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August 17, 2017

Movie Review: A Touch of Genie (1974)

Directed by Joe Sarno                                

Nebbish Melvin Finkelfarb’s (Doug Stone) life revolves around to tending to his Antique/Junk shop, being berated by his yenta mother (Ultramax) and sneaking off to Times Square to catch the latest skin flicks. Finding a discarded vase in an alleyway, Melvin “rubs” it in an intimate manner and out pops a sprightly female genie (Chris Jordan) who grants him five wishes. Melvin’s wishes are to take the male roles in various hot sex scenes with his favorite adult actors and actresses. This is represented by such skin flick regulars as Harry Reems, Marc Stevens, Eric Edwards and plain Jane Tina Russell boffing away on a $1.98 harem set. All well and good, but these scenes are interrupted with Melvin’s mother barging her way in to join in the action! Paging Dr. Freud? All’s well that ends well.

As Joe Sarno and Doris Wishman scholar Michael Bowen points out in his interview included on this Vinegar Syndrome DVD and Blu-Ray combo, A Touch of Genie was Sarno’s second reluctant attempt at hardcore – and it shows it. Many cast and crew members hide behind pseudonyms and the actors doing the “comedic” scenes are kept separate from the actors getting to the nitty-gritty (with the exception of Ultramax and Russell, who appears briefly as a strait-laced virgin). Bowen also rightly points out that A Touch of Genie is self-reflexive on the porn genre in general, where those stuck in undeclared celibacy live vicariously through the actors on the Blue Screen.

That aside, this reviewer always approaches a Sarno film with some trepidation. Not seeing much of his work, a Sarno film is usually drenched in deep tragedy and angst, in the manner of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. The overall tone in his films are steeped in dread and dramatic pauses. Only as good as the actors Sarno had on hand, given the talent pool he was given, the results were pretty uneven.

That A Touch of Genie was an ostensible comedy is another roadblock. As other people who worked with Sarno have told me, his sense of humor was a bit obscure and too “old school” for many people to appreciate. The “humor” here relies on broad Jewish stereotypes and is mired in the character’s misery. One wonders if Genie, playing theatrically in the Tri-State area, left the anonymous audience for such fleshy fare a tad burnt.

However – one of the final scenes involving the genie begging Melvin to spend his last wish with her carries very heavy import. Drenched in tragedy, this scene is actually quite moving, and stands very much out in a film only expected to carry cheap thrills and cheaper laughs. Sarno was obviously more interested in heavy drama than the exploitative subjects he had to deal with in order to stay financially afloat.
Bowen also notes that producers flocked to Sarno on account of being able to rush out product in a timely manner. The director relied a little too heavily on static “two-shots,” having the actors standing on their marks where the camera’s focus would fall. This explains why in one shot that one character, not tasked with dialogue remains in perfect crystal clarity while the actors in front of her are totally out of focus.

Overall, A Touch of Genie is typical skin flick fare where the actor’s shadows fall against the faces of the people speaking. Vinegar Syndrome did a yeoman job of collecting compelling extras this time around. In addition to Bowen’s comments, we have an extensive interview with porn icon Eric Edwards, who is full of salty stories involving his career, as well as and Joe and Peggy Sarno. Highly enjoyable, it marks another example of Vinegar Syndrome coming up with extras far more entertaining than the film it is supporting.

A bright and colorful transfer is just the icing on the cake for this treat for Golden Age Porno fans!

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