Color, 1974, 85 mins. 50 secs. / 82 mins. 29 secs. / 69 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Joseph W. Sarno
Starring Doug Stone, Chris Jordan, Harding Harrison, Tina Russell, Ultramax, Harry Reems, Marc Stevens, Eric Edwards, Levi Richards
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), After Hours (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Did you know there was an entire subgenre of genie porn in the 1970s? Yes indeed, and one of the screwiest is an obscure, once presumed-lost oddity from Joe Sarno from his brief goofball comedy period in the mid-'70s. The end result, A Touch of Genie, mixes porno chic culture with rib-nudging Jewish humor and resembles what might happen if some nut case grabbed a colorized print of Roger Corman's Little Shop of Horrors and reshot random scenes with actual sex. The performances and direction are all over the top, to say the least, and it's a grin-inducing reminder of a time when people treated this genre like any other.
To get away from his whiny mother (Ultramax), nerdy Melvin Finkelfarb (Stone) fritters away his afternoons by hanging out at Times Square porn theaters in a pair of goofy fake glasses. One day with his buddy Irving (Harrison) he stumbles upon a magic lamp containing a plucky genie (Sarno regular and Eric Edwards spouse Jordan, billed here as "Karen Craig") who offers to grant him his heart's desire. Naturally he wants to become his favorite adult movie studs so he can bed vixens like Tina Russell (whose nether regions are earlier given a queasy visual comparison to a certain delicatessen lunch specialty). The film then skips helter skelter as Melvin transforms into the likes of Harry Reems and Marc "10 1/2" Stevens by, ahem, twirling around. Hey, nobody said this was hi-tech.
A perverse comedic deconstruction of the entire porn genre and the low-grade celebrity it inspired, A Touch of Genie is certainly unlike any other film. The humor goes way, way beyond broad, with the already hammy Reems going into overdrive and even the normally more restrained actors getting into the act with lots of goofy faces and eye-rolling. Somehow the extreme nature of the film manages to work more or less, coming off more like a charming extended vaudeville sketch than a smut movie. The sex isn't really hot in the traditional sense (thanks to some comical sound effects, for one thing), but it's a kick watching so many name faces appearing in one movie, albeit one that hardly anyone seems to have viewed during its initial run.
A Touch of Genie first resurfaced after its initial theatrical run in a double-disc DVD set from After Hours in 2007, looking battered but pretty decent considering it had been on the extinct list for a while. The best extra here is a videotaped interview with Stone (2m31s) at a New York screening (questioned by Michael Bowen), and he seems accepting and good-natured about witnessing the film for the first time in decades. (Sarno also makes a quick cameo at the end, too.) The same screening also spawned another featurette, a "mini-doc" (5m56s) covering the event's reception with impromptu comments from various attendees, as well as "Memories from the Bottle," a 10-minute series of on-camera reminiscences from Sarno and Stone (with Marc Stevens the brunt of most of the jokes). The first disc also includes a slew of Sarno trailers and newly-created previews.
Then it's on to disc two, a celebration of genie smut beginning with "Swing Genie" (referring to as "The Swinging Genie" in the liner notes), a goofball one-hour storefront quickie about a tubby djinn in a turban who materializes out of bong smoke to grant wishes. The faces here are surprisingly high-profile (and don't miss the silly animated opening), with frequent soft-and-hardcore staples like Keith Erickson (The Godson), Sandy Carey (The Devil's Garden) and Ric Lutze among the writhing bodies. Then you get a female genie with "Genie's Magic Box," another semi-feature-length cheapie about a scientist whose Viagara-like potion falls into the hands of two numskull assistants while he's off conjuring up a little sexy helper from a magic bottle. Suzanne Fields pops up in the penultimate sex scene to add some energy to the proceedings, while the scientist (a young guy in a terrible gray wig) finally gets his for the big finish. The disc is rounded out with another round of After Hours promo trailers, and the package also comes with a set of liner notes by Michael Bowen and "The After Hours Collector."
A very scratchy, alternate softcore version of the film running 69 minutes (appropriately) turned up in Secret Key's 2009 Deep Throat Comedy Collection of Sarno titles along with Sarno's Deep Throat II and The Switch, or How to Alter Your Ego.
In 2017, A Touch of Genie received its third(!) video release as a Blu-ray and DVD dual-format set from Vinegar Syndrome, taken from the immaculate and frankly stunning original camera negative that's free from the splices and damage of the earlier releases; thus it actually runs quite a bit longer than the earlier hardcore edition by over three minutes. (Here's a sample of the older transfer.) There's really nothing to criticize here; it looks terrific from start to finish, and the English LPCM mono audio track (with optional English SDH subtitles) is also sparkling clean. The always chatty Eric Edwards turns up here for "A Touch of Eric," a new interview (23m19s) mainly going into his ongoing working relationship with Joe and Peggy Sarno and memories of the late Jordan, with detours involving his performance abilities with Russell in front of her husband Jason. There's a hilarious bit about "doing blow all night" with Harry Reems with a footnote involving Hugh Hefner and Jack Nicholson, too. Then Bowen appears for "A Touch of Sarno" (25m57s), a new overview of Sarno's career from early advertising jobs and industrial films through his landmark contributions to softcore filmmaking and his dabbling in more explicit fare.
Reviewed on June 23, 2017