Friday, December 17, 2010


(1981; d: Alan Myerson)

Whatever precious little intellectual curiosity I possess usually wakes up with me, often savoring that tall cup of coffee (along with the morning headlines) as much as I do, but begins to wane several hours before I lose consciousness. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule -- like whenever a good FRONTLINE or NOVA airs on PBS -- but usually I’m flatlining by nine or ten at night, ready to crawl into whichever squalid hole I’ve dug for myself, you know, entertainment-wise.
It’s often while submerged in this tawdry, facile mental abyss -- roughly, my take on meditation -- that I might watch something I haven’t seen in years that I have pleasant or quite possibly ludicrous memories of in an attempt to channel some former version of myself at whom I might be able to wink and nod and bump elbows with before I ultimately become disenfranchised and attempt to fully extricate myself from any knowledge thereof... There was a point to all this, I think.

Anyways, sometimes when I settle into couch potato mode, I find myself wondering what cognitive disorder I may have been suffering from at the point in my life when I found reruns of THREE’S COMPANY to be endlessly amusing. I mean, did I ever really watch GROWING PAINS on a regular basis? So, as dumb a kid as I was, I don’t always trust my memories and even disavow certain cultural anomalies from the 80’s specifically because I’d liked them so much.

One of the most vivid and peculiar childhood memories I have was of a movie I’d caught on cable at a very young age and was absolutely mesmerized by, even though I knew next to nothing about sex or love (and still can’t figure the latter). PRIVATE LESSONS had everything you could hope for to hold the attention of your average 6 year old boy.
Oh, to be a rich boy! I often ponder how wonderful it could’ve been… To wade through seas of silk, groping that vulgar, bulging stock portfolio while fending off the advances of the luscious new French maid your father just hired -- not a care in the world except for the inevitable blushing caused by all that delightful cooing from said eager froggy maid. It could’ve been great! Do you hear me, GOD?! It could have been great! (sobs/gulps/dodges inexplicable electrical storm in living room)

Beginning at a high school graduation party where “Hot Legs” (by Rod Stewart) shrilly blares on, we witness the affluent, lily-white local teens spasmodically shake and strut their Caucasian-thing in a vain, losing effort to prove their groove. Of course, if your rich and white, who cares if you can dance? This is of little consequence to teenaged voyeurs Philly (Eric Brown) and Sherman (Patrick Piccininni), who straddle the rooftop with binoculars in order to gain a bird’s eye view of the guest of honor, Sherman’s hot blond sister, Joyce, who hops in the pool fully-clothed with her hunky beau, then gets booted from the party for their subsequent hot and heavy make-out session.

The boys then track her down to a nearby bathroom as she changes out of her wet clothes, with Philly praising the heavens as their efforts finally seem to be paying off. However, his bliss is short-lived as prissy Miss Phipps (Meridith Baer), a rather fetching young teacher at their school, catches him ogling Joyce through the window and gives him a lecture about his interest in older girls (and tellingly neglects to admonish his being a peeping tom).
It’s soon apparent Philly is battling some ungodly hormones, a fact no doubt exacerbated when a lovely new French housekeeper named Miss Mallow (Sylvia Kristel, the international superstar of EMMANUELLE) is hired by his father. And therein lies the essence of the plot, threadbare and throbbing like a sore thumb, though don’t confuse this to be in any way a slight. Quite the contrary, I think narratives as simple as this surely represent the kind of purity of intent and vision that is rare with the preponderance of swill-infused, target market-reduced convolutions we otherwise call movies nowadays.
We next find the boys making acquaintance with the alluring Miss Mallow, who is considerably more appealing than any other maid in the neighborhood, a distinction not lost on Philly. As luck would have it, his father will be away on business for three weeks, leaving the precocious fifteen year old the charge of the snide, haughty chauffeur, Lester (Howard Hesseman, TV's "Johnny Fever", tooling for range...).

There is an instance in which the boys frolic in Sherman’s pool, with Philly verbally contemplating a nude Miss Mallow. I wasn’t going to mention this scene, as it’s rather extraneous and but a fleeting moment, yet for some reason I need to reconcile the point in which Sherman splashes his sister Joyce (Pamela Bryant), who walks off in a huff. There, that feels better.

Riding home from the airport in his chauffeur driven limousine, Philly can’t help but notice how much the world has changed since his father departed, how strange and wondrous this liberation is, a theme bore home as he’s hypnotized by a stirring blue jean commercial on the limo’s TV set.
During their first real chat together, Miss Mallow catches Philly off-guard in a revealing exchange. “You mean your previous housekeepers have been elderly women mostly?” “Mm-hmm” “That must not have been too interesting for you.” “What do you mean?” “It must not have been too interesting for a young man of… fifteen, is it?” “Going on 16. I’m not sure I got your point. What do you mean?” “It must not have been too interesting to sit across from your elderly housekeepers and look up their dresses like you’re looking up mine right now.”
When Lester takes her shopping, we’re treated to a most illuminating montage as our young hero plunders her lingerie drawer set to Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Fantasy”. One can‘t help but sing along… “As you stay, for the play, fantasy has in store for you, a glowing light will see you through, it’s your day, shining day, all your dreams come true… as you glide, in your stride, with the wind as you fly away, give a smile from your lips and say, are you free (?), yes I’m free, now I’m on my way… come and see, victory, in a land called fantasy, loving life for you and me, to be whole, to your soul ~ is ecstasy…”
Riding into town with Lester behind the wheel, a most insidious subplot is revealed. It seems Lester is actually a rather dastardly fellow, threatening Miss Mallow into having sex with the boy in some kind of ridiculous blackmail plot against Philly’s father. To attempt to wrap your head around this preposterous conspiracy will do you absolutely no good. PRIVATE LESSONS just might have achieved perfection if not for this silly, heavy-handed contrivance.
Soon Philly’s obsessing over Miss Mallow, attempting to spy a glimpse of her at every turn, setting up a whimsical stalker montage resulting in wacky hijinks aplenty, including tumbling over a bush while riding his bike and falling into the pool when she’s startled awake by the sprinkler system, topless and sunning herself. Though some might find this behavior rather unsettling, with Philly taking the kind of perfunctory liberties that might otherwise constitute a weighty sex offender file nowadays, all you need remind yourself is that he’s a typical boy and puberty is a relentlessly cruel, insufferable bitch. Miss Mallow, of course, doesn’t mind at all, gently chiding his efforts… “Hard day on the old bike, huh?”
When she catches him peeking into her window later that evening, she invites him in, a moment that all but shouts from the dark sky above, “Hallelujah!”. Okay, he’s in… breathe deeply, relax. “If you wanted to watch me undress so badly, why didn’t you tell me?” Thunderstruck and stammering like Porky Pig, Philly reluctantly agrees to watch her striptease, setting up perhaps the most memorable scene of the film, one that emphatically reaffirms my faith in the magic of the cinema.
Miss Kristel, seeming more matronly and less demure than she had a decade previous when she’d brought the world to it’s knees with the French softcore X-rated blockbuster, EMMANUELLE, is still nearly every bit as enticing. And Eric Brown, appearing as fresh-faced and wide-eyed as a newborn chick facing the glowering embers of spring for the very first time, is terrific nonetheless, proving himself a consummate master of pantomime in the face of certain defloration.

In the company of the fully bare, exquisitely fleshed Miss Mallow, Philly’s anxieties get the best of him as he all but bolts from her bedroom when she asks him to stay. Saving face, he rushes to Sherman’s house to boast of the encounter. “…she takes off all her clothes - everything, and I mean everything.” “So then what?” “So then I came here to tell you.” Sherman, ever the voice of reason, shrieks incredulously, “Are you kidding?!” Philly, knowing full well he dropped the ball, can only muster, “…and I suppose you screw your housekeeper every goddamn night!” Shaking his head, smiling coolly, Sherman counters with as watertight a riposte as has ever been uttered from one indignant virgin to another… “Not every night.”
The next morning, Miss Mallow asks Philly if he’s embarrassed about last night, inviting him back to her room again later that evening. “We could talk…”, a point flagrantly embellished as she smiles seductively while repeatedly zipping and unzipping the fly on a pair of his jeans she’s ironing.
When the boys go to the local country club, Sherman dispenses free sex advice during a particularly sloppy game of tennis. Oh, and Ed Begley Jr. is their butt-swatting tennis instructor. The less said, the better…

“How come you didn’t touch ‘em?” “I didn’t know how.” “You just grab ‘em like this and squeeeeze.”

Later, Philly finds his mark luxuriating by candlelight in his father’s bathtub… “Would you like to join me?” Channeling Peter Brady’s puberty, Philly crackles, “Would I like to what?” Somehow, he manages his way into the tub with her, shrieking like a frightened schoolgirl when her hand dives under the surface. Chasing him into the next room, she apologizes for being so forward. “Will you forgive me?” “Okay.” “Prove it.” “How?” “By sleeping with me tonight.” Inexplicably, he declines. “Why Not?” “Well, I tried it once before in summer camp and know for a fact that you can’t get a good night’s sleep when someone is in the same bunk as you. Well, thank you. It’s been a lovely evening.”
"Did you touch ‘em?” “What?” “Her knockers! Did you touch them?” “Well, sort of…” “Did you or didn’t you?” “Well, uh, not with my hands, with my elbows.” “Doesn’t that get broads hot, touching their knockers, even with your elbows?” When Sherman blurts he thinks Miss Mallow is a whore for bathing with him, Philly rushes to defend her honor. “Lot’s of people take baths together!” “Like who?” “The Japanese… you said so yourself. (with great uncertainty) Maybe she’s part Japanese?”
After plenty more in the way of comic mishap -- including a deal-breaking marriage proposal -- Philly finally seems to gather his bearings. Of course, none of this would’ve been possible without Sherman’s sound advice and indispensable tirades. “You what?! You asked her to marry you? What are you, SICK?!”
At this point I realized this was no longer just about Philly‘s excitable hormones. This thing is much bigger now -- it’s one for the angels, for all the hapless, ungainly ne’er do-wells like Sherman the world over -- a soul-rending conquest for the screechy, virginal rich boy in all of us.
Dutifully accompanied by a litany of soft rock’s most grievous offenders from the era (including the likes of Randy Van Warmer’s “Just When I Need You the Most”, Air Supply’s “Lost in Love” and Rod Stewart’s “You’re In My Heart”), Philly’s mythic passage into burgeoning adulthood had proven at least one thing to me. Sometimes, if you’re fortunate and willing enough to remain young at heart, the lost magic of yore might be glimpsed again, if only for a moment, until the harsh rays of the morning sun and clamoring call of the alarm clock remind you once again just how crummy this growing up thing actually turned out to be.


  1. Nice blog---they've been showing this a lot lately for some reason on cable!

  2. Thanks, Nick! That's almost enough incentive to pay my cable bill on time. I'd just recently caught Eric Brown in the similarly plotted "They're Playing With Fire", with Sybil Danning, though it isn't quite as good and, you know, some child actors just can't make the transition.