HOT LEGS (1979)

The hectic and harried world of a modeling agency is the backdrop for 1979’s Hot Legs, Bob Chinn’s third picture for Gail Palmer and Harry Mohney’s Caribbean Films. A beautifully handled light spritzer of a picture, Hot Legs also proves to be smarter than the average bear with its insight into the high pressure world of art for commerce; specifically concerning itself with what it is to move product via images that are deliberately sexual in nature which is obviously something a talented filmmaker of adult material would know a thing or three about.

A very sunburned Jesie St. James plays Annie Spencer, the biggest modeling talent in an agency run by Mort (Richard Pacheco, using the Dewey Alexander credit) who has just scored a huge client with the Hot Legs run of stockings and garters, a product line owned by wealthy entrepreneur, John (Jon Martin), who mostly hangs out on his boat and frets about how much everything is going to cost him. Working on the Hot Legs campaign are lead photographer Dave (Paul Thomas), and his assistant, Debbie (Sharon Kane); ace makeup pro Katrina (Laurien Dominique); and wardrobe mistress Julie (Lisa Sue Corey). The other models on the shoot include Michelle (Jennifer Wolfe) and Candy (Adele Sloan) and always hovering on the margins is Mort’s boss, Sandy (Delania Raffino). Last, but not least, Mort is forever shadowed and kept on track by Janet (Barbara Allen), his bespectacled secretary who will play a crucial role in the Hot Legs campaign’s success. All of these characters but around in service to an inside look at what it’s like to make the sausage which builds to a spectacular third act conclusion involving an augmented line of the product and a once-in-a-lifetime advertising time slot during game seven of the World Series.

If Hot Legs could be summed up in one word, it would be “tasteful” as everything about it has an elegant and radiant sparkle. But even as airy as its execution might be, an early scene involving a superstar model who’s late for a shoot, a dressing down from the boss, a spontaneous revolt among the talent, and an exploding coffee pot that creates union issues reveals that Hot Legs is slightly more than just a light comedy about advertising, but also something of a loving lampoon of some of the headaches found in the world of filmmaking. Hot Legs not only highlights artistic interference from the top as Mort berates Dave’s layout ideas but, by even mentioning crew revolts and sudden attrition, it seemingly jinxed Chinn into having to deal with a crucial team member leaving him in the lurch and an on-set strike in real life, both of which would happen to him within the calendar year.

Written by Jeffery Fairbanks from a story by Gail Palmer, Hot Legs is an engaging story with soft-but-distinct characterizations. With his combination of male bonding and cross-gendered fraternization with headstrong female characters cutting through the scenes, Hot Legs finds Bob Chinn channeling his inner-Hawks and, compared to the previous year’s downbeat and ragged Little Orphan Dusty (which he co-directed with Jaacov Jaacovi), Chinn proved he could professionally and nimbly work the full spectrum between sweet and sour and in short order.

But, probably most importantly, baked into Hot Legs is also a very tangible undercurrent of feminine power that runs through most of Chinn’s best work. There are a lot of men doing a great many things in this film but absolutely nothing gets done until the ladies help get it over the finish line. Mort is sunk without Annie, the models aren’t ready until Katrina makes them ready, Dave would be unknown without his models, Sandy seals the deal with John on Disco Hot Legs, and Janet ultimately saves the entire day. From the rip-roaring distaff cover of Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” that adorns the credits to Gail Palmer taking a suspicious but market-tested possessory credit, Hot Legs is one of Chinn’s finest odes to women and more than a tip of the hat to just how much value they bring to the table.

Per usual, Jesie St. James is radiant and bright in almost every pocket of the story. Whether her character is engaged in an afternoon tryst with young stud Cliff (Blair Harris), sparring with Mort, or having a tender moment with Julie, St. James is cheerfully committed to the material and it’s just a little bit of a shame that her character exits halfway throughout the film (though, admittedly, her absence sets up the film’s grand finale). While there’s not much to her character, Sharon Kane was worth the inclusion just for her daydream sex scene with Paul Thomas and its cute denouement. At its core, the scene involves a pretty plausible fantasy (ie, “photographer’s assistant gets laid by photographer after first serving as the photographer’s subject”). But by keeping the daydream confined to session’s set, Chinn and cinematographer Ken Gibb get to pull off a couple of subtle, artfully composed shots that look like something out of a Ken Russell or Fellini film due to their purposefully phony theatricality that is highlighted by the scene’s photoshoot backdrop.

Laurien Dominique, veteran of Chinn’s Hard Soap, Hard Soap; Fantasyworld; and Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls; is kept mostly in the background and all but disappears into her small and quiet role. A really special actress who resembled a lifelike, adorable kewpie doll, Bob Chinn was always able to capture Dominique at her best and her closer with Richard Pacheco, the both of them laughing as they embrace and fall onto a rug, lands as both incredibly lovely and bittersweet as Hot Legs was her and Chinn’s last film together. Both Pacheco and Paul Thomas, two of the finest actors in the talent pool at the time and, likewise, no strangers to Bob Chinn’s productions, bring high levels of professionalism and warmth to their roles. And though Jon Martin and Delania Raffino’s moments are brief, they certainly click (did Jon Martin ever get mismatched?) and the camera loves taking the both of them in, making the audience slyly complicit in their private afternoon session on his boat, which is captured in quarters so tight, I’m surprised everyone involved in the shoot didn’t wind up with at least one cramp somewhere.

In Hot Legs, there is a lot that’s done with the tiny set afforded to the production. Like they did with Fantasyworld, Chinn and production designer Bill Wolf get a lot out of minimal backgrounds that rely mostly on simple splashes of color that go a long way in bolstering a clean visual style Chinn had favored since The Love Slaves. Using half of his available space to house the office and dressing room sets, the other half of the slate is left open for the various photo setups which allows him to reveal what it all looks like behind the scene in a late overhead master that shows off the 35mm dolly rig Chinn was getting to command. And in having some stylistic fun with Jesie St. James’s photo session, Ken Gibb shoots her in the same kind of slow motion and billowy close-up work that evokes the actual commercial style of the time.

Likewise delightful is the scene involving Penelope Jones and R.J. Reynolds as a couple of models who come in to help sell the Disco Hot Legs line (which are just Hot Legs but with sparkles) via a roller skate dance number that turns into a hot fuck scene. Even if the central action is a little static (there’s only so much you can do with a tiny space, roller skates, carpet, and a mindfulness for the actors’ safety), Chinn squeezes all he can out of it by turning it into a musical number set to Jay Phillips’s catchy “Love on Wheels” and featuring a fog machine that takes us out and back into reality once the passion between the two models has subsided (and I don’t know how Reynolds didn’t crack his tailbone in that last fall; that looks painful as hell).

Hot Legs makes a fine entry into the winning run of films Bob Chinn turned out in the very busy year of 1979 (a year he directed or co-directed no less than six pictures). Not only is it as charming as it can possibly be, it’s also a doubly smart look at image creation and cross marketing sex appeal and the harder one looks at it, the more it seems to reveal. Hot Legs is a small picture with giant smarts and an even bigger heart that contains a multitude of rewards to be found within.

(C) Copyright 2023, Patrick Crain

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