What distinguishes Joe Sarno’s sexploitation movies from most of the other such movies of the 1960s and 70s is that Sarno appears to be more interested in the people than in the sex. Or rather that he’s interested in sex as something that involves the heart and the brain rather than just the genitals.
His 1970s movies, judging by the couple that I’ve seen, show a certain mellowing. The characters are more likeable and Sarno seems to have more affection for them. There are betrayals and jealousies but there are no villains. Even in Abigail Leslie is Back in Town where the title character seems like she might be a destructive force she turns out to be nothing of the kind. Disruptive and unsettling certainly, but in a positive rather than a negative way.
Which brings us to Sarno’s 1974 production Confessions Of a Young American Housewife.
Carole (Rebecca Brooke) and her husband are involved in a foursome with Ann (Chris Jordan) and her husband. When Carole’s mother Jennifer (Jennifer Welles) arrives for a visit Carole is convinced that Jennifer is going to be shocked by her lifestyle. Jennifer had been named Young American Housewife of the Year for 1963 by a popular women’s magazine and to Carole she represents the pre-sexual revolution world.
It’s just not possible however to prevent Jennifer from finding out what’s going on. Far from being shocked Jennifer is having a sexual awakening of her own and Carole is the one who finds herself faced by some disturbing revelations and some even more disturbing feelings. The incest theme is handled sensitively and subtly and it remains a suggestion (and an uneasy feeling in both women’s minds) rather than anything explicit.
There’s a prodigious amount of sex and nudity and that brings us to another feature of Sarno’s films - the sex is genuinely erotic. It’s strictly softcore, or at least it’s softcore in terms of what we see, although Sarno in the accompanying interview hints that some of the sex might not have been simulated. It’s erotic because it isn’t mechanical. It’s sex as an expression of emotions. These are people who sleep together because they like each other and the real affection between the characters comes through. Sarno was very much aware that it’s much more exciting watching characters having sex if you’ve first come to know and like those characters as people.
The dialogue is a little clunky at times although it may just be that it’s a reflection of its times. The acting is better than you generally expect in a sexploitation movie. Jennifer Welles is actually pretty good, Chris Jordan is amusing and while Rebecca Brooke isn’t the world’s greatest actress she has a genuine screen presence and the camera loves her. I’ve only mentioned the women because Sarno’s focus is mostly on his female characters.
This movie isn’t quite in the same league as Abigail Leslie is Back in Town but it’s still an engaging piece of stylish erotica. And there surely has never been a more attractive adult actress than Rebecca Brooke.
Sarno was one of the three great American auteurs of the sex movie, the others of course being Radley Metzger and Russ Meyer. Their styles were very different, Metzger being the more impressive visual stylist while Sarno’s movies were more character-driven and Meyer’s movies were almost a genre unto themselves, but if you’re going to try to argue that sexploitation movies deserve as much respect as any other genre than it’s on the works of these three film-makers that your argument is going to rest.
The Retro Seduction Cinema DVD release is reasonably good. There’s some print damage evident but most sexploitation movies survive, if they survive at all, in a single print and in most cases the negatives have long since been lost. The picture quality is mostly good and the sound quality is good. There’s a short interview with writer-director Sarno and a bonus CD with music from his 1970s movies. Retro Seduction Cinema are one of the handful of companies releasing these kinds of movies on DVD and they do a fine job.