Bill Milling's inaugural triumvirate already represented the divergent facets he was to explore and elaborate upon throughout his copious career as fornication filmmaker. All from 1975, WHEN A WOMAN CALLS delved into relationships with both sensitivity and sensuality, ORIENTAL BLUE wallowed in the sleaze that naturally comes with its subject of the white slave trade and FRENCH SHAMPOO first showcased the silly side he was to give free reign during his "Dexter Eagle" phase. Its action confined to but a few sets, the latter can't help but feel like a rush job compared to the director's previous pics. The reason might very well be that the producers wanted the movie to play theaters by year's end, both to honor its source of send-up (Hal Ashby's day in the life of a Beverly Hills hairdresser saga SHAMPOO, released in the Spring of that same year) and anticipate the heavy duty Oscar buzz for its cast and crew come next year.
Subtitled "Homage to W.B." in reference to the much maligned SHAMPOO star rather than Warner Bros, film actually retains little beyond the original's nominal setting, in this case a Fifth Avenue beauty parlor run by the deceptively dainty Diana, convincingly essayed by former sexploitation starlet turned early hardcore hussy Kim Pope. Faced with her biggest challenge yet, Diana calls in the assistance of the French Francesca (Darby Lloyd Rains) whose arrival at the airport accounts for all the production value this picture can muster. Darby steals every scene she's in with a wonderfully witty turn even if the movie practically downplays her considerable pornographic prowess to an almost alarming degree. In tune to the increasingly formulaic star vehicles of the following decade, she has been accorded "bookend" scenes. Thankfully, her opening lesbian liaison with the passionate Pope is a thing of beauty, shot in the softness of available afternoon sunlight streaming through an open window and scored with Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin panting their way through then still scandalous duet "Je t'aime moi non plus".
Said challenge involves Arab oil sheik Waldo Ibn Sayyid (played to the hilt, and then some, by Bobby Astyr) who wants to have his hideous niece, poor Princess Yolanda (the fetchingly full-figured Nikki Hilton, a veteran of one day wonders mostly remembered for salaciously relieving herself during the infernal climax to Jonas Middleton's THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS) whom he describes as "a broad so homely she's got a fireplace", extensively beautified so he can marry her off to his friend Prince Omar. Never stumped for something silly to say for even a split second, a totally unleashed Astyr rattles his way through the part, firing off corny Arab jokes that could have landed him in serious trouble had they been made in today's touchy humorless "multi-cultural" society. Oddball character actor Grover Griffith, fresh from his debut as the bumbling Angel of Death in the linking segments of Howard Ziehm's loop carrier SEXTEEN, joins in the fun as the oil magnate's oafish mobster henchman Oscar. But it's Yolanda's fate that is at stake here and Francesca's methods mostly involve the rumored rejuvenating qualities of semen, as helpfully demonstrated by fellow beauticians Annie Sprinkle and Alan Marlow. Reliable Helen Madigan, among the hardest working adult actresses of the decade, and new slit on the block Cheryl White from Carter Stevens' HIGHWAY HOOKERS are on hand to sidetrack the sheik and his sidekick.
Finding the local male supply wanting, Diana calls on the talents of mythical Mr. Marco (as close to a Beatty bashing the movie ever gets, portrayed with good-natured goofiness by massively membered Marc Stevens), hilariously explaining to Francesca that science has determined that "Mr. Marco's sperm contains a higher level of amino acids than anyone who has ever been tested, hence the results" ! Previously "Yo Yo for short, oy oy for real", Yolanda emerges so irresistible from this treatment, even her uncle can no longer bear for any other man than himself to possess her. Don't you just love a happy ending ? Requiring payment in kind, Mr. Marco's serviced by all the female beauticians save for White with the Sapphically inclined Rains' surrender an undisputed highlight. Sex stays solid throughout, even though the dizzying heights of Milling's previous movies are barely scaled on this occasion. Friendly is probably the best way to describe much of the action here, with the actresses' oral prowess on Marc's meat standing out. Surreptitiously "stolen" soundtrack filled with underrated '60s girl groups like The Ronettes and The Chiffons and various underrated femme vocalists almost makes the movie more fun to listen to than watch (hey, I said almost), the lyrics from familiar tracks like Maria Muldaur's rendition of The Swallows' smutty '50s standard "It Ain't the Meat, It's the Motion" or Lorna Bennett's laid-back "Breakfast in Bed" cleverly commenting on the action taking place on screen.
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