Three blue-collar employees of a Glendale California Texaco station in the late 1970s have sexual adventures at work and in their leisure hours
"Grease Monkeys" is a substantive film, even if its genre of hardcore gay films is given little respect. Very much a product of Los Angeles at the end of the 1970s, it represents the period in which gay hardcore was shifting from frantic, poorly filmed "loops" with nonsensical plots, to much more professional, high budget efforts.
It is roughly contemporaneous with William Higgins' first major effort "The Boys of Venice", with which it shares its cinematographer (Brandon Ryan), two actors (Kip Noll and Derrick Stanton) and the idea of a surreal episode in a disco.
Some elements in the history of the hardcore gay film industry in Los Angeles in that time are obscure, but the listed producer Mark Aaron is identified by several sources to be an alias of theater owner and film producer Monroe Beehler.
(The Los Angeles gay hardcore film industry needs a substantive history, well-documented, and utilizing relevant information from trustworthy sources.)
If "Boys of Venice" explores the hedonistic beach culture of the famous community on L. A. County's Pacific beach front, "Grease Monkeys" explores the blue-collar gay community in Glendale, a city within Central Los Angeles several miles from the Coast.
Nick Rodgers runs a Texaco franchise. In a service industry that historically hires young males, it is not a stretch to believe that a gay man doing the hiring would be open to hiring young men who share his sexual proclivities. It's an easy-going relationship. Nick, Kip and Lee all like having sex with guys, and have no inhibitions about being the object of each others' affections and attentions.
The film has obvious high production values, and gives a sense of what a full service gas station in the late 1970s (regular gas at 83.9 cents, Texaco Super-Chief at 85.9) would look like.
That said, and conceding that there is lots of sex, "Grease Monkeys" escapes the charge of being a "sexploitation" film through the vividness of the actors' characterizations.
Most notable is the character of a lusty young mechanic created by Kip Noll. The actor was a sensation in "Boys of Venice". Yet, even though he gave and received the various traditional ways that gay love is physically expressed, the character he played is straight.
It is not Noll's character who is engaging in sex with Bravos. It is Bravos' fantasy image of Noll's disco dancer that gives and receives on that pool table for Emanuelle Bravos' character. After all, a person has no control of what sex acts their image engages in if that image is in another person's imagination.
In "Grease Monkeys", Noll is thoroughly gay, and likes it that way.
But he is also a straight-appearing hottie who with high confidence can make a play on any man in the room (and on most of the women too, including those who regard his "gayness" as a challenge they should take on.)
Noll's character has a boyish curiosity as well. When two customers slip into the Texaco station's men's room, Noll's character follows them to the door, listens grinningly to the sex-play (less classy films would have had him break into the mens room for a three-way) and after both customers have paid for their gas, asks one "Which of you got f___d?"
Like Higgins' films of the period, there is a beach scene, supposedly Noll's and Marlin's characters taking a trip to Catalina (although the actual film scene was reliably reported as being a very cold Pismo Beach, California). Noll and Stanton, even if both were in "Boys of Venice", they never appeared together there. But in "Monkeys" they engage in a passionate three-way with Marlin.
Ultimately, the strongest parallel to "Boys of Venice" is making a disco scene a high point of each film.
The disco episode, like in "Boys of Venice", has moments of surreality. In a scene with a crowded room of dancers, all the dancers suddenly disappear except for the three mechanics, who then commence a passionate three-way),
in general the characters of the three protagonists, played by Nick Rodgers, Kip Noll and Lee Marlin, are adeptly drawn. Even if the sexual encounters between the mechanics and their customers are fictional, it is thoroughly plausible that similar encounters have really taken place in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Noll, in particular, is entirely believable in his role.
However, the most original and most memorable scene in the film is its other surreal episode. In the final scene Nick Rodgers' has sex with himself. His persona has been very much wrapped up in his determination to win a drag race with his car on which he has has devoted so much of his waking hours (and which supplies a few of the "plot points" of the film).
Performed (using a double and clever editing) to Queen's "I'm in Love with My Car" it is a tour de force. (One imagines that Queen's song may indeed have inspired the episode.)]
The film is worthy of its reputation as a vintage classic of the genre.
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