The first of the intimistic explorations of male menopausal angst director “Cecil” Howard and his regular screenwriter Anne Randall collaborated upon, thematically followed by Snake Eyes, Dangerous Stuff and Star Angel. Its comparatively minimalist approach, favoring the thespian prowess of performers too often relegated to mere horizontal duties, made for a jarring change from the lavish all star episodic epics like Platinum Paradise and Foxtrot on which he had built his fame. Such expensive endeavors were rapidly becoming a thing of the past with the increasing affordability of home video systems leading to the demise of the porno picture palaces of yore as sex was once again scaled down to bedroom proportions. While this inevitable evolution forced many fine fornication filmmakers to compromise their artistic vision due to budgetary constraints, Howard held out longer than most, helped no doubt by the fact that he was also his own producer and sole VHS distributor (on US soil at least), with his company Command Video adopting a stringent pricing strategy, with the quality to back it up, as rival entrepreneurs quickly dropped their product to cut-rate “catalog prices”. As such, he could maintain his high standards well into the video age, acquiring the rights to a string of glossy Euro epics when homegrown hardcore no longer proved a viable option. Regrettably, as of this writing, Howard’s awesome back catalogue remains frustratingly unavailable on DVD apart from a few admittedly state of the art if long out of print by now double disc editions of Neon Nights and Babylon Pink (which he produced though directed by Ron Sullivan) from Media Blasters. Somebody somewhere should set up a conference call between this industry icon (still very much alive and kicking, praise the Lord !) and…er…gee, I don’t know, Distribpix perhaps ???
Already sensing the approaching end of an era, Scoundrels showed the way Howard was to follow during his creative twilight years, replacing the spectacular production values with psychological insight hitherto largely left unexplored in popular pornography. The ubiquitous Ron Jeremy was cast against type and, as a result perhaps, never better in the role of a wealthy psychiatrist named Simon whose life disintegrates through seemingly involuntary duplicity of his nearest and dearest. His wife Linda (a career best performance from Lisa Be, all too rarely required to act) is having a heated affair with her husband’s best friend Harper (George Payne test-driving the sleazy persona that was to become his bread and butter during his “roughie” stage over at Avon), almost acting out an obsession she has had with him ever since they were all together at college. His daughter Francie (an appealingly brittle Tigr) pretends to cram for upcoming exams but partakes in Mary Jane induced intimacies instead with fellow students Marissa Constantine (from Roger Watkins’s mesmerizing Corruption) and Sean Elliot, who was in Lenny “Gucci” Kirtman’s highly active Coed Teasers. The latter, her boyfriend of sorts, also turns out to be Harper’s nephew which seems like reason enough for the deeply dissatisfied Linda to welcome him into their increasingly dysfunctional family in her own special way.
Maintaining professional distance with loved ones as well as patients, Simon’s incredibly slow to pick up on any of this or he may be deliberately blocking it all out in order to preserve a surface calm existence. Photographer Bob “Bolla” Kerman confesses his illicit attraction to teen model Tiffany Clark, who does a credible job acting coy rather than seeming mentally deficient, and put upon trophy wife Anna Turner (excellent as Aaron Stuart’s slutty spouse in Sam Weston’s The Dancers) tries to get back at philandering husband Ron Hudd by making it with his mistress and secretary Sharon Mitchell in two choice sex scenes highlighting Howard’s knack for establishing erotic atmosphere through build-up and detail. Pining away for her boss, receptionist Copper Penny (one of Bill Milling’s original All American Girls and a Kirtman mainstay) attempts to assuage her frustration by turning to the ever ready Harper while Simon seeks release between sessions at a health club doubling as a whorehouse with nubile Tammy Lamb, a sequence the director would recycle as flashback footage for Star Angel. Catching on to dad’s double standards, Francie makes a surprise appearance at the brothel, giving a merry send-off to small town marine David Ambrose (actress Tish’s husband) on the eve of his tour of duty. As Simon’s dearly held illusions come crumbling down, he turns to the pretty young thing he’s always buying smokes from and fantasizing about (heavily hyped one shot Ariel Lee in discreetly unclad but basically non-sex capacity) for his last shot at redemption.
After the allegorical abstraction of Neon Nights, Winters and Wolff would become increasingly accused of high-minded pretentiousness by a porn press keen on preserving the genre’s blue collar status quo. Fueling the fire, they have adopted a faux Bergman attitude for Scoundrels with middle class ennui generating unfulfilling extra-marital excursions, commented upon by a makeshift Greek chorus of the central characters in clown white face and French mime outfits ! While such touches might seem easy to ridicule, Howard makes it abundantly if not smugly clear that he’s always at least two steps ahead of his audience, holding up a fun house mirror to reflect our own anxieties and insecurities. And just because this movie signaled the minimalist latter day stage of its director’s career doesn’t mean that it would short-change on the professional proficiency that had become his stock in trade. Later to find his niche in straight to video actioners, including a brief stint in the director’s chair, Steve Kaman a/k/a “Sven Nuvo” contributes ingenious and intricately lit compositions as a clear result of training under camera genius Larry Revene for whom he shot Wanda Whips Wall Street, still his ace achievement to date. Very much a thinking man’s porn, not as much of an oxymoron as one might imagine, the relentlessly downbeat tone right up to its cruelly ironic final twist make Scoundrels something of a challenge, rewarding only those willing to contemplate the more unpleasant metaphysical questions of human existence.
Directed by Cecil Howard. Written by Anne Randall. Produced by Howard and Wolf for Command Cinema Corporation. Photographed by Steve Kaman (as Sven Nuvo). Music by Peter Lewis and Dave Ogrin. Edited by Oslak Vabo. Starring Ron Jeremy (Simon), Lisa Be (Linda), Tigr (Francie), George Payne (Harper), Tiffany Clark, Robert Kerman (as R. Bolla), Sharon Mitchell, Copper Penny, Tammy Lamb, Anna Turner, Ron Hudd, Marissa Constantine, David Ambrose, Sean Elliot, Tess Mayo and Ariel Lee. Running time : 81 minutes.