The Widespread Scandals of Lydia Lace (1982)

One of the late Ron "Henri Pachard" Sullivan's most criminally underrated efforts, this veritable gem of a movie apparently got lost in an all-consuming slipstream of contemporary carnal classics to his name that includes the likes of Outlaw Ladies, Sexcapades and The Devil in Miss Jones Part II to reference but a few. Seemingly more singlemindedly sex-oriented than the movies mentioned, The Widespread Scandals of Lydia Lace proves a first class fooler to boot. A wall to wall shagfest judging by the look of things, scratch the surface and you will find that subtle veneer of social and moral criticism that characterizes all of the director's best work, compassionately exposing the hypocrisy that inevitably comes with being accepted into "polite" society. Bathed in stark lighting and mercilessly probed by veteran cinematographer Roberta Findlay's intimately inquisitive camera, characters are laid bare both literally and metaphorically. It's not always a pretty picture...

Kudos to Ron for casting two seasoned veterans rarely allowed to take center stage. An aggressive MILF long before the term came into vogue with a pervasive peroxide do and hardlooking twin bullet boob job, fortysomething Lee Carroll burns up the screen as Jennifer, an upwardly mobile psychiatrist married to a divorce lawyer named Duke. The latter's played by Ashley Moore who had been a ubiquitous stud presence since the early '70s but was somehow seldom called upon to act. Along with Findlay's uneven The Playgirl, this movie goes to prove just how much of an unwarranted oversight that was. Waking up, with Carroll in particular looking frightfully and unflatteringly realistic, it's a daily struggle as to who gets to use the bathroom first. Unbeknownst to their partner, each starts the day off with a shower solo. At the office, both of them have their work cut out for them. Their conflicting professions prompt Jennifer to remark that while she labors to keep families together, her husband does his level best to split them apart !

Sullivan applies a unique technique to the mirroring sex sequences illustrating a single event from varying points of view. Think Rashomon meets Eve's Bayou as a possibly coerced threesome with a married couple sharing the ample charms of a buxom blonde (the rarely seen Joey Karson, the scorned streetwalker from Roger Watkins's magnificent Midnight Heat) at swingers club Château Fantasy - actually, the now long defunct Club O in lower Manhattan - drives its wedlocked participants towards the protagonists, she (very early days for fan favorite Joanna Storm) to get a divorce while he (Robert "Bolla" Kerman, solid as ever) still tries to figure out what the hell happened with the aid of shrink Carroll. As each recounts his or her version, the action materializes right there and then in the office with the professional caregivers fantasy-projecting themselves into the scene, filling in the role of the missing partner yet simultaneously remaining present as passive "audience" as well. For comic relief, there's Joey Silvera in jam jar glasses performing his usual goofy shtick as a chronically masturbating momma's boy.

Holier than thou in public life, Duke finds an outlet for his suppressed urges in accommodating sex worker Lydia Lace, appealingly portrayed by the formidable Sharon Mitchell in something of an unheralded career performance. Their encounter hits fever pitch as Moore lets loose with a genuinely disturbing stream of verbal abuse, beautifully rebuked by the kindhearted prostitute who will assume the role of catalyst in the recovery of the couple's spent passions. Film's final movement in a three act structure - which might as well be chapter-headed "Home", "Work" and "Play" - takes place at the fabled Château Fantasy which has been name-dropped enough by now to pique the main characters' imagination. Stalwart Sharon Kane and Lisa Be (hands on aunt Phyllis from Bill Milling's A Scent of Heather) have another threeway - clearly this film's signature sexual combination - with thuggish Joey Santini, the swarthy New York performer best remembered as the horny shutterbug from Tom De Simone's offbeat tranny treat Passage Thru Pamela. The live act's provided by Dena Ferrara (DMJ II's Cleopatra) taking on mullet-head Kenny Dee, who played the spa attendant in Shaun Costello's Hot Dreams, and extremely effeminate one shot Rubin Torrid. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, Susan Nero makes another memorable cameo as a high-powered attorney playing little girl games with kinky couple Lisa Cintrice (another auntie, from Jim "Clark" Buckley's Debbie Does Dallas 2) and Sean Elliot, a solid performance under the tutelage of "Cecil" Howard Winters in both Scoundrels and Firestorm. Perhaps inspiring latter film's celebrated "red scene", movie closes on the haunting dark room Sapphic seduction of Jennifer by Mitch and Storm, playing out in sacred silence to optimal erotic effect.

While indeed packed with porn, movie does a commendable job tying all of it to the central narrative by keeping the action grounded in character and evolving naturally from recognizable day to day situations. Sullivan once again proves his mettle, not just as the fine filmmaker we all know him to be but as a grade A pornographer as well. There's a subtle yet significant difference that true genre fans greatly appreciate. Falling into this select category would be a Lasse Braun or an Alex de Renzy, with John Stagliano as a more recent addition. Most of the sex here is absolutely scorching in both performance and execution, equal parts ravishing and raunchy, similar in style and intensity to Gerard Damiano's stupendous The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue. I had the incredibly good fortune to see this at an honest to goodness adult theater, the unsung ABC cinema in Brussels, Belgium, amazingly still operational as the first decade of the new millennium has already drawn to a close ! Ramble about privacy and potential embarrassment all you like, weirdly appropriate within this particular context anyway, but Golden Age porn was specifically designed to be seen on a big screen, preferably with a vast audience, which enhances its impact immeasurably.

Directed and written by Henri Pachard (a/k/a Ron Sullivan). Produced by Pachard and Michel DeJou for Vanco Productions. Photographed by Roberta Findlay. Music by Ian Shaw. Edited by James Macreading. Starring Lee Carroll (Jennifer), Ashley Moore (Duke), Sharon Mitchell (Lydia Lace), Robert Bolla (Stuart Marquette), Joanna Storm (Mrs. Marquette), Joey Karson (Camilia), Susan Nero (Gloria), Joey Silvera (Mr. Franks), Lisa Cintrice (Marsha), Sean Elliot (Herbie), Lisa Be (Lisa), Sharon Kane (Wrestler), Kenny Dee (Kenny), Joey Santini (Joey), Dena Ferrara (Dena), Michael Bruce (Shower Lover), Rubin Torrid (José) & Ginger Jaye (Dominatrix). Running time : 76 minutes. 

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