*. America entered the so-called Golden Age of Porn, or “porno chic,” in 1972 with the cultural watershed of Deep Throat, closely followed by Behind the Green Door and Devil in Miss Jones. So by the time of this film, skin flicks were definitely a thing.
*. It was still a time, however, when exactly what kind of a thing porn would be was up for grabs. Deep Throat had been a brainless sex comedy, Green Door had art house pretensions, and Miss Jones was imbued with a dark psychological/existential angst.
*. What is Carnal Haven? It’s packaged as a public service announcement. The credits begin with a notice, addressed to the producer’s “Dear Fellow Human,” which makes the claim that the movie you’re about to see is going to be good for you.
*. The rest of the credits, by the way, are just as much fun. The movie was “Written Produced Directed Fotographed (sic) and Edited by Troy Benny.” That’s quite an accomplishment, but Carlos Tobalina wasn’t proud enough of his work to put his real name on it.
*. Not that you can really blame him, since I doubt any of the names on the credit roll are real, beginning with the star, who is inexplicably billed as “Mss. Sharon Thorpe.” Is that Mistress? Manuscript?
*. But back to sex film as therapy. The narrator goes on to claim that “complete sexual release is essential to your health, to your psychological and emotional sanity.” This introduces the film’s plot, which is about four couples experiencing difficulties in their relationships who visit a sex clinic run by “Klein & Wasserman, Medical Doctors.” After a bit of instruction at a blackboard it’s off to the orgy room (mirrored ceiling and all) for some hands-on instruction in moves like the “Inca Nut” and the “Gypsy Grip.” The female doctor (I’m not sure if she’s Klein or Wasserman) leads the way here with the rallying cry “fucking is just good clean wholesome decent fun!”
*. For the most part the advice seems reasonable. Much emphasis is given on sex being enjoyable, and how to locate and stimulate a woman’s “joy button.” Could the claims to this being an educational sex film be true?
*. Nothing dates like porn. The men here have sideburns and moustaches, while the women are . . . natural. As for the sex, if you’re not into swapping and orgies then this won’t be for you. Despite trying to present “real couples” in therapy, even by the end of the movie it can be difficult to tell who is doing the fucking.
*. By today’s standards, the production is quite primitive. Dismal lighting, focus, choreography, and, of course, all that hair, make it hard to actually see much of anything. With a few exceptions, the money shots are disappointing. Nobody seems much into it, and the women often have to struggle with the flaccidity of their partners. Today’s porn consumers are used to erections created through a combination of drugs and editing. Back in the day you had to work a little harder. What we see here isn’t quite as bad as Divine trying to get a rise out of Danny Mills in Pink Flamingos, but it’s close.
*. The writing is silly and the actors know it. Several times they seem about to crack up. But the concept isn’t a bad one. We’re pulling (sorry) for these regular folks to get their lives back together, if only to hasten the end of the movie.
*. A final note says that everything we’ve seen has been presented for educational purposes and there’s nothing illegal about it. Which is just covering “Troy Benny”‘s ass. The stated goal is to achieve “carnal haven” (presumably a nod to adult star Annette Haven, who only appears in a brief lesbian coda), but there’s also a very American subtext. These couples aren’t just saving their relationships: we are told that a happier bedroom leads to them getting raises, or even new jobs. In a hilarious (albeit racist) twist, the sole black man is revealed at the end to be a superfly pimp, and business is now booming! Pretty soon he’ll be able to buy that Cadillac he’s always wanted.
*. The moral of the story is that carnal haven is good, and should be its own reward, but better sex also has material benefits. The money shot indeed!
*. Needless to say, this wasn’t the future of porn. A visit to the sex clinic would continue to be a porn trope, but without any pretense of the film itself being in any way beneficial or educative. That might just mean the end of hypocrisy and legal subterfuge, or the end of something else. Not innocence, but maturity?