Expose Me, Lovely (1976)

One of adult’s finest excursions into classic film noir territory,  peopled by down at heel gumshoes and shady dames with hidden agendas, that had its Hollywood heyday throughout the ’40s.  A bit of a backhanded compliment perhaps as porn rarely made much of an effort to recreate the genre’s uniquely downbeat universe fueled by the cynical moral flexibility found in the writing of potboiler auteurs such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.  Anthony Spinelli went all the way, right down to the period trappings, with Dixie Ray, Hollywood Star which started life as an R-rated project entitled It’s Called Murder, Baby, eventually spruced up with hardcore sex scenes in lieu of considerable chunks of plot exposition.  Bob Chinn’s Johnny Wadd series ultimately owed more to ’70s TV cop shows but made occasionally effective use of unmistakable noir elements, especially The Jade Pussycat which explicitly referenced John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon and was one of few adult adaptations thereof not to have the artifact turn out to be some jewel-incrusted joy toy as in Tim McDonald’s Seka comeback showcase Blonde Heat !  Roger Watkins a/k/a “Richard Mahler” also liberally borrowed from noir‘s iconography to suit his own narrative needs on waking nightmares such as Midnight Heat and Corruption, reshaping recognizable cityscapes into otherworldly not to mention increasingly hostile environments where the familiar ended up feeling anything but.

The late Armand Weston belted up for the big time with this one, hot on the heels of the unsettling duet of Defiance and The Taking of Christina which pertain to the traditional “roughie” terrain of Shaun Costello and Joe Davian as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to bathroom stall graffiti.  Much more than a dry run for his epic Take Off (incidentally spoofing material here taken seriously with Annette Haven as ’40s femme fatale Virginia “Slim” Simms), this carefully constructed mystery pays homage to the acknowledged noir essentials, lifting its title off Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, previously filmed with Dick Powell playing Philip Marlowe as Murder, My Sweet and recently revived under its original moniker with the more plausible Bob Mitchum.  Plotwise it owes more to The Big Sleep, with its dying old man seeking to make amends with his outrageous offspring, and even Lady in the Lake‘s botched experiment of showing events unfold from detective Robert Montgomery’s POV is briefly referenced in the opening sequence.  Unlike some of those movies however, which can feel peculiarly haphazard when taken apart, Expose Me, Lovely plays entirely fair with the audience, planting clues along the way to a clever climax few will see coming.

Hunky Ras Kean, who drifted in ‘n’ out of adult movies in little over a year and appeared in under a dozen titles the most famous of which obviously Metzger’s Opening of Misty Beethoven, shows surprising acting chops in a rare lead as seedy private eye Frosty Knight, postponing a paying assignment from distraught socialite Karen Spencer (Catherine Burgess) to make out with pretty pickup Sunshine, also found in Costello’s Vanessa Del Rio number China Doll.  A textbook Hitchcock blonde, Karen commissions him to track down the whereabouts of her missing brother Keith at the behest of their father, a retired Southern senator now at death’s door.  Seems the two had a major falling out over some of sonny boy’s more questionable lifestyle choices.  Although Karen convinces Frosty to take the case in time-honored fashion by revealing her cool exterior as mere façade, all is not as it seems.  As was her wont, Burgess (star of Jonas Middleton’s cult favorite Through the Looking Glass) employed the services of a body double for the penetration stuff but you would never guess from Weston’s expert editing.  Slow to catch on to the fact that he’s being set up as a patsy, Frosty’s off to the races.

Keith’s erstwhile roommate, a cheap hooker named Lori (Eve Adams), claims she hasn’t seen him for months as Frosty interrupts her servicing of two bit hoodlum Bobby Astyr, essaying the role with characteristic feistiness.  Erotic artist Terry Lawford, well-acted by the notoriously picky Jody Maxwell whose very presence could serve as a fornication film’s seal of approval, has drawn several nude portraits of the missing man which mysteriously vanish from the scene of her inevitable violent death, fortunately not before planting one of her legendary hummers on Kean’s engorged erectile tissue.  Lured into a group scene by striking bald black cocktail waitress Yolanda Savalas (painted white and billed under “Eve Latio” as the intergalactic queen in Jerome Hamlin’s seriously skewed sci fi spoof Invasion of the Love Drones) whose sad-eyed roommate (Cecilia Gardner) had a non-reciprocated crush on Keith, Frosty’s too busy fucking to notice that little-seen Gardner – as in Chuck Vincent’s Bang Bang – passes on the penis (apart from Kean’s, there’s Rod Dumont who played the Horned One in Zebedy Colt’s The Devil Inside Her) to console her cravings alternating between girlfriends Savalas and Annie Sprinkle with DoP João Fernandes making the most out of the black on white skin contrast.  In retrospect, Dawn’s Sapphic tendencies will prove an important if possibly incidental (dictated by a performer’s personal proclivities ?) clue as to the mystery’s dénouement.

Top-billed Jennifer Welles was the biggest “name” in the cast at the time but has relatively little screen time as Knight’s ex-wife Shelly who provides valuable evidence through her affiliation with a journalist (character actor Todd Pembrooke) who has been digging in the past of Keith’s high profile old man.  Conveniently naked as she’s trying to prepare for a night on the town, Welles finds more than her bathtub invaded by Kean in a scalding session highlighted by the same chemistry both shared in Howard Ziehm’s Sweet Cakes.  As something of a consolation prize for Jenny and her legion of fans, she strips under the opening credits.

With the handheld camera work of Fernandes adding an urgency to the proceedings cinematically well ahead of its time and legit rock musician Jack Justis (who scored many of Joe Sarno’s flicks ranging from simulated to XXX) adding another criminally underrated soundtrack to his roster, technical credits are well covered.  This was typical of Weston who had dabbled in just about all aspects of production over a lengthy if not particularly fruitful career and took great pride in his prowess which he never allowed to overwhelm the project as some overeager hot shot might have done.

Directed, written & edited by Armand Weston. Produced by Weston for Capri Productions. Photographed by João Fernandes (as Harry Flecks). Music by Jack Justis (as Jack Justice). Starring Ras Kean (Frosty Knight), Catherine Burgess (as Cary Lacy) (Karen Spencer), Jennifer Welles (Shelly Knight), Jody Maxwell (Terry Lawford), Annie Sprinkle (Robin), Yolanda Savalas (as Iminu) (Vicky), Eve Adams (Lori), Cecilia Gardner (Dawn), Bobby Astyr (Chi Chi), Sunshine (Nancy), Rod Dumont (Paul), Ian Morley (Gordon Hathaway), Todd Pembrooke (Ed Curran) & Armand Weston (as Tony Garzo) (Sheldon LaRue). Running time : 90 minutes.

By Dries Vermeulen

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