Judge Daryl Loomis has spent years fishing the wharf, but he's never hooked a catch like this.
For these women, three was never a crowd.
The world of erotic cinema is so populated by grindhouse roughies and nasty peepshow loops that it's sometimes hard to remember that people actually try to make a real movie in the genre once in a while. Of that small number of (maybe misguided) souls, Joe Sarno (Inga) reigns as king. Though Sarno consented to hardcore films as the industry went that way, his softcore work carries a master's touch. Focusing on story as much sexuality, he was able to have it both ways. His films have realistic, affecting characters that, because we care about them, lead to effective erotica. The two films in this collection from Retro Seduction show the director at his very best.
Facts of the Case
Abigail Leslie Is Back in Town
Years ago, Abigail Leslie (Jennifer Jordan) left her small fishing village in disgrace. Today, Gail comes home, but there's no warm welcome for her. The women resent her, their husbands want her, and she just wants to teach them that free love is the only way to live.
Laura (Rebecca Brooke, Confessions of a Young American Housewife) is in Sweden with her archeologist husband, Walter (Eric Edwards, Butterflies), while he is on an excavation. The couple has a great love life, but Laura is jealous of Anna (Cathja Graff), Walter's gorgeous assistant. By coincidence, some old friends from Laura's deviant sexual past show up in town on holiday. When Laura finds Walter in the sack with Anna, she wonders if it might be worth it to return to her old life.
The sex film has a pretty low bar in terms of quality, so calling Sarno a master of the genre could sound like backhanded praise. Fairly, one has to temper one's expectations no matter what. However, you can't do a whole lot better than Joseph Sarno and his brand of attractive, story-driven erotica. He started his filmmaking career the same way a lot of exploitation directors honed their craft, in the military making industrial films. With this training, it would have been easy for him to just make paint-by-numbers erotica and flow the way the industry did. Quite possibly to his commercial detriment, however, Sarno always looked as his sex pictures as films first and titillation second. He wrote nearly everything he directed and demanded the best out of some pretty questionable performers; his own artistic standards made him an overachiever, doing more with less than almost anybody else in the genre.
Abigail Leslie Is Back in Town is a soapy affair that pits the title character against the people from her past for sexual and moral supremacy. The question of whether Abigail's erotic power can win over her uptight town, given the genre, is a pretty easy one to answer, but the characters aren't quite as simple. Sure, they're permissive, even the most repressed individuals accept a little touching here and there. The main conflict is between the title character and Priscilla Howe (Rebecca Brooke), the woman Abigail wronged all those years ago. Now, as Abigail recruits all Priscilla's friends into her sexual circle, she seems to be taunting her old nemesis and opening old wounds. The reality, that it's really about teaching Priscilla the liberating value of free love and saving her marriage through adultery, is considerably stranger.
Brooke is the star of the show, and she has an incredible amount to offer visually; her performance of Priscilla is quite good, with a highly emotional, never forced delivery. She is excellent both in and out of her clothes. Jennifer Jordan is interesting as well in the title role. Unlike much of erotic cinema, the woman is the sexual aggressor, and Jordan plays the traditionally male role well. She's neither naive nor coy; she is ferocious, frightening and irresistible to male and female alike. It's her freedom that opens people's eyes and her understanding of pleasure that makes them cry out. If nothing else, she's absolutely filthy, a total plus in such a film.
Laura's Toys takes a similar approach as Abigail Leslie but, with an exotic locale and Swedish sea nymphs, winds up being the better of the two films. Rebecca Brooke returns as the titular Laura, a much different role than her Priscilla. No longer a repressed housewife, here she lets her aggressive side take hold. This becomes most interesting when Laura's old friends show up in the story. Throughout the first half of the film, Laura invokes the name of Hani (the delicious Anita Ericsson), her best friend from this old group, with stories of decadence to heat up her husband and Anna, to show her power over them. When Hani shows up in the flesh, though, Laura becomes powerless; all of her sexual power becomes Hani's. Laura turns to putty in her hands and she's left with a choice: a life of orgiastic sexual abandon with Hani and friends, or a polyamorist relationship with her husband and his assistant. It's a tough choice, really; both scenarios are pretty hot.
What really makes Sarno's films special, though, is the way he shoots the sex; they are designed to titillate, after all. Sarno describes the typical genital close-up as disgusting and, instead, his focus is on the whole body, but especially the face. He zooms in tight onto the actors' faces while in the throes of passion and, adding to the realism of it all, those facial contortions are pretty hard to fake. This is especially the case in Laura's Toys; its softcore sexual realism is easily its best attribute.
Retro Seduction had previously released Abigail Leslie Is Back in Town, but its back and better than ever in this two-disc set. This is the first time on DVD for Laura's Toys, and both look great. While the films suffer similar problems in their transfers, with an overall soft look and a fair bit of grain, they are much better than I expected them to be. Laura's Toys is missing a few frames and has a little more print damage, but it seems that Abigail Leslie is a fair upgrade over the old release. The mono sound for both is acceptable, but completely non-descript. There's good value in the extras, though. Each disc features a commentary, Abigail Leslie with Joe Sarno and Laura's Toys with Eric Edwards. Sarno's commentary is clearly a different one than was previously reviewed, if only because it's completely audible. Sarno delivers some pretty good information throughout, though they inexplicably quit talking about fifteen minutes from the end. I don't know what to say about that. It's interesting to hear Edwards, a long time porn star, discuss the changes in the industry over his four decades in it. He does, however, have a fairly heightened sense of his overall talent, though that's kind of amusing to listen to. The remainder of the extras encompass over an hour of interviews with Sarno and assorted members of the cast. If you're a Sarno fan, this is a can't-miss set.
Sarno states directly in his commentary that, given a budget of a million dollars instead of his usual ten grand, he couldn't have made a better film. He did his absolute best with the resources he had; he made the most out of very little and stayed true to his esthetic for his whole career. In a genre like this, you have to hand it to somebody like Joe Sarno. Without all the sex, there's no doubt these films would be melodramatic bores, but he uses the sex to drive the story and writes scripts that are more substantial than a repairman showing up to "fix" something.
Not guilty. All sea nymphs in the court are ordered to my chambers
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Abigail Leslie Is Back In Town
Perp Profile, Abigail Leslie Is Back In Town
Studio: Seduction Cinema
Distinguishing Marks, Abigail Leslie Is Back In Town
Scales of Justice, Laura's Toys
Perp Profile, Laura's Toys
Studio: Seduction Cinema
Distinguishing Marks, Laura's Toys
Review content copyright © 2010 Daryl Loomis; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.