Thursday, October 29, 2009

Private Lessons (1981)

Starring Eric Brown, Sylvia Kristel, Howard Hesseman, et al
Rated R, 87 minutes

This is a movie with some reputation. 16-year-old Eric Brown plays 15-year-old "Philly" Filmore, a privileged child who's got the mansion to himself for a few weeks. We learn quickly that his new, younger, and sexier house maid Nicole (Kristel) has hatched a plan with the chauffeur (Hesseman) to...well, have sex with him. It isn't made abundantly clear from the movie itself that she's after money until MUCH later. We just know the two are in cahoots, and that the chauffeur would like her seduction to move a lot faster.

Philly is overly motivated by his hormones, even for a young boy. He and his pal are always ogling girls from the bushes. He pursues Nicole herself from this vantage point, until she invites him in for some up-close-and-personal peeping.

I would no doubt eat that scene up if I saw this movie in my teens. "Private Lessons" is unadulterated titillation for the first hour or so, with generous shots of tight shorts, wet t-shirts and long legs. The come hither scene, with the actual nudity, is played to the hilt. The camera is Heterosexual Male Viewer's Best Friend, taking not-so-modest long gazes at the body parts as they get revealed.

But it doesn't end with one little strip show. She accosts him to the tub. They go on dates. They make out. And eventually, they consummate the relationship. Sure, as a sexed-up young lad, I wouldn't have batted an eye at these scenes. But now, with more life behind me, I can't help but get the chills while this adult actress makes out with a minor.

Beyond that, the writing should give you chills because it's often bad. Why waste time watching characters struggle with their ethics? Nicole almost has a moment of clarity about seducing a young boy in one scene, but this movie has to be under 90 minutes damnit! A lot of times, the action was moved by the "ask me twice" device - ask me twice, and I'll say yes. That leaves all the mental wrestling off the screen, while you get to enjoy the sultry results.

When the plan to extort Philly for money finally gets going, the sex is gone, and all the terrible film is exposed underneath. The rest of the duration is particularly dumb. It's conceivable that moments were edited out that made it all make more sense. Watch as a tennis instructor masquerading as a cop (played by Ed Begley Jr.) and an angry gardener get in the way of some quality fleeing town with the kid's money.

The ending made me say "what the fuck?" out loud. Philly talks to one of his teachers, the very same woman who urged him early in the film to find girls more age appropriate. He repeats that advice, then asks her to dinner.

In an effort to be cool, I suppose, the movie uses a metric ton of popular music. On their final night of passion, the elder & boy make love to "You're In My Heart" by Rod Stewart. I may never hear that song the same way again.


There's no doubt this movie did what it set out to do very well. I'm not going to deny that at all. Teenage boys who caught it on a pay channel in the 80s probably still have "Private Lessons" stuck in the recesses of their mind. If we're rating on that scale - the boner-iffic scale - this movie's probably 5 stars.

But how is this an R-rated movie for adults? A woman would surely cast this aside based on the trailer. And it's not really sophisticated enough for a grown man to enjoy. Sure, there's taking a mental trip back in time to put yourself in Philly's shoes, but that's only so fun for so long. It doesn't save the rest of the movie.

I should also mention this movie was produced by Barry & Enright. Who are they? Why, Jack Barry and Dan Enright, the minds behind the game show classics "Tic Tac Dough" and "The Joker's Wild." It was beyond bizarre to see their logo in the opening credits. And if there's a place BEYOND beyond bizarre, I was certainly there once the subject matter got going.

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