Color, 1966, 91 mins. 12 secs. / 87 mins. 46 secs. / 83 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by Joseph W. Sarno
Starring Dianne Vivienne (Tammy Latour), John Aristedes, June Roberts, Jan Nash
Film Movement (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Retro-Seduction Cinema (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Dark Force Entertainment (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
THE NAKED FOG
B&W, 1966, 86 mins. 20 secs.
Directed by Joseph W. Sarno
Starring Tammy Latour, Gretchen Rudolph, Mike Higgins, Phil Mason, Susan Winters
Film Movement (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
One of the most widely circulated films from Joe Sarno's glossy attempts at exposing the seamy side of the American middle class (see Sin in the Suburbs, et al), Moonlighting Wives is a vaguely tawdry but accessible slice of lounge-era pop culture critique disguised as a sex film. Joe Sarno and the film's original press materials claim this was based on a real news report of suburban housewives running a prostitution ring out of their houses, eventually evading their arrests by hanging on to dirt about their powerful clients. (The film supplies a more somber, albeit unrealistic, outcome.)
The scandal starts when pouty but determined Joan (Vivienne, a.k.a. Tammy Latour) gets sick of her boss's sexual advances on company time and her husband's constant badgering about her spending habits, so she sets up her own stenography business that doubles nicely for selling out sexual favors from her married friends. Pretty soon Joan's schtupping her friend's lover, hubby's off getting intimate with the babysitter, the slow-witted cops are getting suspicious, and everything's gearing up for a kinky masked orgy in the den that's bound to end in tears.
One of Joe Sarno's earlier color films, Moonlighting Wives already shows him at ease with splashing vivid, expressive hues across the screen as he composes each of his characters in a succession of shots right out of a vintage easy listening album cover. The lustrous, stylized approach here, coupled with the interesting and unpredictable screenplay, manages to suggest the characters' hidden carnal lives even though we don't see anything all that explicit; it's a perfect textbook example of Sarno's psychological approach to erotica. All of the performers turn in above-average performances, with Vivienne (a.k.a. Tammy Latour from Sarno's My Body Hungers) doing an excellent job of portraying a beautiful yet strangely aloof and ultimately ruthless woman. Add a wonderfully randy theme song, this is pure guilty pleasure territory for anyone with a strong erotic imagination.
Moonlighting Wives circulated for decades on the grindhouse circuit and popped up in the early days of Something Weird in a faded, battered print that barely did justice to Sarno's color schemes. Unfortunately its frequent use meant that most prints were demolished in the process, making this very close to a lost film. The first DVD edition in 2006 from Retro-Seduction Cinema presented about as close to a pristine version as possible at the time given all materials at hand were turning pink and littered with damage. Unfortunately that irritating Seduction Cinema logo pops up briefly every fifteen minutes or so which is ridiculous. Sarno appears for an 11m25s video interview in which he discusses the making of the film and his career at that time; it's pretty cursory but interesting (with mention of some unused spicier footage that no one ever saw) and makes a fine companion to his other commentaries and interviews for the company's recommended releases, which are represented here with promos for the likes of Abigail Leslie Is Back in Town. A brief 2m44s Sarno restoration featurette is also included.
Somehow we ended up with not one but two Blu-ray editions of Moonlighting Wives in 2023 appearing within a couple of months of each other. The first out of the gate was a standalone Blu-ray edition from Dark Force Entertainment, featuring the longer, previously unavailable "hot" cut of the film (87 minutes versus 83) and extras include a bonus deleted nude scene (4m1s), an audio commentary by Michael Bowen, and a Bowen video interview (21m17s) about his memories of Sarno and an overview of the filmmaker's life. The image quality here is the best of the bunch by far, taken from the uncovered camera negative and looking pristine here.
Then we have a double feature Blu-ray from Film Movement with Moonlighting Wives as the headliner in this ongoing "Joseph W. Sarno Retrospect Series" with FILMmedia and Something Weird. Though the packaging makes no note of it, this is actually the longest and most complete version of Moonlighting Wives to date, clocking in at 91 minutes from an evidently unearthed print of the hot version. The deleted nude scene from the other Blu-ray is reinstated here where it belongs at the 33-minute mark, which is a good thing since it's also a substantial bit of plot development involving a cheating couple caught by their spouses that turns into a swinging situation and a key bit during the climax. The print used here is pretty battered, comparable to the DVD but in better quality here, featuring the extra hot footage including some not on the Dark Force disc at all like the extended swimming pool frolic at the 13-minute mark. The print damage means there are a few seconds missing here and there though, so any fans should ideally have both releases if they want every shred of footage out there. The Dolby Digital English 2.0 mono track is fine given the source. This time you get a new commentary by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, who's currently embarking on an extensive book about Sarno and his films; it's up to his usual high standards with an impressive depth of research and lots of observations about how the film connects to Sarno's other films in terms of visual motifs, themes, and casting, as well as related true crime tidbits. There's very little overlap with the worthy Bowen track, too, so both are welcome and appreciated. A 7m9s Sarno interview from 2006 is included here about the film and its Long Island crime story basis, plus a 2007 11m40s interview with cinematographer Jerry Kolageratos about his entry into showbiz and his impressions of Sarno through various ups and downs.
Also on the same disc is a pretty big deal, the home video debut of Sarno's once elusive The Naked Fog from the same year and featuring almost the exact same cast as Moonlighting Wives. This one finds him back on black-and-white art film turf with jazz music and damp oceanside atmosphere cloaking the story of Marge (Latour again), a writer who's been partying herself to death as one of those "eager and loose young women" on the West Coast scene. After a wild party in San Francisco that culminates in lots of heavy petting and shimmying women popping off their bras, Marge hightails it back to Long Island for some normalcy only to find out that manipulation and sexual secrets are still roiling around everywhere she turns. Deciding she might as well make the best of it, Marge rents a room at a boarding house / brothel only to get in further over her head.
Sarno's usual penchant for heady psychodrama and Ingmar Bergman-style compositions is in full flower with this one, which was considered completely lost until circa 2017 when a print finally turned up. Credited as "Jan Nash," Sarno regular and fellow My Body Hungers alumnus Grethen Rudolph gets a particularly juicy role here as Marina, part of the semi-incestuous love tangle that ensnares our heroine, and the dark, seedy party scenes here are among Sarno's best. The restored transfer of The Naked Fog screened in New York and has been available streaming online for a while at Midnight Pulp (along with a bevy of still not-on-Blu-ray gems in HD like Odd Triangle, Siv and Sven and Anne, Inga, Warm Nights and Hot Pleasures, Daddy Darling, Swedish Wildcats, Desire Under the Palms, and Laura's Toys). The opening titles are in pretty rough shape, but otherwise the film looks quite nice here especially given its extreme rarity. Again the English Dolby Digital mono 2.0 audio is fine for the state of the print and clear throughout.
MOONLIGHTING WIVES: Film Movement (Blu-ray)
MOONLIGHTING WIVES: Dark Force (Blu-ray)
MOONLIGHTING WIVES: Retro-Seduction Cinema (DVD)
Reviewed on April 29, 2023