Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Not Till I Say Action: The Amero Brothers' Blonde Ambition (1981)

A riotous and uproarious film from American Exploitation legends John and Lem Amero, Blonde Ambition (1981) is one of the most ambitious and noteworthy adult films of all-time. Coming at the tail-end of the era's golden-age, Blonde Ambition is a shot-on-film classic-Hollywood obsessed extravaganza guided by the Amero's sure-handed direction and the charming performances of Suzy Mandel and Dory Devon as The Kane Sisters, a lovably goofy Vaudeville act who becomes embroiled in mayhem, mystery, musical numbers, sex and a shambolic remake of Gone With the Wind. Featuring nods to the works of Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks and dozens of the great Classic Hollywood Musicals of the forties and fifties, Blonde Ambition is a film-lovers dream and it's an energetic and hilarious treat from beginning to end.

The Amero Brothers had been making films together since the mid-sixties, a period in which they established themselves as among the best soft-core exploitation filmmakers around. Like many of their counterparts the two went in a harder direction in the early seventies and hit pay-dirt with the Harry Reems-Andrea True hit Every Inch a Lady in 1975. The success of Every Inch a Lady would help pave the way for The Amero's dream of making a larger budgeted musical tribute to Hollywood's Golden Age, even though it took several years for Blonde Ambition to finally appear.

Film Historian Benson Hurst points out in his truly excellent and lengthy liner notes that accompany VideoXPix's Platinum Elite Collection of Blonde Ambition that, despite the success of Every Inch a Lady, financing was hard to come by for Blonde Ambition. The film was finally co-financed by Swedish-based Kjell Nilsson for well under what the Amero's were hoping for, a mere 30,000 dollars (though the final film certainly looks like it cost much more than that small amount). While the majority of the film was shot in New York, and acts as a tribute to Classic Hollywood, Blonde Ambition does have an international feel due to not only the money behind it but the talent on the screen, specifically in the form of the unforgettable British born Suzy Mandel.

Hurst writes perceptively that "Suzy Mandel has a special place in the hearts of many English people who fondly remember" the spicy British comedies she shot in the seventies. Born in the Spring of 1953 in London, the extremely pretty Mandel began modeling just after her 18th birthday in 1968 and was soon featured as a Page 3 Girl in The Sun. Looking to make the jump to acting, Mandel made her initial splash on television before finding success on the big-screen with her small but noticeable role in Norman Cohen's Confession of a Driving Instructor (1976). It would be Mandel's next film, Come Play With Me (1977), that would really make her a star though. Appearing opposite legendary Mary Millington, Mandel proved to be an electric and extremely funny on-screen personality. A slew of sexy comedies followed for Mandel before Blond Ambition, a film that would prove to be her final major work. Mandel, who contractually used a body-double for Blonde Ambition's harder sex scenes, retired from the big screen and has mostly worked behind the scenes since. She looks back fondly on her career and Blonde Ambition remains one of her most memorable films and she is, both, hilarious and sexy in it as the lesser talented of the Kane Sisters.

According to Hurst, The Amero Brothers originally had British Adult actress Heather Deeley in mind for the wiser of the two Kane Sisters, Candy, but she proved unavailable when, "a jealous boyfriend emerged angrily proclaiming that he would not let her take part in the movie." New York Underground Icon Gloria Leonard was also considered but the Amero's finally went with Dory Devon, "a classically trained actress and dancer from Berkeley, Ca.", who had a flair for putting on a perfect British actress. The choice proved inspired as Devon is perfect in the role and her balanced approach to the material perfectly plays off Mandel's flighty personality and performance.

Even though Blonde Ambition is controlled by Mandel and Devon, The Amero's gathered together an arsenal of some of the best New York based talent of the time for support including Eric Edwards, Wade Nichols, Robert Kerman, David Morris and in a small, but unforgettable role, Jamie Gillis. Edwards is particularly good as the kind-hearted millionaire who helps The Kane Sisters out as is the extremely handsome Morris, a very memorable but troubled actor who would pass away far to young in 1999.

While the production design, musical numbers and humor have garnered much acclaim over the years, perhaps one of the most sparkling aspects of Blonde Ambition is its photography, courtesy of none other than iconic filmmaker Roberta Findlay. Blonde Ambition, simply put, looks great and Findlay's work on the film's cinematography is quite noteworthy. Hurst notes that, ironically, Amero wasn't totally happy with Findlay's vision for the film, as he wanted a consistently brighter look and Findlay had a darker palette in mind. The compromise on screen works exceedingly well though as the best thing about Blonde Ambition is that it is a film steeped in a classic Hollywood tradition, but it has that very particular early eighties New York feel to it. After all, what other film features a reworking of a sequence from Gone With The Wind and was also shot partially inside CBGB's?!?!?

Blonde Ambition was a hit upon its release and several different versions appeared throughout the eighties. The film had its detractors, specifically those who felt like The Amero Brothers abandoned the core principle of adult filmmaking in favor of their own particular vision, but Blonde Ambition is now rightly remembered as one of the key adult films ever made. The VideoXPix double disc collection services Blonde Ambition exceedingly well. Featuring two lovingly remastered versions of the film (hard and soft) as well as two extraordinary commentary tracks (one from John Amero and the other from the much-missed Jamie Gillis). Rounding out the package is the incredible booklet, a postcard of the lovely Mandel, a moving tribute to Gillis and some really special stills following the film from pre to post production. The collection is among Distribpix's best releases and more info can be found at their (NSFW) blog, website and online store. May I also recommend this terrific piece on the film from one of my favorite writers, Heather Drain, over at Cinema Head Cheese.


W.B. Kelso said...

Was well aware of the Amero's earlier output with the Findley's -- "The Ultimate Degenerate" done blew my mine (Corn cob! Again! GAH!) -- but was completely unaware of this. Thanks for the heads up!

Anonymous said...

Nice! Glad you covered the Platinum Elite release. I was wondering if this was the case, and then the beautiful screenshots removed all doubt. Great film, great release.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks W.B.!
I have yet to see "The Ultimate Degenerate". I will try and get on that soon as it looks insane. Check out Blonde Ambition when you really is quite unlike anything else out there.

Thanks Gore-Gore Girl! Isn't their Platinum Release series amazing? Just reading about the extras on their upcoming Pamela Mann disc blows my mind. I have actually never seen the original DVD of Blonde Ambition but if it looks anything like the trailer I saw on an earlier release then this remastered edition was a miracle. Thanks for commenting!

W.B. Kelso said...

Yeah, in one lost weekend I took in The Ultimate Degenerate, the Richard Jenning's Flesh trilogy, Take Me Naked and Satan's Bed. Haven't really been the same since. Whooooo.