After a slew of troubled productions and crises of professional confidence that couldn’t have started the 80’s off in a worse way for him, Bob Chinn returned to Harry Mohney and Gail Palmer’s Caribbean Films in 1983 to helm The Young Like it Hot, a veritable showcase for the gorgeous Hyapatia Lee, a multi-award winning exotic dancer still in the nascent days of her film career. Having appeared in a much smaller role earlier in the same year in Edwin Brown’s lighthearted, International House-like cavalcade, Naughty Girls Need Love Too for Essex Productions, The Young Like it Hot was primed and ready to be the breakout star turn for Lee who, indeed, would become one of the last superstars as the Golden Age began to sunset and film production began to wane in favor of video.
The Young Like it Hot takes a simple, shopworn formula where Loni (Hyapatia Lee), along with assistance from her fellow employees at the Ocean Valley Telephone Company, formulates a plan to stave off being laid off and replaced by computers. By adding a more personal touch to their jobs as telephone operators, Loni figures the that the actual customer satisfaction will prove that the humans are much more crucial to the business than imagined. Of course, the personal touch gets quite literal as all the operators end up “end up” in one scenario after another.
Hyapatia Lee quickly establishes herself as both the star and center of the film by being the one employee of the company willing to jump on the phones five minutes before her shift begins as the post has been abandoned by graveyard shift operator, Stephanie (Linda Shaw, credited as Lindy Shaw), who is bringing her eight hours in for a smooth landing by getting absolutely railed in the boss’s office by Bill, the lineman (Herschel Savage). One should take note that, when they walk into the office and see the switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree, operators Cindy (Shauna Grant, credited as Callie Aimes) and Cheryl (Kay Parker in a performance that was awarded Best Supporting Actress by the AFAA) scoff at the idea of working before their shift which proves why Lonnie is the manager of these two slackers and also illustrates the yawning difference between “Meets Expectations” and the coveted “Exceeds Expectations” on one’s annual review.
As the comedically clueless Mr. Fishbait, Eric Edwards is a howl and looks extra snazzy in his cream-colored, three-piece pinstripe. As the boss who’s forever discombobulated by the tell-tale signs of his employees using his office as a fuck pad when he’s not around, Fishbait is also the kind of lecherous calamity that creates no small amount of work for Human Resources as he takes Polaroids of his erections and shows them to his employees and even asks for sexual favors in return of a board vote that would help the operators keep their jobs. But, somehow, the character doesn’t seem as sleazy as he otherwise would in this day and age because the script, written by producer Gail Palmer and an uncredited Hyapatia Lee, establishes Loni as the large and in charge member of the whole office while Fishbait has been teed-up as a complete pushover and a moronic doofus who can somehow get outsmarted by Herschel Savage first thing in the morning.
Though she wasn’t the Gena Rowlands of adult films, Lili Marlene gives an admirable swing at playing the sympathetic character of Marie. She displays real heart with a role designed to highlight the real-life issues that are impacted by cost-cutting measures meant to maximize shareholder value (beware anyone who actually uses this actual terminology). Marie also a slightly more complex character than most of the others in the film. Moody and sexually conflicted, she hasn’t yet made love to anyone out of disinterest of men and further fear that her lesbian urges were wrong. Her dialogue scene love scene with Hyapatia Lee that follows (and melts into a love scene between the two of them) feels genuinely tender and incredibly sweet.
Rounding out the female operators is Carla (Rosa Lee Kimball, credited as Rose-Linda Kimball), a fun-loving gal who absorbs the venom hissed through the phone by obscene phone caller Big Dick (a hilariously vile William Margold) while going a round with dutiful repairman, Tom (Mike Horner). So impressed with Tom’s abilities, Carla sends him out on a service call to the home of Wanda Driftwood (Pat Manning) where the chestnut scenario in which a bored housewife whose husband is out of town gets a visit from the phone repairman is played out with the utmost zeal. Not only is the location house amazing, Manning slinks around it like she literally owns the joint with Horner finding a way to give her a hand in the most literal and delightful way. Manning is so deliciously aggressive while running roughshod through Juliet Anderson territory and she is absolutely enjoying every second of it, for after experiencing a rather intense orgasm while riding Horner on the couch, she gazes down at him and looks like she’s literally about to devour him. And if she’s faking any of it, I’m an ex-Olympiad with a closet full of gold medals.
The last operator, David (Bud Lee, Hyapatia’s then-husband), is referred to as the equal opportunity token male of the office and he certainly does seem relegated to that role as The Young Like it Hot is most definitely another Bob Chinn joint that runs on the engine of its klatch of women characters. And while I like the idea of a male operator helpfully walking a frustrated housewife to orgasm through mutual masturbation (and he seems like an amiable enough fellow), I’m just of the opinion that Bud Lee is just not porn material. He looks more like the guy from your dad’s work who played second base on the company softball league and knew how to jigger your cable box to get HBO for free. His one sex scene isn’t bad as it’s saved by caller Sharon Mills, the bitchin’ kitchen with the fantastic view from where Mills is making her call, and Hyapatia coming in as the closer once Mills has gone off into the ether. And, in fact, Bud Lee’s inclusion in the film was to assuage him of the trauma incurred from having to watch Hyapatia have sex with other people on camera because, I assume, just letting her go to work alone and not accompanying her to the set was out of the question for him. Though he managed to stay in the business as a director (and, in most cases, a non-sex performer) until 2021, in no world would Bud Lee have been able to make it in porn in front of the camera without being the big b-side of a package deal.
While the film ends with the girls winning out and surviving to fight another day, there is a slight edge of cynicism in the margins. Even if progress means a dip in quality, you still can’t fight it if it’s a matter of the bottom line and, sure as shit, the attitude toward the computer operators doesn’t ultimately shift because they are going the extra mile with the customers. Though the multiple accolades by the customers wins Fishbait over, the decision to keep the operators is due to Fishbait’s brother, Jim (Ray Wells, credited as “Raydio” Ray), who, in the pursuit of winning Cheryl’s heart, rewrites the computer program to falsely show that the shift to automation wouldn’t be a cost benefit to the company after all. That’s… kinda grim in the grand scheme of things.
But not to be an utter killjoy, The Young Like it Hot is pretty damn light and amusing. More so than in his classic Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls, his vastly underrated Telefantasy, or in Taxi Girls, three other films from Chinn’s oeuvre where a dose of sex gets injected into a business to get a financial boost, The Young Like it Hot flashes a spunky “hey, gang, let’s put on a show” atmosphere as if it were an MGM musical with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland but, ya know, with the cast breaking out of their clothes instead of into song. And aside from the many bright spots already mentioned, Paul Thomas’s usual deadpan delivery as deep throat-craving Al is joyously hilarious; and the running gag with Joey Silvera’s Jeff, a man who creates nothing but destruction and personal misery for himself due to Shauna Grant’s misguided help, pays dividends due to Grant’s sunny and ditzy disposition and Silvera’s energy and underrated comic timing (which was on display in Chinn’s Candy Stripers).
And from a technical point of view, The Young Like it Hot is absolutely top-notch. Tightly shot in glorious 35mm by industry pro Jack Remy, veteran cinematographer of many an Anthony Spinelli production, the film takes place over the course of one day and there is a nice, subtle shift in the lighting as the hours pass, a prop wall clock hung in every room to keep track of the day. A lot of time went into the coordination between the wardrobe and Jim Malibu’s beautifully and imaginatively constructed sets as the colors really pop and blend throughout the film. These elements, mixed with the film’s fun, jaunty atmosphere and its smooth, gliding dolly shots peppered here and there, makes watching the film feel like a leisurely browse through a candy store.
Though the fear of a workforce being replaced by computers was a theme that was exploited in so many films and television episodes from the late 70’s and early 80’s, The Young Like It Hot is ahead of its time in showing the true value of a live human being on the other end of the line. After all, is there anyone who doesn’t seethe with anger when dealing with computer phone trees and immediately doesn’t try anything in their power to cheat code their way into speaking to a human? I thought not. And, after each viewing, does this film make me want to pay closer attention to those customer surveys the cashiers are always circling at the bottom of my receipt? Absolutely. And I’m not even getting laid out of the deal.
(C) Copyright 2023, Patrick Crain