When he made Hard Soap, Hard Soap for Freeway Films in 1976; Bob Chinn established a real talent with light material that focused largely on the relationships between women that were largely devoid of any antagonism or malignant pettiness. Chinn struck further gold in 1977 and 1978 with both Candy Stripers and Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls, respectively, both films largely centering around their all-girl power-team dynamics. This strategy was also adopted for 1977’s The China Cat, Bob Chinn’s penultimate entry in the Johnny Wadd franchise. The idea made for a slightly atypical Johnny Wadd film but it also brought such a freshness and unique charm that The China Cat races to the top and becomes both the best in series and, along with the aforementioned films, one of Bob Chinn’s best overall efforts.

The China Cat begins as if it’s going to be something like a precursor to John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China with its opening narration teeing us up to see private detective Johnny Wadd (John Holmes) slip into a mysterious adventure due to the supposed magical powers of the Jade Pussycat, the coveted artifact from the titular previous entry in the series which is still in his possession. Instead, we’re immediately plunged into a high-concept world where Johnny Wadd meets Charlie’s Angels, an almost ridiculously ingenious team-up that could only occur in the world of adult films or comic books (and the furthest the latter ever went was when Muhammad Ali inexplicably tangled with Superman in… you guessed it… 1978).

The setup for The China Cat’s is pretty simple; Charlie’s Angels… ahem… I mean Charlie’s DEVILS, a kick squad of female detectives, are hired by Mueller to nab the artifact he lost to Johnny Wadd in The Jade Pussycat. In their attempt to get it back, Sandy (Paula Wain), a former secretary of Wadd’s, will attempt to get her job back to keep an eye on him; Cynthia (Jennifer Richards) will bait him at a restaurant in the hopes of getting into his apartment to snoop around; Sherri (Eileen Wells) will pose as someone wanting to buy the artifact; and Barbie (Cris Cassidy) will coordinate all the action and will be “sent in” by Charlie (John Seeman) if need be. Not to ruin it or anything but… she gets sent in.

Chinn leaves no flab on The China Cat and gets the most out of its fleet, sixty-nine minute running time. Though it was still a 16mm production, The China Cat is smooth like butter. Like the wanton pleasures in Candy Stripers, it goes down like a delicious confection that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve eaten too much afterwards. The interiors are made up of some really well-dressed sets with fine production detail, and careful and imaginative lighting (the restaurant scene between Wadd and Cynthia is of particular note). The larger space allows Chinn to not only have more options on how to block his scenes but also to open it up and pull off some nice dolly shots which give the picture a nice fluidity and a sense of elegance.

Seeing that this is a movie in which Johnny Wadd is rendered unconscious after performing oral sex on someone who has spiked their vagina with a knockout formula, there is a highly animated, and light-hearted atmosphere which also extends to the cast. All of the performances are delightful and Chinn, understanding that John Holmes sold tickets regardless of whoever else was in the ensemble, was smart to choose a slate of fairly new faces. Jennifer Richards, and Kyoto Sun, both of whom pair off with Holmes, were both new to the game with Richards ultimately being a one-and-done (as was the case with a number of promising actors who found porn to not be for them). And though Cris Cassidy and Eileen Welles had worked with Chinn in Candy Stripers, and Paula Wain was a holdover from The Jade Pussycat, they could hardly be considered to be in the same recognizable orbit as Desiree Cousteau, already a superstar who had been top-billed for Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls, making the quickest of cameos here as Charlie’s personal nurse.

Keeping things humming, there is not one wasted or insignificant role in the supporting cast. The always interesting Dale Meador is hilarious as Jasper, Asian (!) valet to the Devils who likes to keep them on “shhhedyule”; Elliot Lewis and Mark Lewis never fail to make me chuckle as Carl and Philipe, two service industry employees who are all too eager to ensure that the super suave Johnny Wadd is taken care of; and Dick Aldrich is a scream in his bit part as a put-out bag man that feels like a placeholder for where the Frankie Funai character would have popped up if Chinn had decided to throw himself a cameo. But seeing that he was loath to do so and only did it as a cost-cutting measure, I’m sure Chinn didn’t dive into Dick Aldrich’s way if the latter expressed an interest in getting in front of the camera.

The China Cat captures John Holmes cresting a wave of stardom and finds him very loose and funny but also a bit on the twitchy and demonstrative side. Holmes mugs and displays a lot of nervously cool gesticulations while each one of his sexual conquests is a case study in putting on the dog. In one scene, Wadd lightly shames the bartender for putting too much vermouth in a drink before he articulates his pretentiously cosmopolitan selections from the menu for the evening, all while his “rube” date mangles all the names of all of the dishes. Another encounter is preluded by Wadd doing a hands-on demonstration that shows off his knowledge of antique Chinese snuff bottles. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that Chinn was not only having some fun with the Wadd character but was also sending up Holmes’s own sense of self-importance and sophistication.

Because in The China Cat, the joke is that Johnny Wadd is sort of/kind of the dope in the story and, regardless of his own plans, it is all fun and games as the Devils each position him exactly where they want him while using him as stud service along the way. And although he does prove to outsmart them and the artifact stays with Wadd (as reflected in an imaginative final shot), the girls ultimately failing at their mission isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As revealed as a final twist that comes loaded with a Linda Wong cameo, the Devils had been in the employ of a nefarious bad actor who dispatches Kyoto Sun to dispose of Wadd. The scorching sex scene between the two of them begins by cleverly referencing a similar scene out of Chinn’s own The Love Slaves, but resolving things on a more satisfying note.

Having the artifact in his possession that everyone is trying to snag throughout the entire running time of the film, The China Cat gets to use draw attention to and upside-down the notion of the MacGuffin (ie, the item in a movie that the characters care about but the audience doesn’t). By using the Jade Pussycat stunt as a double entendre that points directly to Holmes’s dick, which is something that the audience is decidedly invested in as it is what they literally paid money to see, lines that all circulate around the notion of “I’ve heard you have something I’d be interested in” and “I can’t wait to get my hands on it” get to the point where nobody can get them out without cracking a smirk or a smile. And far from detracting from the film, it injects it with the most harmless of carefree attitudes that permeated the kind of freewheeling west coast productions of its day, of which The China Cat is one of the finest examples. Nobody is REALLY in any peril, nobody dies, and the stakes remain fairly low. It’s just an entire run of fun in which, as my wife likes to puts it, “everyone just wants to fuuuuck.”

(C) Copyright 2023, Patrick Crain

2 thoughts on “THE CHINA CAT (1977)

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