Sometime Sweet Susan (1975)

Since time immemorial, the adult film industry has been suffering from low self-esteem. How else explain continued efforts to emulate assets more readily associated with mainstream movies rather than their unapologetically smutty counterparts or reviewers' disproportionate praise for same ? Even with today's proliferation of plot less "gonzo" camcorder carnality, an albeit steadily decreasing number of adult "auteurs" deems it necessary to add detailed story-lines and glossy production values to their sexual spectacles.  Those already familiar with my tastes will have realized that I'm playing devil's advocate here. While I have no qualms that porn is first and foremost about fornication, the addition of narrative (even when limited to motivational premise) as well as proper lighting, appropriate music, etc., can surely only render the displayed bedroom behavior more palatable for potential viewers still in doubt. Porno purists may resist such perceived "mainstreaming" of their favored form of entertainment, but to audiences at large these elements can effectively narrow the gap so to speak and lure them over to the dark side as far as the Moral Majority's concerned !  Joking aside, such must have been the reasoning behind Sometime Sweet Susan, made by people with mainstream affiliations back in the day when a merging of explicit erotica with traditional Hollywood still seemed viable. A compelling screenplay by first (and only) time filmmaker Fred Donaldson and Joel Scott (who would author and direct the remarkable A Coming of Angels) along with good acting by the first ever SAG card-carrying carnal cinema cast undoubtedly contributed to the Adult Film Association of America's selection of the film as best of the bunch for the period from 1970 to 1975, over such heavy duty competition as Gerard Damiano's Devil in Miss Jones and Radley Metzger's The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann !

After a ten day catatonic spell at the local loony bin, inmate Susan (stunning Shawn Harris, who had previously appeared in It Happened in Hollywood, one of the skeletons in Wes Craven's closet) reluctantly opens up to caring Dr. Mark, genuinely well-played by Harry Reems, cementing his leading man status in the wake of Duddy Kane's marvelous Wet Rainbow. The proverbial "good girl", Susan has trouble reconciling healthy physical urges with the squeaky clean image enforced by her strict upbringing, resulting in a split personality with naughty "Sandra" taking over whenever she's tempted. Taking rather more than a professional interest in his patient, much to the chagrin of his live-in lover Leslie (a scene-stealing turn by Jennifer Jordan, billed as "Sarah Nicholson"), Mark fails to realize that he may ultimately be causing more wrong than right by alerting the unstable Susan to her hitherto suppressed motives. Film's last line, uttered by sympathetic chief psychiatrist Dr. Bill (wonderfully portrayed by longtime character actor Neil Flanagan, best remembered for his performance as "Daddy Sawbucks" in Ron Wertheim's Little Orphan Sammy) sheds a radically different light on all that has preceded.

Engrossing story totally overshadows sexual content which is solid yet feels more like a natural extension to the narrative, undoubtedly its desired effect. Reems and Jordan share a natural chemistry that makes them highly believable as a longstanding couple and their unforced banter really adds to their characterizations. Producer Craig Baumgarten, who went on to achieve legit success in movies and TV, astonishingly appears in a fully "functioning" capacity as Susan's first love Johnny. Jamie Gillis and Alex Mann share scant screen time as rapists whose transgression may be responsible for the heroine's current mental state and pretty Kristin Steen, who appeared under a wide variety of aliases in both soft and hard X movies (most notably Bill Osco's adult musical Alice in Wonderland and as the incest-prone underage version of Catherine Burgess in Jonas Middleton's one of a kind Through the Looking Glass) plays pliant nurse Carrie.  Saul Casella's moody cinematography and director Donaldson's elliptic editing are well above industry standards, as is Scott Mansfield's song-filled soundtrack of Donovan style ballads, the most haunting of which ("Lonely Child") accompanies an unforgettable juxtaposition of Mark and Leslie's shower romp with Sandra's seduction of the defenseless nurse on her initial manifestation. In a time when the "couples film" concept was still but a twinkle in a producer's eye, Sometime Sweet Susan showed the way and still surpasses most of the subsequent examples of its ilk.  It's a well-known piece of trivia that this movie shares the adults only double bill - with Torgny Wickman's Swedish white coater Language of Love, briefly excerpted on screen - clueless Bobby De Niro takes stuck-up date Daisy (memorably portrayed by ultimate WASP goddess Cybill Shepherd) to see, with predictably disastrous results, in Martin Scorsese's quintessential Taxi Driver.

Directed and edited by Fred Donaldson.  Written by Donaldson and Joel Scott.  Produced by Scott and Craig Baumgarten.  Photographed by Saul Casella.  Music by Scott Mansfield.  Starring Shawn Harris (Susan/Sandra), Harry Reems (Dr. Mark), Jennifer Jordan (Leslie), Kristin Steen (Nurse Carrie), Neil Flanagan (Dr. Bill), Jamie Gillis (Rapist), Alex Mann (Rapist), Craig Baumgarten (Johnny), Rod Loomis (Susan's father) and Carole Holland (Susan's mother).  Running time : 85 minutes.

Harry Reems displays considerable acting ability, though carnal commentators seemed hesitant to give credit where it's due, his achievements garnering praise mostly in retrospect