Confessions of a Young American Housewife (1974)

Carol is a young happily married New Yorker, who enjoys being part of a swinging foursome with her husband and a befriended couple. One day Carol’s widowed mother comes to stay in their house, but she is more on the conservative side and doesn’t know about her partner-swapping daughter. Could she ever open up to this sexually open lifestyle?

Starring: Rebecca Brooke, Jennifer Welles, Chris Jordan, Eric Edwards, David Hausman, Lana Joyce, Erica Eaton & Arlana Blue.

After providing some of the most professional and compelling dramas to grindhouse audiences throughout the 1960s, director Joe Sarno fluctuated between adult fare under the pseudonym “Karl Andersson” and softcore titles that would allow him to explore his cinematic vision without having to go “all the way” in the name of the almighty dollar. His regular troupe of actors all began their association with the exceptional director while working on CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, his first of a series starring beautiful honey blonde Rebecca Brooke and a cavalcade of familiar adult film personalities who were able to stretch their thespian muscles for a well-deserved change. CONFESSIONS is no ABIGAIL LESLIE or MISTY (taken together, the very best work that Sarno produced during this decade), but it’s important as the stepping stone to those great classics and features enough entertaining twists from Sarno’s usual swinging-n-incest melodramas to raise this into the upper tier of his filmography.

Sophisticated swingers Carole and Eddie, and their friends and bed partners Anna and Pete, have a wrench thrown into their sex-packed routine when Carole’s recently widowed mother Jennifer comes to visit. Jennifer is gradually made aware of the unusual circumstances she has walked into when Pete puts the moves on her in the kitchen and Carole finally comes clean with their foursome situation. Surrounded by such sexual openness, Jennifer becomes infatuated with the local grocery delivery boy and begins a May-December romance, while also sampling the sinful pleasures of her daughter’s husband and friends.

The recurrent themes of incest and couples-swinging are so familiar to Sarno fans that it’s sometimes hard to tell some films apart, and they may flow together without resonating in other departments (acting, photography, etc.). One couldn’t be blamed for initially feeling like this is the same ol’ Sarno at work here, with a group of people having frivolous sex and a mother-daughter discovering dormant feelings of romance between one another, but thanks to a talented cast whom he could count on to bring his script to vivid life, this doesn’t descend into Sarno-on-autopilot (that would be LAURA’S TOYS). Sarno builds his usual mesmerizing, frenzied heat between his characters, utilizing his patented two-shots, few to no cuts during his dramatic scenes, and focusing on the facial expressions of his nude actors during their love scenes. No one lensed sex better or more effectively than Sarno, and you can quote me on that. While careful not to judge the open marriages of the two couples, it is unusual that he never shows Carole and Eddie, nor Anna and Pete, sharing a sex scene together or, in fact, ever really talking to each other like a couple. So why even stay married in the first place? For stability, to fit into the status quo, for a love we the audience aren’t privy to? The mind boggles… Sarno’s final decision for the fate of Jennifer seems to hint at a greater morality that he had injected into earlier films (i.e., love is inevitably far more important than sex), and helps his films age far better than many of his contemporaries. In addition to the marvelous cinematography by Stephen Colwell (the genius responsible for the beautiful visual texture of Armand Weston’s THE DEFIANCE OF GOOD), composer Jack Justis delivers perhaps his most poignant and memorable musical score of the plentiful soundtracks he provided for Sarno films. Of the composers who provided melodies for Sarno’s visions, Justis was the artist who contributed most to the director’s singular line of work throughout the 1970s. His contributions always featured lilting, seductive guitar licks that reflected the characters’ emotions, and thankfully he understood that the dramatic pull of Sarno’s scripts didn’t need complex or intrusive underscoring. Trivia note: For some reason, portions of Justis’ beautiful guitar-driven Sarno soundtracks appeared in Fred J. Lincoln and Sharon Mitchell’s co-directorial effort A PLACE BEYOND SHAME starring Seka. The film itself seems to be inspired by Sarno’s tales of sexual awakening, as Seka . How Justis became involved with the San Francisco-based production (perhaps through Lincoln, star of the Justis-scored DEFIANCE?), or whether the music itself was even licensed for use in the film, is unknown.

In her first film of many for Sarno, Mary Mendum (“Rebecca Brooke”) is still trying to find her footing here. She delivers her dialogue with gusto and looks great, and she is dynamite in her sex scenes… but something is missing. There is a distance from the material that results in her being easily outshone in her dramatic scenes by all of her co-stars, namely Chris Jordan (who could steal scenes from anybody effortlessly) and Jennifer Welles in what must be her best performance of the decade. Welles is indeed an odd case; she had made infrequent appearances as a brunette under her real name of “Liza Duran” in softcore films of the late 1960s, giving an impressive and layered performance as a damaged girl in Allen Savage’s criminally unsung SUBMISSION and delivering the goods as a young talentless actress being pimped into stardom by her mother in Joel Reed’s wonderfully nihilistic CAREER BED. But other than playing herself in the lengthy faux bio-pic INSIDE JENNIFER WELLES as her swan song, her acting performances left a lot to be desired after she dyed her hair blonde and dipped into the hardcore field. Her body was always in top condition, though, especially the gravity-defying bosoms that inspired the massive cult following she still has today, and her sex scenes were usually breathlessly compelling. By casting her as a woman torn between her former way of life and a rediscovered sexual freedom, Sarno was able to bring out a desire to act in Welles that no other director of the decade could. Sure, she won an acting award for LITTLE ORPHAN SAMMY, but anyone who’s seen that film will be left puzzled why. This is Jennifer’s best performance not only of her work for Sarno, but of her entire career! She is able to combine voracious sexuality and emotional characterization beautifully, and she steals the film easily from her higher-billed co-star Mary Mendum.

If Jennifer Welles is the most memorable actress in CONFESSIONS, Chris Jordan wins a well-justified runner-up prize for her performance as the adorable pixie Anna. Introduced snacking on cookie after cookie and thereafter never seen or heard without some kind of food or food discussion, Jordan brings her natural comedic talents to this film with both barrels. She is a pure joy in every scene, and develops a surprising dirty mouth during sex! It’s no surprise that she was a professional actress with an extensive background in stage work and commercials. She never gave less than her very best in every film she did, from the heartbreaking warf girl in ABIGAIL LESLIE IS BACK IN TOWN and the Juliet to Eric Edwards’ Romeo in Roberta Findlay’s romantic tragedy CLAMDIGGER’S DAUGHTER to the impish title character in A TOUCH OF GENIE and one of the adorable, adventurous TEENAGE HITCHHIKERS. Chris is one of those ladies that is glossed over in favor of her flashier co-stars (in this case, Jennifer Welles and Mary Mendum), despite the fact that she could act circles around the both of them! She was never a superstar of sexploitation or adult films, but has recently finally been given her dues by fans discovering her through home video. Casting Chris Jordan alongside Eric Edwards as a married couple wasn’t at all far from the truth; the pair were in fact a real-life item for a number of years through the greater part of the 1970s. Jordan unfortunately passed away after a long battle with cancer in 1990. Though Jordan had graduated to brief non-sex roles in adult fare like THE TAKING OF CHRISTINA and FAREWELL SCARLET near the end of her career, it’s a real shame that she couldn’t make that jump into the mainstream. Of all the Sarno actresses of the 1970s, Jordan, in my eyes, was the most diverse and talented of the lot. She will be missed. Edwards, on the other hand, worked well into the 90s in the adult film world, but everyone knows his best work was in the 1970s and into the mid-80s. He was Sarno’s favorite actor in this period, appearing in just about everything the director did.

Sarno, possibly still infatuated with the occult themes he explored in films like RED ROSES OF PASSION and VAMPIRE ECSTASY, throws in a unique sequence featuring the girls visiting Shandara, a mystical sexual temptress who grooves on other peoples’ “vibes”. Given Jennifer’s quivering orgasms and insatiable sexual appetite, Shandara naturally is attracted to her aura most of all. As Shandara, popular low-budget adult film starlet Arlana Blue is a striking presence; thankfully she isn’t required to emote too much, but her flowing black hair, piercing eyes, and high cheekbones ensure she was the right choice for the part. In a rather unmemorable role as the inquisitive neighbor inducted into the world of swinging, Erica Eaton, a popular, but not too familiar to most, face in adult cinema of the early 1970s, is kind of fun. David Hausman, playing Mendum’s husband Eddie, doesn’t have much to do, but is a serviceable and handsome lead. He would make two other films with Mendum, Chuck Vincent’s MRS. BARRINGTON and Sarno’s THE SWITCH, as well as a handful of other noteworthy exploitation films, but he isn’t nearly as interesting as his look-alike, Alan Marlow, a talented actor who somehow managed to avoid working with Sarno in this period.
Author: Casey Scott

Date: December 19, 2020