Love You! (1979)

When is a porn film NOT a porn film ? In this case when it's directed by late "real world" celebrity John Derek, a man better known for his serial betrothals to some of the world's most glamorous beauties (chronologically that would include the original Bond girl Ursula Andress, Dynasty's diva Linda Evans and still stunning Bo Derek who by the way performed script girl duties on the set of Love You!) than for his efforts both in front (The Adventures of Hajji Baba) and behind (the much maligned yet perfectly servicable Bo showcase Bolero) the cameras. Love You! is one of those all too rare films that straddles the no man's land between pornography and traditional cinema and a considerably more erotic example than other attempts like Curt McDowell's strangely perverse (or should that be the other way round ?) Thundercrack! or Candida Royalle's downbeat science fiction sex saga Revelations, a rare Femme foray into 35mm territory.  Naturally, not everyone agrees on this assessment. Many a carnal critic, including the late and usually great Jim Holliday, has taken the movie to task for lacking the type of sex scenes they assume adult aficionados crave. As my fuck film viewing habit has reached the triple decade mark by now, I for one can assure them they're dead wrong.

One of the reasons I have always enjoyed porno, and I'm sure quite a few others do as well, is the chance of witnessing a moment of truth, shall we say, when a performer's professional detachment crumbles and the audience is allowed a brief (and, we assume, unintentional and therefore all the more precious as it has taken place "off guard") glimpse at the real person underneath. These moments can presumably happen by accident, as many of us might imagine and/or choose to believe often to be the case in adult cinema where budgets and production schedules don't always allow reshooting these "mistakes", or they could just as easily be the result of a carefully orchestrated, cinéma vérité (do not equate with its present day poor backwards cousin, reality TV) approach with the line between what is real and what is artistic artifice deliberately made tough to distinguish.

Derek deftly displays a directorial verve he never managed or bothered to equal in later filmmaking endeavors (Ghosts Can't Do It, anyone ?) but also had the incredibly good fortune to work with a small (four speaking parts) yet extremely talented cast bringing emotional resonance and compassion to their insightfully written roles. As for the film's detractors, perhaps they should just learn to "think outside the box" a bit more and appreciate this exceptional "couples film" (a term some consider an insult as the result of too many inferior efforts released under that banner) for what it successfully sets out to do rather than "failing" to live up to their set in its ways value system.

Two couples decide to spend a weekend together on an idyllic island off the California coast with recreational spouse swapping very much on the agenda. Sensitive Charlie (Annette Haven, turning in some of the best work of a long and distinguished dirty movie trajectory) seems somewhat apprehensive about the whole deal but is gently nudged to participate by husband Steve (handsome Wade Nichols in a performance to rival his career best in Armand Weston's epic Take Off). Throwing the potentially sleazy situation into sharp relief, hunky helicopter pilot Mark (perfect fit Eric Edwards) and his funloving spouse Lynn (absolutely adorable Lesllie Bovee) provide the quintessential mirror image free spirits who will loosen them up, with unexpected results. Looking for limitless lust, everyone ends up finding love instead.

Once the plot has been properly set up, characters and cast share a constant intimacy that doesn't start and stop when it's time for sex like the majority of porn has accustomed us to. There's plentiful kissing and caressing, laughter as well as tears. These people appear to be genuinely making love to one another, completely in character, and when both women achieve very real-looking (for all I know), non-porno type orgasms as a direct result of the tenderest group action perhaps any of us have ever witnessed, it blurs the borders between performance and reality. Whichever the case, it certainly makes for one hell of a turn-on !

Captivating cinematography by Derek himself supplies some of the most breathtakingly beautiful imagery ever captured in the field of erotica, especially the close-ups of Haven's flustered face as she reaches climax. Even the quiet natural beauty of the island can't compete with that ! Bodies both male and female are glorified in rich, glowing colors. A judicious use of close-ups draws attention to a furtive gaze or brief touch, an emotional snapshot that hints at something altogether more profound. Tiny things like Wade Nichols' soulful glances or Lesllie Bovee's lopsided smiles, so seemingly unforced, etch themselves in the mind's eye and actually managed to move an old cynic like myself.  Single drawback perhaps, in the sense that it constitutes a breach in style, is the inclusion of several fantasy sequences dreamed up by Haven and involving Paul Thomas and Blair Harris, neither of whom figures in the narrative proper.  Such scenes that are perfectly fine for what they are but interrupt the natural flow of the sensitive storyline. Apart from that, rare gems such as Love You! more than make up for masses of mediocrity endured over years misspent in murky porno palaces or staring directly into the flickering light of cathode ray carnality. To quote Kay Parker, an enlightened soul much wiser than most of us, stay in love, it's the only place to be.

Directed, written & photographed by John Derek. Produced by Essex Pictures. Starring Annette Haven (Charlie), Wade Nichols (Steve), Lesllie Bovee (Lynn), Eric Edwards (as Rob Everett) (Mark), Paul Thomas (Rape Fantasy Stud) & Blair Harris (Ballet Fantasy Stud). Running time : 85 minutes.

Hollywood handsome, the late great Wade Nichols made for an instant asset to any adult film attempting to appeal to the fairer sex