Sex Play (1984): A Rare Flop

Dave checks out the final Gary Graver XXX’r to be released during the fabled ‘Golden Age of Pornography’.

Born into a military family in Norfolk, Virginia, a largely traditionalist upbringing did little to dampen Kimberly Carson’s desire to shun a life of menial employment and head to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune. Alas, despite a college degree in theatre, her Tinseltown dream was found wanting – but another opportunity arose when she was spotted by infamous porn producer Hal Freeman.

Back in ’82, Freeman was twelve months away from being the first person prosecuted on the ridiculous charge of pandering, a determined anti-porn loophole that dominated the ultra-conservative years of the Reagan administration [1]. Upon their meeting, Carson seemed enamoured by the mogul, as she teased in the pages of Cinema Blue:

“I started doing nude modelling, and Hal Freeman saw my photos and convinced me to give movies a try and come and read for a role. “You can handle the part,” he said, “But are you sure you can handle being a star?!”.” [2]

Roles in Laurie Smith’s Girls on Girls (1982) and Ed De Priest’s Young and Restless (1983) were the immediate port of call for the twenty-year-old actress, but it was a pool table threesome in Gary Graver’s Summer Camp Girls (1983) that announced her as a new major player in the adult industry. Nearly a hundred pictures followed for the ambitious performer, including a key role in The Dark Brothers’ New Wave Hookers (1985), the acclaimed movie that established the alt-porn genre. However, the engaging and likable Carson’s talents are best represented in SEX PLAY: a slight but enjoyable romp from Graver and his regular collaborator, Ted Paramore (aka ‘Harold Lime’).

Carson is Sue, the frumpy personal secretary to Hollywood leading man Jeff Justice (Eric Edwards). Miffed by the continuous cold shoulder she receives from the egotistical star, she decides to rope in three of her friends (Laurie Smith, Lisa Lake, and Desiree Lane) to help expose his malfunctioning manhood to a baying tabloid reporter (Kay Parker). Yes, it turns out that cinema’s hottest poster boy hasn’t managed to get an erection for over six months, so, with Sue hungry for revenge and her Justice-loving buddies chomping at the bit for some action with their idol (“I’d risk going to jail for a torture-fuck with Jeff Justice!”), all the pieces are in place for an epic sting that’s dependent on a lifeless flop.

“ME, impotent!” guffawed Eric Edwards during a recent exchange I had with the porn legend, whereupon he named Sex Play as a favourite collaboration with Graver. “I asked Gary how should I handle that role. His answer was, ‘Just think of me, and you won’t get hard’ [laughs]!”

Clearly, Edwards took his advice…

“Don’t tell them I’m not a man anymore,” pleads his character, Jeff Justice, to a typically wonderful Parker in a moment which underlines the perceptive commentary on the fragility of celebrity status woven throughout Sex Play. It’s something pushed further in another of the picture’s standout scenes, when the initial-monikered studio chief, F.U. (the ever-brilliant John Alderman, carrying a certain similarity to Robert Evans), moans to Justice’s agent (an uncredited Robert Kerman) about the impending cost of the actor’s picketing wicket: “What will his adoring public do when they discover that the biggest star has a limp noodle between his legs?”. This extra dimension was a common feature in Graver’s XXX work; from the satire of Society Affairs (1982) to the Bunuelisms of ‘V’: The Hot One (1979). Sex Play might be more subdued than both of those, but it’s enough to refute Vicki Lynch’s scathing summation of the director.

In her autobiography, The Secret Lives of Hyapatia Lee, the former porn queen recalled the sole time she’d worked with Graver – or ‘Robert McCallum’ as he was known on set – on Secret Dreams (1986):

“Robert is of the belief that an adult film is nothing more than an excuse for sex and therefore, quality, acting, story and continuity are unimportant and can be thrown to the wind.” [3]

As the industry moved away from filming on 35mm with six-figure budgets to shooting on video tape for barely $20k, it’s clear that Graver began to feel some disillusionment towards the business. However, Sex Play was the filmmaker’s final entry in the so-called ‘Golden Age of Pornography’ [4] – and despite the occasional lethargy that accompanied the era that came next, Graver’s twenty movie stretch that started with 3AM (1975) and culminated with this passable lark is unsurpassed, cementing his reputation as the one true master of commercial American pornography.

USA ● 1984 ● Adult ● 86mins

Kimberly Carson, Eric Edwards, Richard Pacheco, Kay Parker, Laurie Smith, Lisa Lake, Desiree Lane, John Alderman ● Dir. Gary Graver (as ‘Robert McCallum’) ● Wri. ‘Harold Lime, Jr.’, story by ‘Harold Lime, Snr.

[1] Freeman was convicted in 1987 in connection with his film Caught from Behind II (1983), but it was successfully overturned in 1989 after a legal battle that lasted for six years. Ironically, the law was introduced in 1982 by a Democrat, Senator David A. Roberti, whose district included Hollywood.
[2] Profiles in Porn: Kimberly Carson, Cinema Blue, April 1984.
[3] The Secret Lives of Hyapatia Lee by Hyapatia Lee [Vicki Lynch], October 2000.
[4] ‘The Golden Age of Pornography’ is widely considered to run between 1969 and 1984.

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