Games Women Play (1980)

This elegant erotic comedy of expertly disguised bad manners stands as one of the late Chuck Vincent’s most accomplished achievements, quite different in tone in fact from his other work which was divided between opposing ends of laugh out loud farce and heavy drama. The humor here will put a smile on your face and occasionally even raise a chuckle, if only through recognition of the elaborate structures certain “straight people” – such as ourselves ? – will resort to in order to cover up their illicit dalliances. Chuck has undoubtedly made funnier films – think Misbehavin’ or Jack ‘n’ Jill – but this ranks as one of his most insightful and bittersweet, a sentiment rarely encountered in adult. The story, cooked up by Vincent and regular contributor Jimmy James, takes a simple situation and runs with it : how a basically innocent rumor can be distorted and blown way out of proportion through gossip and people’s propensity to see only the evil in others. Indeed, scratch at the film’s deceptively frothy surface and you’ll find a surprisingly serious subtext, tempered with the director’s customary wit and benevolent tolerance of human foibles.

Advertising executive George (handsome blond Frank Adams a/k/a Don Peterson, as close to a solid all American Brian Keith type as porn ever got) meets recently re-married old school friend Alice Walker (Veronica Hart, making her already amazing debut as “Randee Styles“, a pathetic and wisely ditched soon after pseudonym suggested by the director) for lunch, so his less diplomatic underling Frank (former gay porn icon Jack Wrangler in a startlingly intense performance that jettisons audience sympathy right from the start) has to stand in for him at a last minute meeting. While George and Alice do wind up in bed together that afternoon, they soon realize that there is little more than heartfelt friendship between them. Somehow this does not prevent tongues from wagging though and as the rumor circulates among their friends it’s “embellished” almost beyond recognition. As it turns out, there’s truth to the old adage that as long as people are talking about someone else, they sure as heck aren’t talking about you !

Seems like that little circle of so-called friends has their own group of skeletons they would like to keep firmly looked within their cupboards. Frank likes to get off with Jean (the luminous Lesllie Bovee, always a dab hand at light comedy), who’s married to Hank (“Roger Caine” a/k/a Al Levitsky), in dangerous places for a cheap thrill, like an apartment building’s filthy stairwell with inhabitants brushing past. While the mistress gets the best of him, he takes out his professional frustrations on doorstop wife Sara, touchingly portrayed by Merle Michaels who had just graduated from jail bait roles as in Jim “Clark” Buckley’s classic Debbie Does Dallas and his “variation” on the same theme with The Good Girls of Godiva High, documenting the director’s one track mind. Fortunately for her, Sara seeks solace in the arms of unattached as well as amorously adventurous Margaux (a prototype part given surprising weight by Vincent’s muse Kelly Nichols) who livens up Hank’s weekly poker parties by taking on his buddies while he plays peeping tom. Kelly has rightfully received many kudos for her scorching group scene, yet it has been justifiably remarked upon that the set-up has more heat during its verbal introduction – with the actress teasingly describing everything she wants the guys to do to her in graphic detail – than the explicit pay-off. Look closely and you will notice that gay porn crossover Eric Ryan – so memorable in Kennith Holloway’s scalding Jobsite, an all male adaptation of straight XXX classic Chopstix by husband and wife team Maria Lease and Dan Cady, utilizing their adult aliases of “Joanna Williams” and “William Dancer” – barely takes part in this endeavor, nervously sneaking peeks at the massive members of the two Ronnies (Jeremy & Hudd) for added stimulation as he focuses his attentions on Kelly’s – admittedly awesome – top half.

Best of show from a titillation viewpoint is the bizarre mating ritual Caine and Bovee have concocted for their version of “date night“, with its liberal use of candles and that familiar to fans light-reflecting black sheet (augmented on this occasion with African tribal masks and a few quarters of baby oil !), a visual echo of classic Vincent scenes from his earlier Heavy Load (between Andrea True and Jeff Hurst) and Bad Penny (Samantha Fox’s climactic romp with Adams/Peterson). It always strikes me as really funny that such a seemingly “normal” middle class couple could come up with a sexual scenario this outrageous for the one night their kid’s out of the house. That is, of course, precisely the point Chuck was trying to make. There’s also a rare appearance of an actual underage boy (I’m assuming he’s the credited “Nick Adams“, son of Frank perhaps ?) as their son, not in proximity to anything even remotely pornographic mind you, but still exceptional in a genre soon to grow weary of prosecution.

A good example of the director’s radically shifting register is the husband and wife rape scene born out of workplace resentment between Frank and Sara. Convincingly acted and dramatically underscored with the sounds of thunderstorm, it provides a jarring if only temporary dissociation from its otherwise generally lightweight demeanor. Samantha Fox shows up briefly as a personal favor to the fornication filmmaker that pretty much put her on the map at film’s end as George’s spouse Millie, just to show how wrong everyone has been. This movie also benefits tremendously from an early collaboration with DoP Larry Revene – an artistic alliance which would prove beneficial to them both – whose careful compositions and luxuriously soft lighting are done a rather disheartening disservice by Caballero‘s current muddy-looking DVD release, taken from their deteriorating video master meaning, unfortunately, loss of blacks and muted colors all around. A good thing I have seen this film theatrically on a number of occasions and can therefore vouch that it used to look a whole lot better than the way it is preserved here and is indeed one of the most lavish in the whole Chuck & Larry creative canon. You will have to take my word for it though…or did I just start a nasty rumor of my own ?!

Directed & Produced by Chuck Vincent. Written by Vincent & Jimmy James. Photographed by Larry Revene. Edited by James Macreading. Starring Veronica Hart (as Randee Styles) (Alice Walker), Lesllie Bovee (Jean), Kelly Nichols (Margaux), Merle Michaels (Sara), Jack Wrangler (Frank), Roger Caine (Hank), Frank Adams (George), Ron Jeremy (Rick), Ron Hudd (Charlie), Eric Ryan (Lee), Samantha Fox (Millie), Patricia Dale (Waitress), Nick Adams, Adam DeHaven & Kurt Mann. Running time : 73 minutes.

Allowing for a brief stint as “Randee Styles”, adult industry legend Jane Hamilton quickly settled on “Veronica Hart” instead…and the rest is history !

By Dries Vermeulen

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