Felicia (1975)

Longtime admirers of each other’s achievements, equatorially challenged erotic entrepreneurs Max Pécas and Radley Metzger finally joined forces in 1975 with former funding latter’s awesome adaptation of Catherine Robbe-Grillet’s pseudonymously penned (as “Jean de Berg”) S&M romance The Image through his Paris-based production facility Les Films du Griffon.  In return, Metzger would loan out that film’s luminous leading lady as well as girlfriend throughout most of the decade Mary Mendum a/k/a “Rebecca Brooke” for Max’s own entrance into the explicit arena (times demanding…) with Felicia.  Pécas was, of course, a past master of tease and titillation, many of whose superficially glossy ’60s simulated sex sagas like the Elke Sommer twosome of Daniella by Night and Sweet Ecstasy had been assured stateside exposure thanks to Metzger’s Audubon Films.  Max’s milieu corresponding closely to his own chic universe in terms of opulence and sophistication (as illustrated by the likes of Camille 2000 and The Lickerish Quartet, eagerly assimilating the casual refinement easily elevating all European erotic fare), Metzger had paid private homage to the Old World mentors who had unwittingly shaped his style by casting one of Pécas’s most enticing starlets (Hungarian born Anna Gaël from Heat of Midnight, who would turn war reporter prior to marrying into British aristocracy) alongside Mac Ahlberg’s Essy Persson from I, a Woman – another mighty profitable Audubon import – for his 1968 masterpiece Therese and Isabelle.

Halfway through the disco decade, their brand of tasteful suggestion amidst the fashionable furnishings of the day (an ultimately endearing trademark, ensconcing both their endeavors in a sealed off past) had gone out of style in favor of full color penetration sweeping cinema screens worldwide.  Borrowing his beloved city of lights for an adult alias, Metzger went the whole hardcore hog as “Henry Paris” for a quintet of qualitatively unparalleled carnal classics on American soil.  In France, where l’amour comes naturally, Pécas saw no need for a name change to take the pornographic plunge.  Casting aside their repressive government in favor of a supposedly more liberal alternative unexpectedly clamping down the Continental adult industry with surplus taxes and stringent regulation, French fornication filmmakers enjoyed a brief breath of freedom as powers that be shifted between 1974-76 when just about everything seemed possible without the social stigma that was soon to become their part.  Therefore, “proper” filmmakers like Pécas, Serge Korber (who, perhaps presciently, still took the moniker “John Thomas”) and Jean-François Davy showed few qualms in exploiting the explicit until the dreaded “X” law of 30 December 1975 urged them to retreat rapidly into polite society as ghetto walls cruelly bricked up a fledgling French fuck film factory on the verge of flourishing.  For Pécas personally, this meant a grand total of two sexually graphic efforts, the other being the unapologetically singleminded Sweet Taste of Honey (starting life rather more appropriately as Obsessions before settling on the loftier Luxure), followed by a paltry if profitable pension plan churning out dispiritingly lowbrow farces – that, fortunately, barely travelled beyond French borders – ironically deemed more “acceptable” than his vastly superior skinflicks.

Apart from a perfect representation of people’s perceptions about Europorn, Felicia offers the sole explicit footage in existence actually performed (as opposed to body double inserts) by Joe Sarno’s magnificent muse Mendum.  A legitimate Broadway actress with credited roles in stage productions of both Hair and Lenny, openly bisexual free spirit Mary supplemented spotty earnings by doffing her duds for some of the more sophisticated sexploitation auteurs the Big Apple had to offer, starting with Chuck Vincent’s soft X (hard R ?) efforts Grace’s Place and Mrs. Barrington (returning for a non-sex guest spot, billed as “Misty Grey”, in his 1976 ‘core Bang Bang You Got It!) before Sarno snapped her up.  Mesmerized by her elegant beauty, backed up by considerable thespian skill, a combo all too rare to squander, he was to feature her in five of his finest films including Confessions of a Young American HousewifeLaura’s Toys and the recently unearthed Abigail Lesley is Back in Town.  Taking her to Europe for The Image, Metzger cajoled her into pushing her performance boundaries to include not only the movie’s many only partially faked torture sequences but on-screen urination and oral gratification as well, though thankfully never in the same scene !  Times being what they were, it was but a small step to decide on doing the actual deed, possibly charmed by the unexpected family atmosphere on a Pécas shoot (his wife and both sons taking active part in various aspects of the production) akin to the cosy conspiracy she had experienced with Sarno and his permanently present spouse Peggy Steffans.  Rumors flew hard and fast as to what became of Brooke after she had ended an otherwise exceptional career by appearing in questionable drive-in fodder like Roberto Mitrotti’s memorably monikered Little Girl…Big Tease and Al Gordon’s smarmy Cherry Hill High, the most persistent perpetuated by erstwhile co-star Jamie Gillis claiming she had married a Muslim and converted to Islam, living a life of quiet obedience !  The truth, as usual, proved much more mundane.  Happily wed into peaceful anonymity, she kept in touch with the Sarnos all these years and finally came out of hiding last year to provide an on-camera interview, looking relaxed and ravishing, for Seduction Cinema’s DVD reissue of Abigail Lesley.

As Metzger “lost” Mendum to Pécas, he would gain all 5 ft of Felicia herself, the formidable if fleeting Béatrice Harnois whose misgivings concerning her erotically explicit employment finally got the better of her, just as she was about to be cast for Misty Beethoven !  Frequently likened to Last Tango in Paris‘s recently passed away Maria Schneider, the perfectly proportioned petite porn pixie had never been a happy hardcore camper even though her flair for fornication had Parisian porn audiences immediately enamored as she burned holes through cinema screens in Les Deux Gouines (literally : The Two Dykes !) by Pécas’s competitor and harshest critic José Bénazéraf, Pierre Unia’s typically undemanding Flat Out and Candy’s Candy and, of course, her scorching interpretation of star Pénélope Lamour’s teenage incarnation in Claude Mulot’s box office blast Pussy Talk.  With both Metzger and reputedly Russ Meyer expressing interest, she was tethering on the brink of crossing the great divide when she suddenly and unceremoniously bowed out of the industry altogether, harbored hopes of mainstream recognition failing to materialize as cautiously courted porn performers turned social pariahs practically overnight.  In fact, Felicia remains as close to respectability of “real” cinema as she ever got, having been shot and widely shown softcore on 35mm stock with 16mm insert footage (uncharacteristically supplied by all three principal performers) seamlessly integrated for the more permissive picture palaces.  Leading man Jean Roche was an actor who would only furtively flirt with full on fornication during that momentary lapse in censorship when it seemed that such behavior might conceivably blend in with the mainstream, pushing the envelope in terms of full frontal male nudity but refusing to go all the way.  He invariably called upon the services of a stunt double to accomplish the more probing aspects of his sexual performances, in this case Becky’s Image co-star Carl Parker.  Letting it all hang out in Les Liaisons Perverses by “Edgard P. Sullivan” (actually Jean-Paul Savignac, assistant director on Jacques Demy’s all singing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Jean-Luc Godard’s futuristic Alphaville !) and Cyrille Chardon’s Village Girls, Roche proudly appeared as one of Les Pornocrates in Jean-François Davy’s in retrospect all too optimistic documentary (predating his Claudine Beccarie tell all biography Exhibition) known as Top Shots elsewhere. That same director would also prominently cast him in his box office friendly simulated sex satires Line Up and Lay Down and as well as the Bergman Lite but skinheavy Infidélités.

Rare in adult, Felicia hinges entirely on the thespian and carnal prowess of its three leads, additional characters appearing but peripherally to the film’s plot, on the surface simply another rehash of sex cinema’s staple story of the solid family unit disrupted, spiced up and subsequently reconciled by a manipulative interloper, in this case 14-year old Felicia (with Harnois convincingly looking the part, although 20 at the time) coming to stay with her aunt and uncle in the French seaside resort of Deauville while her mother recovers from a breakdown in some Swiss sanatorium.  Fidgety on the film’s age and blood tie issues, the English language version omits all references to the character’s tender years and reduces Paul and Gabrielle to mere friends of the family !  He’s a teacher, popular with and practically stalked by one of his nubile students (perky Nicole Daudet, flashing a bit o’tit but little else, seen to greater advantage in Claude Pierson’s Femmes Impudiques and Didier Philippe-Gérard’s Sex Party), and she’s a photographer of partially clad cuties which excuses the presence of models Marlène Myller and Eva Khris around the house.  Along with her boyfriend Cyril Val (a/k/a “Alain Plumey”), Myller represented the intellectual counterpart to the French fuck film industry’s resident real life couple Richard and Liliane “Allan” Lemieuvre, ambitiously aiming to appear for the likes of Godard and Fellini yet unfortunately stuck with suck ‘n’ fuck.  Watch the pair in all of their fornicatory fabulousness in Jean Rollin’s haunting Seduction of Amy.  Khris proved but a fleeting porno presence, most memorably in Jean “Georges Fleury” Desvilles’s intricate Introductions and playing one of the Scandinavian au pairs (the other being muse Chantal Arnaud) in his Pornographie Suédoise. Providing the best of the non star-related action, both starlets engage in Sapphic slurping at the behest of the blackmailing little brat who has caught them surreptitiously trying on Gaby’s gaudy costume jewellery.  The only other sex footage comes courtesy of babyfaced wannabe stud Ray Prevet (also in the perfunctory Les Monteuses by “Richard Stephen” a/k/a Dominique Goult who directed the troubled Killer Truck with Klaus Kinski and…Maria Schneider !) as Ronny who’s about Felicia’s age and every bit as clueless though claiming extensive experience.  Educational voyeurism and teenage fumbling can only take a girl so far, setting the scene for Paul and Gaby’s initiation of their little niece…or is it the other way round ?

The bulk of the narrative concerns Felicia’s premeditated attempts at seducing her elders, alternating between clumsy (flashing her private bits) and sophisticated (feigning injury), picking up on Gabrielle’s suppressed same sex attraction and taking advantage of Paul’s frustration once their liaison literally leaves him the odd man out.  Harnois’s playful insouciance, reinforcing the impressions she’s making up as she goes along, effectively takes the sting out of a character that could otherwise come across as conniving, as did Marie Forsa in Sarno’s subtly unsettling Girl Meets Girl, itself a thinly disguised variation on Linda Hayden’s far too little-seen career performance in Alastair Reed’s 1968 shocker Baby Love.  Felicia may deserve a sound spanking (which she certainly receives, fear not !) but she basically remains an innocently curious Lolita venturing into territory subsequent political correctness would soon deem out of bounds.  Building erotic tension with a master’s hand, Max almost makes the cumulative pressure too much to bear, almost being the operative word here if you catch my drift…  This aspect along with the production’s overall classiness makes the film perfect for couples as long as neither partner’s too freaked out by the underage insinuations that come with the intrigue.  In latter’s defense, it’s not just an old perv’s feverish fantasy but actually the brainchild of a woman, Michèle Ressi, who also construed another contentious ménage à trois romance for Max in Her and She and Him.  If nothing else, the lustrous lensing by Roger Fellous – the hardest working DoP in ’70s French fuck films, for good reason – should go a long way to take the edge off, along with the soothing strains of a lush orchestral score by longtime Pécas collaborator Derry Hall.  Very much a “real” film with all that entails in terms of plot, production and acting, Felicia solidly holds its ground as one of the five finest foreign adult movies ever made.

Directed by Max Pécas. Written by Pécas and Michèle Ressi. Produced by Pécas for Les Films du Griffon. Photographed by Roger Fellous. Music by Derry Hall. Edited by Michel Pécas. Starring Rebecca Brooke (Gabrielle), Béatrice Harnois (Felicia), Jean Roche (Paul), Marlène Myller (Redheaded Model), Eva Khris (Brunette Model), Ray Prevet (Ronny), Nicole Daudet (Brigitte), Christophe Alberola (Pierre), Roland Charbaux (Party Guest) & Stéphane Maury (Hitchhiker). Running time : 96 minutes.

By Dries Vermeulen

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