Sin in the Suburbs (1964)

So begins my journey through the cinema of Joe Sarno. Viewing any of Sarno's works has been long overdue in these pages, but I'm happy to say it was a positive experience, and I'll be going back for more in the near future. And let's face it, any films that teams practically the whole cast of Olga's House of Shame - particularly Audrey 'Olga' Campbell - with Ilsa's Dyanne Thorne has to have a lot going for it. While we're not bombarded with nudity and explicit sex in this particular outing, the overall atmosphere of salaciousness and fevered longing more than makes up for any lack of bouncing flesh.

No more bills?

In an American any-suburb somewhere, we open with a debt collector trying to claim unpaid bills with local naughty girl, Yvette Talman (Thorne, billed as Lahna Monroe). Yvette soon disrobes and, well, we can forget about the bills. It's only later in the film that I worked out who Dyanne Thorne was playing, as she is virtually unrecognisable here. She has quite a prominent nose in this role, and I suspect she had a nose job as her career progressed. This is not to say she isn't completely desirable in this role, though.

We start to explore more of this sinful suburb as we meet negligeed housewife Lisa Francis (slim Marla Ellis) who wants her husband Henry (Joseph Garry) around more. It's not possible as he has a long commute to his day job. Every day, he takes the 7:21 train into the city, and return on the 6:35. The dissapointed woman watches her husband leave, being unable to convince him to change jobs, or stay another minute.

Happy families?

We then join a breakfast with the Lewis family, Geraldine (Campbell), Scott and teenage daughter Kathy (Judy Young, the converted-to-sadism Elaine from Olga). They seem like the average white-bread with picket-fence family, but Geraldine expresses her dissatisfaction with Scott's extended time away at work. She wishes she had a common workman who was home at five and sat around in his underwear. Scott counters that Geraldine has expensive tastes and wouldn't survive without his salary. No surprise with this humdrum existence, Scott also takes the 7:21 and returns on the 6:35...

Some seething feelings are about to be revealed amongst these people, though. A workman outside doing plumbing for another house asks Lisa if he can fix something outside her house that he's spotted. She agrees and finds herself attracted to him. Lisa leaves the situation, confused. Kathy's nominal boyfriend, Roy (Richard Tatro) shows up at the Lewis' while Kathy isn't there. Geraldine dances the twist with him for a while, and the two soon share a passionate embrace. Geraldine quickly sends the nervous young man on his way, though. Soon after Lisa makes hesitantly come-hither eyes at the workman and he wordlessly enters her house. He starts to kiss her, but she pushes him away. Angered, he pushes her to the ground and rapes her on the spot. Later Lisa embraces him a frenzy - apparently sexual assault unlocked hidden passion in the lonely woman.

Back at Yvette's house, we meet her just-moved-in 'brother' Louis (W.B. Parker, the slimeball accomplice from Olga) who talks to her about the hypocrisy of the suburbanites. Yvette mentions that she's seen 'boyfriends' come and go to Geraldine's while Scott Lewis is away. Louis, his crafty mind beginning to understand how things work around here, begins to consider a plan that may profit him and Yvette. Back at Geraldine's home, she allows in a man and a couple. Sure enough, the couple begins to have sex while she and her mystery man watch, then join in. Kathy, after being slapped by a frustrated Roy for not letting him go all the way after a party, returns home and catches her mother in the act of group-sex. Horrified, disgusted, she runs away and bumps into Yvette in the street. Yvette convinces her that her mother may not be the monster she appears, that she has needs that maybe Kathy has too - as a woman. Yvette also comforts Kathy about the slap. They become friends. Back at Lisa's, a sense of remorse for her tryst makes her beg Henry to spend more time with her. He still refuses to quit his job.

As Yvette and Louis begin to formulate their plain to bring swingers together for money, Lisa and Geraldine makes friends due to their mutual loneliness. Geraldine invites Lisa in on one of her 'sessions' and she accepts. Yvette delivers a letter to Geraldine asking her to meet Louis in a bar. Intrigued, she does so, and he makes his offer. One hundred dollars up front, then another hundred per month for all the anonymous pleasure you can experience - as long as you wear a cape and mask. Louis asks Geraldine to bring her 'contacts' in on the game, and after pondering for not very long, Geraldine agrees.

Soon to kiss.

As this is happening, Yvette strips and seduces the visiting Kathy, who's been dressing more and more as a sophisticate rather than as a teenager. Kathy suprises her mother the next day by sleeping in the nude. They fight about Kathy spending more and more time with Yvette. Later, Yvette and Louis get ready for the first night of the new 'club'. This was the first moment I had a suspicion Yvette was Dyanne Thorne - we're treated to a few precious seconds of Yvette topless and it's unmistakeably Thorne's large breasts, any diehard fan of Dyanne's would recognise them! After a few nervous moments, all the masked and robed participants turn up and the ceremoney begins. As the masked Louis presides over the group as the 'Ringmaster', Kathy, also masked, hands out keys to all the nervous but excited members, who are first treated to two of the club having sex in front of them. From behind the simple masks, lips smack and eyes roll in ecstacy.

Breakdown.

On a different night, Lisa shows up at Geraldine's, desperate for a bottle of scotch. Geraldine can see the woman is going downhill, perhaps due to their mutual 'lifestyle.' She reluctantly hands over some booze. Later, as Lisa lies in an alcoholic stupor, Henry shows up and tells her he's quit - to spend time with her. Lisa rejects him in her paranoia, claiming he did it to spy on her. He leaves as her screams follow him into the night. As we see the 'club' meeting night after night, and the members becoming more and more exultant, we're shown Kathy stripping and donning her 'robe' as a full member. Lisa has a complete nervous breakdown and collapses. She calls her 'workman' who angrily tells her not call him. He does show up later though, but realizes something is completely wrong and leaves, when she won't touch him unless he wears 'the mask'. Henry shows up again and carries his weeping wife away from all the craziness, hopefully to a happy ending.

Yvette, after some convincing by Louis, breaks up with Kathy, who's devastated. That night, the group meets again, and this time it's Geraldine who's performing for the huddled masses. Suddenly, she looks up from her 'act' and notices her own daughter as part of the masked revellers! As Geraldine screams in torment, all the members flee, except for Kathy. Mother and Daughter face each other, possibly for the last time ...

With a nonstop, pounding jazz score and excellent black-and-white photography, Sin in the Suburbs was something of a revelation. I was expecting a light little piece of fluff on sixties swinging, but it's all doom and gloom in this suburb. With bored houswifes craving attention, sex is a release that can only bring unhappiness. Men hit women over it, or rape them. Women cheat on their husbands for it, or leave the bosom of their family for an uncertain future. The club members are portrayed as hesitant and pathetic in their revels. There's not much fun to be had, other than for the schemers, Yvette and Louis. It's odd seeing almost the whole cast of Olga in a serious drama with reasonable production values, and their acting uniformly rises to the occasion. Campbell is both sensual and guilt-ridden as Geraldine, Judy Young is quite effective as the conflicted, maturing Kathy. W.B. Parker is one-note as the plotting hedonist Louis, but that note is well-tuned, and he's convincingly creepy. Dyanne Thorne as Yvette reveals a multi-layered presence beyond her Ilsa villainess - here she shows she can act. Yvette, though jaded about sex and relationships, clearly feels something for Kathy and regrets being part of Louis's shenanigans when it comes to Kathy. Overall, Sarno has created a dark, desperate world that these characters inhabit, a ghostly one that could hardly be recognised as a suburb. Yet, with hardly more than bared shoulders in most scenes, these suburbanites are boiling wth passion - Lisa and the plumber's post-rape embrace is one of the most intense and titillating clinches I've ever seen, with barely a nipple in sight.

If you're after outright sex and nudity, certainly give this one a miss. We're talking heavy, serious sexual drama here, with most of the activity implied. It's the way it's implied that Sarno delivers in spades. The film is dripping in illicit sex, even if it's considered in this story to have bad outcomes. With high standards on almost all fronts, I'm looking forward to my next dose of Mister Sarno in the near future. Hopefully with a much more positive slant on the good old beast with two backs!

© Boris Lugosi, 2007.


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