Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Pleasure Palace (1979)

In Carter Stevens's Pleasure Palace, recently terminated Big City vice cop Jimmy (Eric Edwards) and his two-bit, ambulance chasing lawyer pal Mike (R. Bolla) are the proud new owners of a brothel, thinly veiled as a massage parlor.

Among their first new hires is Carol (Serena) a streetwise and world-weary call girl who Mike takes an immediate physical and romantic interest in.

Things at the parlor get off to a rocky start with the Fire Marshal threatening to close them indefinitely for a litany of fire hazards. Fortunately, Mike's time on the vice squad taught him how the sausage is made, so he sets to appeasing the Marshal with some companionship (Robyn Byrd and Veri Knotty) and making sure the "village elders" - including the sheriff (Joey Silvera) and judge (Jake Teague) - are kept happy with some champagne, a hot tub, and the attention of another girl on their staff (Lisa Heyman).

Unfortunately for Jimmy and Mike, things get complicated when a couple of heavies, Al (Roger Caine) and Pete (Bobby Astyr), show up on behalf of their crime lord boss, Joe Goodson (Jamie Gillis). After Jimmy and Mike send the goons packing letting them know in no uncertain terms that their boss won't be getting an interest in their business, Goodson strikes back by orchestrating the sexual assault of one of the parlor's employees.

Jimmy and Mike decide to appeal to the town's power base who they expect to be on their side due to the carnal favors they arranged, but are told by the women on their staff that nobody cares if a sex worker is abused. Both the sheriff and judge confirm that sad fact when the men are told that they should try bringing Goodman down when there's evidence that a "real crime" had been committed.

When Goodson graduates from assault to murder, Jimmy and Mike realize the only way they can keep on with their business is by getting rid of Goodson by any means necessary. They hatch a plan to get the drop on him by pretending they're ready to sell out to him, leading to the final confrontation at his compound.

I'm really at a loss for why Robert Rimmer would consider this a Collector's Choice. Leads Edwards and Bolla are capable of serious and comedic performances and charm to spare, but none of that's on display here. The story doesn't break any new ground, but it's competent and could have been applied to a film that was lighter and zanier (though the rape and murder would have needed to be jettisoned) or more serious and darker, but it falls, unsatisfyingly, in the middle.

The sex scenes range from bland (Serena/R. Bolla) to unappealing (the Fire Marshal threesome, awkwardly scored by "The Washington Post March"). The Jamie Gillis/Serena scene is the lone exception, though the viewer really needs to be aware of their history, dynamic, and chemistry to temper some of the rougher edges.

Interestingly, for all the screen time Eric Edwards has, he doesn't appear in any of the hardcore. Definitely unexpected. Less unexpected, I guess, though still surprising is that Roger Caine also has a non-sex role. Typically, a scene between Al and Carol would have been cut in with the scene between Pete and the call girl he was with (Erica Havens).

The most (and possibly only) noteworthy part of the film is highlighting the shabby treatment of and lack of protections for sex workers by society, generally, and law enforcement, specifically. I will be flabbergasted if Rimmer mentions that in his review:

[Pleasure Palace] has an interesting story and very good acting by Bolla, Serena, Edwards, and Jamie Gillis...[who] plays his best gangster part ever. Had he gone straight he would have made millions in this kind of role.

Jamie Gillis was very good as Joe Goodson, I'll agree there. For the rest of the acting Rimmer pointed out, in my opinion the performances were squarely average compared to some of the actors' other roles.

It may be due to the substantial break I took from watching and reviewing adult films, or it may be that I'd been spoiled by the flicks that had come up randomly prior to my hiatus, but Pleasure Palace just didn't do it for me. CC250 is the lowest rating I've given a film since restarting Pornonomy, and looking back over the films that have gotten that designation, I'm just as disinclined to revisit them as I am this one, so I guess that's what we've got.

° Had Carter Stevens leaned into the darker aspects of Pleasure Palace, he could have relied on Roger Caine's ability to play a legitimately scary, menacing character, as evidenced by his performance in Taking of Christina. That movie - and Caine in it - were fucking chilling.

° In this film, Veri Knotty does not (knot?) showcase her schticky trick (and inspiration for her name) of tying her labia majora together. I wonder how many films she appeared in without employing her gimmick. Not counting compilations and non-sex roles, she appeared in fewer than 60 features, so checking those is feasible. With a cursory search, I'm guessing she was in a hundred or so loops, but I'll bet she ties herself up in the bold majora-ity of those.


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