Dueling Travelogues : Bon Appétit Vs. That Lucky Stiff

Ah, that elusive moment in time, surely never to be recaptured, when adult movies began flaunting production values over sexual content in an ultimately vain attempt to compete with conventional cinema's cash cows !  As the turbulent decade that was the '70s drew to a close, esteemed erotic "auteur" Chuck Vincent and his what was then euphemistically described as "longtime companion" Bill Slobodian dragged ace cinematographer Larry Revene (still relatively new to the industry but learning fast on the job) as well as assorted skinflick alumni across the United States and Europe - travelling coach, but still - for an endeavor the size of which the world, or at least the carnally creative contingent thereof, had never before witnessed.  The resulting features, projected blockbuster Bon Appétit and its humble "B side" That Lucky Stiff, simultaneously shot to recoup the costs, bear lasting testament to the excitement reigning supreme at the height of the so-called Golden Age, when fornication filmmakers dreamed aloud of being contenders to the throne, previously hogged by the mainstream entertainment industry, rather than the lowly pornographers the "real world" would all too soon press them back into being.

An affectionate tribute to such globe-trotting rom-com's of the '50s and '60s like Jean Negulesco's Three Coins in the Fountain, Bon Appétit may indeed stand as the sole film in Vincent's impressive body of work that's instantly indicative of his well-documented out 'n' proud real life flamboyance, akin to the Amero brothers' equally glad to be gay Blonde Ambition. The plot is pure Joan Crawford rags to riches saga with lowly waitress Faith (Kelly Nichols making her adult film debut) stumbling across an opportunity to escape her layabout boyfriend (an all too convincingly sleazy Roger Caine) when she overhears wealthy publisher Mrs. Tillman (then High Society editor in chief Gloria Leonard in an art imitating life turn) promising a quarter of a million dollar to any woman who succeeds in bedding the world's ten greatest lovers in 50 days.  With initially reluctant photographer Scott (Randy West, quite new to the business and already possessing a very relaxed and natural screen presence) in tow, to document her conquests, Faith takes off on a trip around the world, successfully seducing each legendary Lothario. These include befuddled TV news anchor Ashley Moore in a spirited diving under the desk while cameras roll gambit, American painter in Paris Ron Hudd (who, incidentally, happened to be a real life painter supplementing his income doing porn), Hollywood heart throb Jack Wrangler and Washington senator Jake Teague visiting a porno palace playing Vincent's incomparable Jack 'n' Jill !

Ample travelogue footage seriously slights the sex however, most of which ends up feeling rather rushed with Wrangler's appearance in particular amounting to little more than a blink and you've missed him cameo.  Hands down hottest number has Kelly mistakenly pressed into duty as a nude model for artist Hudd, turning him on with the graphically detailed description of a torrid threesome she's supposedly enjoyed with another painter and model, a precursor to her showstopping soliloquy in Vincent's subsequent (and sexually superior) Games Women Play. By dispiriting contrast, the Fire Island poolside orgy's about as listless as they come, the director having rarely shown interest in group action anyway.  Fortunately, the pace relaxes somewhat for the delightfully naughty Amsterdam portion with Vincent's regular character actress Molly Malone camping it up as grandiloquent Madame Claudine treating ludicrously brooding Soviet dissident George Payne to the redoubtable twin charms of Samantha Fox and Merle Michaels, at least sending this often labored production out on a high note.  With a DoP of Revene's pedigree peering through the lens, the movie obviously looks fabulous with fuzzy warm hues embellishing each scene and the director's editing keeps things moving at break-neck speed making for fitfully effective farce while nipping any attempt at eroticism in the bud for this would require a more thoughtful and measured approach. For once, the film probably played better in its watered down cable version of yore, by its very nature favoring those extra-curricular elements its makers sought to stress. Chuck's highly vocal gang of naysayers frequently accused his movies of being soft on sex. Regrettably, this is the one occasion where I feel forced to concur.

Making the most of the Euro locations and ample air fare, That Lucky Stiff shows an altogether more relaxed and freewheeling side of the Chuck 'n' Bill combo, who were to sadly pass away of AIDS-related illnesses mere years apart. Never intended as more than a hastily slapped together also ran, it was released first, in part to drum up interest for its supersized sibling while generating some much-required cashflow to placate its increasingly nervous investors.  Perhaps characteristically, it also turned out to be far more fun than the prestigious project it was supposedly supporting.  With most of the effort and expenditure going towards Appétit, the groovy Lucky Stiff was adversely allowed to flourish on its own funky terms.

Desperately down on his luck Burt (Randy West on repeat duty, cementing his leading man capacity) has to put up with a conniving main squeeze (the ever compelling Kandi Barbour pouting her little heart out) and a womanizing best buddy (Ron Hudd, whose characteristic cluelessness renders him an ideal comic foil) who further frustrates him with exaggerated tales of sexual conquest. On top of all that, he's down to his last 300 bucks until the bank makes an unlikely error that beefs up his balance to 300,000 instead ! Rather than wait for them to realize their mistake, he transfers the cash to a Swiss bank account (there's a sidesplittingly funny performance by Vincent's regular character actor W.P. Dremak, the head Satanist from the director's Candy cash-in Dirty Lilly, as the bank's manager) and takes off for Europe. Unfortunately, along the way naive Burt is taken outrageous advantage of by all and sundry. A Paris waiter (Ron Jeremy, having a field day with an intentionally ludicrous 'Allo 'Allo! accent) offers him an accomodating prostitute (slinky late night cable queen Robin Byrd), only to leave him tied to the fourposter whilst making off with the contents of his wallet. An apparently naive Dutch farm girl (the particularly pretty cupcake-breasted Erica Richardson, also in Roberta Findlay's haunting Mystique) and her gun-toting dad (Jake Teague), a doe-eyed Berlin beauty (magnificent Merle Michaels, unfairly underrated actress in many a sexual sleeper like Norman Gurney's discovery-deserving Secrets of a Willing Wife) and a band of farcically misguided Italian revolutionaries led by redoubtable Veri Knotty (who chose her peculiar pseudonym because of her odd ability to, er, tie her labia into knots !) prominently figure among the assorted weird characters our hero unwillingly bumps and often grinds into.  Solace awaits him in good ole neutral Switzerland in the shapely form of exquisite ex-pat Corinna, played by Kelly Nichols who was of course - and for good reason - to become Vincent's favored fetish actress over years to come with their crossover combo of Roommates and In Love constituting an undisputed highlighted in both their respective careers.

As could be reasonably expected from a Chuck 'n' Bill collaborative effort, the screenplay is both literate and witty, but this time it's almost matched by some exceptionally effective sex scenes.  Best of show must go to Hudd's hilarious massage parlor tussle with greedy attendants Samantha Fox (the director's previous totemic ingénue until Kelly caught his fancy) and Candida Royalle (yes, she of Femme fame) handsomely charging him for every minute extra service they provide, billing and cooing him into constant compliance. West's scene with Michaels benefits tremendously from Revene's gorgeous mood lighting, something unfortunately missing from the too dark woodsy climax with Kelly. What ultimately makes Lucky Stiff so endearing, especially in face of the overblown Appétit, is its total lack of pretense at being anything other than a fun 'n' fluff skinflick while still delivering all the qualities one has come to associate with this most accomplished of carnal creators in terms of production, narrative wit and thespian prowess.  Cheerfully disproving the dirty movie industry's dearly held mantra that size accounts for everything, this pint-sized petite David deftly kicks the overblown Goliath's ass.

That Lucky Stiff (1979)
Directed and edited by Chuck Vincent.  Written by Vincent and Bill Slobodian.  Produced by Vincent and Robert Sumner for Maturpix.  Photographed by Larry Revene.
Starring Randy West (Burt), Kandi Barbour (Sue), Kelly Nichols (Corrina), Ron Hudd (Joe), Samantha Fox (Massage parlor girl), Candida Royalle (Massage parlor girl), Erica Richardson (Dutch farmer's daughter), Jake Teague (Dutch farmer), Robin Byrd (Paris hooker), Merle Michaels (Fraulein Schmidt), Veri Knotty (Kidnapper), Ron Jeremy (Paris waiter), W.P. Dremak (Bank manager), Patty Boyd and Al Goldstein.  Running time : 81 minutes.
 
Bon Appétit (1980)
Starring Kelly Nichols (Faith), Randy West (Scott), Gloria Leonard (Mrs. Tillman), Roger Caine (Al), Samantha Fox (Swedish girl), Merle Michaels (Swedish girl), Jack Wrangler (Jeffrey Towers), George Payne (Igor Moskovskaya), Ron Hudd (Salvadore), Ashley Moore (TV news anchor), Ron Jeremy (TV presenter), Nick Romano (Carlo Bozzini), Kandi Barbour (Carlo's girlfriend), Robin Byrd (Orgy girl), Jake Teague (Senator Fleet), Molly Malone (Madame Claudine), Adam DeHaven (Count Balducci), Kurt Mann (Butler), Erica Eaton (Doris) and Patricia Dale (Gertie).  Running time : 90 minutes.