The Budding of Brie (1980)

Allow me to take you back to the humble beginnings of the Dirty Movie Devotee. In the Spring of 1982, I boarded the train from the quaint Belgian town of Bruges, where I lived then as I still do now, to the seaside resort of Ostend for my very first dose of albeit severely watered down big screen pornography at the since long departed Paris cinema, showing a double bill of Ron Sullivan's The Budding of Brie and - surely the contrast could not have been greater - the Wesley Emerson produced outer space oddity Starship Eros. While there existed an adult theater right in my home town, the equally long vanished Ritz cinema, I was only fourteen at the time and fearful of potential public humiliation not to mention police intervention should I actually get carded at the box office ! I need not have feared however as I soon learned that porn palace cashiers preferred to conduct their financial transactions in deadly silence with a lowered shameful gaze on behalf of both parties. Ah, the unexpected benefits of living in a Catholic country !

As the house lights dimmed, the flickering image unveiled the kind of swanky upper-crust cocktail party I knew from the Hollywood classics of the '30s and '40s, staple ingredients of my Saturday afternoons spent in front of our old black & white TV back then. Immediately, I was hooked. Having been misled by my parents' cautionary tales of the supposed sordidness that characterized sex cinema, I realized that day that these movies were just as professionally put together as those playing down at the local Bijou. The "action" was clearly not confined to a single dingy motel room, another popular misconception I had been spoon-fed, quite the contrary in fact. There was even an actual story worthy of that name, an adult "re-imagining" of the Joe Mankiewicz bite the hand that feeds classic All About Eve as I was quick to recognize. None of the cast seemed conspicuously drugged or otherwise coerced into participating. They actually handled their plentiful, often wickedly funny dialogue surprisingly well given their "lowly station in life", the women looking positively lovely in their frilly period frocks.

I have since learned of this movie's reputation among porn purists as being "over-produced", meaning that production value (clothes and cars, in addition to the more than usually involved narrative) supposedly completely overwhelms the sex. In evaluating erotic content, viewing the film for the first time in close to three decades, it's hard not to concur with this assessment. Barring few exceptions, the sex scenes tend to feel slightly rushed and largely devoid of the sizzle director Ron Sullivan aka "Henri Pachard" brought to his other projects around the same time like Babylon Pink, October Silk and his masterpiece Outlaw Ladies. Still, it's great to see such a truly lavish adult movie able to hold its own compared to its Hollywood counterparts.  Legendary sexploitation producer David Friedman knew a thing or two about making every penny spent show up on screen at least double.  Too bad he never really took to the hardcore format which inevitable invaded his turf, bluntly selling the steak rather than merely the sizzle as was this late great showman's wont.

Film buffs should be thoroughly delighted by how closely Sullivan and screenwriter Doris Toumarkine (esteemed editor to the sophisticated Radley Metzger, famously appearing as the poll taker on The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann) stick to the hallowed Tinseltown original. Only the names have been changed, undoubtedly to protect the horny ! Clumsy waitress at thinly veiled Manhattan hot spot Eileen's Brie Livingston (Hillary Summers looks remarkably like Drew Barrymore and delivers perhaps the standout performance of a distinguished career) grabs the opportunity to cozy up to long-suffering agent to the stars Ira Daniels (Bob Bolla in mensch mode) when his temperamental client Diana Farnsworth (Jennifer Jordan in an effective Bette Davis impersonation unusually steering clear of the high camp that traditionally comes with the territory) storms out on him. An aging screen diva, Diana's fretting about playing yet another part she's clearly too long in the tooth for, a showgirl who would rather join than entertain the troops overseas, in Miss America Going Down, the upcoming epic by husband and filmmaker Nicky Rococco, characteristically well-played by the effortlessly beguiling Eric Edwards. Enter Brie as a much-needed personal assistant, cleverly finagling her way into the good graces of the Farnsworth entourage, using sex and blackmail to obtain her goal.

Bald and lanky Jake Teague (Harlan the Magician from "Cecil" Howard Winters' amazing Neon Nights) has a field day as acid-tongued film critic Simon Egremont, the Addison De Witt character immortalized by tragic George Sanders in Eve. Astonishingly, this unlikely stud has what qualifies by far as the film's hottest sex scene with Summers in the back of his Rolls Royce, providing backseat action in more ways than one. Lovely lamented Laurien Dominique, who passed away from cancer in 1986, shines as Diana's loyal friend and confidante Cassie Merrymount (the Celeste Holm part), looking more resplendent than ever. Her cloak room cuddle with Brie (and just wait till you hear Hillary's breathless account of how she acquired such an "unusual" name !) provides girl on girl Nirvana, its cool jazz track scoring to perfection. Cassie's oblivious rumored to be gay husband, screenwriter Lovell, is played by an almost unrecognizable Rick Iverson, one of the few floundering cast members, who was much better in Charles Larkin's underrated The Love-In Arrangement.

Never known as much of a thespian, angelic Kandi Barbour acquits herself admirably as aspiring starlet Sabrina (the Marilyn Monroe/Miss Casswell role) who gets sidetracked when Brie spikes her bubbly and sicks a torrid jazz combo on her. For the record, Michael Gaunt plays the trumpet, Roy Stuart's on piano and the bass player is rarely seen Jeff Scott, who was featured in Alan B. Colberg's sitcom sendups Sissy's Hot Summer and One Way at a Time. The ubiquitous Ron Jeremy appears as little more than a glorified extra until he gets to strut his stuff with waitress and Brie wannabe Christine De Shaffer as end credits roll ! Try and spot Shaun Costello's favorite character actor Gordon Duvall as the busboy in the opening sequence, along with middle-aged Cami Graham sipping champagne with Bolla, a reliable non-sex supporting thesp who rather astonishingly performed a brief out of the blue blow job on the late Bobby Astyr in Metzger's Barbara Broadcast.

Directed by Ron Sullivan (as Henri Pachard). Written by Sullivan (as Pachard) & Doris Toumarkine (as Doris Barrow). Produced by David Friedman for Card Productions & Scope Pictures. Photographed by Louis Marlek. Edited by George Thomas. Starring Hillary Summers (Brie Livingston), Jennifer Jordan (Diana Farnsworth), Eric Edwards (Nicky Rococco), Laurien Dominique (Cassie Merrymount), Jake Teague (Simon Egremont), Kandi Barbour (Sabrina), Robert Bolla (Ira Daniels), Rick Iverson (Lovell Merrymount), Ron Jeremy (Norman), Christine De Shaffer (Waitress), Michael Gaunt, Roy Stuart, Jeffrey Scott (Band Musicians), Gordon G. Duvall (Busboy), Cami Graham, Eddie Spear & Jacqueline Lee York (Nicky's Entourage). Running time : 83 minutes.

Ron Sullivan (far right), before he became "Henri Pachard", directing Lust Weekend in 1967, incidentally (???) the very year the Dirty Movie Devotee was born !