Appellate Judge Tom Becker just spent 268 minutes with three happy hookers. He's having a cigarette while he writes this review.
Don't be embarrassed to spend 96 minutes in a dark room with a hooker.
As the 1960s ended, the "sexual revolution" was making its way across America. Filmmakers were taking advantage of the new mores and relaxed production code to give us films like Midnight Cowboy and Five Easy Pieces. Nonfiction books such as Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, The Sensuous Woman, and The Joy of Sex were helping the middle-class ease into this new age of freedom.
Into the literary fray dove one Xaviera Hollander, prostitute and madam, whose 1972 autobiography, The Happy Hooker, sold millions of copies worldwide. Blessed with one of the catchiest titles in publishing history, "the happy hooker" became a standard punch line and is today still used by adventurous knitters and fishermen.
In 1975, the inevitable movie was made, followed by two inevitable sequels. Three decades later, how do our working girls work?
Facts of the Case
The Happy Hooker
Lynn Redgrave is Xaviera Hollander in The Happy Hooker. After a whirlwind vacation romance, young Dutch girl Xaviera comes to New York to marry the man of her dreams—only on his own turf, she finds him to be a stuffy, repressed mama's boy. Armed with nothing more than a little ambition and a healthy appetite for sex, she soon finds herself trading her favors for cash. When a cop tries to shake her down, she starts working in a bordello and learns enough to open her own house. But Xaviera discovers that scorned cops have long memories.
The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington
Joey Heatherton is Xaviera Hollander in The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington. Her book having been written and published, Xaviera is now the sex queen of the universe. She writes a magazine column offering witty rejoinders to questions about sex with Siamese twins and bisexuality. (And you thought those letters were made up!) Her notoriety is so great that she is called to testify before a Senate Subcommittee on Sexual Excesses in America. Her repertoire of double entendres wows the gallery and catches the eye of a crazy CIA guy (Billy Barty, Willow), who recruits our girl for a secret mission.
The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood
Martine Beswick is Xaviera Hollander in The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood. In one of the least savory full circles ever, Xaviera has written her best-selling book and is now being wooed by Hollywood to make a movie of that book. So this movie, in effect, is the story of the making of the first movie. Only it isn't. Dealing with duplicitous Tinseltown sharks makes our lady long for the evenings when she was a simple sex worker, so she decides to make the movie herself.
While none of these films rises above the level of trash, at least the first one gives it the old college try. Its biggest asset is Lynn Redgrave (Gods and Monsters), whose appealing performance keeps the whole thing afloat. Her Xaviera makes neither apologies nor excuses. She loves sex and sees no reason why a woman shouldn't be paid for providing pleasure.
The film itself is anything but daring. It's really just a souped-up '60s-style sex comedy without a leading man. If you change hooker to magazine fashion editor, you'd have a Doris Day movie. There's barely enough nudity or profanity to justify the R rating.
Redgrave's Xaviera is like Madame Curie compared to Joey Heatherton (Bluebeard). Heatherton's hooker might not be the happiest, but she's definitely the snappiest. Coarse and hideous, she's like your father's crazy Aunt Bella who's got a one-liner for every situation. Swathed in so much fur that PETA should send a swat team after her, Heatherton is expected to carry the film with her alluring presence. Unfortunately, this is like asking Danny DeVito to jump center for the Knicks.
Washington isn't so much a film as a series of smarmy grade-school jokes and skits, with some nudity thrown in for good measure. As funny and erotic as an asthma attack, it's like a burlesque show in the third circle of Hell. I don't even think they were trying to make a cohesive movie so much as they were just desperate to slap the "happy hooker" name on something while it could still sell tickets. On the plus side, the film features a galaxy of "What's his name?" actors, and you could probably make a fun drinking game out of guessing where you've seen them before. (Hints: Bewitched, F Troop, Laverne and Shirley)
Then we have Martine Beswick (Thunderball). Beswick's hooker might not be the happiest, but she's definitely the unwrappiest. By the time our girl goes Hollywood, the whole enterprise has taken on the look of a late-night Cinemax offering. Unlike the more modest Redgrave and Heatherton, Beswick proudly struts her stuff—a little too proudly, in fact, since some of that strutting involves an extended sex scene with Adam "Batman" West as a cold-hearted producer. Yikes! Later, we have an encounter between naked Batman and equally naked Richard Deacon—Mel Cooley from the old Dick Van Dyke Show. There may be another drinking game here. Hollywood is slightly less stupefyingly horrible than Washington, but that's not saying much.
The discs sport decent transfers and audio in either mono or stereo. I didn't hear much difference between the two. There are no extras for any of the movies and just a static menu screen. The set comes with two discs, with The Happy Hooker on one and the other two films on flip sides of the other.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'll probably hate myself for this, but The Happy Hooker wasn't a terrible movie. It's by no means a great movie or even a particularly good movie, but thanks to Redgrave, it's a very likable movie. It's refreshing to see a movie—particularly an American movie with a reputable star—that features a female protagonist who unabashedly enjoys sex and is not disturbed, depressed, evil, stupid, or a victim. Any pejoratives we could come up with for Xaviera Hollander are already on her resumé.
The Happy Hooker is a relic. It's corny and silly and would be a complete waste of time without Lynn Redgrave, who brings more to the movie than it deserves. The other two Hookers are just low rent.
Xaviera Redgrave, you're free to go and continue bringing joy to the masses. Xaviera Heatherton and Xaviera Beswick…not so fast, ladies.
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