Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Telephone Book (1971)

Sarah Kennedy stars as Alice in this strange sex comedy/drama that follows her character around as she tries to find the greatest obscene phone caller in the world. He doesn't really want to be found, at least not immediately, and so Alice meets a variety of men who take quite a liking to her. These include adult film star Har Poon (Barry Morse), a lusty analyst (Roger C. Carmel) and, well, a mugger (Matthew Tobin).

Directed and written by Nelson Lyon, The Telephone Book is a typical example of the sex comedies that came about during, and after, the Swinging Sixties. Released in 1971, it may aim for a more artistic final product but it's really little more than a series of, admittedly amusing, vignettes strung together to form a narrative that's childish in its simplicity.

Kennedy is fine in the lead role, all big eyes, a big smile and willing to disrobe at any minute, while the males onscreen seem to enjoy playing a variety of sex-obsessives. Jill Clayburgh gets the only other female role of note, and steals a few scenes as "Eyemask", a character who is friends with Alice and almost always too busy enjoying some sexual shenanigans of her own to actually help in the hunt for the obscene caller. Speaking of the main man on the phone, he's played by James Harder (though his face is mostly covered by a mask) and is, thankfully, believable as someone who could be such a winning combination of rude and charming that his every obscene call is a huge success. The appearance of William Hickey, as someone who wakes up with a problem that just won't settle down, is another big plus.

There is, as you can probably gather from the premise, a lot of questionable stuff on display here. The treatment of the lead character is pretty shabby, made all the more uncomfortable to watch thanks to her youth and naivete. But it's easy enough to complain about how the movie treats women without stopping to think of how it treats/portrays men. The nicest man in the movie is an obscene phone caller, which I think tells you all that you need to know. Women may be seen as objects of desire, but all men are perverts and/or criminals in this cinematic landscape of unbiased gender defamation.

If the first 80 minutes didn't have enough titillation and crudity in there, don't worry. The last 10 minutes contains animation by Leonard Glasser that could be found in a dictionary beside the word subtle. And with that description, I mean that the definition of the word subtle could easily read: "the exact opposite of the animation by Leonard Glasser during the finale of The Telephone Book."

An interesting film to watch as a curio piece, The Telephone Book is one of many sex films that isn't sexy and features a fair bit of comedy that isn't funny, but it has just enough interesting moments to keep you interested and entertained throughout (with one highlight being the story of how the obscene phone caller found his calling), and will certainly appeal to fans of the bizarre.


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