Appellate Judge Tom Becker only committed half the sins of Sodom; he's saving the rest for the holidays.
"She's a hypersexual girl with a very expressive face."
Henning is a photographer specializing in fashion (apparently) and erotica (evidently). Sort of the Richard Avedon of the nudie-cutie set, his reputation precedes him. Models are eager to work with him, and even more eager to bed down with him.
Then he meets the lovely Leslie. She has the full breasts of a goddess, he has the back hair of a Yeti, and soon they are coupled up. He wants to use Leslie to create his passionate pet project, a series of portraits of women as the Princesses of Babylonia, Sodom, and (of course) Gomorrah.
Enter Joyce, a slinky homeless chick looking for a modeling gig. Henning—out of the goodness of his hairy heart—puts her up in a spare room, where she amuses herself with stuffed animals and an electric massager the size of a bazooka. Despite her sultry good looks and gravity-defying breasts, he declines to sleep with her or photograph her, although he does fool around with other models while still "dating" Leslie.
Since he's so wrapped up in sleeping around, shooting, and agonizing over his Babylonia/Sodom/Gomorrah project, Henning doesn't notice that Joyce isn't quite the nice, needy kid that he thinks. She seduces another model and starts taking over Henning's business. When she plunks herself down during Leslie's Princess of Babylonia shoot, Henning finally gets what he wants—"Everything erotic and evil all rolled up into one."
But even with all the signs smacking him in the face like a loose pair of pasties, Henning doesn't get it. Joyce is evil—and erotic, of course—and she's going to leave devastation in her wake.
Although he's reputed to have directed over 100 features, all but maybe a couple dozen of Joe Sarno's films are currently "lost." It's sad, but not that surprising—Sarno was a low-budget auteur of erotica who did most of his work in the '60s and '70s. His work was considered to be cheap smut without much value, so no one really went to the trouble of preserving it, and much of it just went the way of the old hardcore loops.
But Sarno wasn't making hardcore loops. While he did make a number of "hard-X" and gratuitous soft porners, most of his films in the '60s through the mid-'70s were technically accomplished, decently acted, and always had a story tell. The sex scenes, considered graphic in their day, supported the story, not the other way around—these were much more than mindless, lascivious "raincoat" movies.
The Sarnos I've seen thus far—and I've not seen his hardcore, the films he made in Sweden, or his ill-received "sequel" to Deep Throat—have been morality plays with strong soap opera elements. Stories were generally told from the point of view of the female characters, and they're often set in suburbs or small towns.
A strange, intense, soft-core chamber piece, All the Sins of Sodom is a bit different from these. Unlike some of his best—and better known—films, Sodom does not have a soap opera-ish base; it's also not really female-centric in the way that films like Confessions of a Young American Housewife, Abigail Leslie Is Back in Town, or The Swap are, despite having a predominantly female cast. The strongest female character is the enigmatic and manipulative Joyce, hardly a heroine of any kind. While Henning is one of Sarno's stronger male characters, he's not particularly likable—self-absorbed and insensitive, he's a bit of dolt, though his downfall is a bit more harsh than his flaws warrant. Of course, in most Sarno films, "sin" carries a steep price; a glib user like Henning doesn't stand a chance.
With its single set—a friend's Times Square loft—small cast, and unmistakable "New York" vibe, All the Sins of Sodom seems almost like an off-off-Broadway play, and its twisted story of sex and betrayal could actually stand as a piece of theater. Strikingly lit and photographed by Sarno's brother-in-law, Steve Silverman, Sodom is a bit less engaging than much of Sarno's other work, but it's a very well-made, artistic, and entertaining film.
Secret Key's Retro Seduction arm has given Sodom a loving release. The film looks great, a solid anamorphic transfer of the black and white image from the original 35mm camera negative, unearthed in a New York film archive. There's little in the way of damage or softness; this is a great restoration. Audio is fine, with a 2.0 mono track that's overall clean and clear.
We also get a very nice slate of extras. Sarno's wife, actress Peggy Steffans (who appears in the film as a booking agent for the models), provides a commentary with Sarno historian Michael Bowen. This is an excellent and entertaining piece that discusses how Sarno overcame the limitations of the budget and location—particularly, the innovative use of lighting—to create this moody and stark little film. Sarno himself offers up his insights and recollections in a lively 10-minute interview. Interestingly, neither Steffans nor Sarno can remember the names of the two leading actors, only that "the hairy guy" also appeared in the director's Vibrations, which, along with Sarno's Wall of Flesh, was shot at the same time as All the Sins of Sodom.
Also included are a mini-documentary on the film's screening at the Alamo Draft House, some typically great liner notes by Bowen, and a trailer vault of other Sarno releases from Retro Seduction. The DVD has a cardboard slipcover featuring a very cool illustration, while the actual case sports an artistically rendered still from the film.
Sarno passed away in April, 2010, meaning that All the Sins of Sodom will be the last re-discovered film to have his direct participation. In his interview on this disc, filmed maybe a year before he died, he's engaging, sharp, and vital—it's hard to believe he was pushing 90 at the time.
All the Sins of Sodom is well worth checking out. An intriguing film and great presentation from Secret Key's Retro Seduction arm, this should be required viewing for low-budget filmmakers.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Secret Key Motion Pictures
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