Easy (1978)

The late Sam Weston, brother of popular screen comedian Jack (yes, of The Ritz and Dirty Dancing fame), and one of countless Hollywood personalities to shroud his Judaic background – né Samuel Weinstein – will forever be remembered as imitation Italian American adult “auteur” Anthony Spinelli.  Something of a transitional title in his expansive body of work, Easy ranks among his all time best, marking the end of his economic era (the “Wes Brown” period, though littered with additional aliases) with small cast chamber pieces such as Seduction of Lyn Carter and Portrait of Seduction and heralding the arrival of his most fruitful filmmaking stretch with blockbusters SexWorld and Talk Dirty to Me.  Containing characteristics of both artistic extremes, Easy harkens back to earlier examinations of female sexuality including Diary of a Nymph and unjustly overlooked Mimi Morgan showcase The First Time but disrupts their Spartan set-up by widening his scope to encompass outside influences that shed light on the anti-heroine’s plight and motives.  Not a first for the director who had already painted a complex canvas of cause and consequence in 1976’s Cry for Cindy but Easy was to implement the habit.

The film also marks the beginning of not one but two beautiful as well as mutually beneficial friendships.  Starlet Jesie St. James had but a few minor carnal credits to her name when she caught Weston’s eye and he was to mould her Svengali-style into his moviemaking muse.  Though still in her twenties, she projected a maturity well beyond her years which found her frequently cast as a disenchanted thirtysomething, kind of a capsule description of Easy‘s Kate Harrison.  Another fortuitous meeting took place as Playgirl magazine’s upcoming Man of the Year Howie Gordon (soon christened “Richard Pacheco” by Sam’s son Mitch) joined the cast.  Already a serviceable light comedian in Bob Chinn’s Telefantasy and Candy Stripers, he would explore far darker territory at Sam’s behest.  He’s genuinely unsettling as the creepy kid barely out of high school, back to settle the score with his unattainable teacher.  Striking up an instant camaraderie with Jesie that was to last throughout their respective careers did little to lighten the load as Pacheco (subsequently to emerge as a Mr. Sensitivity type leading man in the Eric Edwards tradition) was forced to step well outside his comfort zone to play the part.  Suspecting Spinelli’s baptism by fire approach, he found himself cast anew as Jesie’s tormentor, playing Dorothy LeMay’s no good boyfriend who lures the interloper (incidentally another teacher) towards gang rape in Vista Valley PTA.  Fortunately, these were followed by Talk Dirty and Nothing to Hide, earning the actor a loyal (predominantly female) fan following and awards aplenty.

For a “woman’s picture” centered around St. James’s put upon schoolmarm, Easy contains surprisingly edgy elements that might have caused the material to capsize into misogyny in lesser hands.  Leaving her employment after two successive indiscretions, the psychotic Pacheco coercing her into mean-spirited follow-up upon learning of her furtive fellatio on his friend Dan Howard (from Patrick Wright’s R-rated Hollywood High), she embarks on a quest for erotic fulfilment hoping this will lead to romantic bliss with a kindred spirit.  Low on self esteem, she pretty much throws it down with any guy giving her the once over.  Occasionally this works out well, leading to mattress-searing sex with blind piano tuner Ken Scudder with a cute Last Tango in Paris nod thrown in for the highbrows.  At any rate her promiscuity puts her past polite introductions with broody bestselling author Victor, another knockout performance by fascinating Jack Wright, an actor supposedly stunted for in explicit endeavors although he definitely does the dirty with Jesie in their rooftop terrace romp.  Temperamentally suited to one another, Kate and Victor move in together and all seems rosey for a while.  Since all men are heels, Spinelli pulls out the rug from under her by having the loathsome paramour sick his lesbian pal Janet on her by way of break-up !  A memorable cameo by Georgina Spelvin, latter’s all sweetness and smiles when she comes calling, showing her true colors once she’s got a foot in the door, tearing into the stunned into submission Kate for one of the superlative Sapphic scenes ever shot.  Not to worry though as Kate confides at film’s fade-out to best friend Ann (under-used Desirée Cousteau) having met another man of her dreams in impossibly youthful looking Mike Horner, yet to become “Don Hart“.  Naturally, he informs her post coitus that he’s going back to a wife she never knew existed in the first place.  Poor pathetic Kate’s all alone again as voices from the past fill the soundtrack.

Helped by colorful cinematography from an eager young upstart named Jack Remy who was to emerge as one of the industry’s ace DoP’s in years to come, Easy effortlessly rises above occasionally questionable material through Spinelli’s sensitive handling and uniformly excellent acting.  Jesie’s back-breaking turn remains one of the Seven Wonders of Sex Cinema, bringing out an emotional complexity that’s not always there in the writing, sketchy screenplay attributed to Jack Livingston who wrote Bob Vosse’s Stormy and Jezebel.  She stays firmly in character throughout the sex scenes which forces them to add to rather than interrupt her performance.  It’s doubtful that the director ever matched the level of sheer intensity he achieves with ample assistance from his admirable leading lady.  The movie temporarily runs out of steam only when focus shifts away from Kate’s character during a drawn-out dinner party with Cousteau (fresh from Alex de Renzy’s Pretty Peaches and yet to catapult to superstardom) and late lamented Laurien Dominique batting well below average with a pair of no name studs of little apparent appeal.  Ironically, Kate’s date whom she leaves in the lurch when making a play for Victor is played by Bob Bernharding who looks the quintessential ’70s screen stud with Jewfro and matching moustache.  While he keeps it in his pants here, he can be witnessed strutting his stuff in a dozen movies including John Hayes’ Hot Lunch and the Jerry Ross sleeper Shoppe of Temptations.

Directed by Sam Weston (as Anthony Spinelli). Written by Jack Livingston. Produced by Sam Norvell for Skylark Productions. Photographed by Jack Remy. Music by John Duvalli. Edited by Wallace Du Váy. Starring Jesie St. James (Kate Harrison), Georgina Spelvin (Janet), Jack Wright (Victor), Richard Pacheco (as Dewey Alexander) (Kate’s Blackmailer), Desirée Cousteau (as Desirée Clearbranch) (Ann), Laurien Dominique (Val), Ken Scudder (as Grant Stockton) (Piano Tuner), Mike Horner (as Johnny Wilson) (Matt), Dan Howard (Jock), Ronald Davis (Steve), Bob Bernharding (Jeff) & Sam Weston (as George Spelvin) (Obnoxious Bar Patron). Running time : 85 minutes.

On the verge of superstardom, Desirée Cousteau and her magnificent twin orbs were only fleetingly featured in this superlative Spinelli show

By Dries Vermeulen

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