Desire Under the Palms (1968)

Justly forgotten, DESIRE UNDER THE PALMS demonstrates the low ebb of Joe Sarno’s soft porn formula of the ’60s. Cranked out during a period when he was shooting at a pace of nearly a film a month, it plays like an unfinished film hastily slapped together to feed the adult movie house circuit briefly -and out.

Joe’s story premise is serviceable for porn, a young Southern Florida housewife Betty (played by Joe’s usual Fla. leading lady Barbara Lance) has hopes of a career as writer, pounding out short stories on her Underwood. Her friend and agent Stacey, plus her other girl friends, claim her material is not spicy enough for the market, so they give her stroke magazines to read and suggest she learn more about sexual practices to jump-start her career.

Sarno fails to develop this premise, falling back on motifs from his earlier films to fill out the running time. There are perfunctory lesbian dream sequences (novel for their full-frontal nudity this time), but he failed to shoot enough footage. An all-purpose shot of Betty, bathed in Steve Silverman-lensed shadows, is inserted from time to time to indicate she’s in voyeur mode, doing research. Random shots of her wandering around outside are used for transitions between scenes. Steve Hawkes has a bit part in one of the fantasies and later reappears (to save a casting buck) as a boy friend.

And most alarmingly, a lengthy cunnilingus scene of Lance’s faked ecstasy is repeated later in the film, just with rainstorm sound effects added to make the padding seem new and “different”.

Acting is truly miserable here. Lance was employed as usual merely because of her amazing headlights when she disrobes, but her facial expressions (or contortions) do not fit the character. At least she tries; the rest of the cast has trouble spitting out their lines in a general monotone and look understandably bored throughout. Sarno’s famous gimmick of grouping the women in the foreground for intimate conversations near the camera plays very tired this time out.

Despite Lance’s groaning at times like a water buffalo in heat, the sex scenes are not stimulating. One latter scene of Betty seemingly raped by lesbian pal Doris with the handle of a whip is so fleeting one wonders why it was retained in the film, other than as an attempted “wake-up” moment for the drowsy audience. Overuse of Joe’s fetish, a noisy vibrating massage device, is irritating.

Director: Joseph W. Sarno (as Joe Sarno)