Shifting the Johnny Wadd formula to expand outward as far as the budget would stretch it, Bob Chinn’s The Jade Pussycat sticks the private eye, now a much dandier figure with a swanky office, into a pre-made mystery adventure which, as an explicit riff on John Huston’s 1941 adaptation of Dashiell Hammet’s The Maltese Falcon, is the most cogent film in the series to articulate the noir roots of the character. Of an almost completely different tenor than Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here and Liquid Lips, The Jade Pussycat continues the series’ lockstep march toward a certain kind of professional perfection that would eventually lead to the 35mm big leagues. And The Jade Pussycat, along with The China Cat, its follow-up sequel that would be released the following year, would show that with the right mix of talent and imagination, almost anything was possible and within the adult film industry’s grasp.
In The Jade Pussycat, Johnny Wadd (John Holmes) takes a missing person’s case from Jenny (Jennifer Temple-Smith), an old friend whose brother, Paul (Jon Martin), has disappeared, but not after sending her a cryptic letter along with a key. Unbeknownst to them, Paul is in mortal danger after falling in league with the subcontracted muscle of Mueller (Steve Balint, doing his best Sydney Greenstreet) and Alexandra (Georgina Spelvin), two shady, intercontinental figures chasing after a valuable artifact known as the Jade Pussycat.
While Liquid Lips was an already great part to what would have been admittedly superior whole, The Jade Pussycat tops it in almost every way. It’s got a much tighter plot and gets back to Wadd’s private eye origins while dropping in a king’s ransom of great sex scenes. Additionally, The Jade Pussycat comes after Bob Chinn’s run of amazing, rollicking comedies that included Hard Soap, Hard Soap; Candy Stripers; and Lipps & McCain, all of which not only gave him more experience with more elaborate productions to handle, they also proved that Chinn was a more versatile genre filmmaker than maybe even he thought he was. By the time the cameras rolled on The Jade Pussycat, his confidence and abilities were on a steady upward climb and the proof is in the results.
For there is quite a notable step up in quality from Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here and Liquid Lips. Gone are the Ennio Morricone music cues from the Sergio Leone films in favor of a soundtrack much more oriented towards funk and groove which compliments all of the action nicely and gives the sex scenes a full-bodied and lusty sheen (and taking full advantage of an allowance Brian De Palma likely wished he had at his disposal at least once in his life, Chinn throws in a split screen cumshot as a capper to one of them). The San Francisco Chinatown exteriors are gorgeous and the scenes that have Wadd poking around its back alleys are reminiscent of a similar sequence in the L.A.-set Flesh of the Lotus which, by almost every critical metric, feels like it is decades in the rear view mirror even if it was made only six years prior. While The Jade Pussycat does get into some rough territory with an assault scene between Jimi Lee and Yvonne Green, Chinn knows exactly how much this kind of film can handle and only keeps as much in as is necessary. And, my god, that overhead shot through the lightbulb during Holmes’s sex scene with Temple-Smith is exquisite.
Back in the role that no doubt made him seem as if he was a god amongst men, John Holmes sports a hairdo that looks like he’s trying to keep up with Ric Lutze’s sense of style while simultaneously wearing clothes that share the same colors as Taco Bell uniforms of the same vintage. His fuck nugget cluster ring makes its first appearance in a Wadd film and I wouldn’t be shocked if Holmes asked if it could get its own billing as it looks as if he melted all of his previous jewelry down and cast it into one ostentatious piece to purposefully look like the aftermath of a car accident. And I suppose I’ll never get around his manicured, French-cut fingernails which are distracting and gross. But, aside from the swinging dick accoutrements, he’s very much in a very easygoing and likable star mode even if his tendency to be a pain in Bob Chinn’s ass was beginning play out on a much larger field. Reaching a fever pitch when he almost steadfastly refused to the film’s final sex scene with Georgina Spelvin, Holmes’s difficult personality, exacerbated by his hypocritical moralizing about Spelvin’s tendency to take a drink from time to time, almost got him completely throttled by producer Dick Aldrich until Chinn stepped in and did exactly what a director does; he took control, shot the scene, and got it in the fucking can.
Not that audiences were able to tell, mind you. Chinn and Spelvin ensured that there was a child-adult ratio in the room that was 2:1 in their favor and the scene plays like gangbusters. And speaking of Spelvin, the scene she shares with Linda Wong is a an absolute scorcher and easily tops the similar Enjil Von Bergdorfe/Monique Starr pairing from Liquid Lips. It’s a scene where one can get the sense that Chinn gave them the broadest direction and let them go to town with minimal interference much like he would do with Spelvin two years later for a pivotal scene in Tropic of Desire. The result is justification for their billing over Holmes in the opening credits.
The rest of the cast is a murderer’s row of greats. Wong gets a pole position sex scene with the always fantastic Jon Martin (immediately after he almost eats the pavement while jumping over a rope barrier in the film’s first three minutes). Bonnie Holliday makes a spirited appearance as Sharon, Paul’s ex-flame; Paula Wain fills the critical role of Wadd’s secretary, Laureen; and Bob Chinn makes his final appearance as ubiquitous underworld stooge Frankie Funai, a fixture in the series since Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here.
Though the film still kept to the 16mm format and some scenes are saddled with a slightly disrupted image due to a small light leak, The Jade Pussycat is absolute top-notch entertainment that squeezes every drop out of its budget and talent involved and gets maximum results in the process. The story is fun, the sex scenes are fantastic, the performances are solid, and the locations are varied and rich. But even with all of those accolades and the appropriate superlatives attached to it, The Jade Pussycat wouldn’t even prove to be the best of the Johnny Wadd films as the pinnacle of the series would be found at the next stop the following year.
Lordy Moses what a golden time it must have been.
(C) Copyright 2023, Patrick Crain