THE SEDUCTRESS (1981)

In 1981, a motion picture was released in which a woman is being utilized by a sleazy photographer with dark contacts in the aid of a shadowy political plot meant to clear the road for further malfeasance and corruption.

While this sounds like I’m describing Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, I’m actually talking about Bob Chinn’s The Seductress, itself a picture that owes just a little to De Palma’s cinematic fascinations with voyeurism, illicit sex, and political conspiracy. But where De Palma’s work was a multi-layered, self-referential thriller that doubled as a deconstruction of filmmaking itself, Chinn’s film feels, at first, like a sleazy walk-through of the sordid details involved in pulling off a baroque political conspiracy. The Seductress is, in fact, like a precursor to Blow Out; almost as if we’re watching Dennis Franz’s and Nancy Allen’s characters work other, smaller gigs on their way to the jackpot job with Governor McRyan in De Palma’s film.

And I say the film feels like this “at first” because The Seductress is really two movies in one. At its core, it’s the story of a couple of blackmailers (Dick Aldrich, aka Damon Christian, and Lee Carrol) who are paid to rook married men into motel trysts and then sell the incriminating pictures to the spouses. The second film is the much goofier tale of one such couple (Billy Dee and Kathy Harcourt) who transform themselves into a horny married detective team uncovering just who is behind the setups and why.

As for the dramatic thrust in the first half, The Seductress is damn entertaining and pretty intriguing. Anchored by another fine set of performances by both Lee Carrol and Lisa DeLeeuw, the film first announces itself as a female-oriented tale of blackmail and divorce backed by a relatively simple and shopworn idea regarding bedroom-snooping for dollars. Once Lee Carrol’s heroin addiction comes into play and De Leeuw is dropped into participating in her own blackmail scheme, everything gets turned upside down and confused and requires at least two characters to explain the plot out loud to other characters. I’ve seen The Seductress no less than three times and, by the end of it, I honestly can’t tell you who’s blackmailing whom.

The second half of the film, pivoting off a centerpiece foursome that includes De Leeuw and Billy Dee, becomes even more complicated as Sting (Sean Sullivan) and Carla (Yvette Cole), the other two participants in the fourfuck pileup, are in on a scheme of their own which almost traps the narrative into an endless riddlebox of who’s burning who. After finding out that his betrayal isn’t at the behest of his wife, Rose (Harcourt), John McCord (Dee) takes the ball and runs with it, working his mind over and over to get to the bottom of the scheme. Of course, this only occurs after a romp on a waterbed with Harcourt in which the mutual enthusiasm between the two performers is 100% genuine. In any other film (especially one with De Leeuw), the foursome would be the highlight of the picture but, honestly, Dee and Harcourt own the movie. During their extended sex scene, the film almost lapses into a kind of timeless cinema verite in which the fun being had by the actors completely trumps any concern with narrative or plot.

The remainder of the film concerns Dee and Harcourt’s own blackmail scheme which would be a flaw so frustrating, it would sink the film if not for the fact that Bob Chinn completely lucked out in pairing Harcourt and Dee. Even in the scene in which they spy on their friend, Dorothy (Cory Marjon), and supposed-blackmailer Hamilton (Rock Steadie) (having disingenuously loud sex), they cannot help but look like they’re having the time of their life sharing the same frame with each other (even with their clothes on). Both actors are real joys in this scene as Dee can barely keep a straight face when Harcourt, getting turned on by watching the other couple, spiritedly suggests they all engage in a foursome.

Despite its impossibly convoluted plot, The Seductress is a very stylish work and Chinn’s directorial influences come through loud and clear. One supremely terrific moment occurs via a silent POV shot of DeLeeuw in her kitchen shot outside the window which creeps backwards before smash-cutting to a date-and-time title card. The mist-shrouded exteriors are evocative and the handling of a key character late in the film is effectively seedy and well-done. And even though this is a drama at heart and everything ties to the tragic fire that swept through the Las Vegas Hilton in February of 1981, Chinn finds some comic moments and keeps the proceedings breezy without being too terribly light or tonally imbalanced.

Additionally, it should be repeated that Chinn is very good at shooting hardcore scenes as he prefers to keep it in the medium shot and utilizes extreme close ups minimally (and almost never in which the detail is so great that the viewer is spatially disoriented). One particular shot in the hotel foursome is superbly set up with both women lying in opposite directions, the oral servicing they’re receiving framed smack dab into the middle of the frame and on into vanishing point. It’s likewise impressive that Chinn and the four of them were able to first block and then execute the number of positions and shots on what looks to be a sad-ass, full-size bed. Given that I’ve seen a lot of real estate on California kings go to utter waste in porn, Chinn’s ability to spin molten gold here cannot be understated.

While it does have some tangential through lines to Blow Out, in many ways, The Seductress is also reminiscent of The Big Sleep. As it is with that movie, it’s all but impossible to keep track of what’s going on; but, also like that picture, it’s the most fun you’ll have getting lost. The Seductress is the kind of movie where a character can ask aloud,“Which one is divorcing who, and why?” and the only sane answer that should be given is “Exactly.”

(C) Copyright 2022, Patrick Crain

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