Sweetheart (1976)

For all that is actually known about either one of them, IAFD (that’s the Internet Adult Film Database for the few remaining Internet ignorant carnal connoisseurs among you) may very well be correct in assuming that director “Bo Koup” and his regular and equally elusive producer Larry Windsor are one and the same person.  Fact is that “their” names only ever seemed to appear in conjunction on a handful of serviceable one day wonders made halfway through the ’70s like Executive SecretaryMiss Kinsey’s Report and Dial ‘P’ for Pleasure, starring such seasoned second stringers like Sharon Mitchell, Jenny Baxter and Cindy West.  Strictly supporting features on Times Square double and triple bills, none of these got past the one hour mark.  I suppose that makes Sweetheart, which runs just a little over, their Magnum Opus.  LOL !  No sign of “Windsor” either as production duties were handled by Roger Holt who also acted as such on Zebedy Colt’s Jean Jennings showcase Virgin Dreams that same year and not much else, so perhaps he’s yet another offshoot of the frugal filmmaker’s increasingly fractured psyche…

In the shadow of the blockbusters trying to compete with Hollywood, there has always been a market for meat ‘n’ potatoes porn that often delivered the goods far more effectively than their big budget brethren overly enamored of production values over good oldfashioned fucking.  Prior to reinventing himself as glossmeister “Warren Evans” of the ’80s, Shaun Costello had already built an entire career – roughly spanning the previous decade – on his awesome ability to craft a modest mini movie containing a well-rounded story as well the requisite amount of action in a matter of days, sometimes also just the one as allotted to Poverty Row pornographers frequently unbothered to even sign their handiwork or hiding behind an absurd alias like…”Bo Koup” ?

With its threadbare thriller plot, Sweetheart has the good sense not to waste too much of its still meager running time on set-up but get right down to business.  Idle “rich bitch” Mabel Brooks (Susan McBain) is left in the lurch as husband Foster (Wade Nichols) makes a mad dash for work, presumably the only guy in porn to object to his wife waking him up with a passionately performed BJ, moaning he doesn’t like it in the morning !  What, no headache ?  Prowling the premises are a pair of petty thieves, whiny white trash Lee (Jean Jennings, just as convincingly bratty as when playing Jenny Baxter’s attention-hogging kid sister in Bill Milling’s terrific Virgin Snow) forever pestering her black boyfriend Hank (John Black, the East Coast Johnnie Keyes, best remembered as the filling in the Sloan twins sandwich from Joe Sarno’s Tigresses and Other Man-Eaters) for diamonds and furs.

Breaking into the Brooks mansion, the crooks stumble upon poor Mabel attempting to assuage frustration with a handy vibrator while fantasizing about her lover Jack, a part filled with perhaps more reality than the fornication film format can handle by gormless slob type Philip Marlowe, peerlessly cast as Linda Maidstone’s wannabe suave singles bar pickup in Gerard Damiano’s outstanding Odyssey.  McBain’s credible whimpering aside, the treatment she receives at the hands of her aggressors proves way too wimpy to qualify this flick even remotely as a “roughie“.  Either way, she soon starts to enjoy the experience which might have made the scene reprehensible to some had the “rape” aspect played out as presumably planned.  Basking in the afterglow, Mabel accidentally lets slip she has got a bad heart, pleading with the intruders not to tie her up but help themselves to her belongings.  Uh oh !

Meanwhile, the unfeeling Foster’s making the bed squeak with Carol (Terri Hall), his wife’s cousin he allegedly dislikes as Mabel raises her allowance each time he speaks out against her.  Turns out he charmed his way into wealth and wants to take advantage of his spouse’s precarious condition, Diabolique style, by provoking a heart attack.  The conniving Carol suggests they fuck in front of her, the shock of seeing her husband making it with her adored cousin surely more than she’ll be able to stand.  Unfortunately, it never comes to that.  Still sprawled on the mattress, Mabel wonders how she keeps “getting into these messes“, remembering how she paid a visit to Foster’s brother (an uncredited performer who looks like Jamie Gillis’s dorky kid bro’) who immediately jumped her bones with pasty-faced buddy Bill Cort, who played one of the rapists in Zeb Colt’s notorious Farmer’s Daughters.  A third male enters the fray but his face is never shown.  Like the trouper that she is, Sue entertains this unsavoury selection of studs with admirable aplomb, making the down ‘n’ dirty loop action much hotter than it would otherwise be.

One of the great girls Friday of ’70s porn, McBain would give her all on pathetic projects hardly worth the effort, idiot aliases like “Suzy Humpfree” further adding insult to injury, intermittently rewarded for so much misdirected energy by a proper lead role on adult’s A list highlighting thespian capacities even her undemanding pay the rent jobs could never completely obscure.  She was delightfully witty playing the mentally gifted undercover CIA agent (remember the classic Deep Thought sequence) in Carter Stevens’s oh so ’70s Rollerbabies, his supremely silly precursor of sorts to the subsequent decade’s carnal cult classic par excellence Café Flesh.  Dab hand with dialogue notwithstanding, she delivered her most haunting work entirely devoid of such, as the daintily depraved underworld seductress in Chuck Vincent’s massively underrated Visions and especially as the worldweary callgirl on a downward spiral in Damiano’s aforementioned Odyssey.  Mabel may be a more passive persona than we’re used to seeing from this versatile performer but like Odyssey‘s isolated Nicole Andrews she’s prompted into taking last minute violent action, directed outward rather than all too literally inward this time.

The acting’s actually surprisingly solid all across the board, which is practically unheard of on these undemanding storefront quickies.  Number one glamourfuck among guys at the time, Nichols successfully suppresses his natural sensitivity as the caddish husband plotting his wife’s demise, fate helping (?) a hand by having Jennings and Black cross his twisted path.  Latter gets the best line as Nichols and Hall turn up at the climactic outdoor ordeal (which teases us with whips and chains as well as Lee donning a leather bikini and then not doing a whole lot with it) and he orders Jennings to “grab the pretty one…the girl, I mean” !  Black brings a bruised machismo to the role of the downtrodden black stud constantly berated by his shrill slut of a (white) girlfriend who figures he should provide for her.  Good though these guys are, audiences came flocking to gawk at the girls of course.  Hall’s more subdued than usual as the duplicitous cousin, incidentally hinting at her hidden agenda in ways the screenplay probably never intended, but top-billed Jennings tears into her part with greedy gusto, taking a break from the more familiar put-upon characters she usually portrays as in the Mitchell Bros. masterpiece Autobiography of a Flea.  Trivia note : both actresses came fresh off S&M shockers that served as their dirty movie debut, Hall’s being Damiano’s Story of Joanna while then proudly proclaimed underage Jennings had been the star victim of Armand Weston’s challenging Defiance.

The notoriously inept Doris Wishman’s DoP of choice, C. Davis Smith, does a no frills job on such short notice by keeping the genitals in focus and flooded with light, adding little to the noir atmosphere the hack helmsman is trying in vain to develop.  Something of a Jack of all trades in a sexploitation industry walking on its last legs as hardcore beckoned, Smith would shoot, write, edit and occasionally star in simulated stuff on the hinge of the ’60s and ’70s, delivering a particularly memorable turn in Roberta Findlay’s 1971 Altar of Lust, attaining his zenith as an erotic entertainment employee by directing half a dozen solid sexploiters including The Girl from S.I.N.File X for Sex and his sole XXX offering In Flight Service with largely forgotten starlet Toni Scott who appeared in Alan B. Colberg’s All Night Long and Alex de Renzy’s The Pleasure Masters.  Honing his craft as a cinematographer for the penny-pinching Wishman, he was clearly capable of more if the budget allowed as attested by his ’80s work on “Cecil” Howard Winters’s mesmerizing Neon Nights and Lenny Kirtman’s lavish by his standards Coed Teasers and The Erotic Adventures of Lolita.

Mood’s moot then as plot rears its ugly head after about an hour of uninterrupted intercourse as the scheming spouse tries to convince his wife’s tormentor to go that extra mile to the tune of $ 50,000 and a get out jail free card.  As the entire cast’s out on the lawn screwing each other’s brains out, the dénouement’s more than a bit convoluted to say the least.  It is however pulled right back on track by stalwart Susie who ends the film on an unexpectedly haunting note, repeating “anything you want is yours” in increasingly mechanical fashion as the image freezes on a close-up of her expressive face, suggestive of so much the screenplay cannot proffer.  Has Mabel gone off the deep end or is she just biding her time ?  Blah surface notwithstanding, there may be more to this Sweetheart than meets the eye.

Directed & written by Bo Koup. Produced by Roger Holt for Moonlight Films. Photographed by C. Davis Smith (as Charles Lamont). Starring Susan McBain (Mabel Brooks), Wade Nichols (Foster Brooks), Jean Jennings (Lee), Terri Hall (Carol), John Black (Hank), Philip Marlowe (Jack) & Bill Cort (Friend of Foster’s Brother). Running time : 68 minutes.

Newfangled boxcover beauty Nikki Randall, a popular ’80s video vixen, would have been all of twelve years old had she actually starred in this low rent grinder with a few neat tricks up its sleeve

By Dries Vermeulen

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