Fruit Salad: Tangerine (1979)

Dave heads to the coast for a little bribery, extortion and immorality in Gary Graver’s hardcore romp.

Interviewed by Brian Albright in the mid-’00s, Gary Kent, the iconic exploitation regular, mused how “Jay Fineberg was a classic L.A kind of character. Damon Runyonesque in his personality” [1]. Fineberg’s certainly a unique individual, yet someone who followed a well-worn path between exploitation and hardcore.

In a twenty year producing career, Fineberg started out in a more suggestive era, beginning with Ted V. Mikels’ One Shocking Moment (1965) before financing Gary Graver’s excellent Sandra: The Making of a Woman (1970). While these pictures brought him a degree of notoriety, it was his day job as general manager of the Pussycat Theatre in Santa Monica that cemented his status as a pivotal figure in West Coast smut.

At the start of the ‘70s, the four-hundred and fifty seat Pussycat was claiming in excess of one-and-a-half thousand patrons a week, but Fineberg was keen to impose a strict moral standard on his carefully curated listings. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in January ’71, he remarked that “we feature drama and comedy that is spiced with sex, rather that the so-called wall-to-wall sex. Rather than getting ‘dirtier’, we’re trying to make it more erotic” [2].

A noble intention, but by the end of the decade, Fineberg’s (under the pseudonym Mark Corby) admirable dedication to wholesome erotica had buckled, and he made the inevitable leap into hardcore. Pink Champagne (1979), directed by legendary journeyman David Worth (Kickboxer (1989)), was first up, but for his second XXX endeavour, he reunited with his old friend Graver to create the (sometimes) uncomfortably sleazy TANGERINE (1979).

The titular character is played by Jennifer West (billed as CeCe Malone), a self-made high society hostess who throws extravagant parties for high-flying businessmen at her swanky seaside home. However, Tangerine has a rabid thirst for money and power, so to exploit her guests she pairs them up with her three underage daughters, Faith (Holly McCall), Hope (Laurie Blue) and Charity (Angel Ducharme), then bribes them with the consequences.

It’s only a matter of time before someone gets wise to her ruse, and that comes in the form of Haley (Richard Pacheco, appearing as Howie Green) – looking dapper in his tinted glasses and velvet jacket – who sets about bringing this lucrative con to an end.

“You’re like an uncle to me,” says Faith in an early scene with the seedy Hammersmith (Milton Ingley in his debut), who replies with leery tawdriness: “I have a niece not much younger than you [Faith is proposed to be 15] and I scrub her back when she’s in the bath”. Thankfully, the adolescent angle proves (eventually) to be another ruse in Tangerine’s complex web of deceit, and when you get past it it’s far easier to appreciate the impressive artistry – and genuinely funny comedy – of a very good feature.

The cast are expansive, with Harry Freeman (from Graver’s Peaches and Cream (1981)), Mike Ranger (Star Virgin (1979)) and Mike Horner (his first appearance in what would be over a thousand pornos) all showing up to taste the fruit of Tangerine’s girls, but it’s Juliet Anderson (Co-Ed Fever (1980)) who nearly runs away with the film as a frigid aunt who experiences a hilarious sexual awakening.

Graver gets the most out of the vast property, both in terms of artistry and the various well-honed flourishes of his that litter the movie – the most eye-catching moment being a sex scene radiant in disco lights, strobing and prodigious soundtrack cuts. For the eagle-eyed, there’s also a tightly shot (and all too brief) shower threesome that clearly had designs on topping the greatest moment of cubicle carnality (that was edited by Orson Welles, no less) in Graver’s own 3AM (1975).

Short in its running time (seventy-five minutes), there have been questions in regard to how complete the edition released on DVD by VCX is. Nevertheless, Tangerine is a film that comes recommended, and shows that Graver, now in his fourth hardcore outing under the guise of Robert McCallum, had cemented his reputation as a remarkable auteur in the world of adult entertainment.

[1] Wild Beyond Belief: Interviews with the Exploitation Filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s by Brian Albright, 2008
[2] Los Angeles Times, 31st January 1971

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