Manhattan Baby

Color, 1974, 73 mins. 37 sec.
Directed by Joseph W. Sarno
Starring Rebecca Brooke, Jennifer Welles, Chris Jordan, Eric Edwards, David Hausman
Film Movement / FILMMedia / Something Weird (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9),, Retro-Seduction Cinema (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

B&W, 1964, 90 mins. 58 secs.
Directed by Joseph W. Sarno
Starring Audrey Campbell, Alice Linville, W.B. Parker, Dyanne Thorne, Marla Ellis, Richard Tatro, Ella Daphni
Film Movement / FILMMedia / Something Weird (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Something Weird / Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

B&W, 1964, 69 mins. 10 secs.
Directed by Joseph W. Sarno
Starring Marla Ellis, Eve Harris, Sheila Britt, Richard Tatro, Carla Desmond
Film Movement / FILMMedia / Something Weird (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)

Made Confessions of a Young American Housewifeshortly after pioneering sexploitation Confessions of a Young American Housewifedirector Joe Sarno began dabbling in hardcore, Confessions of a Young American Housewife marked a new period in the director's work as he used some of the more talented adult actors in softcore projects with dramatic roles exploring the evolving attitudes towards everyday sexuality in America. Some of its more notable companion films include Misty, the once-lost Abigail Leslie Is Back in Town, and the quirky The Switch or How to Alter Your Ego, but this particular groundbreaker is still often cited as one of his best. The real centerpiece of the film is its premiere "hotcha!" pairing of two Sarno muses, fragile Rebecca Brooke (a.k.a. Mary Mundum from Radley Metzger's The Image) and sultry, older Jennifer Welles, cast here as a mother and daughter tangling with the swinging lifestyle in upstate New York. The story kicks off with Carole (Brooke) and neighbor Anna (Jordan) conspiring to hook up Carole's husband, Eddie (Hausman), with another nubile chickie upstairs, much to his surprise. Turns out they're all a bunch of swingers who enjoy getting together on the weekends for orgies in the den. Enter Carole's widowed and still attractive mother, Jennifer (Welles), who is initially confused by this newfound sexual liberation but soon dives in headfirst by dallying with a local delivery boy, joining the girls for a sapphic therapy session, and even beginning an affair with Eddie, who wants to run off with her. How will all these carnal shenanigans end?

Though the plot is pure soap opera, Confessions is actually quite a bit funnier than one might expect. Audio gags abound, and for once Brooke gets to show off her mischievous side right Confessions of a Young American Housewifefrom the beginning as she leads her cohorts down the road to Bohemia. The sex scenes aren't terribly explicit (though in regular Sarno style some might well have been unsimulated on the set), and Jordan (A Touch of Genie) and her husband,'70s porn vet Eric Edwards, have a lot of fun cast as the doppelganger neighbor couple in the film. As usual Sarno manages to work wonders with a tiny cast and limited settings, including his trademark autumnal forest wanderings and shots of woman analyzing themselves alone in their bedrooms. Extra points for the unorthodox music by Jack Justis, who also scored Misty and Abigail (and whose striking music is included as a bonus CD disc with the DVD version). Confessions of a Young American Housewife

Like most of Sarno's '70s output, Confessions had a strange independent release history in a variety of versions, all softcore but some with "hotter" lingering sex scenes than others. Taken from the best surviving print, the 2007 DVD looks better than the old, scarce VHS edition with relatively solid color and detail, though it still shows signs of wear and tear in many scenes. It also represents a slightly shorter variant than the old tape, so the noteworthy extra footage is included as a 10m23s reel of "deleted scenes." (Aside from some surprisingly enthusiastic close-ups during the lesbian shaman sequence, none of it is all that graphic or much of a loss.) The "new digital telecine" is presented full frame, apparently open matte as zooming it in to 1.78:1 on a widescreen monitor works just fine as well for most of the shots. Extras include another solid interview with Sarno in which he talks about returning to American filmmaking in the mid-'70s and the close rapport between him, his wife and Brooke, a gallery of rare erotic photographs of Brooke (who is also Confessions of a Young American Housewifedepicted in a series of very, uh, unabashed photos in the liner notes booklet by Sarno expert Michael J. Bowen), and the usual barrage of the label's Sarno trailers.

In 2018, Film Movement, FILMMedia and Something Weird teamed up to bring the film back into circulation as the headliner of a triple feature Blu-ray with two other tales of middle class madness. The 1.78:1 transfer looks cleaner and more colorful than ever before with more natural flesh tones; debris is visible around reel changes (the opening couple of minutes are the bumpiest) but all in all it represents a substantial upgrade. As with the other films in the Sarno series, audio for all titles is Dolby Digital English mono only. The film can be played with a new audio commentary by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas as well as a "mini-commentary" by Sarno, the latter sporadically ladled out with the most interesting material coming right off the bat about his memories of Mendum and an odd detour about incest. The Lucas commentary is more in-depth and takes a scholarly approach to the film with an examination of how it depicts eros through cinematic language and features a number of the adult cinema scene's most accomplished dramatic actors in their prime, with all the background info you'd ever need to appreciate their contributions.

Next up on the disc is Sin in the Suburbs, one of Sarno's most famous films thanks to the can't-miss pairings of Audrey Campbell (star of the Sin in the Suburbsnotorious Olga roughie series) and buxom Dyanne "Ilsa" Thorne, plus a wild third act that famously predates Eyes Wide Shut with its sinister mask Sin in the Suburbsorgy rituals. The overall tone here is more quirky than anything else though as Sarno rips the lid off of the sexual musical chairs going on in the average American neighborhood. Geraldine (Campbell) seems like a perfectly normal housewife, spending each morning making breakfast for her husband and daughter Kathy (Linville) before they head off for the day. In reality she likes to spend her alone time with any men who might be around, even if it's a schoolboy who's cutting class and likes to do the twist in her living room. Next door, Lisa (Ellis) has a similar modus operandi, using her sexual wiles to keep her family financially above water. Enter Yvette (Thorne) and Louis (Parker), a couple of Machiavellian swingers who unite the community into an anonymous sex club where a number of skeletons in everyone's closet start tumbling out.

One of the best '60s sexploitation films, Sarno's deviant domestic epic first appeared on DVD in 2004 from Something Weird as a double feature with The Swap and How They Make It, an essential release at the time and a godsend for Sarno-philes. The Blu-ray looks even better, taken from Something Weird's print and looking pretty solid apart from the inherent scratches and dirt. Contrast is much better here with far more detail in bright white areas and deeper shadows as well, giving the film more depth and atmosphere throughout. Best of all, it's more complete than the tattered source used for the DVD and clocks in almost three minutes longer. Again you get a new Lucas commentary, and he gets into the spirit here noting the film's reflections of both state laws at the time and the regulations of the Production Code, the "hot, percolating, crazy jazz" that runs through the entire film, and the incisive camerawork, which is properly framed here but exposed a bit of unintended skin in the open matte DVD. Also included is an audio commentary from the earlier DVD featuring Sarno, wife and producer Peggy Sarno, Something Sin in the SuburbsWeird's late and much-missed Mike Vraney, and the invaluable Frank Henenlotter. It's a priceless track now given how many of the participants we've lost as they cover the film's distribution history (only 18 prints ever existed), the real-life inspiration behind the story, Sin in the Suburbsand the ins and outs of the exploitation scene at the time with other colorful filmmakers in the mix.

But wait! You also get a third film here, and it's none other than the previously lost Warm Nights and Hot Pleasures, a Sarno production released hot on the heels of Suburbs. Taken from a scratchy but perfectly watchable print, it's a feverish slice of jukebox-fueled naughtiness with Ellis returning here as Cathy, one of three girlfriends along with Marsha (Harris) and Vivian (Britt) who are tired of the usual grind involving school or work. Apparently having never seen the previous year's The Orgy at Lil's Place, they decide that living in New York City provides them with plenty of opportunities for personal fulfillment like stripping in front of a camera and working for guys who say things like "C'mon, baby, let's see ya move!" The fact that they live down the hall from a nudie model landlord gives the film an extra kick, too, and of course they're all eager to go into theatrical careers, anticipating the hit novel Valley of the Dolls by a couple of years as they deal with the high cost of showbiz success that only one of them will truly attain. For years this one only existed as a trailer included on a compilation from distributor Audubon Films, but two prints of varying degrees of completeness were uncovered in 2017. This is reportedly the longest one around with some saucy shots that way further skin-wise than anything in Suburbs, and even by itself this title would make the release a must for anyone interested in Sarno. Lucas also provides liner notes for the insert booklet, laying out the production info for each film in a handy, concise manner worth checking out before you watch the films. Based on the order here and the menu screen, Sin in the Suburbs was meant to be the headlining title but that ended up getting switched on the packaging somewhere along the way.


A Touch of Genie A Touch of Genie A Touch of Genie A Touch of Genie Warm Nights and Hot Pleasures

Reviewed on November 27, 2018.