Secrets of a Willing Wife (1980)

The housewife finding fornicatory fulfilment once she has been relieved of the demands placed upon her by an errant husband has been a staple ingredient of sex cinema since day one, usually played straight with the concerned commitment of its instigators supplying the socially redeeming value required to excuse evolving explicitness, so expertly spoofed by Radley Metzger in The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann.  Hell, Joe Sarno practically made his living exploring the trials and tribulations of this stock character throughout the ’60s, culminating with his 1974 masterpiece Confessions of a Young American Housewife.  Still, there’s only so much mileage you can get from a domestic drudge transformed through erotic enlightenment without getting bogged down with tiresome clichés so Norman Gurney’s Secrets of a Willing Wife wisely plays the situation strictly for laughs, starting with its po-faced come on of a title, an all but coincidental soundalike to Sarno’s serious study of suburban sexuality and just maybe a first clue to its actual authorship…

Arriving home with a brown paper bag full of groceries, sad sack Susan (Merle Michaels who cornered the market on downtrodden dumb doormats) catches her spouse Martin (Eric Edwards, sending up his customary sensitive spouse image) in flagrante with her best friend Jeannie (bigboned brunette Rikki O’Neal, Annie Sprinkle’s obscene phone-calling pal from Chuck Vincent’s Jack ‘n’ Jill), prodigiously popping all over her dirty-talking mug the exact same moment wifey walks through the door.  Without a writer to take credit, dialogue’s priceless as Jeannie retorts to Martin’s tormented soul-searching, regretting the betrayal of his better half (all in mid-fuck, mind you !) with her numero uno gal pal no less, by calling him “a two bit fart smeller” and reassuring him that “all I want is 8 inches of your marriage” rather than his undying love !  It makes little difference however as a shocked Susan throws her wedding ring on the floor and storms out of the house.

Trying to make sense of her predicament, Sue heeds the advice of a psychiatrist whose face is never shown and visits unorthodox sex therapist CheeChee (another scene-stealing turn by the uncrowned queen of adult aliases Patty Boyd whose body…of work should be ripe for rediscovery on a grand scale) to help her let her hair down.  Acting as if she were Carmen Miranda’s understudy and dressing like a thriftstore drag queen rendition of same, the formidable CheeChee – she’s just a character who attracts adjectives – inhabits a campy colour-coded apartment stuffed to the brim with phallic accoutrements.  Along with mischievous sidekick Gloria (Crystal Day, a snarly blonde very much in the vein of Robins Byrd and Everett, whose only other credit is for Victor Bertini’s decidedly underwhelming Robin’s Nest), she will take the demure drudge under her fluttering wing till she’s ready to emerge as a sexual swan.

As the disgruntled Martin struggles to adjust to his new domestic situation, finding sexual solace with Jeannie’s surrogate (she just can’t be bothered, okay ???) Rita (Eric’s inevitable paramour Arcadia Lake) even though her housekeeping’s a horror, throwing her down on the kitchen table yelling she’s “a disgrace to the art of cooking”, Susan’s busy exploring previously undreamed of erotic possibilities.  Sent on a mission by CheeChee to the local porno theater, she takes on both random patron Ron Jeremy and intervening usher Ron Hudd, eventually taking the action from the seats to the stage.  Now she’s ready to go bar-hopping, picking up promising strangers for the orgy at CheeChee’s pad.  Patty pairs off with Roger Caine, Crystal gets David Pierce (nasty “Mr. Sweet” from Roger Watkins’ haunting Her Name Was Lisa) while poor Merle stays stuck with dumb Dave Ruby who replies to her breathless request of “Can’t you give me 12 inches and make it hurt ?” with : “Only if I fuck you three times and punch you in the stomach !”  Ouch !  Apparent one shot Bobby Milne’s the loser taken pity on by sympathetic stripper Electra Blue who was in Navred Reef’s Angie, Undercover Cop as well as Armand Weston’s pioneering (1978 !) video feature Blue Voodoo.

With newfound carnal confidence, Sue turns up at Martin and Jeannie’s less than stellar household to reclaim her husband with barbs flying back and forth between both bitter rivals for Martin’s affection.  “That overworked bus terminal of yours gets slimy at the sight of a hot dog !”  “At least he doesn’t need a shoehorn to get in it.”  The abuse is topped off with a heartfelt “our love is deeper than any flapping orifice of yours !”  Aaah…  True love conquers all which Susan proceeds to prove by taking on her former BFF in a duel to satisfy Martin’s urges, a marathon session that leaves all three participants spent and satisfied with the prospect of a threeway marriage a distinct possibility.

Fast-paced and frequently funny, this Willing Wife sure didn’t come down with the last rain, which begs the question as to who’s hiding behind the “Norman Gurney” moniker, obviously a director completely capable of handling both witty repartee and a scalding sex scene.  Discarding the “usual suspects” like Vincent and Bill Milling whose brand of silliness played on a marginally more sophisticated plateau than this one’s ultra-broad Mel Brooks type anything for a laugh attempts, the stinky finger seems to point in the direction of yet another pseudonymous pornographer bluntly referenced throughout.  The credit of “David Stitt” turned up on a handful of late ’70s ‘core capers like My Sex-Rated WifeExploring Young Girls (a behind the scenes exposé similar to the Evart profile pics that were some of the mightiest money spinners for Distribpix, crafted by an unbilled Sarno…) and Les Nympho Teens, latter filling out the double bill playing at the film’s adult theater with Chris Covino’s Swedish Sorority Girls.  A poster for Stitt’s best flick The Fur Trap adorns the couple’s bedroom wall.

All of these movies were produced and/or distributed by Lloyd Kaufman’s pre-Troma adult outlet Melody Films though it’s unlikely that he himself would have been the perpetrator at a moment when his new and semi-respectable company was already hitting its first stride, vacillating between the innocuous T&A of Squeeze Play and the all out gore of Mother’s Day, both already in the can.  Brother Charlie, whose sole confirmed carnal credit’s for the 1977 Secret Dreams of Mona Q, seems an equally long shot even though the siblings’ zany sense of humour that would permeate many a Troma zero budget “epic” could conceivably have sprung from the same well as that of Secrets so perhaps they were involved at the script stage.  Maybe the screenplay dated back to the days when the Kaufmans were deeply immersed in the intimate industry, an era neither appears eager to evoke to date, and had simply been gathering dust until someone got around to actually shooting it.  Same query could apply to the subsequent mystery movie from Melody, The Love-In Arrangement, attributed to one “Charles Larkin”…

In the end, I think I have narrowed it down to two possibilities, however tenuous perhaps.  First there’s Covino who not only delivered the goods in such fine fornication farces as Here Comes the BrideBabe and Blue Jeans (nominally billed as “John Christopher” though there was an entire array of aliases lurking in the wings) but could always be counted on to contribute in just about any capacity to the creations of his carnal compadres, most frequently Vincent with whom he shared a fruitful artistic alliance (no pun intended…) since 1973’s brilliant Blue Summer.  Of course, their friendship was forged in part because both men were openly gay in a heterosexual hardcore industry largely segregated from its queer contingent.  Covino’s labor of love was in fact the notorious early ’80s homo historical/hysterical folly Centurians of Rome, unwittingly bankrolled by insurance company Lloyd’s of London as rumor persisted that the flick’s lofty budget came from a never convincingly cleared up Brinks armored car robbery…

Pretty much finishing up back where I started, there’s always Sarno who ultimately lost track of his own contributions on both sides of the explicit divide, spreading an awesome workload over an army of alter egos only some of which have since been acknowledged, if he received any credit at all that is.  Although he characteristically took a more earnest approach to his female-centered sex sagas (the French still think of him as the grindhouse answer to Ingmar Bergman…), his occasional stabs at silliness with Deep Throat Part IIA Touch of Genie or The Switch (or How to Alter Your Ego) reveal a comic sensibility every bit as fullblooded as displayed here.  On top of that, there’s the unmistakable style of the sex scenes themselves, several of which are shot in the moody (not to mention cost-effective) vein he popularized and made his trademark in decades past with “disembodied” performers bathing in pools of bright light amidst the surrounding inky darkness, taking the encounter out of any realistic setting into the abstract.  Food for thought…

Directed by Norman Gurney. Produced by Mitch Delray for Melody Films. Starring Merle Michaels (Susan), Eric Edwards (Martin), Rikki O’Neal (Jeannie), Patty Boyd (as Sara Lane) (CheeChee), Arcadia Lake (Rita), Crystal Day (Gloria), Electra Blue (Stripper), Ron Hudd (as Joe Morgan) (Porn Theater Usher), Ron Jeremy (Porn Theater Patron), David Pierce (as David Lang) (Gloria’s Bar Pick-Up), Roger Caine (Gloria’s Bar Pick-Up), Dave Ruby (Susan’s Bar Pick-Up) & Bobby Milne (Sad Orgy Guy). Running time : 71 minutes.

Never a dull moment : Patty Boyd’s outrageous CheeChee tirelessly multi-tasking for the greater good of (wo)mankind 

By Dries Vermeulen

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