Of all the erotic classics Joe Sarno directed in the 1970s, Laura's Toys must rank as one of his best. It is undoubtedly the most erotic film of 1975 and perhaps the most erotic film of the entire decade. That Joe Sarno directed this and two other erotic classics in the same year (Butterflies and Abigail Leslie is back in Town) is nothing short of incredible. These three films are the quintessential holy grail of sex cinema and the apotheosis of all erotic filmmaking. However, by the time the year 1974 was through, hardcore pornography was already on the sharp increase. It was not unusual around this time to see American metropolitan newspapers running ads for hardcore sex films that would have been deemed immorally obscene just a few years before. Joe Sarno and many other sexploitation film directors were initially very critical of this genre, and they had every reason to be so.
The early era of hardcore pornography (1969-1972) languished in repetitively dull sex scenes and lacked genuine direction. Early hardcore sex pictures had a noteworthy propensity of showing explicit sex without decent storylines. It was no wonder Joe Sarno was rather critical. With the relentless flood of hardcore pornography knocking down the parameters of what was once regarded as morally acceptable and immorally unacceptable, you didn't need a clairvoyant to tell you that the hardcore pornography industry would eventually steal the curiosity of the sexploitation viewer. Softcore pornography - or sexploitation - was very much a 1960s phenomenon with hardcore pornography turning out to be a 1970s phenomenon. Sexploitation and erotic filmmaking was consequently demoted to second place, and it became almost futile to film erotic sensuality when it was much cheaper and easier to film explicit penetration. Seeing as Joe Sarno was always a director who inserted his pictures with sweat-inducing erotica and realistic depictions of female sexuality, the rise in hardcore pornography didn't leave him in a very promising position.
Nevertheless, just one year after Linda Lovelace aroused the male population of United States by swallowing Harry Reems down to his hairy balls, Gerard Damiano's The Devil in Miss Jones proved that the hardcore porn industry did have the capacity of producing erotic masterpieces. The pressure it seemed was then on Joe Sarno to direct his own hardcore adult film. He did in 1973, directing a picture called Sleepy Head that featured the porn goddess Georgina Spelvin and roughie-maniac Jamie Gillis. After this short stint in the hardcore porn industry, Joe Sarno went back to filming softcore erotica, but this time shot hardcore actors as the main characters. Subsequently, these sex pictures (Laura's Toys, Butterflies, and Abigail Lesley is back in Town) emitted a streak of realism that evaded most American sex films. Although some versions of Butterflies contained hardcore inserts and additional explicit material, these mid-1970s softcore classics were a testament to Joe Sarno's obstinacy at filming erotic sexploitation during the growing climate of hardcore pornography.
As with most other Joe Sarno pictures, Laura's Toys circles around a magnetic love triangle that threatens to bring emotional and professional ruin to the sexually motivated characters. Laura (Rebecca Brooke) and her husband, Walter (Eric Edwards), are partaking on a working holiday on a lush, verdant island off the coast of Sweden in the middle of summer. Walter, a famous archaeologist, is studying the history of a Norse civilisation that once occupied the island, while his wife - who expresses no apparent interest in archaeology - walks the island alone in a preoccupied state of mind. Laura is a highly sexually-charged woman who is becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of sexual contact between her and her husband. This palpable sexual tension between them is exasperated even further by the unwelcome presence of Walter's archaeological assistant, Anna (Cathja Graff).
Anna is an innocent, brown-haired woman with a mature and dignified character that just so happens to capture the attention of Walter under the watchful eye of his wife. It appears that Anna, with her rigorous interest in Norse history and hard-working research skills, has more in common with Walter than that of his wife. Laura herself can see this from a distance and often uses her psychological insight to inflame jealousy within Anna by loudly expressing orgasmic moans during the nights of passion that occur between her and Walter. The sexual tension between theses three characters rapidly escalates into an orgy of sexual awakenings and orgasmic gratification.
Laura begins to commute to the mainland during daylight hours while Walter continues unearthing ancient artefacts with Anna in the pine forest. When Laura goes shopping on the mainland and spends more time there than usual, both Walter and Anna throw caution to the wind and dive head first into a powerfully magnetic love affair. While they both try in earnest to keep their love affair a secret, Laura finds herself renewing a friendship on the mainland with two of her former boarding school friends, Hanni and Gabrielle. Both Hanni and Gabrielle try to persuade Laura to participate in their annual lesbian orgies inside the nearby city. It takes awhile but Laura eventually agrees to partake in these orgies, but only after becoming aware of the affair between her husband and Anna. This sexual indulgence awakens a sensual side to Laura and results in her confessing stories of her sexual past to both Walter and Anna. Although Walter is somewhat apprehensive by this change in Laura's character, Anna is considerably curious and turned-on by her tales.
Laura slowly begins to seduce Anna with her spellbinding charm, relating dirty stories of her sexual past and present. Yet it is only when Walter has to leave the island for a while that Anna ultimately falls under Laura's seductive spell. Laura then deserts Anna for additional affairs on the mainland, only to return to the island later to rebuke her husband and Anna for their hidden love affair. But when Laura discovers Walter and Anna in bed with an unexpected guest, Laura reproaches the dishonest trio by accusing them of being "bewitched adults" reliving a "Peter Pan" fantasy. The ending is not what you would expect, thanks to a typical Joe Sarno twist!
The acting of all the characters, with the possible exception of the actress who played Gabrielle, is extremely convincing. Cathja Graff is a Swedish-born goddess who hadn't had any acting experience prior to her involvement in Laura's Toys. Her character's sexual awakening is a real pleasure to watch and one that will get your blood thumping. Eric Edwards, who plays the part of Walter, is also a pleasure to watch and his experience in the hardcore adult film industry noticeably brought something authentic to Laura's Toys (Harry Reems brought the same authenticity to Butterflies later in the same year with one of the greatest sex scenes ever filmed). Looking at Laura's Toys in retrospect, it appears that the women on set had an extremely comfortable relationship with Eric; his presence alone is worthy of some attention. Eric has this unique ability at igniting passion within the female cast by caressing and holding their faces during the more intimate moments. As a result, the sex scenes that involve Eric are incredibly steamy and passionate with raw emotion being paramount. His scenes with Cathja Graff are simply phenomenal.
I have always found it fascinating watching hardcore porn actors performing in non-hardcore roles, because it brings out a more prominent side to their acting ability. The modern perception of porn stars - especially male porn stars - is one of arrogant and boastful personalities that smile towards the camera after having a woman gorge on their cock for half-an-hour. But back in the 1970s, porn stars could act. Eric Edwards, Jamie Gillis, Harry Reems, Georgina Spelvin, Marylin Chambers, and Jennifer Welles could all act in non-hardcore roles.
If you are a devoted fan of Synapse Films and their wicked releases of graphic material, Rebecca Brooke (real name Mary Mendum) needs no introduction. Her submissive and hardcore performance in Radley Metzger's The Image is one of the greatest performances in the history of adult cinema. Not only is she a marvellous actress, she is also astonishingly good to look at. In Laura's Toys, she very elegantly portrays a sexually frustrated wife concealing a darker, more vengeful, personality, eventually playing cat and mouse with her husband and mistress in a game of sweltering seduction. Her delectable physique is lithe and sensual and her expressions of the female orgasm are enough to send any man wild with desire. Laura's Toys is undoubtedly the epitome of erotic filmmaking, but the charisma of Rebecca Brooke erects this picture to orgasmic proportions. According to Jamie Gillis in a DVD interview (I cannot remember which DVD it is), Rebecca Brooke became a Muslim shortly after disappearing from the scene. Although her stint in the sexploitation and pornographic film industry was relatively short-lived, she has nevertheless left behind some wonderful performances for us to treasure.
Picture wise, this DVD version of Laura's Toys is very clean-looking when compared to the grubby-looking VHS copies that once populated cult video websites. All the specks and glitches that once dominated these second-hand copies are completely eradicated from this DVD. Knowing that Retro-Seduction repaired this damage to the extent they have is nothing short of remarkable. Laura's Toys is presented in an aspect ratio of 1:78:1 and enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The English Dolby Digital Stereo track is fabulous with everything easily discernable.
As with most other Retro-Seduction releases, we are treated to some exceptional extras. First up, we have feature-length commentary with Eric Edwards and Joe Sarno's biographer Michael Bowen. This commentary is one of the best commentaries I have heard on DVD. Any seventies porn fan would want to add this DVD to their collection as soon as possible. Eric Edwards' insight into the classic era of the hardcore pornography and its inevitable decline during the explosion of video is the ultimate highlight on this DVD. Eric comes across as a very nice person and one who knows what he's talking about. He even discloses some of his secrets along the way, especially his relationship with Cathja Graff.
Next up, we have two in-depth interviews with Joe Sarno and his wife Peggy. Both Joe and Peggy collaborated to produce this picture and it was possibly Peggy's involvement that made the female orgasm so prominent. Peggy Sarno talks in length about Eric Edwards and his affect on the female cast, both intimately and non-intimately, before giving her take on the phenomenal Cathja Graff orgasm when her character first has sex with Walter. This feature lasts roughly for 7 minutes.
Eric Edwards is next given an interview. In this 5-minute discussion, Eric praises Joe Sarno for his erotic works and gives his opinion on the repetitiveness of the modern hardcore porn industry. He deeply reflects on what the adult film industry once was and talks about the saddening fall in erotic material over the past two decades. Thirty years ago, it was almost possible to go anywhere on the European continent and in certain parts of the United States to indulge in sexual experimentation without feelings of shame or fear of reproach. Today, however, possibly due to sexually transmitted diseases and the disturbing trend of heightening censorship, any sexual freedoms we once had seems to be worthy of social condemnation. Of course, we in the United Kingdom never had this sexual liberty, and we still don't in spite of the legalisation of hardcore pornography almost 7 years ago. Pornography and sexploitation, whether erotic or exploitive, has gone back to the underground and who knows how long it will be there. Therefore, this Eric Edwards interview might give some people on the European continent and in the United States a feeling of aching nostalgia. The climate of sex filmmaking isn't what it used to be and that is a shame.
The last extra we have on this DVD is a Joe Sarno trailer vault that includes 11 trailers of sexploitation classics. Finally, there is a 6-page booklet written by Michael Bowen inside the DVD case.
I do hope after reading this review you feel an irrepressible urge to buy Laura's Toys from your favourite DVD supplier. If you do, you will not be disappointed. Joe Sarno has this extraordinary ability of bringing out the hidden sexuality of his female cast by portraying them initially as dignified, innocent women and then throwing them into a sexual affair that exposes a side to them that you would not have expected. Joe Sarno was a pioneer when it came to filming female desire, and he remains the greatest at doing so. With Laura's Toys, Joe Sarno criticises the reservation the United States had in regards to sexuality by shooting a naughty picture in a country that had no shame in expressing sexual desire. In conjunction with the Swedish countryside and beauteous forests, Joe and Peggy Sarno created a masterpiece of erotic cinema that can claim to feature not only authentic scenes of sex-play but also the greatest female orgasm ever captured on film.
The intention of Joe Sarno in many of his productions is to film real sexual intercourse but to leave the explicitness to one's imagination. It was this proficiency that separated Joe Sarno from other sexploitation directors and which, consequently, made his pictures succulent standouts. His pictures today not only endure as erotic masterpieces but also remain unprecedented at depicting female sexuality in the most revealing way imaginable. Laura's Toys is no exception. 10/10!
Reviewed by Pryce
|Released by Pop Cinema|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|