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Thursday, September 27, 2018


With the third entry in their "Joseph W. Sarno Retrospective Series", Film Movement Classics brings us another highly enjoyable sampling of the celebrated director's earlier work.

This time it's the triple-header CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE/SIN IN THE SUBURBS/WARM NIGHTS HOT PLEASURES, the first two titles complete with commentary tracks by both film historian Tim Lucas and the director himself.  (CONFESSIONS also comes with deleted scenes.)

Even more than the previous entries, this Sarno collection is an intoxicating indulgence for fans of his unique visual and storytelling style, capturing the tawdry essence of the nudie cuties and "roughies" and fashioning it into something of a roughhewn art form that culminates here with his colorful, seriocomic 1974 work, CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE.  


[This is an altered version of my original review of an earlier release.]

After seeing trailers for some of Joe Sarno's 70s sexploitation flicks, along with a brief retrospective of his work, I was eager to see one of them for myself. I got my wish when CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE (1974) fell into my hot little hands, and I wasn't disappointed.

It's a prime example of good filmmaking on a low budget, displaying a certain class and style that transcends the cheap sleaze this genre is often known for while still generously indulging our more prurient interests.

The simple storyline involves a pretty young housewife named named Carole (Rebecca Brooke) and her husband Eddie (David Hausman), who have a wide-open sexual relationship that includes their ultra-horny neighbors Anna (Chris Jordan) and her hubby Pete (Eric Edwards).

When Carole's straight-laced, widowed mother Jennifer comes to visit, the young swingers are immediately fascinated by the gorgeous blonde mature babe whose repressed sexuality is just waiting to explode.

As the initially-shocked Jennifer lets down her inhibitions and begins to take part in her daughter's free-love lifestyle, each participant is so deeply affected by her that their relationships with each other are threatened. Not only that, but Carole herself is dangerously close to giving in to long dormant incestual feelings and going ga-ga for her own mom.

Complicating things even more is the fact that Jennifer is forming her own relationship outside the group with a handsome young grocery delivery guy who is yearning for love after being abandoned by his wife.

They may not be great thespians, but the actors are appealing and play their characters well. Rebecca Brooke is a fresh young presence as Carole, while David Hausman plays her husband Eddie as a grown-up version of Greg Brady. As Anna, cutie Chris Jordan (Eric Edwards' real-life wife at the time) keeps things light with her comedic performance; aside from her sexual voracity, Anna is constantly stuffing herself with food without gaining an ounce and swooning over Jennifer's baked goods. Eric Edwards, of course, is a familiar face to 70s porn fans, one of those rare examples of the X-rated actor who can really act.

The main attraction here, though, is the stunningly gorgeous Jennifer Wells. Not only a skilled actress, she's also a first-class knockout, and it's easy to understand how the others could be so helplessly attracted to her. Voluptuous and natural (no plastic, no tattoos, no shaved pubes), her transition from apron-wearing mom baking pies in the kitchen to hot-blooded sexual animal is pretty exciting.

This is how you do softcore without making it boring. The sex scenes are hot and the actors are convincingly passionate and enthusiastic. Chris Jordan in particular seems to be literally having orgasms out the wazoo in some scenes. Sarno directs the sex sequences as logical extensions of the dramatic scenes instead of just letting the camera roll while actors boff each other.

This looks like one of the better hardcore films of the 70s (without the more graphic shots, of course) when directors like Gerard Damiano were still trying to make actual movies instead of just extended sex scenes linked by minimal dialogue.

The fact that these sequences don't go on forever with endless, numbing closeups of ping-ponging genitalia sustains our interest and arousal levels while maintaining our awareness that a story is taking place. As film gave way to video in the 80s and porn became more of an assembly-line product churned out by increasingly lesser talents, such concerns were either minimalized or abandoned altogether, as shown in Paul Thomas Anderson's BOOGIE NIGHTS.

Joe Sarno's script keeps the melodrama moving along while delighting us with some occasionally kooky dialogue. After their initial meeting with Jennifer, Eddie remarks to Pete, "You know, her tits intrigue me...she never wears a bra" and Pete responds "Yeah, we were sitting there and her old tits were crying for my mouth." Later, while coming on to Jennifer for the first time, Pete gushes, "Your tits drive me outta my bird!"

Sarno makes the most of his $25,000 budget, giving the film a distinctive look with its soft-hued, color-saturated cinematography and artistic lighting. The print used here is fairly good, though there are quite a few patches that have that choppy, scratchy look commonly associated nowadays with "grindhouse" films. (I grew up watching battered film prints in theaters and on TV, so I hardly notice such things myself--in fact, it gives me a nice nostalgic feeling.)

If you're into this kind of stuff, then chances are you'll enjoy CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE as much as I did. I'm looking forward to seeing more of Joe Sarno's films.

[End of original review.]

Film Movement Classics' Blu-ray release of CONFESSIONS is, like the other two films on this disc, a new 2K restoration that probably looks as good as it gets.  Which in this case is a vividly colorful and clear picture with the inevitable imperfections that sometimes come with the best available print.  For me, the old-school grindhouse feel that this gives the film is a nostalgic plus.


SIN IN THE SUBURBS (1964) is writer-director Joe Sarno continuing to come into his own as a filmmaker who takes the genre of naughty, softcore sex potboilers and invests it with an unusual dramatic heft and interesting characters who trade dialogue that's sharp and fun to listen to.

Not to say that the obligatory sleaze and tawdriness of such films are missing here--it's the sort of world Sarno's characters exist in, whether they be conniving lowlifes using sex for gain or well-to-do hypocrites posing as model citizens while indulging forbidden sexual perversions behind closed doors.

The term "when the cat's away" really fits this normal-looking 60s suburb in which lonely, sex-hungry wives, feeling neglected by their working husbands, have it off with various neighbors, workmen, or, in the case of Mrs. Lewis (Audrey Campbell, THE SEXPERTS), her teen daughter Kathy's high school friend.

Meanwhile, we see local sex-bomb Yvette lounging around the house in lingerie and paying the furniture bill by seducing the collector.  Yvette lives with her supposed "brother" Louis (W.B. Parker), and together they're hatching a scheme to start an illicit sex club which they hope will have frustrated neighbors shelling out hundreds of bucks for.

What starts out a bit like a sex comedy (the bill collector guy is funny) soon veers toward the dramatic as the sexual vortex so many of the characters seem caught in starts to spin out of control.  Lisa, left alone while husband Henry is at work, starts guzzling booze and luring abusive workmen into her home. Mrs. Lewis has daytime swingers' parties with friends in her own house, one of which is walked in upon by a her shocked daughter Kathy.

Kathy, it seems, has the wildest life of them all when she's molested by her would-be boyfriend and then seduced into a hot lesbian affair with Yvette. Judy Young plays her with just the right balance between still just a kid and becoming a troubled, sexually-confused young woman.

It's almost the stuff soap operas are made of, but it's all so edgy (for its time) and starkly compelling that we're constantly transfixed by what's going on and eager to see what happens next.  Sarno's evolving as a director with an instinctive talent for staging interesting shots and bringing out the best in his cast.

The story content is strictly adults-only for 1964, with elements such as adultery, attempted rape, lesbianism, and other sensitive subjects that were still taboo.  It feels like we're watching something on the shady side, getting a voyeuristic glimpse at these desperate sinful lives.

Sarno's screenplay goes beyond simple sexploitation and builds to an emotionally jarring ending after one of Yvette and Louis' illicit sex parties, which is staged remarkably and with lasting effect.

Sarno's black-and-white photography is crisp, noirish, and constantly interesting to look at.  The print used for Film Movement's Blu-ray edition is very good, even with the occasional scratches, specks, etc. which, for me, give it a nostalgic feel that recalls the well-worn prints we used to see at the local theater or on late-night TV.

Having just watched the original Star Trek episode "I, Mudd" the night before, I was surprised to see the actor who played the android "Norman", Richard Tatro, as the dangerous guy Lisa foolishly opens her front door to.

Yvette is played by none other than Dyanne Thorne (billed here as Lahna Monroe) of "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S." fame, looking almost unrecognizable with her jet-black bouiffant hairdo. The film's one bit of actual nudity is a fleeting glimpse of her bare breasts.

SIN IN THE SUBURBS ends with a shadowy, poignant shot that looks like it might be straight out of early David Lynch.  And with it continues my fondness for Joe Sarno's exquisite black-and-white early films, which are unlike anything else I've seen.


Another of Joe Sarno's delectable early black-and-white melodramas, 1964's WARM NIGHTS HOT PLEASURES is the torrid tale of three smalltown girls who drop out of college and head to the Big Apple with fervent (but slim) hopes of making it in showbiz.

Of course, the road to success is littered with just this kind of roadkill.  But singleminded Cathy (Marla Ellis) is too determined and blinded by ambition to be deterred even when every lead she follows turns out to be just one more horny, sleazy con man telling her to "show me what you got" before leading her to the casting couch.

Meanwhile, prim Vivian (Sheila Barnett) hooks up with Paul, a seemingly decent man who claims to have connections and assures her there are no strings attached.  (Paul is played by SIN IN THE SUBURBS's Richard Tatro, whom original-series Star Trek fans will recognize as the android Norman in the episode "I, Mudd.")

Paul's frustrated wife Ronnie (Carla Desmond) befriends simple, down-home girl Marsha (the cute-as-a-button Eve Harris) and offers to teach her some of the tricks to becoming a showgirl.  Ronnie will also develop a tragically one-sided infatuation with Marsha that adds to the story's substantial emotional gravitas.

The idea of a trio of naive girls striking out on their own into a world of fast sex and deceptive strangers seems a comfortably familiar one, and Sarno's lean, colorful screenplay, in addition to his endlessly inventive direction and expert handling of actors, allows us to settle back and enjoy the ride from one dramatic turn to the next.

Things get sleazy right away when Cathy's first surrender to a repugnant talent agent's sweaty sexual come-on leads only to one two-bit producer after another as she struggles to make her way up the food chain. She ends up dancing and hustling drinks in a bar run by Dick (played by familiar character actor Joe Santos in his film debut under the name "Joe Russell") who drags her sense of self-worth even further into the mud by also demanding dirty sex from her.

Welcome comedy touches enter the picture when the girls rent a room from a sassy, sultry nudie model who's constantly posing for fetish photos down the hall, in the apartment of a young Irving Klaw-like photographer.  While the big lug's constantly trying to get Marsha to pose nude for him, he's all business and becomes a valuable ally.

Fans of familiar vintage nudie model Alice Denham will be delighted to see her in the flesh (so to speak) as the landlady, who's equally adept at single-girl glamour pics or the kinkier bondage and S&M stuff.

As usual, the black-and-white photography is exquisite as the camerawork and staging consistently bring out the best in Sarno's typically expressive cast. The musical score is a cacophony of hepcat jazz, like one of Fred Katz's scores for Roger Corman, and I recognized at least one cue from the same library music used earlier in THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE.

Sarno admirers should scarf up this concoction of illicit sex, brief nudity, drama, tragedy, despair, debasement, disillusionment, and betrayal, with occasional bits of lighthearted fun to keep things from getting too heavy.  At least one of our our heroines will find a glimmer of hope that may lead to success, while the other girls' luck goes bad in ways that play heavily on our sympathy without ever getting maudlin.

The print used by Film Movement Classics has the usual wear and tear of these early Sarno films which we're lucky to have in any condition (this one has been lost since 1964) despite being cleaned up as much as possible for this Blu-ray release.

I think it looks great, and any imperfections only give it that unique grindhouse feel which, as I've stressed on numerous occasions, only adds to my nostalgic enjoyment of older films.  (I like a print that looks like it's been around the block a few times.)  No extras this time, but the film itself is its own reward.

WARM NIGHTS HOT PLEASURES finds the director continuing to wield his keen story sense and artist's eye to give us a nudie sex flick that feels as substantial and worthwhile as many Hollywood potboilers, but a lot more naughty, taboo-twisting fun.

Sin in the Suburbs -- Commentary by Tim Lucas, Commentary by Joe and Peggy Sarno, Michael Vraney and Frank Henenlotter
Confessions of a Young American Housewife -- Commentary by Tim Lucas, Mini-commentary by Joe Sarno, Deleted scenes  

Type:  Blu-ray/DVD
Running Time: 234 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Audio: Stereo
Captions: None
Street Date: October 2, 2018
BD/DVD SRP: $39.95/$29.95


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