3 A.M. (1975)

Making his entry into the explicit arena as sexploitation was rapidly going out of style, one of the prime purveyors thereof, the late Gary Graver a/k/a "Robert McCallum" parlayed his professionalism honed through many years of gainful employment in various capacities (most prestigious of which being as cinematographer capable of turning often severely compromised circumstances to artistic advantage) by filmmakers as diverse as Al Adamson and – as he rarely hesitated to point out in conversation, unfortunately to the annoyance of many – no less than Orson Welles.  Although he would soon stoop to conventional dramatic structure, Graver took a bold non-linear approach here, whimsically drifting in and out of past, present and possibly fantasy, reminiscent of the fresh and vibrant style of French arthouse luminaries like Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard in their groundbreaking '60s efforts. Extensive voice-over narration – too often a last ditch attempt at straightening out an unfathomable plot but eloquently employed here – by Georgina Spelvin's doomed spinster Kate keeps an attentive audience conveniently clued in at all times.

Film's quizzical title refers to the exact moment when Kate's life careened out of control, ending an illicit nighttime rendezvous with brother in law Mark (one shot Frank Mauro) right after he has announced their inevitable break-up with an impulsive blow to the head which sends him hurtling over his boat's railing towards an apparently accidental death by drowning. Guilt gnawing away at her, the bereaved mistress tries to keep up appearances with the deceased's mourning relatives, with whom she has been living ever since the now teen-aged kids were born.  Characters interact believably in the compelling screenplay attributed to "Tony Trelos", actually a rare non-horror credit for Tony Crechales who penned such poverty row cult favorites as Curtis Harrington's The Killing Kind, Reginald Le Borg's "Grande Dame Guignol" Psycho Sisters with a slumming Susan Strassberg confronting former science fiction siren Faith Domergue and George Edwards' unjustly overlooked The Attic featuring a genuinely devastating turn by criminally underrated character actress Carrie Snodgress.

Apologists, i.e. those looking for "redeeming value" to justify their copious consumption of carnal cinema, have in the past poured great effort and conviction in defending many a competently crafted, thoroughly plotted if erotically lackluster porno. In his maiden full color penetration seafaring voyage, Graver shows how it's done, attributing equal weight to story and motivation, production excellence as well as intimate intensity. Rather than being a separate, easily isolated entity, each sex scene beautifully blends into the complex narrative and is executed wholly in character to boot.  Now is as good a time as any to comment favorably on truly flawless casting, each performer perfectly corresponding to supposed age group and physical type. The ever outstanding Spelvin and one shot wonder (more's the pity) Rhonda Gellard make entirely credible sisters, a lifetime of sibling rivalry apparent in their covertly hostile exchanges, the root perhaps also of Kate's less passionate rather than territorial involvement with the younger, prettier Elaine's spouse.  Baby-faced Charles Hooper, whose only other credit was a bit part in Graver's Tangerine, convincingly portrays mixed-up son Ronnie, hormonal confusion making him an all too easy target for predatory next door neighbor and disillusioned over the hill model Vicki (an uncharacteristically glamorous Sharon Thorpe whose confident sexuality barely masks a lonely heart), leaving him to seek solace in a textbook taboo situation with kid sister Stacey, effectively essayed by the appealingly gawky Clair Dia. Film's treatment of incest is exemplary, not blindly condemning but thoughtfully exploring individual circumstances that might lead up to such a transgression.

Apart from writing and acting, another notable asset is the deserted, out of season beach setting, almost a character in its own right and definitely of influence on people's behavior. Stunning cinematography by Michael Stringer, an esteemed hold-over from Graver's simulated days who went on to shoot Greydon Clark's endearingly ludicrous Lambada : The Forbidden Dance, makes the movie's sense of dread and foreboding completely palpable.  Eclectic soundtrack is credited to Dutch(?)-sounding guitarist Peter Van Den Beemt but contains several familiar library tracks along with excerpts from avant-garde luminary Pierre Henry's lauded "La Reine Verte" album, most indelibly during a searing sexual episode involving Kate's soothing shower intruded upon by an unnamed, possibly imaginary (subsequently symptomatic of the lead character's encroaching frustration) hippie chick looking for a phone, made flesh by Spelvin's real life lover Judith Hamilton.  Rounding out the cast is the potential buyer of the boat who ends up making love to the emotionally crushed Elaine instead, Bob Rose, a fly by night stud whose most high profile work was playing male lead in Harold Lee's Oriental Treatment and supporting Nancy Hoffman in Kirdy Stevens' sleeper Little Me and Marla Strangelove.

3 A.M. represents that extreme rarity, the kind of film adult's detractors routinely claim is "too good for porn", which they of course intend to pass off as high praise. It's true that the movie ranks head and shoulders above most of its competition in the fornication film field, both in terms of ambition and the successful realization thereof, placing it in pole position with the likes of Gerard Damiano's Devil in Miss Jones and Radley Metzger's Opening of Misty Beethoven among the industry's few genuinely untouchable classics entirely worthy of their reputation.

Directed by Robert McCallum (a/k/a Gary Graver). Written by Tony Trelos (a/k/a Tony Crechales). Produced by Graver for Westwood Films. Photographed by Michael Stringer. Music by Peter Van Den Beemt. Edited by Jack Crosland. Starring Georgina Spelvin (Kate), Rhonda Gellard (Elaine), Sharon Thorpe (Vicki), Charles Hooper (Ronnie), Clair Dia (Stacey), Judith Hamilton (Stranger in Shower), Frank Mauro (Mark) & Rob Rose (Morgan). Running time : 86 minutes.

The most accomplished actress adult has ever known : the incomparable Georgina Spelvin