Like his early gay porn contemporary Wakefield Poole, who gave the genre its first taste of respectability with such immediate classics as BOYS IN THE SAND and BIJOU, Jerry Douglas came from a legitimate theatrical background. As an on and off Broadway director as well as a sexually active homosexual, he soon laid (!) the connections that would enable his entrance into the budding all male adult field. Coyly hiding behind the butch pseudonym "Doug Richards", for the first and last time, he wanted to cinematically impart the common ritual - among gay men, at least - of cruising porn theaters for casual companionship. What's more, he wanted to achieve this goal without the shame and grubbiness that public opinion generally associated with the experience, presenting the carnal cinema as a playground for adventurous males not necessarily looking for Mr Right but perfectly willing to settle for Mr Right Now. The result, which has reached the respectable age of 35 by now and therefore rightfully qualifies as an adult antique, is an absolute classic of its kind, to be placed alongside not just Poole's BOYS but that hallowed hardcore triumvirate of 1972 consisting of Gerard Damiano's DEEP THROAT and DEVIL IN MISS JONES and the Mitchell Brothers' BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR.
Porn theaters had figured in sex flicks before, though usually tinged with guilt that came with enforced secrecy. Douglas rightfully did away with all that, paving the way for the likes of Jack Deveau's NIGHT AT THE ADONIS and Tom De Simone's DIRTY PICTURE SHOW. As a lifelong porn theater cruiser myself, I can vouch for the fact that he gets every single detail absolutely right, from furtive glances across the auditorium down to hell bent for leather restroom relief. With a groundbreaking song-filled soundtrack by Douglas' pal William R. Cox - same guy who served as musical director on the Lee Remick TV musical I DO ! I DO ! perhaps ? - commenting on the action that is otherwise entirely devoid of dialog, BACK ROW yearns to tell the universal gay love story of two men finding and losing one another over the course of a single day throughout early '70s Manhattan. Casting BOYS discovery "Casey Donovan" (a/k/a Calvin Culver), with whom Douglas had worked in the theater, in the sexually voracious lead proved more than a solid commercial choice as it alerted fans to a darker side than his golden boy image had suggested up until now. For contrast, a then unknown brunette named George Payne was chosen to play his counterpart, a small town cowboy arriving at New York's notorious Port Authority bus terminal in search of romance. Instead, he attracts the attention of sex cinema slut Donovan who chases him through an array of the Big Apple's then blooming adult businesses.
Following a fruitless movie house visit, watching hot hippie Robin Anderson and shore leave sailor David Knox exchanging oral favors while tripping on poppers, Casey spots George getting off the bus and decides right there and then that he will have some of that. Browsing around legendary sex shop The Pleasure Chest (with its real life owner appearing as himself), the guys start fantasizing about each other but fail to act on their mutual attraction. Their cinema seduction is continually thwarted by horny ticket seller Warren Carlton and horny hardhat Chris Villette, with Donovan just too much of a tramp to say no. As a specifically shot loop - ROOMMATE WANTED ! with Arthur Graham and Robert Tristan - unfolds on the screen, this allows for yet another bout of reciprocal fantasizing, both guys projecting themselves into the on-screen action. When Payne proves reticent (or simply too downright shy) to act upon his desire, Donovan settles for a sleazy toilet threesome with the theater's other patrons. As they walk out into the light of day, true love seems to beckon...until Casey spots another interested stud making eyes at him and the image freezes.
Douglas has always defended this movie's rather cynical (yet realistic) ending, a startling digression from the hearts and flowers fade-outs that were a more common occurrence at the time. Over three decades later, it remains but one of the movie's many strengths that effectively set it apart from its carnal contemporaries and allow it to pass the test of time. The director's attentive and affectionate approach to sex in this, his debut, already sows the seeds for his string of subsequent genre classics that would commence nearly two decades later with his exceptional FRATRIMONY. The lack of dialog effectively realizes the movie's intended universality, the actors' looks and glances telling the whole story, with songs and signs bridging the gaps. Allegedly one of the first adult movies fornication filmmaker Chi Chi Larue ever saw, it was remade almost shot for shot (albeit with more extensive erotic encounters) by the latter in 2001, both works released as a great value for money DVD double bill, simultaneously closing a circle of sorts connecting the "Porno Chic" period to the Modern Era. A sad footnote is provided by Douglas' commentary track informing us that the entire cast - save for Payne, who abandoned ship to become a straight porn superstar - were among the first casualties of the abominable AIDS crisis. May they be forever remembered as the hedonistic love gods this landmark porno masterpiece so perfectly enshrines. Goodnight and God bless !
11 of 12 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?