), even enjoyed wide distribution in the U.S.
Sarli began her career as a model but moved into acting after Armando Bo discovered her in 1956. She made her film debut in Bo’s El Trueno entre las Hojas (Thunder Among the Leaves, 1957) and quickly became Argentina’s biggest sex symbol, thanks to her appearance in 27 sexploitation dramas directed by Bo. In fact, Sarli rarely wanted to work with other directors and turned down offers from Robert Aldrich and other international projects (like an opportunity to star in the WW2 epic, The Guns of Navarone). Two rare exceptions were Setenta Veces Siete (The Female, 1962), an arty melodrama about a Mexican prostitute from the renowned Argentine director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes) and La Diosa Virgen (1974), a South African fantasy/adventure directed by Dirk de Villiers.
Interestingly enough, Armando Bo’s son, Victor Bo played opposite Sarli in several of her films, often as her on-screen lover. He would later specialize in the comedy/action and fantasy/adventure genres, appearing in such movies as Los Superagentes Bionicos (1977), Deathstalker (1983) and Barbarian Queen (1985). As for Bo’s grandsons, Nicolás Giacobone and Armando Bó Jr., they became filmmakers as well and shared an Oscar for Best Screenplay for the 2010 drama Biutiful, directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu.
After Bo’s death in 1981 at age 67, Sarli took a break from filmmaking and would only make five more features and a TV series before her death in 2019 at age 89. However, she did live to see her career celebrated by the Argentinean Film Critics Association in 2008 when they gave her an honorary award for her body of work, one that had been heavily censored and criticized in the past in her own country. Sarli also got to meet director John Waters in 2018 when he came to Argentina to host a special screening of Fuego. He had long been a champion of the Bo-Sarli films and once said, “Armando Bo and Isabel Sarli are like Joseph von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich…When we play their movies here [Baltimore], people laugh with them, not at them: you can tell Armando was absolutely fascinated with this goddess, and there was nothing ironic in them, in any case they were pieces from another era, great innocent sex films, politically incorrect, for our current standards.”
Nude in the Sand aka Desnuda en la Arena is not currently available on any format in the U.S. In fact, most of Isabel Sarli’s films are not available on DVD or Blu-ray with the exception of Fuego, which is still available on DVD from Something Weird Video as a special edition release co-paired with Leopoldo Torre Nilsson’s The Female. In the meantime, a less than perfect print of Nude in the Sand is currently streaming on Youtube (Spanish audio only).
Other links of interest: