Written and produced by the distinguished and highly-resourceful David F. Friedman, Henri Pachard’s MATINEE IDOL (1984) arrived considerably later than many of Friedman’s mostly-memorable run of sexploitation films from the ’60s and early ’70s, and despite his dogged persistence to avoid working in hardcore films (“It just wasn’t any fun”), Friedman still retained much the of same playful mindset here as he did in many of his earlier, strictly softcore films. One of the only four hardcore titles produced by Friedman, MATINEE IDOL is considered by some to be the best of the lot, which is all the better since it’s now been made available as a pristine new Dual Format Blu-ray from those indefatigable individuals at Vinegar Syndrome.
At Sensational International Pictures, producers Bernard Kuntz ([!] David F. Friedman) and Harvey Cox ([!!] Elmer Fox) find themselves in a bit of a conundrum when their two biggest stars, Lance Hardy (John Leslie) and Linda Hand (Jesie St. James) wind up continually squabbling with one another, which eventually causes production of their latest ‘sextravaganza’, entitled Matinee Idol, to grind to a screeching halt. Linda subsequently befriends her pool-boy, Bud Cochran (Herschel Savage) in hopes of grooming him as her potential new co-star, while Kuntz and Cox (!!!) become smitten with wannabe starlet Daisy Cheney (Angel), after she answers an open casting-call by the producers in hopes of replacing the increasingly unmanageable Linda. But when the unfinished Matinee Idol’s proposed distributors demand a ‘Hardy Hand picture’ in order to recoup their monetary outlay, Lance and Linda may have to set aside their differences and finish the delayed skin-flick just the same; a professional move which might quite possibly rekindle their badly-frayed relationship in the process.
This is very much a comedy, and Friedman’s lighthearted script – which is loaded with his usual innuendos and (quote) “well-known puns” – takes a fond, nostalgic look at Tinseltown, even as it’s viewed through the ’80s skin-biz; and in that respect, it’s much like an updated version of Richard Kanter’s STARLET (1969), which he also produced. In a nice touch for those ‘in-the-know,’ posters for much of his earlier work – such as SPACE THING and THAR SHE BLOWS (both 1968) – adorn the walls of S.I.P.’s head office, which also functions as their casting office (“It ain’t easy, but somebody’s gotta do it!”).
Veteran adult stars Jesie St. James and John Leslie are both excellent as the quarrelling couple, and at times, as they clash with one another, their behavior emulates those of their equivalents in the zany screwball comedies of the ’30s and ’40s; while, typical of the genre, Angel and Herschel Savage have a few surprises of their own in store for them. As expected, Friedman essentially plays himself – or rather, more accurately, a broad caricature of himself – as the cigar-chomping co-owner of S.I.P., and Elmer Fox is the more-cynical of the two business partners, who firmly believes his actors have (quote) “got their brains between their legs!” In what are essentially extended cameos, Colleen Brennen (a.k.a. former softcore star, Sharon Kelly) appears as Linda’s rambunctious friend, eager to sample her new man, Bud, whereas Kay Parker, as S.I.P.’s secretary, has a stab at Lance’s lance right atop the desk in Kuntz’ office.
Scanned in 2K from the original camera negative, Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray is, without question, a terrific transfer of an already good-looking film and, to be honest, there are no real issues to speak of. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono audio also sounds very good, coming through just fine both in the many fast-paced dialogue scenes and during the – ahem – sexual shenanigans. Extras are sparse, but the real treat here is an archival audio interview with Friedman conducted by Casey Scott via telephone, which more or less doubles as an audio commentary that lasts the entire length of the feature film! Anyone who’s ever listened to any of the articulate and animated Friedman’s previous interviews and/or commentaries knows full well what a raconteur he is, and this epic interview is no exception. He begins by discussing the uneasy, game-changing transition from softcore to hardcore product and (quote) “the end of a very nice little business,” even though he had no real moral objections to the shift. He also talks about the formation of the Adult Film Association of America in 1968 at a Hotel in Kansas City, which also included the owner of Distribpix, Arthur Morowitz and genre director Donn Davis, among others. Of course, Friedman also has many stories about a number of people in the business, including directors Chris Warfield, John Hayes and producer Dan Cady. In addition, the legendary sexploitation producer reveals that it was Bill Castleman (his line producer and credited director [as William Allen Castleman] on such Friedman-produced flicks as his sleazy rock-musicians-and-groupies potboiler BUMMER!  and his violent ‘Indian revenge’ actioner JOHNNY FIRECLOUD ) who helped convince him to edge his way into making films that weren’t (quote) “any fun”, at least to Friedman. Fans of his work, on the other hand, may be of a distinctly different opinion! An original, teaser-type trailer finishes off the extras.
Though produced in the ’80s, at the tail-end of the “porno chic” era, MATINEE IDOL appropriately enough, patterns itself along the lines of Friedman’s heydays in the business and, as such, is a sufficiently engaging film – one which now, more than ever, can be fully appreciated thanks to Vinegar Syndrome’s highly-welcome Blu-ray. Order it directly from Vinegar Syndrome or DiabolikDVD.