No Flash in the Pan: Indecent Exposure (1981)

Dave takes in a ‘Robert McCallum’ joint that somehow manages to mix sex with psychology.

The esteemed porn authority Dries Vermeulen wrote recently that “it’s become something of a sport among skin flick scribes to herald one classic above the others. My personal vote would go to this; an intelligent, witty and downright sexy exploration of the human condition. This is as good as it gets, people.” [1]

Ironically, Gary Graver’s 1981 blue movie has always been overshadowed by the critical acclaim that’s flown more frequently in the direction of 3AM (1975) and ‘V’: The Hot One (1978). Thanks to a lip-smacking 2020 Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome though, INDECENT EXPOSURE is ripe for reappraisal.

Ted Perlis (Eric Edwards, Great Sexpectations (1984)) is fresh out of a messy divorce (and clearly riddled with domesticity in his homely pullover and beige slacks), so to soften his mood he decides to hang out with pal Tony Ross (Robert Kerman, Cannibal Holocaust (1980)), who’s making a tidy living as a high class European fashion photographer under the name of Antonio. And it’s not just the money that’s good either, with a willing array of nubile beauties queuing to feast among the shutterbugs hirsute loin.

When Tony gets a call for a lucrative shoot at the out-of-town mansion of an aristocrat, he’s quick to drag Ted along too so he can have a little post break-up sex. However, also accompanying them for the ride are Tony’s long-suffering girlfriend, Lilah Ford (Veronica Hart, Wanda Whips Wall Street (1982)), and his assistant, June (Jessie St. James, Hot Legs (1979)), who has a nagging and so far unconsummated crush on Ted.

Although this quartet makes for fascinating company, it’s not until they reach the palatial home of a publishing heiress, Ariellana Van Laren-DeVane (Georgina Spelvin, The Journey of O (1976)), that things get crazy. The mistress of the house is an alluring mix of part-witch, part-psychologist, with wordplay so hypnotic that it could well put a spell on the lives of her guests forever.

The third collaboration between producer ‘Harold Lime’, aka Ted Paramore (who, interestingly, was backed and mentored by the famed ‘Walt Disney of porn’, Reuben Sturman), Indecent Exposure draws screenwriter C.W O’Hara into the fold for the first of four collaborations with Graver and Paramore that led to masterpieces like Society Affairs (1982) and Satisfactions (1983).

Despite the aforementioned lofty acclaim from respected commentator Vermeulen, Indecent Exposure does follow an unexpected (and occasionally complex) narrative both in tone and direction. In an early scene, you can spy a one-sheet of Animal Crackers (1930) (surely it’s no coincidence that both films take place – partially at least – in the mansion of a wealthy socialite), and for the first hour there’s enough ribald tomfoolery to make Groucho blush, like Ted nibbling celery from heath-nut Karma Lane’s (Arcadia Lake – Edwards’ real-life wife who struggled with drugs until her premature death at thirty-four) vagina. This section of the feature oozes with sensuality too: notably a lesbian sex sequence between Lilah and June that’s mouth-watering in its artistry, accompanied by a swirling romantic piano score that elevates it way beyond simple eroticism.

When the pivot does materialise, it’s a dream transition due to the class of this acting quintet. It’s convenient for anyone from the post-Golden Age, Boogie Nights (1997) generation to presume that the lauded twelve year porn cycle (’72 to ’84) was all wooden performances and stilted dialogue. It would, however, be a tad ignorant to foster that opinion, and the final two reels of Indecent Exposure are the ideal counter to such an uninformed argument.

Cloaked in a growing sense of mystery and filled to the brim with intrigue, that last half hour could well be regarded as the creative peak for ‘Robert McCallum’. It’s true that dissecting the complex psychology of four characters with whom we’ve become familiar might not be regarded as the primo fapping material that the majority desire, but, with its opulent surroundings and multi-layered drama, Indecent Exposure is pornography at its most revered.  

USA ● 1981 ● Adult, Comedy ● 96mins

Veronica Hart, Jessie St. James, Robert Kerman, Eric Edwards, Georgina Spelvin ● Dir. Gary Graver (as Robert McCallum) ● Wri. C.W O’Hara

[1] Reviewing Porn: 69 Adult Films To See Before You Die, Dries Vermeuen, Editions Moustache, March 2018.

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