The Film (3.5/5)
One of the last major adult movies to be shot on 35mm, 1983’s Dixie Ray Hollywood Star is also one of the genre’s most successful attempts at competing with mainstream cinema. It’s a period noir made at a time when Hollywood was also releasing a lot of noir throwbacks, both straightfaced (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Body Heat) and parody (Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid). Dixie Ray Hollywood Star isn’t parody or pastiche - instead, it’s a mostly successful attempt to play a ‘40s-style noir story straight, only with lots of hardcore sex.
John Leslie stars as Nick Popodopolis, a private eye recounting his story to a police lieutenant (Cameron Mitchell) he’s called to his office after shooting a woman (Juliet Anderson) in self-defense. Nick’s story revolves around his being hired by movie star Dixie Ray (Lisa De Leeuw) who is being blackmailed by a seedy club owner (Steve Marlow) over some explicit photos of Dixie and her ex-husband (Billy Thornberg). Nick’s investigation soon involves Dixie’s daughter, her ex’s current lover, the club owner’s girl and her own lady friend; naturally, he has sex with almost every woman he encounters, in various configurations.
The most surprising thing about Dixie Ray Hollywood Star is that, putting aside the sex scenes, it’s actually pretty successful as a noir homage. The script is an entertaining shaggy dog story, Leslie makes for a pretty good gumshoe (and has the look of a ‘40s leading man), and De Leeuw is fun as the alluring leading lady with ambiguous motives. Director Spinelli has proven to be a strong visual stylist in previous features like Sex World, and the movie’s hard, expressionistic lighting and striking visual compositions actually do a credible job of recreating the look of film noir. It’d be easy to just put a male porn star in a fedora, have him do a bad impersonation of Bogart and end every statement with “See?”, but Spinelli and his crew are clearly as interested in making a compelling mystery as they are in making a porno, and the effort pays off.
Ironically, it’s only the hardcore scenes that suffer a little bit as a result. They’re still basically fine - Leslie and his female co-stars are attractive, and a couple of threeway scenes feature some impressive gymnastics. It’s just that, because the movie is actually functioning as a credible story, the abrupt transitions characters make into sex that we’d shrug off in a less ambitious porno play as more forced here. I’m not saying that, for instance, fellatio isn’t a way that a dame in a noir might manipulate a guy into doing what she wants, just that it’s not always the go-to move. An additional, R-rated cut of the movie titled It’s Called Murder Baby is also included; featuring alternate scenes, it demonstrates that the story works without the sex. For me, it actually worked better as a T&A-heavy mystery than as a hardcore movie, and I’m glad Vinegar Syndrome has given us both options.
Vinegar Syndrome’s transfer of Dixie Ray Hollywood Star is excellent, with strong contrast, colors, detail and skin tones throughout and only a few instances of visible damage. The company restored both versions of the movie in 2K from the original elements, which were clearly in better shape than many of the movies they work with, and the care involved in restoring the film shows. The 1.0 mono audio is clear throughout, with only sporadic instances of hiss from the original elements.
In addition to the movie’s alternate cut - a great extra in its own right - the original theatrical trailer is included.
Dixie Ray Hollywood Star is not only worth checking out for fans of classic adult cinema, it’s also an entertaining mystery in its own right. While I was surprised to prefer the movie’s R-rated cut, I’m glad Vinegar Syndrome has given us the choice of both versions on a great-looking disc.