And when I say it’s an Emmanuelle clone I’m not kidding. It’s an absolute carbon copy of the Emmanuelle formula down to the smallest detail.
Emmanuelle had been an incredibly clever idea. The French believed that they had a surefire plan for taking advantage of the US X Certificate and making a ton of money. They would make a softcore porn movie but they had no interest in getting into grindhouses. They were going for the mainstream. A full-scale commercial release in major cinemas. They were aiming for the multiplexes. And how were they going to achieve this? Simple. They would make a softcore porn movie for women. It worked beyond their wildest imaginings. They didn’t just make a ton of money. They made many many tons of money. Emmanuelle proceeded to smash box-office records.
Not surprisingly the film spawned several official and countless unofficial sequels. It was not entirely surprising that Emmanuelle’s success would be noted in Australia where it was a massive hit. Producer-director John D. Lamond decided to jump on the bandwagon. His movie would not however be merely influenced by Emmanuelle. It would follow the formula in every single respect. It would be pretty much Emmanuelle Down Under.
There was more to the success of Emmanuelle than naked flesh. To appeal to women the production values had to be high, the cinematography had to be lush, there had to be an air of class about the production, there had to be beautiful and exotic locations, it had to be told entirely from a female perspective and the sex scenes had to be the kinds of sex scenes that women would like with the right mix of romance and stylish raunchiness.
John D. Lamond studied the blueprints and made sure that every element that had made Emmanuelle a success would be present in Felicity. Felicity looks much more expensive than it was and it looks fairly classy. Instead of Thailand it uses Hong Kong as the backdrop, which works just as well. The plot is the same - a sexually inexperienced young woman goes to the Mysterious Orient where she has a sexual awakening. The story is told from Felicity’s point of view. In fact she’s the narrator. There’s lots of steamy simulated sex with the right blend of romanticism and raunch.
The one thing Felicity doesn’t have is Sylvia Kristel. Kristel’s unconventional and exotic beauty and her overwhelming sexuality is certainly missed. On the other hand it has to be said that Felicity’s Glory Annen is very easy on the eye and she’s extremely good at combining innocence with wantonness. And she was a competent actress. She was actually Canadian but she does the Australian accent rather well (and it is unbelievably rare to find non-Australian actors who can do a convincing Australian accent). Lamond wanted her to sound like an educated cultured Australian (stop laughing, we do have such things here) and she manages it without any problems.
As the movie opens Felicity is a schoolgirl somewhere in eastern Australia. For some reason which I confess I didn’t quite grasp she is then whisked off to Hong Kong. Her first priority is obviously to lose her virginity and that is accomplished almost immediately.
Naturally, this being a softcore sex movie, Felicity will have to be initiated into the joys of lesbian sex. This is handled by hew new Hong Kong friend Me Ling (Joni Flynn). Me Ling is supposed to be Chinese while Joni Flynn is actually Indian but that’s a minor detail. Flynn isn’t much of an actress but her job is to be exotic, glamorous and sexy and to embody the dangerous but seductive flavour of the Orient, which she does. Who cares which part of the Orient she represents? And she has a whole bevy of naked young women with her to make sure that Felicity gets her initiation.
This is very firmly within the porn movie for women genre so there has to be a love story and that love story has to be central to the plot. That part of the movie succeeds well enough and it offers the chance for some very romantic sex scenes which presumably pleased the female audience. And insofar as the movie has any message it’s a surprisingly old-fashioned one. Felicity doesn’t just want to discover sex, she wants to discover love, and she finds out that sex is only good when it’s combined with love. For 1978 that’s a pretty extraordinarily traditional viewpoint for a porn movie to take.
Making a good softcore sex film as distinct from a routine one requires a bit of imagination. You wants to include lots of nudity and sex but you want to do so in a reasonably stylish way. Lamond clearly put some thought into this. Seeing a girl taking her panties off is sexy. Is there a way we can have Felicity taking her panties o0ff a dozen times in a few minutes. Yes there is! We’ll take her shopping for clothes. Naturally the first thing she wants to buy is new panties, but they have to be just right so she has to try on quite a few. And since we want to see how nice her new underwear looks there’s a perfect excuse for lots of close-ups of her nether regions, with and without panties.
It has to be said that Felicity is a remarkably clean girl. She seems to take a bath every five minutes. Since cleanliness is obviously very important to her it’s vital for us to see her take each and every bath. When it comes to finding ways to keep his lead actress naked for most of the film’s running time Lamond has few equals.
To give you an idea of just how closely this movie adheres to the Emmanuelle formula we see Glory Annen lounging naked in a cane chair that is almost identical to the one in which Sylvia Kristel lounged naked in Emmanuelle. In fact this was almost certainly intended as a deliberate homage. Just before the plane sex scene (of course there’s a plane sex scene since there was a very celebrated one in Emmanuelle) we see Felicity reading a copy of Emmanuelle Arsan’s novel on which Emmanuelle was based.
The Hong Kong setting works superbly. Watching the movie today it works even better since this is British Hong Kong, with all the glamour of a vanished world. Arguably it’s even more effective than the Thailand setting of Emmanuelle, Hong Kong at that time being an extraordinarily exciting (and decadent) place.
The visuals don’t quite have the lushness that Just Jaeckin brought to Emmanuelle but they’re stylish enough and there’s far more of a sense of vibrancy and excitement than in Emmanuelle.
The amount of nudity (including frontal nudity) in this movie is truly staggering. I don’t think we ever go more than a few minutes without another lingering loving shot of Felicity’s bare bottom.
Felicity certainly didn’t go anywhere near to equalling the immense commercial success of Emmanuelle but it did do extremely well in box-office terms, and apparently it did particularly well with women. According to Lamond Australian critics hated the film and were offended by its overt heterosexuality!
Umbrella’s Region 4 DVD offers a lovely anamorphic transfer and there are some very worthwhile extras including an audio commentary by director Lamond and star Glory Annen.
To me Felicity is in fact a more genuinely woman-centred erotic movie than Emmanuelle. It takes the Emmanuelle template but it adds a slightly different flavour - it’s definitely more straightforwardly romantic. Lamond obviously felt that if the movie was going to reach women it had to be tasteful and despite all the nudity and sex it really is tasteful. Luckily it succeeds in being tasteful without sacrificing the eroticism. It also has playfulness, a few moments of humour and even perhaps just the tiniest touch of wit.
It’s very sexy in a very classy way and if that’s what you’re after then it delivers the goods. Highly recommended.