Skin & Grit: Amanda By Night (1981)

Dave kneels at the blue movie altar and worships the peak of the Golden Age of Pornography.

Dries Vermeulen, author of the essential smut-loving tome, 69 Classic Adult Films to See Before You Die, called AMANDA BY NIGHT “the finest sex thriller that the adult industry spawned” and went on to describe Gary Graver as “the greatest storyteller the porn business has ever seen”.

High praise indeed, but it’s fully justified as Graver’s pièce de résistance draws inspiration from Alan J. Pakula’s sublime Klute (1971), which told the story of a prostitute (played by Jane Fonda) who becomes romantically involved with a detective (Donald Sutherland). Klute was lensed by the legendary Gordon Willis, who went on to be hailed for his cinematography on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979), and it’s clear that Graver respected Willis – as every self-respecting DP did – and Amanda by Night pays homage to the noirish paranoia and gritty realism of Pakula’s seminal work.

Veronica Hart (Indecent Exposure (1981)) plays the titular Amanda: a high-class hooker who finds herself as the potential target for a mysterious murderer who’s targeting pros. Her friend, Bev (Lisa De Leeuw, Garage Girls (1980)), has just fallen victim to the psycho, and it’s not long before a world-weary (and tracksuit wearing) cop, Lt. Ambrose Hart (Robert Kerman, Cannibal Holocaust (1980)), is on the scene, with the suspicion that Amanda is the key to unlocking the case.

Regardless of an impressive ensemble that includes Jamie Gillis (The Ecstasy Girls (1979)) as a swaggering pimp bedecked in a cowboy hat, Ron Jeremy (Co-Ed Fever (1980)) as a crooked vice cop, and Samantha Fox (Centerfold Fever (1981)), who’s stunning as the victim’s tragic roomie, Gwen, it’s Hart and Kerman who steal the film in career-defining performances. They’d already worked their magic for Graver earlier in the year in the comedy caper Indecent Exposure, but Amanda by Night demanded more from the pair and they delivered. Hart deserves the bulk of the acclaim as she’s mesmerizing here, layering Amanda with foibles and complexities, as well as hiding a traumatic past at the hands of an abusive uncle (“The first time he raped me I was thirteen”). This adds depth and texture to a character so rich they could have high-tailed it in from a Hollywood movie set.

Kerman, meanwhile, had been an off-Broadway actor, educated at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, who managed to dovetail the occasional ‘mainstream’ role in features like Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive (1980) with a blue movie career that included the notorious Debbie Does Dallas (1978). Prolific among Graver’s ‘Robert McCallum’ oeuvre, from Society Affairs (1982) to Satisfactions (1983), it’s clear that the director saw his adaptability as something to elevate these XXX features to the cusp of arthouse cinema. As Veronica Hart herself told author David Flint: “We were trying to make pictures with sex in them, not just sex pictures” [1].

Filmed over the course of two weeks and clocking up the highest porn budget to date ($200,000), Amanda by Night remains one of the most acclaimed hardcore films in the history of the genre. Bagging six gongs as the Critics’ Adult Film Awards, including Best Director for Graver and best actress for Hart, it’s frequently touted as an ideal entry point into the genre for non-porn watchers. At the time of writing, it’s unfortunately still consigned to a grubby DVD transfer on the Caballero label, but I’m sure with the growing appreciation of this era, a better edition must be around the corner.

USA ● 1981 ● Adult, Thriller ● 95mins

Veronica Hart, Robert Kerman, Jamie Gillis, Ron Jeremy, Lisa De Leeuw, Samantha Fox ● Dir. Gary Graver (as Robert McCallum) ● Wri. (uncredited)

[1] Interview with Veronica Hart, Babylon Blue: An Illustrated History of Adult Cinema, David Flint, 1999, Creation Books.

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