Flesh and Lace, which dates from 1965, isn’t quite a classical example of Joe Sarno sexploitation. Sarno’s forte was always the exploration of the hidden sexual underworld behind the neat curtains of neat suburban houses, which he did brilliantly in movies like The Swap and How They Make It and Sin in the Suburbs. But Flesh and Lace still has enough Sarno signatures to make it worth seeing.
What makes Sarno’s films unique in the sexploitation genre is their psychological intensity. They’re not movies about sex; they’re movies about people. Sex is something that makes us feel intensely, either in a positive or a negative way, and that’s what interests Sarno.
The movie opens in a strip club, where Gilda (sexploitation icon June Roberts) is just finishing her act. One of the girls, Bev, is about to get fired. Bev’s problem is that she can’t relax enough to persuade guys to buy drinks for her, so she’s not a great success as a bar girl. Her friend and room-mate Joan manages to persuade the manager to give her one last chance. But Joan’s life is about to be turned upside down. Rook is back in town.
Rook is a complete loser, a gambler who doesn’t know when to quit. Joan knows he’s a loser and that he’ll bring her nothing but misery, but she loves him anyway. So it doesn’t take him long to talk his way back into her bed.
Meanwhile Bev is overcoming her inhibitions about men. She’s possibly overcoming those inhibitions a little bit too successfully! Even worse, she’s overcome them to the extent of sleeping with Rook. Joan doesn’t take this very well. In fact she beats Bev up quite badly. Bev anders off into the night, and ends up in a nearby toy shop. She had visited the store earlier, and an unlikely romance had started to blossom with the store owner, Julian.
The problem is that Bev has now decided she likes sex do much that one man can’t satisfy her. Luckily Julian is an accommodating kind of guy, and he’s happy to find other men for her in order to keep her happy.
Things are not going so well for Joan. Rook has, as usual, lost all his money and landed himself in serious debt with people who don’t take kindly to non-payment of gambling debts. Rook and Joan come up with a risky scheme but Joan doesn’t realise just how reckless her no-hoper boyfriend really is.
It might seem strange to say this about a sexploitation flick, but one of the strengths of Flesh and Lace is the acting. And that matters, because being a Joe Sarno film it has a real script and it needs people who can really act. Alice Lin as Joan is outstanding. She’s believable and sympathetic, and although we know she’s making bad choices we care about her. John Aristedes as Rook and Joe Santos as Julian are also very good, giving their characters some real depth. June Roberts has little to do other than to take her clothes off, but she does that with style so one can’t complain.
Heather Hall as Bev is perhaps the weak link. The role really needed someone with more personality.
Another trademark of Sarno’s films is their moodiness. This one has an atmosphere of sordidness, but it’s sordidness with a touch of the tragic, and even the most self-destructive characters are painted with a certain degree of compassion. The black-and-white cinematography is perfect for conveying the right mood. The toy shop scenes add an odd touch of warmth tinged with sadness.
Like most of Sarno’s 60s sexploitation movies this one has no graphic sex but quite a bit of nudity, although it’s fairly tame nudity. And the women are attractive but look like real women.
It’s not quite in the front rank of Sarno movies but Flesh and Lace is still worth a look.
The Something Weird DVD pairs it with another Sarno film, Passion in Hot Hollows, which I haven’t watched yet. While the picture quality is up to the usual Something Weird standards the sound quality is unfortunately rather poor. But any Joe Sarno DVD releases are welcome. He was a true sexploitation auteur.