Nov 29, 2011

Loving and Laughing (1971)

Director: John Sole
Writer: Martin Bronstein
Producers: John Dunning, Andre Link
Music: Paul Baillargeon, Dean Morgan
Cinematographer: Roger Moride
Cinepix; 96 min; color

André Lawrence (Lucien Lapalme), Mignon Elkins (Mrs. Margaret Harrison), Michèle Mercure (Lovely), Gordon Fisher (Reggie Parker), Susan Petrie (Belinda Harrison), Céline Lomez (Diane), Julie Wildman (Joan Harrison)

An obscure hippie-dippie movie? And as co-stars, Canuck cuties Susan Petrie and Céline Lomez? You had me at hello.

That was all the provocation yours truly needed to head down last night to a free screening of this near-forgotten exponent of "maple syrup porn", presented by Paul Corupe, the webmaster of the excellent Canuxploitation site. In the early 1970's, Quebec filmmakers were making box office gold with these so-called "maple syrup porn", whose ample amounts of softcore sex represented the newly found liberation of the era.  While such films as Love In a 4 Letter World and Après Ski may seem comparatively tame today, seeing full frontal nudity (of either sex) and fornication was enough to upset the staunch Catholic leanings of the province's old guard.  Last night's picture was one of those offered by the enterprising producers André Link and John Dunning from their Cinepix production company.  

In this countercultural ancestor to Trading Places, boring rich priss Reggie's car breaks down while en route to offer French lessons to more boring rich people in Vermont.  He gets a lift from some hippies, who all spend time on a commune led by Lucien. Naturally Reggie doesn't fit in with the free-spirited longhairs, but he offers a proposition to Lucien (who is fleeing drug charges) to switch roles with him.  Thus, Lucien assumes Reggie's role as the French tutor for the Harrison family, and gets more than he bargained for in staid New England, as it appears that the mother, her daughters and the maid are all hankering for some French stick bread.

While the plot would be satisfactory enough just to provide the opportunity for some sexual situations (which is all that the audience is paying to see anyway), it is however surprising how the initially flabby humour evolves into a clever comedy of manners.  The film works in its non-carnal moments because the actors are engaging to watch even with their clothes on.  André Lawrence effortlessly makes the change from casual hippie to elegant aristocrat in this new alien environment.  While I've always loved the bright-eyed Susan Petrie in everything (Rip-Off; Lions For Breakfast; Shivers), I now have even more respect for her range, as this role shows her knack for screwball comedy!  She nearly steals the picture as one of the two sharp-tongued daughters.  And yes, no Quebec sex romp would be complete without an appearance by the dark-haired hottie Céline Lomez (best remembered to Anglophone viewers as the ill-fated love interest in The Silent Partner)-  she amply fills the requirements as the fun-loving maid.  Meanwhile, back at the commune, Reggie is also evolving, from a stick-in-the-mud to local hero, as he gets to use his pampered education to help the hippies out of brushes with the law (the fuzz depicted herein must have pinups of Rod Steiger from In The Heat of the Night).

Despite a climax (literally and figuratively) atop a mountain, alas the film has a weak conclusion, attempting to tie together the two story threads. Like the hippies onscreen, Loving and Laughing is definitely a product of its time: in this more enlightened age, the stereotypical depictions of homosexuals would offend more than the flagrant full frontal (but not exploitive) nudity. Still, one is surprised that this sex romp transcends the meager requirements of its box office appeal.  There is plenty of loving, but surprisingly, just as much laughing.