A Thousand and One Erotic Nights (1982)

Reluctant to revisit their explicit exploits to this day, team in life as well as labor Edwin and Summer Brown crafted several of the more successful attempts at the so-called “couples film“, that mythical beast born to break down barriers between the sexes. The reality of these well-intentioned attempts was that, rather than satisfy male and female viewers alike, their frequently clueless approach ended up pleasing no one in particular. Part of the demographic themselves, the Browns were a notable exception, producing a batch of increasingly impressive technical merit over the ten year period between 1975’s China Girl and their 1986 Dreamgirls with a few early ’90s efforts tagged on as a carnal coda. Serving as a testimony to the genre’s good health circa 1982, their adult adaptation from some of the lesser known tales from the compendium of folk tales from the Middle East commonly referred to as The Arabian Nights proves the most lavish of their sexual spectacles. Unfortunately, the sluggish pace (inspired, perhaps, by ill-advised reverence to its lofty literary source) also makes it by far their most stilted.

Albeit largely non-erotic in nature, The Arabian Nights has acquired a reputation, along with Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as a titillating tome, presumably as a direct result of Pasolini’s tackling of all three for his magnificent Trilogy of Life at the dawn of the ’70s.  Cleverly concentrating on some of the juicier passages, these surely sent feverish adolescents of all ages scurrying back to their high school reading assignments to revisit the “good bits” they inexplicably missed the first time around. Retaining the correct title (well, almost anyway) of a book far more renowned than actually read, A Thousand and One Erotic Nights should do little to dispel that slightly erroneous notion. Also lifted off the written page is the framing device of having crafty concubine Sheherazade (Annette Haven in the role she was born to play) entertain Sultan John Leslie with nocturnal tales filled with intrigue and intimacy, ending each with a cliffhanger as the sun appears in an attempt to steer clear of her master’s heinous habit of having last night’s companion executed at dawn. The Sultan’s cruel streak came into being as he unwittingly uncovered a plot by his faithless spouse (an eye-popping turn by voluptuous Lisa DeLeeuw, lifted all too soon from a narrative that could really use her liveliness) and his army’s general Herschel Savage to overthrow his reign. Suffice it to say that neither of them was ever heard from again…

Following Lisa’s tempestuous threesome with Hersch and a ludicrously attired Joey Silvera, who kicks off pornographic proceedings by lewdly gyrating to a characteristically chintzy “Ronny Romanovitch” tune, the movie settles into meandering mode as Annette spins her first yarn – incidentally, also the only one to pretty much play out in full – of an unfortunate fisherman (solemnly played by Jon Martin) who passes the mansion of beautiful noblewoman Nicole Noir every day on his way to work. His luck’s about to change, sort of, when he catches a genie in a bottle in his fishing nets. Prior to taking his life, the genie grants him two wishes. No prizes for guessing. This extended episode obtains most of its narrative thrust through voice-over, dashing all hopes of a Rex Ingram style sorcerer making even the most fleeting of appearances, but the tantalizing tension between Noir’s sophisticated seductress and the oafish but very virile Martin mounts nicely and I’m sure you can probably come up with a pun of your own to complete that sentence !  Lookalikes Lysa Thatcher and Tigr aka Chelsea Manchester are perfectly cast as a pair of allegedly underage sisters Nicole trots out for her tireless paramour’s second and final request.

Stalwart Paul Thomas ties with Silvera for silliest appearance, due to a colorfully gaudy crown ‘n cape combo, as a spoiled prince capable of traveling through time and space by way of magic horse, an ability he abuses for amorous exploits only with sleeping geisha Mai Lin and toothsome 1920s tart Laura Lazare in a rare forgettable turn from her all too concise carnal career. Sheherazade’s saucy stories predictably get the Sultan a bit bothered so a bit of in-person follow-up is required as Haven puts her talented gob to work while Leslie leers over a girlie show provided by sensuous Fay Burd, pretty Jade Wong (who left an indelible impression in Chris Warfield’s massively underrated Purely Physical, incidentally also the aforementioned Lazare’s finest hour) and fly by night starlet Heather Fields from Juliet Anderson’s pioneering shot on video feature All the King’s Ladies.

Rather odd for a project that was easily his most high profile assignment to date, with the superior Irresistible and Every Woman Has a Fantasy still waiting in the wings, Ed Brown chose to hide behind the one time only (?) moniker of “Stephen Lucas” for the occasion, definitely not to be confused with the lowly gay porn “auteur” of the same name. Nominated for tons of awards, yet actually bagging rather few, from the then still unchallenged Adult Film Association of America which often seemed more preoccupied with production values than pornographic content, it comes across as an all too calculated attempt to appeal to this already antiquated (not to mention, prepared to plummet) assembly’s skewed sensibilities and hasn’t aged nearly as well as the couple’s more creative classics. Regular Brown crony Teru Hayashi contributes his customary glossy cinematography, galvanizing adult actresses seen to far lesser advantage elsewhere and making a goddess out of the already awesome Annette. Ironically, the pair’s cheap ‘n cheerful 1986 sequel with cardboard and plywood supplanting the original’s marble and mahogany and the decidedly more blue collar Kari Foxx stepping in for the heavenly Haven manages to almost effortlessly best its overrated predecessor in most respects pertaining to elements that put the adult in adult entertainment.

Directed & written by Edwin Brown (as Stephen Lucas). Produced by Summer Brown (as Sandra Winters) for Winters/Lucas Productions. Photographed by Teru Hayashi. Music by Richard Hieronymus (as Ronny Romanovitch). Edited by Terrance O’Reilly. Starring Annette Haven (Sheherazade), John Leslie (Sultan Khan), Lisa DeLeeuw (Sultana), Herschel Savage (General Sargon), Nicole Noir (Noblewoman), Lysa Thatcher (Alana), Tigr (Helen), Jon Martin (Fisherman), Joey Silvera (Dancing Boy), Laura Lazare (Paris Prostitute), Mai Lin (Mariko), Paul Thomas (Prince), Jade Wong, Phaery I. Burd (as Tres Dover) & Heather Fields (Tibetan Temple Girls). Running time : 87 minutes.

Annette Haven’s porcelain perfection (pictured here in Armand Weston’s Take Off) made her the logical casting choice to play the part of the ethereal spinner of stories Sheherazade

By Dries Vermeulen

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