Posted September 21, 2010 by Phil Hall in Retro Cinema

Retro Cinema – Secrets of Sex

The Secrets of Sex
The Secrets of Sex

A bizarre mix of “Night Gallery”, Benny Hill-style comedy and vintage nudie stag films, Antony Balch’s 1969 British cheapie feature is a bewildering hodgepodge of sex and violence.  Some people will get a kick from its eccentricities, while others will probably be dismayed by its ADD-style approach to storytelling.

An opening montage of two naked men and a naked woman hugging each other while dancing in a circular motion is followed by an out-of-nowhere on-screen quote from John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  This is followed by a tale from an ancient land (where the women wore 1960’s eye make-up and hair styles) about a judge that buries the locked trunk that may contain his wife’s secret lover.  Then, a mummy comes on-screen to talk about the eternal battle of the sexes.  Visions of semi-clad young men and women flash quickly, while dancing topless women are pelted with vegetables and shirtless hunks aim machine guns at the tomato- and lettuce-assaulted cuties.

From here, the mummy introduces a skein of short tales that supposedly detail the conflict of the sexes.  A female photographer specializing in bondage pictorials chains up a male model in a torture scenario that gets out of hand. A female scientist marries an elderly millionaire despite her knowledge that she possesses the gene that will result in the birth of a mutant child. A man living near an airport catches a female burglar in his house and then showers with her before they retire to his bed.  A would-be female spy tries (and fails) to seduce a military attache at an embassy function.  An American weirdo in London hires a call girl that freaks out when he wants to include his pet lizard in their carnal play.  An elderly dowager boasts to her new valet that her greenhouse contains the souls of the men she ruined which set off her valet to strangle her.  And for the finale, there is a montage of young people making love midst bales of hay.

In case you are wondering how all of this connects, forget it. With this film, coherence gets parked at the concession stand.  SECRETS OF SEX was appropriately renamed BIZARRE for its brief U.S. theatrical release, but perhaps WEIRD would have been an appropriate title.

It is a shame that Balch couldn’t make up his mind on where to take the film.  At unexpected moments, the film’s comic giddiness is truly amusing a spoof on vintage stag films provides a wonderfully smutty spoof of silent movies while some of its horror excesses create more than a little shuddering (especially the ocular close-up of the mutant infant). 

But Balch tries (and fails) to have the best of both worlds.  There are too many stories for the film to support, and most of them abruptly stop without any satisfying conclusion.  The talking mummy doesn’t help at all his story introductions are often so unfocused that he seems to belong in a completely different movie. The poverty of the no-budget production, coupled with some fairly bad acting, repeatedly calls attention to the slapdash nature of this venture.

That’s not to say the film is lacking in retro curio value. The mod clothing and exuberant celebration of clothing-free coupling makes the film a quaint time capsule of the late 1960’s sexual revolution. An unexpected surprise includes the appearance of a gay couple midst the carnal shenanigans a fairly progressive insertion for that era. Viewers with a bit of imagination can appreciate what the grindhouse crowd of a previous generation paid to enjoy. Those stuck in the present, however, will probably prefer watching this with a thumb firmly pressed on the fast-forward button.

Phil Hall

Phil has written about cinema for the New York Times, New York Daily News, Hartford Courant, Wired Magazine, American Movie Classics Magazine, Tower Records Pulse! Magazine and the Organica Quarterly. He is the author of several books, including “Independent Film Distribution” and “The History of Independent Cinema.” Beyond film journalism, he is a former United Nations correspondent for Fairchild Broadcast News and a writer and editor for technology and financial publications.