Afternoon Delights (1980)

Seasoned Shaun Costello had inaugurated his "Warren Evans" pseudonym with 1979's ironically seldom seen Sunny in a bid for the comparatively big budgets which had eluded him throughout most of his career so far but now proved just around the corner with the likes of Beauty, Hot Dreams and his screen sex swansong Heaven's Touch waiting in the wings.  Exasperated by the extravagant expenses his artistically inclined if economically clueless co-director Kenneth Schwartz had made on their out of control opulent joint venture Dracula Exotica, Costello decided to show once for all how to come up with a porn flick that pleases both producers and public, relying on his time-tested talent to finish a project on time and at a cost that would realistically yield royal returns for its investers.  Closest in spirit to his "Amanda Barton"-attributed Midnight Desires, because borrowing its friends telling sexy stories "round table" concept subsequently worn down to a nub by the fledgling shot on video format, Afternoon Delights shapes up as a spectacularly unheralded gem of a movie, another jewel in the Costello crown. With a clever, bittersweet script and a jawdropping superstar cast, it ends up offering almost as much food for thought as for your libido.

A patently awful if ludicrously catchy title tune gets the credits out of the way. Five divorced men - all but one, the ever dependable Eric Edwards, middle-aged and portly - gather for their weekly poker game.  Those who still believe that Ken Schwartz does not actually exist and was merely another of the director's myriad aliases will be flabbergasted by his prominent presence among this group, along with character actor Fred Foster who was to make such a strong impression playing various parts on Costello's classic Pandora's Mirror.  Subverting his buddies' low expectations on this occasion, Edwards (who rightfully gained belated industry immortality portraying the Harry Crocker character in Ron Sullivan's sublime Sexcapades and its equal sequel Great Sexpectations) has a few surprises in store, the first being the welcome presence of a fully-kitted French maid in perpetually wide-eyed beauty Christie Ford. The real zinger however comes with his plan to forfeit their usual activities for a round of soulsearching that will have each of them anonymously committing to paper their former wives' sexual transgressions that led to separation and have them read out loud by one of the other participants, the protagonist of every tantalizing tale only identified as the fictional "Mrs. Smith".

This apparently hackneyed set-up leads into the film's superbly crafted sex scenes. Cute as a button Merle Michaels, a charming light comedienne at the best of times in frothy fare like Sullivan's A Girl's Best Friend, is awakened from her slumber by the noise of a construction crew across the street. Following an intense shower masturbation number, she allows a couple of the swarthy workers (George Payne and Dave Ruby) to come over and play in a gorgeously shot and lit sequence, a veritable tribute to the ingenuity of the director's trusty DoP Bill Markle, set to the strains of Bernard Herrmann's hauntingly beautiful Vertigo theme, a piece of perfect movie music Shaun would use many times. Though tiny, Michaels proves an even match for both enviably endowed males who memorably approach her with near-ceremonial reverence at scene's start. Industry institution Veronica Hart gets duly mauled by dentist Bobby Astyr and his gorgeous female assistant Diane May (Pandora's hatcheck girl at the Hellfire Club) whilst blissfully zonked out on laughing gas in a scene played, rather appropriately, for laughs.

Latin firecracker Vanessa Del Rio, who would prove herself to be an unexpectedly sensitive actress in Sam Weston's The Dancers, burns up the screen as was her wont entering a sleazy sinema – incidentally playing Costello's Dan McCord saga Dirty Susan – in male drag, taking on all comers in the one scene everyone seems to remember from this otherwise unjustly overlooked film. Wannabe filmmakers would do well to study Costello and the perfectly in tune Markle's use of subtle visual motifs (like the on-screen action reflected in Vanessa's sunglasses) and how they enhance the already hot sex taking place. A mistress/slave routine with Samantha Fox, the late Chuck Vincent's leading lady of choice, and Alan ( a/k/a "Spike", a nickname referring to his you-know-what) Adrian simmers despite comedic overtones but it's Serena's adult movie audition, resulting in her double penetration courtesy of Ron Hudd and Ashley Moore with a little assist from underused Robin Sane, that will leave adult audiences with big happy smiles on their satiated faces.  The connecting story provides a climactic kicker that actually tugs at this old dawg's heartstrings whenever I watch it as each of the "wronged" husbands comes to realize that he's just as much to blame as his wayward spouse through neglect and an inability to focus on what's really important in life.  Leaving their scheming card buddy's apartment for the night, each vows to look up his former Mrs. and try to make amends.

Directed & written by Shaun Costello (as Warren Evans). Produced by Cliff Carter for Ashton Releasing. Photographed by Bill Markle (as David Measles). Edited by Costello & Peter Caulfield. Starring Merle Michaels (1st Mrs. Smith), Veronica Hart (2nd Mrs. Smith), Vanessa Del Rio (3rd Mrs. Smith), Samantha Fox (4th Mrs. Smith), Serena (5th Mrs. Smith), Eric Edwards (Pete Ferrell), Christie Ford (as Claudia Rains) (Nina, the Maid), Bobby Astyr (Dr. Harkness, the Dentist), Diane May (as Beverly Mays) (Nancy, the Dental Hygienist), Robin Sane (Penny Worth), Alan Adrian (as Alan Jacobs) (Mr. Warren, 4th Mrs. Smith's Submissive Client), Ron Hudd (Buck), Ashley Moore (Todd), Dave Ruby, George Payne (Construction Workers/Porn Theater Patrons), Alan Marlow (as Robert Random), Rod Pierce (Porn Theater Patrons), Gordon G. Duvall (as Sleepy Le Beef) (Harry), Frederick Foster, Kenneth Schwartz, Philip Rothstein & Tony Canoli ("Mr. Smith" Poker Players). Running time : 83 minutes.

Serena, pictured with longtime significant other Jamie Gillis in Gerard Damiano's People, oozes sensuality in this unsung Shaun Costello caper