The essence of the true sexploitation movies of the 1960s (as opposed to the softcore movies that followed) was to make movies about sex whilst showing very little indeed. There’s nothing even approaching explicit sex, and often very little nudity. What the best of these movies do have, though, is sexual tension. Joe Sarno’s genius was his ability to exploit that very quality to make serious and surprisingly dark movies about human sexuality.
The Swap and How They Make It is fairly typical early Sarno. As the title implies, it’s about wife-swapping. It’s included in a double-bill from Something Weird Video, paired with another Sarno movie, Sin in the Suburbs. And it’s an ideal pairing. Both movies deal with the boredom and emptiness of suburbia and small-town life, and with people who try to fill that emptiness with sex, especially sex of a slightly kinky kind.
The Swap and How They Make It, made in 1966, deals with two couples who are introduced into a wife-swapping circle (known as The Exchange) in a particularly dreary small town in some unspecified part of the US. Given that the alternatives are playing golf or playing bridge, it’s not difficult to understand why The Exhange is so popular!
At first it all seems like fun. Everybody appears to understand the rules, that it’s just fun and that nobody how many partners you have within the circle your first loyalty is always to your wife or husband. But of course not everyone is able to remain quite so detached, and pretty soon emotional complications arise and jealousies develop. To make things worse, a young unmarried student couple manipulate their way into The Exchange, and they are most definitely not able to deal with the situation. Sarno’s interest in not in sex as such, but in the psychological dimensions to sex, and these are explored with a subtlety that you don’t generally expect in a low-budget exploitation movie.
Sarno’s black-and-white movies have a wonderfully austere quality to them that enhances the atmosphere of boredom. The acting is somewhat amateurish but the rather flat delivery of the dialogue also adds a touch of starkness to the movie.
Both image and sound quality on the DVD are superb. Sarno was a true auteur of the sexploitation genre, and his movies are both fascinating and disturbing, and shed an intriguing light on the sexual morality of an outwardly strait-laced society. Highly recommended.