Sin in the Suburbs was one of the early groundbreaking hits of the 1960s post-nudie-cutie 'grindhouse' era, single-handedly establishing the 'suburban swingers' subgenre. (Sarno actually based this movie rather closely on a true story he researched for a magazine article seven or eight years prior to shooting.) Future House of Shame ringleader Audrey "Olga" Campbell stars as Geraldine, a bored, unappreciated New Jersey housewife who's indulging in daytime "bottle parties" with other men because her workaholic husband is spending too much time at the office ("the plastics line isn't what it was ten years ago"). Sexually frustrated neighbor Lisa (fashion model Marla Ellis in a terrific performance), unsuccessfully begs her hubby to call in sick for a little afternoon delight, then seduces construction worker Roy to cool her desire. (His loaded opening line, "Can I hook onto your outside tap?", delivered as he fingers the tip of his coiled garden hose, is priceless.) Geraldine entices her daughter Kathy's hormonally charged boyfriend, who later assaults Kathy (future Olga co-star Alice Linville). She runs home in tears, only to discover mommy in the midst of a foursome! This trauma sends her reeling into the arms of predatory bisexual neighbor Yvette (buxom Dyanne "Ilsa" Thorne) who's already planning a sex-for-money cult involving the dallying neighbor ladies with her foppish, reptilian "brother" (wonderfully played by another future Olga alumnus, W. B. Parker, once described perfectly as a cross between Martin Kosleck and Harvey Fierstein). Soon, half the neighborhood is attending vaguely satanic, cloaked-and-masked, exhibitionistic mate-swapping rituals at a local hotel, presided over by Parker's hissing "ringmaster." Further complications ensue before the "shocking" finale. While dialogue and acting are occasionally problematic, Sin in the Suburbs plays overall more like a "real" movie than nearly any other Adults Only flick. Sarno, perhaps sexploitation's only genuine auteur (he's often dubbed "the Ingmar Bergman of sexploitation"), delivers one of the first frank and provocative studies of taboo sexuality in American cinema. The cinematography alternates between suburban-sunny and dark, moody chiaroscuro, and the characters are sometimes framed to appear "trapped" by their kitschy 1960s furniture and decor. The score, non-stop low-rent jazz (each household is given its own musical "theme"), occasionally can get a little nerve-wracking, but definitely contributes to the film's relentlessly building tension. Even though most of the sexual grappling is implied and there are only a few flashes of nudity, the movie still has the power to shock and disturb (especially Thorne's seduction of Linville). One can only imagine its impact on audiences of the day, but I'd agree with Frank Henenlotter's observation that Sin in the Suburbs is more subversive than any hardcore porn, deftly exposing the dark underbelly of 1960s suburbia and savagely skewering the 1950s ideal of the "organization man." One of my top-five favorite Adults Only flicks.
The Swap and How They Make It could almost be a loose remake of Sin in the Suburbs, sharing a number of similar plot devices. This time gorgeous, icy blonde Mona (Patricia McNair, familiar to Sarno fans from The Love Merchant and the Ride the Wild Pink Horse trailer) is being ignored by her overworked hubby. Her wanton girlfriend Karen is using Mona's empty bedroom during the day to pursue a fling with a high school jock. Soon they all fall into a local mate-swapping club called "The Exchange", run by Mona's next-door neighbor Brooke, resulting in a tangle of relationships and plot twists that you'll need a scorecard to keep track of. (Sarno's wife appears briefly as one of the swingers.) The ending isn't as surprising as it should be if you've seen Sin in the Suburbs, but overall the film is extremely well done by sexploitation standards, offering a little more skin than Suburbs along with a similar, nearly unbearable feeling of mounting tension. The Swap is longer than Suburbs and more slowly paced, with numerous terse dialogue scenes set up in tableaux fashion, again creating the feeling that the characters are somehow trapped in their sterile suburban environment. The overall execution and pacing vaguely recalls Carl Dreyer's Gertrud (released two years earlier and perhaps a more apt comparison than Bergman), especially the scene where "prudish" blonde Mona doffs her civvies to reveal "naughty" black bra, panties, garters, and stockings. It's a jarring moment following all the low-key, deliberately paced dialogue scenes. This time, Sarno dispenses with music almost entirely, relying primarily on an insistent, repetitive drum figure as a tension-building transitional device and occasional snatches of fuzz-tone garage rock. Less campy, more "serious" than Suburbs, The Swap is still quite entertaining, and fascinating for Sarno freaks.
The source print of Sin in the Suburbs shows generally very good to excellent tonal values and acceptable detail and sharpness, although there is minor speckling/lining and the occasional dialogue-eating splice. We really can't complain since this was remastered from the only known remaining print. The Swap, on the other hand, looks just fabulous, with excellent tonal values, detail, and sharpness, and only very minor speckling. It does, however, appear to have been shot widescreen, with SWV's full frame source print looking slightly cropped on the sides. Not a major problem, but mildly distracting. Extras include seven wife-swapping-related trailers (including The Swap); a nothing Sarno short, A Sneak Peak at Strip Poker; an exploitation art gallery; and Easter Egg revealing the trailer for Olga's House of Shame. What should be the prize of the set, an audio commentary by Joe Sarno, wife Peggy Sarno (who acted in sexploitation flicks as Peggy Steffans and Cleo Nova), and SWV honchos Mike Vraney and Frank Henenlotter, is a bit frustrating. While the discussion, ranging over Sarno's entire B&W 1960s period, is always quite interesting, I often wished that Vraney and especially Henenlotter would allow Mr. Sarno more time to collect his thoughts and get a few more words in edgewise. Vraney occasionally tries to steer the conversation back to Joe, but I feel a bit disappointed that he didn't get more air time. A minor complaint about a fantastic package that is even more impressive when you hear Vraney discussing the daunting task of finding and preserving these impossibly rare movies. Highly recommended. (Note to Mike Vraney: please release Moonlighting Wives on DVD, print quality be damned!!)