The Films (2.5/5)
The two features from Carlos Tobalina included on this Vinegar Syndrome disc both focus on barely legal actresses playing underage girls, something I can’t help feeling ambivalent about. On the one hand, countless adult films of the 70s and every era dealt with smashing taboos and exploiting their audience’s darkest fantasies, and hopefully the movies included here gave some poor schmoes a means of release that kept them from acting on those fantasies. On the other hand, the women in both features look very young, enough that I felt uncomfortable watching them in a way that I haven’t with the other vintage releases I’ve reviewed. There’s no judgment here - part of the value of watching porn can be discovering what your own boundaries are, and while underage fantasies aren’t my thing, you should probably add an extra star to my rating if they’re one of yours.
The first feature, Three Ripening Cherries, begins with the titular trio of best friends (Misty Regan, Dorothy LeMay and Brooke West) receiving a concerned lecture from one of their moms (Kitty Shayne), who tells them about her own early sexual experiences (which we see in flashback). The first is surprisingly upsetting - Tobalina’s movies frequently feature a central lesson, and he ultimately affirms the mom’s warning to the three teens that they should save themselves for a caring, mature lover. In the end, they have unsatisfying experiences that make them realize mom was right; it’s an odd choice to end a porno with sex scenes that are over before they’ve begun, but it does have a strange kind of integrity.
Before that, however, most of the movie is devoted to the three girls exploring each others’ bodies while they fantasize about the men they’d like to seduce. The movie cross-cuts between the girls’ threeway and fantasies of the guys having their way with each of them. It’s an interesting editing choice at first, but it mostly seems intended to pad the movie out to feature length, especially when (as in his earlier Fantastic Orgy) Tobalina repeats the same money shots from multiple angles. The three actresses are attractive, but the sex itself and the way it’s shot are both very perfunctory, and the movie lacks the quirky details that make Tobalina’s other movies memorable.
Dorothy LeMay also appears in the second feature, Sensual Fire, as the teenager who becomes the object of her mom’s boyfriend’s (Jamie Gillis) sexual obsession. A few years later, LeMay would appear in perhaps the most infamous adult movie to play on these themes, Taboo 2; compared to that movie, Sensual Fire is a model of good taste. Gillis enjoys a healthy sexual relationship with LeMay’s mom (Jesie St. James), but he finds himself unable to stop fantasizing about the younger woman. Aside from a brief scene between LeMay and a lover her own age, most of the movie consists of Gillis’ fantasies about LeMay, his scenes with St. James and his attempts to work out his fixation on LeMay by sleeping with young prostitutes (one of whom is played by a young Serena). As a result, it’s pretty much a one-man show for Gillis, and as we see a great deal of him over the course of 90 minutes, it helps that he has both a likable screen presence (he reminds at times of a young Elliott Gould) and a visually interesting penis (which he may or may not have in common with Elliott Gould).
The most interesting scenes, though, are a couple of quirky encounters Gillis has with people he goes to for help. The first is a therapist friend of his, who gives Gillis the idea of going to a prostitute, as any reputable therapist would. In the second, he’s given the same advice by a priest (played by Tobalina himself); when Gillis expresses surprise that a priest would say that, Father Carlos laughs and explains that the church is quickly becoming more progressive. He goes on to espouse the same philosophy that appears in Tobalina’s other movies - that being in touch with and acting on one’s sexual desires is the key to happiness = and he’s genial enough about it to make screwing a hooker to avoid sleeping with your sort-of stepdaughter sound like a morally enlightened choice. It’s ultimately not enough for Gillis, though, and the conflict resolves itself with a little help from a Zorro costume (I won’t say any more), with a groan-worthy final joke that made me laugh despite my better judgment.
While Vinegar Syndrome has been rightly praised for the lavish attention it’s given to recent releases of adult classics like Sex World and Pretty Peaches, the company deserves as much credit for not cutting corners on their releases of lower-profile titles. Both movies were restored in 2K from the original 35mm negatives, and both look great, with strong colors, detail and skin tones throughout. A few brief moments aside, both movies are free of dirt, scratches or any other visible damage. In particular, the gloriously dated use of star filters in Sensual Fire really pops here. The 1.0 audio is clear throughout, with any hiss or other flaws clearly coming from the original recordings.
The theatrical trailer for each movie is included.
While the two Tobalina features included here aren’t exactly my cup of tea, they’ve likely never looked or sounded better, and I remain intrigued by Vinegar Syndrome’s ongoing exploration of Tobalina’s seemingly endless body of work.