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April 30, 2013

Movie Review: The Telephone Book (1971, Blu-ray / DVD Combo)

Seeking out hard-to-find cult gems has been a chore for a few films in particular on my wish-list over the past couple decades. When I've found them, it’s incredibly satisfying. Brian Trenchard-Smith's Stunt Rock and The Telephone Book are two titles that have seemed to evade me for the longest time. That is, until Stunt Rock got a release a few years ago on a special edition DVD. Now, in 2013, thanks to the folks at Vinegar Syndrome we have the Blu-ray / DVD combo release of Nelson Lyon’s rarely seen X-rated comedy The Telephone Book. Watching Stunt Rock upon its release on DVD, I liked what I saw in the Aussie obscurity, just wasn’t blown away by it. The Telephone Book is a completely different story.

Sarah Kennedy plays “Alice” the adorable and quirky lead of The Telephone Book. Alice receives a phone call one day that changes her life, a very, very dirty phone call from a man by the name of John Smith (Norman Rose). Is she repulsed by this perverted man spouting sexual language at her on the other end of the line? Unlike most people, who would just hang up, she listens and enjoys every minute. After the phone call, this horny young gal is determined to find John Smith, even if it means going through every John Smith in Manhattan.

Alice's journey to find Smith absolutely surreal. A huge reason why this movie so entertaining and even side-splittingly hilarious at times is because it doesn't let up on it's oddball scenarios. The people she meets  - as she crosses names off in the telephone book - get more bizarre than the last. A former stag film actor named Har Poon (Barry Morse) convinces Alice he is the John Smith that made the phone-call. He isn’t, but the creeper still takes advantage of innocent Alice in one of the wilder orgy’s you will ever see on film. Morse is extremely funny in this scene, as is the majority of the cast.

Veteran actors William Hickey (Puppet Master, Christmas Vacation) and Dolph Sweet (Gimme a Break) lend their talents to the mania. Hickey has a priapism the size of the Eifel Tower and Sweet, talks candidly about his experiences giving people dirty phone-calls. I'm not making this shit up folks!

The Telephone Book was originally rated X, and yes it has plentiful nudity, crazy sexual situations and some of the most vile and explicit dialogue you will ever hear. In all honesty it really isn’t a soft-core porno. What it truly is, is a comedy – and one of the funniest films I've ever seen. There’s some powerful art-house flare here too, with some fantastic camera work on display by cinematographer Leon Perera. It really is outstanding.  The sharp, rapid-fire editing by Len Saltzberg is another strong area. The humor wouldn't quite be as consistent if it wasn't for Saltzberg’s ability to piece this goofiness together.

Vinegar Syndrome has lovingly restored The Telephone Book, showing off the gorgeous black and white palette. The restoration is really pretty awesome considering the films roots and 42 year-old age as I really only noticed some minor wear on the elements.  I really think this movie needs some kind of limited theatrical run if possible. It needs to be seen in a theater, it's that cool of an experience visually.

The extras are very solid, as we get some trailers and even a commentary with producer Merv Bloch. Cult movie historian, Joe Rubin, asks Bloch the questions which Bloch generously provides answers for. The history of this movie is very interesting so it’s well worth a listen. According to Bloch, when The Telephone Book opened in theaters it was a disaster, but it did have some fans - the biggest being comedian Steve Martin.

Wow! What a fuckin’ experience! The Telephone Book is superb all-around and easily one of my favorite releases of 2013. It’s a shame that is has taken so long for this masterpiece to find its way on to home video, but sometimes even the most amazing pieces of subversive art such as Lyon’s lost film can fall through the cracks. This is another stellar find from Vinegar Syndrome, and important an one at that.  Rocky Horror and The Room need to move aside, The Telephone Book is where it's at! Highly Recommended.

Big thanks to Rock! Shock! Pop! for the screencaps.

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