Behind the Green Door (1972)

1972 was of course the year that porno briefly became “Chic“, entirely due to a triumvirate of films that have lost little of their iconic stature a full four decades further down the line. Queens hairdresser turned quim artist Gerard Damiano unleashed the double whammy of Deep Throat and Devil in Miss Jones while San Francisco’s ultimately tragic Mitchell Brothers pooled their considerable talents and resources for the very different Behind the Green Door. Different in its approach to erotica, making a serious bid for highbrow respectability rather than just content to stimulate its audience’s groin area, latter film was clearly intended to appeal to women as well as men. As a result, the female contingent of its viewership during the initial theatrical run at the Brothers’ fabled O’Farrell cinema was rumored as being uncharacteristically high. Though exact numbers are nigh impossible to come by, it has also been documented elsewhere that an inordinate amount of female buyers procured the cassette when it was launched on its particularly profitable video career. Supporting the distinction between “rape fantasy” (fuelled by bodice-ripping romance novels) and the disturbing reality, Green Door details the feature-length subjugation of one woman – fairhaired all American girl Gloria Saunders, portrayed by former Ivory Snow model Marilyn Chambers in her indelible adult baptism by fire – abducted and taken to an underground sex club where for one night she’s told she will be publicly “loved like she has never been loved before” and reassured that freedom will be returned to her the next morning.

Story was taken from an anonymously penned pamphlet that had been passed around among soldiers ever since WWII, framed by the supposed eye witness account of two “Everyman” types, strapping young Barry (George S. McDonald, the perpetually horny boyfriend from David Gerber’s superlative 1971 sleeper Schoolgirl) and elderly Dudley (character actor Yank Levine, who played Abraham in the Mitchells’ illfated epic Sodom & Gomorrah) to an inquisitive diner cook. Helpless to save the girl Barry had been flirting with mere moments before, they watch her being dragged (by Jim & Artie themselves no less in an intertextual wink and a nod) into a car and speeding off. As coincidence would have it, she turns out to be the main attraction at the mysterious Green Door Club both men frequent later that night. Making their bid for real world respectability, the Mitchells enlisted a pair of minor celebrities for brief appearances at this stage. Former pro football player for the Oakland Raiders Ben Davidson plays the bouncer and Angela Castle aka “Toad Attell“, who amazingly was a regular on Sid Caesar’s family-oriented Your Show of Shows, performs her patented mime routine which stands as one of few elements that really date this film.

Though she’s an unwilling participant at first, Gloria gradually grows to enjoy the erotic experiences afforded by her captors, a rapt audience progressively partaking which swings the film’s focus back and forth from stage to auditorium. In a key element to women’s enjoyment of the premise, Gloria is immediately soothed by a sympathetic, tellingly mature matron (with the hint of a British accent, supplied by former sexploitation actress Elizabeth Knowles from Dave Friedman’s Trader Hornee who thereby has by far the most extensive dialogue scene in the movie) who assures that no harm will come to her and that she should just open herself up – okay, you can stop sniggering ! – to the physical pleasures that await her. Ravishment by half a dozen women in stylized nun garb, beautifully shot at strangely skewed angles by regular Mitchell DoP Jon Fontana (who worked on Autobiography of a Flea and their rarely revived CB Mamas), leads to Gloria’s response to the call of nature in the shape of the industry’s original black stallion Johnnie Keyes in an all time classic encounter. No longer on the receiving end, our silent heroine reciprocates in the legendary trapeze number with Mick Jones (another man of color, also in Ann Perry’s Count the Ways and Gary Graver’s V – The Hot One) and an early appearance by Tyler Reynolds, culminating in the extended solarized spurting that now unfortunately seems mostly like the brothers showing off their technical prowess as it tends to stop the film dead for a ten minute stretch.

The highly ritualized theatrical “performance” contrasts effectively with the spontaneous action bursting out among the progressively turned on audience, including an imposing obese lady whose presence has engendered reviewer references to Fellini, along with a recent French critic likening the film to the works of Godard and Ozu in light of the brothers’ documented film school training. Great, so at least I don’t have to venture down a path that can logically only lead to ridicule ! More than just a hardcore history relic, Green Door actually holds up well for most part, save for its few dated aforementioned stylistic touches. By restricting their central heroine to complete silence throughout, the Mitchells adopted the “blank screen” approach onto which each viewer can project his or more specifically her private fantasies. There had been cute girls in porn prior to 1972, Tina Russell to name but one, but Chambers was without doubt the first truly beautiful woman to enter the industry, her until then minor real world recognizability facilitating audience identification. It may also be an important factor, as critic Danny Peary has pointed out in one of his Cult Movies volumes, that the sexual feats she performs are relatively modest in comparison to those achieved by Linda Lovelace and Georgina Spelvin around the same time and therefore quite attainable for the average Jill Public. Further proof that the genre was still in its infancy and feeling its way is the haunting and utterly non-porno type music composed by Daniel Le Blanc which perfectly accompanies this timeless and still tantalizing classic.

Directed & produced by Jim & Artie Mitchell. Produced by the Mitchell Bros. for Jartech & the Cinema 7 Film Group. Photographed & edited by Jon Fontana. Music by Daniel Le Blanc. Starring Marilyn Chambers (Gloria Saunders), Johnnie Keyes (African Love God), George S. McDonald (Barry Clark), Yank Levine (Dudley), Elizabeth Knowles (as Lisa Grant) (Matron), Angela Castle (as Toad Attell) (Mime), Dale Meador (as Dale Meade) (Hotel Desk Clerk), Ben Davidson (Doorman), Dana Fuller (Cook), Tyler Reynolds (as Theodore Horne), Jon Martin (as Jerry Ross), Bunny Brody, Kandi Johnson, Cindy Taylor, Lisa Grant, Martha Strawberry, Mira Vane, Barry Vane, Mick Jones (Club Revelers), Jim & Artie Mitchell (Kidnappers). Running time : 72 minutes.

By Dries Vermeulen

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