Thursday, April 19, 2018

Recent Viewings: THE ORGY AT LIL'S PLACE (1963)

Ann, a young woman from a small town, travels to the Big Apple in the 1960s in hopes of becoming an actress. In doing so, she finds it sometimes necessary to take some odd jobs to make ends meet, but she has the constant support of a boyfriend who believes in her.

No, I haven't decided to review Season One of THAT GIRL! I'm talking about the legendary "lost" Adults Only film, THE ORGY AT LIL'S PLACE (1963)! 

In one of the biggest buried headlines in home video history, this tantalizing title - long assumed to be, along with numerous early Andy Milligan titles, a fatality of the bonfires to which distributor William Mishkin assigned prints of his properties that stopped paying their keep in rental fees - has turned up as a bonus co-feature on Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray disc of PICK-UP, a mystical 1973 skin-flick directed and photographed by Bernard Hirschenson, the award-winning cameraman who also shot DAVID AND LISA, SATAN IN HIGH HEELS, the "Keep America Beautiful" ad with Iron Eyes Cody, and... THE ORGY AT LIL'S PLACE.

Directed by Jerald Intrator under the name J. Nehemiah, THE ORGY AT LIL'S PLACE was shot in and around New York City in 1962. In the biggest of the film's surprises, future director Del Tenney (THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE) is credited as assistant director, and furthermore plays what is ultimately the film's male lead, the heroine/narrator's boyfriend Charlie, working under the name "Bob Curtis." At the eponymous orgy (where a group of NY socialites play Strip Dice, a game that quickly turns into Just Roll the Dice and Laugh), he even performs a couple of stanzas of a folk song. In his capacity as assistant director, it seems likely that Tenney may have handled all the second unit NYC travelogue material, which is actually the film's most impressive content. 

The real ace in the film's deck was its cinematographer Bernard "Bernie" Hirschenson, a former GI cameraman whose other achievements include DAVID AND LISA, the "Keep America Beautiful" ads with Iron Eyes Cody, and SATAN IN HIGH HEELS. The ads for the film looked sordid, but the cinematography is excellent throughout and effectively captures the greatest American city at its greatest. For most Adults Only films of this period, a big screen is hardly a requirement but if you have one, it's going to add a great deal to the film's scenic impact. 

The film was successful and attracted a good deal more than the usual mainstream attention; it's rumored to have found its way into at least one Johnny Carson monologue. But somehow it disappeared from any and all circulation until a near-pristine print was recently discovered on file at the Kinsey Institute, where a collection of erotic films had been maintained. I assume there might have been a problem with Kinsey letting the film out of their hands for commercial use, but Vinegar Syndrome was able to acquire it for use as a free bonus feature through the American Genre Film Archive. Otherwise, I suspect ORGY would be the A-title here.

And despite that harsh and somewhat sleazy title, THE ORGY AT LIL'S PLACE turns out to be a surprisingly wholesome movie about - as I mentioned - a small town girl ("Carrie Knudsen" = Kari Knudsen) who joins her sister ("June Ashlyn" = June Ashley) in NYC with naïve dreams of becoming an actress and gets work as a model on some torrid projects. There are nightgown and bubble bath assignments, even a couple of Bondage spreads. She takes on the work in good humor; it’s a living. It's remarkable in light of where the movies generally took such stories in subsequent years, but nobody gets hurt, nobody gets mugged, nobody rubs up against the Mob, nobody gets raped, nobody even gets their career ruined or heart broken for not coming across sexually. Call it naïve, but ORGY seems to have been made with unusual care to appeal to female viewers, unusual for adult films at this time - and the silvery black-and-white photography actually explodes into full color when all our heroine’s dreams come true. 

Among the cast members is '70s soap star Robert Milli (billed as "R.M. Miller"), who had also appeared in Graeme Ferguson's THE SEDUCERS (1962 - written by Wilson Ashley - any relation to June?) and played a key role in Tenney's THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE (1971).

Oh, and this guy strikes me as familiar, maybe with slightly more gray in his har. Does anyone recognize him? If so, drop me an email or message me on Facebook.


(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.