As is the norm for movies of this time, this flick is also known by different titles. La Verdadera Historia de Beatrice Cenci (The True Story of Beatrice Cenci) is the Spanish title. Whether it was the “most forbidden movie” (la peculia mas prohibta) remains to be seen. In Germany this movie was known as Die Nackte und der Kardinal, which translates to The Naked and the Cardinal, which, well, there was some nakedness and certainly a lot of cardinals. Naturally, the American version was the most lurid title of all.
That being said, yes, this flick does have its nudity, conspiracy, and torture, but oddly enough, it’s also a fairly decent historical film as well. Beatrice Cenci is a folk hero of Rome, and her story has been taken up as a cause of the Roman people against the aristocracy as well as the old papal mandate of taking properties for their own purposes. As a member of the aristocracy herself, she was subjected to both mental and physical abuse by her father, Francesco Cenci, and was allegedly a victim of incest by him as well. Francesco, thankfully, meets an end fitting to his disgusting personality (he is portrayed as quite a horrible person, delighting in the pain and torture of others — the first time we meet him, he is setting his hounds to kill a guy. Not sure why, but no one wants to ask at any rate).
Directed by Lucio Fulci, this movie is not as lurid or as gory as his later stuff, but there is probably enough of the lurid and the gory to appease people who look for that sort of thing. Mostly told in flashbacks, the movie starts with Beatrice, her stepmother, her lover (which was probably enough to get Beatrice beheaded back then alone!), and her older brother all under trial for the murder of Francesco, and apparently the plea of “the bastard had it coming and you should be happy too” wasn’t good enough for the cardinals, who we later see having a lurid time themselves with prostitutes while they discuss the case. Nice. What’s Italian for double standard?