Most renowned and rightfully revered for his superlative soft-core sex films from the ’60s and ’70s, the late Joe Sarno would also churn out a considerable amount of “stronger” features as mucky movie houses moved away from the simulated stuff towards the full color penetration of hardcore. While “churning out” pretty much describes the filmmaker’s approach towards the explicit throughout most of the ’80s, his XXX offerings from the previous decade still bear the traces of a master craftsman valiantly attempting to elevate a both then as now disregarded genre above its lowly station. He would achieve this through the very elements that made his sexploitation flicks stand out from the crowd, i.e. involved story lines, psychologically sound characterizations and surprisingly decent acting. Anyone who has ever watched one of Sarno’s suggestive tease flicks, amongst which I would like to proffer 1968’s All the Sins of Sodom as a very good place to start exploring a rather massive body of work, should be well aware that he was also second to none when it came to creating a palpably erotic atmosphere where every glance and gesture would draw the audience deeper into tantalizing turmoil.
One of the truly amazing things about The Trouble With Young Stuff remains that it was one of at least four films Sarno shot almost simultaneously back in 1976, along with the equally excellent Slippery When Wet and the far more obscure Hot Wives and The Honey Cup, all of them made in and around the same locations with minor cast variations. This fact really serves as a tribute to the talented “cinéaste” whose output would eventually grow so large and unwieldy that by life’s end he had no idea how many movies he might have made, a conundrum duly shared by the rest of the world in light of the vast number of aliases he had employed, some still unconfirmed to this day. Unlike some of the other creatives of carnality, Sarno knew exactly what he could achieve given the time and budget at his disposal and how to tailor his narratives to bring out the best of his financial and artistic resources. Often working with the same handful of dramatically gifted New York performers meant he could write parts bearing them in mind and capitalize on any specific forte they might possess.
Another aspect routinely skipped over in other people’s adult efforts is the presence of an economic reality as opposed to the anything goes fantasy fulfillment environment most porn appears to take place in. For instance, here it’s a rundown small town somewhere in the South and most of the characters have been unemployed ever since the local textile mill was forced to close down, not exactly a setting conducive to carnality at first glance. But Sarno uses this bleak situation, undoubtedly recognizable to much of the day’s audience, to reinforce the morals and motivations that drive his “dramatis personae” and therefore imbue them with a life and urgency that’s uncommon to say the least in the fornication film field.
Longtime friends Alice Ann and Rose (Crystal Sync and Marlene Willoughby respectively) share an apartment with their blue collar boyfriends Roger Caine and Bob Bolla, both of whom are still employed if only just, largely out of financial necessity as these living arrangements put obvious strain on both couples. Their slutty sidekick Dinah (quite possibly Nancy Dare’s career performance) further exacerbates this increasingly untenable situation by bringing over her occasional boyfriends such as milkman Sonny Landham as her strict mom (Gloria Leonard) won’t allow her to entertain at home. About to make matters much worse, although her transgressive behavior indicates the possibility of an eventual much-needed catharsis for several of the plot’s protagonists, is Alice Ann’s two minutes past jail bait cousin Matilda (Jenny Baxter) who was “sent away” for being an unmanageable teen and now seems to have some kind of retaliation on her mind. Adult cinema theorists (should such a beast exist !) can chalk this up as another variation on Sarno’s favorite theme of the intimate interloper wreaking havoc within the “family” unit by seducing each member thereof, as in Daddy Darling, Baby Love or Laura’s Toys to name but a few of the more obvious examples.
Scored with appropriately sombre guitar strumming by Jack Justis, the narrative delves much deeper into people’s psyches than adult is wont to do without sacrificing the sex which Sarno manages to incorporate into the film’s fabric as both an intrinsic and invaluable element. The exceptional cast, comprised of just eight people, rises beautifully to the occasion with the women especially standing out. The mischievous Baxter, who worked in the porn industry to pay for college tuition, makes the most of a meaty part as the proverbial fly in the ointment but it’s the usually campy Marlene Willoughby who ultimately impresses most of all. Dowdied down from her familiar larger than life persona and stripped of its attendant mannerisms, she really comes into her own as the apparently resilient Italian American Rose whose sexual, emotional and eventually even moral victimization at the hands of the scheming Matilda proves particularly jarring. Although the come-on implied by the film’s title isn’t complete hogwash in light of the climactic revelations that are arrived at in a scene between the estranged cousins, it has always crippled a movie that deserved a much better fate and reputation than it has been wrongfully saddled with over the years.
Directed, Written & Produced by Joe Sarno (as Otis Hamlin). Music by Jack Justis. Starring Marlene Willoughby (Rose Volare), Crystal Sync (as Christine Williams) (Alice Ann), Jenny Baxter (as Sarah Barnes) (Matilda Harris), Nancy Dare (Dinah Miller), Roger Caine (Jack), R. Bolla (Norman), Sonny Landham (Lane the Milkman) & Gloria Leonard (Dinah’s Mother). Runtime : 110 minutes.
By Dries Vermeulen