E1 Entertainment // 1978 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // January 28th, 2010
"All the girls my age are absolutely weird...they don't want to make love with me! I've tried everything! I guess I just don't understand women."
Based on Stephan Vizinczey's novel, In Praise Of Older Woman follows the sexual misadventures of one Andras Vayda (Tom Berenger, Training Day). The story begins in WW2 Hungary, with the 10-year-old Andras providing hookers to visiting GIs. When high school comes around, Andras has a difficult time dating women, despite his trim body and natural good looks. After a sexual encounter with a virgin goes awry, Andras begins a dalliance with a sex-starved, married neighbor named Maya (Karen Black, House Of 1000 Corpses). Maya teaches him everything on how to satisfy women in the bedroom, and he would put this education to good use with a stable of cougars over the course of a decade.
Controversial when first released because of its nudity and sexual frankness, In Praise Of Older Women hasn't dated well. Supposedly, this film instigated the destruction of Canadian censorship, but it comes off as a virtual embarrassment today. Even though I've never read the novel, I would bet the author is not to blame. From the word go, this picture is badly acted and directed with all the flair of a soft-core Joan Collins "classic," such as The Stud and The Bitch. Its sole purpose is to show various Canadian actresses act slutty and show off their breasts, but the titillation factor is virtually nonexistent. That's not to say none of these actresses are attractive; they just come off as talking mannequins.
Obviously, In Praise Of Older Women is aspiring to be a dramatic clone of Tom Jones. The difference is Andras has none of the appeal or dimension of Henry Fielding's bad boy. It's hard to tell if this Magyar wolf truly falls in love with these women or simply uses them for sexual excitement. It doesn't help that Berenger is flaccid and blank in the lead. This was his first starring role after having bit parts in The Sentinel and Looking For Mr. Goodbar, and he's in way over his head. Still, I'll give him points for the having the nerve to show his member on camera to please the female audience. If you show five women naked, you might as well have the Lothario show his goodies too, right?
As for the ladies rounding out the cast, the only ones who inject some life into their characters are Black and the late Susan Strasberg (Picnic). Black looks terrific in all her cross-eyed glory, though this isn't exactly a memorable showcase for her. Same goes for Strasberg, who does what she can with an underwritten role. The other actresses fail to make an impression, even though all are willing to appear sans clothes. For example, Helen Shaver (Poltergeist: The Legacy) may be sexy and boast a nice rack, however, she spouts her lines as if she's thinking more about what items she needs to pick up at the grocery store, resulting in a wooden performance.
Despite all the negativity I've thrown at In Praise Of Older Women, it does have a genuine strength: it's never boring. The film may be god-awful, but I never checked my watch throughout its 110 minutes -- which sounds like a lifetime, to be sure. Much of the film's entertainment value stems from its pathetic attempts at eroticism and large chunks of unintentionally funny dialogue. The film works on exactly the same level of those aforementioned Joan Collins flicks, which were intent on throwing characters together under preposterous circumstances and then simply winging it. I'm not saying you should go out of your way to rent or, heaven forbid, buy the film, but if you happen to catch on it late at night one cable, you might keep watching out of morbid fascination.
It should also be noted this was the very first film to be shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. The director, George Kaczender, would hook up again with writer Paul Gottlieb to make a 1980 film called Agency, which sounds just as cheesy -- it stars Lee Majors, Valerie Perrine, and Robert Mitchum, so go figure. In addition, Vizinczey's novel would be filmed again in 1997 with Faye Dunaway and Joanna Pacula.
E1 Entertainment's nice-looking DVD replaces an initial 2004 disc which was released by another company. Unfortunately, the classy cover art is all for naught, as the picture itself has no hint of restoration, coming off as a faded VHS transfer. Grain is abundant in practically every frame, colors are dull, and even the all-important flesh tones look dreadful. The audio is no improvement, with hisses and cracks dominating the stereo track. Dialogue does suffer in several scenes, although there are English and French subtitles. The lone extra is a 38-minute making-of featurette, with several crew members (including the producer and screenwriter) talking about the film and how it caused such an uproar prior to release. If you find yourself getting the DVD, this featurette is actually well worth your time.
It may contain guilty pleasures, but it's still guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Not Rated