Purely Physical (1982)

This unassuming little sleeper may be the finest contribution the late Chris Warfield (a/k/a "Billy Thornberg") made to the carnal canon. Like so many Golden Age filmmakers, he had his roots in '60s sexploitation cinema, producing Corey Allen's notorious Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio starring the infamous Ilsa herself Dyanne Thorne. As a dirty movie director, he rarely showed much ambition beyond stringing together loops he had shot for the 8mm market – ah, those were the days ! – into makeshift "features" like Fulfilment, Beyond Fulfilment (clever, huh ?) and Sheer Panties. With every rule, there are some exceptions though. The glossy, big budget rom com Champagne for Breakfast with Lesllie Bovee and John Leslie was the one he clearly considered his Magnum Opus, signing his real name in an industry known for frequently stupid pseudonyms. While shot on a much more modest scale, Purely Physical proves to be at least its equal in every respect however, taking its hackneyed hardcore premise into a new and surprising direction. With the "couples film" trend gathering momentum at the time, Warfield takes his time setting up sexual situations, allowing the talented cast to flesh out their characters before panties drop to the floor. The excellent script by the director and his frequent partner in crime "Harold Perkins" a/k/a John Hayes (another sexploitation vet who made Hot Lunch and Pleasure Zones under his auspices) adds a pleasing touch of realism to the porn staple plot with some of the best dialogue ever heard in erotica.

Gorgeous but inexperienced Kathy Harrington (luminous Laura Lazare from Gary Graver's Suzie Superstar), a college student majoring in journalism, decides to document the human condition by taking a job as night clerk at a dingy motel. Her first customers are a nervous young couple (one shot Albert Johnson and Jade Wong from Bob Chinn's campy Seka meets John Holmes showcase Prisoner of Paradise) eager to make love for the very first time in one of the most believable such set-ups these tired old eyes have witnessed over the years, their initial jitters gradually turning to overpowering lust. The longest erotic encounter in the movie, it doesn't even begin to wear out its welcome. Bulky Milton Ingley (a/k/a "Michael Morrison") plays a good-natured traveling salesman who's also a big fan of old movies, a weakness fully taken advantage of by hardened hooker Tigr. Lonely business woman Juliet Anderson – still identified as "Aunt Peg" in the credits, a precaution surely superfluous at this stage of her distinguished career – finds her advances rebuffed by Lazare and settles for a scorching solo instead, a stunningly lit claw the sheets number that stands as one of the best of its kind.

Down on his luck Joey Silvera receives a pair of sympathetic streetwalkers (Nicole Noir and Fay Burd) from a compassionate friend. This is one of those scenes – all too rare in adult – where, once you think you know where it's going, a curve ball comes your way. Joey's too tired for both girls so decides to take on just one, which is when they reveal that they are in love with each other and can't bear to be apart. They subsequently draw the guy into their passionate lovemaking ever so gradually, to truly touching effect. The performers in the next sequence will probably seem alien to all but the most ardent aficionados. Fly by night starlet Dana Moore (who did a Sapphic scene with Brooke Bennett in Joe Sherman's extremely enjoyable Expose Me Now) seduces her tennis instructor Eric Stein (one of Georgina Spelvin's Sunday school pupils in Graver's Garage Girls) with shy teen Adam Adams (Sharon Mitchell's boyfriend from Louie Lewis' terrific thriftshop sleeper Touch Me in the Morning) tagging along and Lazare fantasizing herself smack dab in the middle of their groping. Laura finally leaves her desk to give an in person wake up call to handsome blond Manny Wierdman (also popping up briefly in Graver's Satisfactions), the trucker she turned down on an earlier visit.

Marvellously shot by frequent Warfield collaborator Elton Fuller and boasting a memorable Frank Coe score (the same guy who wrote the indelible soundtrack for William Rotsler's psychedelic oddity Mantis in Lace), this movie never loses itself in the excessively lovey dovey, show your feelings approach too many couples films mistook for sensitivity (therefore undoubtedly nipping a promising subgenre in the bud), the movie's tone is quite different from your average fornication flick. Attention to detail pays off, even in adult, and through insightful dissection of familiar (even universal) situations with performances and set design just spot on, it achieves its aim of tugging your heartstrings as it simultaneously turns you on. So do yourself a favor and check out this unjustly overlooked gem, because – contrary to its title – the effect is indeed far from Purely Physical !

Directed by Chris Warfield (as Billy Thornberg). Written by Warfield and John Hayes (as Harold Perkins). Produced by Warfield for Caballero Control Corporation. Photographed by Elton Fuller. Music by Frank A. Coe. Edited by Bill Christian. Starring Laura Lazare (Kathy Harrington), Juliet Anderson (Claudia), Jade Wong (Dorothy), Albert Johnson (Bernard), Tigr (Iris, the Hooker), Manny Wierdman (Kurt), Nicole Noir (Diane), Phaery I. Burd (Susan), Dana Moore (Mrs. Northrup), Joey Silvera (Jonathan), Michael Morrison (Charlie), Adam Adams (Terry), Eric Stein (Robin) & Sidney Fellows (Vince). Running time : 80 minutes.

 

Lovely Laura Lazare advertising a movie she would not have been old enough to actually star in !