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The Sinful Dwarf’s parade of depravity

Film: The Sinful Dwarf (1973)

Director: Vidal Raski

Tagline: “Hvad var den mystiske dværgs perverse hemmelighed???” (“What was the dwarf’s perverted secret???”)

Choice IMDB keywords: Depravity, snooping, reference to Carmen Miranda

Plot: In a corner of London that looks an awful lot like Copenhagen, there lives a dwarf played by Torben Bille. But he’s not just any dwarf. He is, as the title of the film suggests, a sinful dwarf. How sinful? In the first scene, Bille spies a pigtailed girl playing hopscotch, approaches her with a squeaking toy dog, informs her “I haf more toys upstairs,” then lures her into a creepy old apartment building and knocks her out with a cane. (The fact that the girl appears to be, at minimum, in her early 20s makes the scene feel more weird than frightening.) But the sinful dwarf’s sinful-dwarf ways don’t end there. Turns out he’s in cahoots with his no-less-sinful mother, a washed-up cabaret singer named Lila Lashe (Clara Keller, in her only film appearance). Their scam: Kidnap girls (or “girls”), strip them naked, lock them in a room filled with mattresses, forcibly addict them to heroin, then sell them into prostitution.

For this to work, the profits from the prostitution would have to make up for the expense of heroin, but hey, it’s Denmark—err, London—in the early ’70s; it’s possible. Besides, the mother-son team has other revenue streams. Early in the film, they rent a room to a husband (Tony Eades) and wife (Anne Sparrow, in her only film appearance) who need to live on the cheap. As a struggling writer, Eades can only afford a single-room dwelling, and Sparrow is reduced to wearing turtlenecks several sizes too small for her ample chest. (She apparently has no budget for bras, either.) Left alone much of the day, Sparrow starts to wonder why she keeps hearing footsteps going into and out of the attic.

Key scenes: Surprisingly, The Sinful Dwarf’s parade of depravities isn’t limited to scenes in which its sinful dwarf takes center stage. Keller has a pair of show-stopping musical moments, including a long scene in which she impersonates Carmen Miranda. (A later scene, in which she does the same for Marlene Dietrich, is also memorable.)

But any movie called The Sinful Dwarf that didn’t deliver sinful dwarf action wouldn’t work. And boy, does The Sinful Dwarf deliver. The perpetually grinning Bille is one memorably sinful dwarf, a character made even creepier by being the sole cast member who doesn’t speak in an English accent. Instead, he growls some guttural, English-by-way-of-Denmark approximation of human speech. When he shows up at the toy store run by a drug lord named “Santa” and demands “Eh neet a tetty beer,” it takes Santa returning with a drug-filled teddy bear to explain the dialogue. Then there’s the climactic scene in which Bille rapes Sparrow after first penetrating her with the handle of his cane. And that’s why people came to the grindhouse to see these sorts of films in 1973: It was a more innocent time.

Can easily be distinguished by: There are other movies featuring sinful dwarfs, but no movie has as much sinful-dwarf sex as The Sinful Dwarf. Also: Its emphasis on suffering women puts it in a continuum of Danish films that includes Carl Dreyer’s The Passion Of Joan Of Arc and the later work of Lars von Trier.

Sign it was made in 1973: Their ardor undimmed by living in squalor, our heroes make love to some groovy make-out music.

Timeless message: Not all dwarfs are sinful, but sinful dwarfs should be avoided at all costs. Also, say no to drugs.

Memorable quotes: Keller on the ins and outs of her business model: “Betty’s using far too much heroin. Not much profit in Betty anymore.”