The Filthy Rich (1980)

Straddling the fornication film fence between hetero and homo hardcore ever since his 1972 gay porn classic Falconhead, it took talented filmmaker Michael Zen some two decades to gain the recognition he richly deserves. Part of the “blame” must be attributed to the director himself, who eschewed the limelight in favor of steady if rarely accredited employment at then industry giant Caballero‘s off-shoot Swedish Erotica, pumping out several of the more accomplished “loops” for the 8mm movie market of the pre-video era. In this capacity, and following his offbeat mood piece Reflections (containing what must rank as the late and tragically underrated Kristine Heller’s finest thespian turn) from 1978, he was an obvious choice to craft one of the label’s first features not cobbled together from previously existing footage. The result proved one of the funniest fuck film farces ever, just below Radley Metzger’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven but on a par with Chuck Vincent’s magnificent Misbehavin’ and Games Women Play, its entertainment value somewhat stunting its turn-on potential, a “defect” in common with several of Zen’s subsequent ’90s classics like the superior Jenna Jameson showcases Blue Movie and Satyr.

Wealthy Trent and Tiffany Tremaine (played to the hilt by Chuck’s Jack ‘n Jill themselves, Jack Wrangler and Samantha Fox) have everything that money can buy, save for a satisfying sex life. Vacating their marvelous mansion for a sex seminar at lavish Loadstone Retreat to solve their problem, they leave maid and butler Frieda and Jarvis Lear (Jesie St. James and Herschel Savage) in charge to assume their roles for the day. Much comedy of errors ensues with mistaken identities as the home is successively invaded by new Cuban cook Chili Caliente (who else but vivacious Vanessa Del Rio ?), pool boy Randy West substituting for his pimply kid brother, traveling sex toy saleslady – for the Slave On company – Magnolia Thunderpussy (Lisa DeLeeuw sporting a sidesplitting Southern drawl) and a pair of unsavory yet dimwitted bikers (George Payne and R.J. Reynolds) collecting a debt from the master of the house. Silly one-liners fly fast and furious, effortlessly keeping the audience in stitches throughout. In the meantime and blissfully oblivious to the shenanigans back home, Tiffany’s thawing out under the tutelage of Nazi guru (probably better not to ask) “Danny Hazelwood” aka low rent character actor Vic Dunlop whose most gainful employment was as a semi-regular on TV’s Harper Valley PTA in addition to supporting bits in groan ‘n guffaw flicks – “comedy” may not be quite the correct term for them – as Night Patrol or Martians Go Home. Blink ‘n miss brief nude if basically non-sexual cameos from Paul Thomas and Star Wood among the cheering crowd.

While the movie may move at entirely too fast a clip for today’s audiences to experience much in the way of sustained titillation, there are still a number of seriously stimulating sexual encounters dotted along the laugh-filled lane. The ever dependable Jesie St. James proves particularly effective in her steamy numbers with hunky Herschel and gorgeously gym-trained Randy, as well as a very erotic solo employing a handheld mirror. This is as good a time as any to comment on the general physical attractiveness of all male performers in an era when the straight side of the industry was not commonly known for such. Presumably hand-picked by Zen himself, who had an “eye” for these matters befitting his sodomy sideline, an inordinate number of these men (Wrangler, Payne & Reynolds, to be exact) had actually “strayed” from queer to straight though you would be hard-pressed to guess from their enthusiastic performances with the fairer sex.

As befitting a movie emanating from the genre’s Golden Age in full swing, The Filthy Rich benefits from glowing production values, highlighted by sterling cinematography from shooting star Paul G. Vatelli. Soon to become an estimable filmmaker in his own right with the delightful Stiff Competition settling in top spot on his furtive filmography, his notoriously “live it up” drug-fueled bisexual lifestyle all too soon took its toll, leading to his AIDS-related demise in 1986. Personally, and this may be endemic to nominally gay men of my generation, I happen to have a fondness for the cheerful disco soundtrack, especially the bouncy Money Can’t Buy Me Everything (Even When You’re Filthy Rich) playing over the opening credits as the screen’s filled with extreme close-ups of a diamond’s reflecting surfaces, sort of a dirty movie variation on the celebrated credits sequence to Douglas Sirk’s crowning camp classic Imitation of Life !

Directed & edited by Michael Zen. Written by Fletcher Austin. Produced by Zen for Swedish Erotica (Caballero Control Corporation). Photographed by Paul G. Vatelli.  Starring Vanessa Del Rio (Chili Caliente), Lisa DeLeeuw (Magnolia Thunderpussy), Jesie St. James (Frieda Lear), Samantha Fox (Tiffany Tremaine), Jack Wrangler (Trent Tremaine), Herschel Savage (as Hubert Savage) (Jarvis Lear), Randy West (Pool Guy), George Payne, R.J. Reynolds (Bikers), Vic Dunlop (as Danny Hazelwood) (Weiner Gerhard), Paul Thomas, Star Wood (Loadstone Retreat Patrons) & Sweet Mouthful (Narrator). Running time : 80 minutes.

Larger than life Vanessa Del Rio (pictured with unsung Patty Boyd as two of Joe Sarno’s Tigresses) could always be counted on to turn up the heat a notch

By Dries Vermeulen

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