Directed by Chuck Vincent
Starring Kelly Nichols, Jerry Butler
Release Date: May 6, 1983
On a balmy night in Florida, Jill Travis – a free-spirited young woman – meets an ambitious married man named Andy Whitman (Jerry Butler) and embarks on a brief but explosive affair with him. When Andy must return home, he realizes he is in love and offers to leave his wife for Jill. Insecure but pragmatic, Jill refuses and the two part ways. Over the next twenty years, as their lives continue apart, they go from lofty highs to tragic lows yet never can forget each other or the love they shared. As an aging, broken man, Andy sets off to find his long-lost lover until a chance meeting changes their lives forever.
In today’s world of gonzo bonkfests, silicone-enhanced bombshells and steroid-infused superstuds, modern audiences probably wouldn’t know what to make of the films of the late, great Chuck Vincent. Ever the auteur, and quite a character, Vincent was a filmmaker first and pornographer second. He used the genre to tell stories of ordinary people – often in extraordinary situations – and had an eye for spotting genuine talent in the porno pool. Veronica Hart and Ginger Lynn are just two of the many hardcore performers who appeared in Vincent’s more mainstream softcore titles. However, even in his adult films, he had a knack for finding the most talented performers to inhabit his characters. His tales were not simply flesh parades. They were well-crafted and demanding emotional pieces which cried out for strong, talented leads. One of those shining lights appears as the lead in IN LOVE.
Kelly Nichols has the distinction of being one of the few hardcore performers of the period to be a member of the Screen Actors Guild and she carries the weight of IN LOVE on her shoulders. In the many years over which the film spans, Nichols manages to be convincing throughout. From the wild woman-child who impetuously rams into Jerry Butler’s car to hippie without a cause, from hardened ex-con to a mature woman in charge of her fate, Nichols never fails to connect with the material or the audience. Hers is really one of the defining acting performances of the genre.
Much praise has been lavished on Jerry Butler’s acting abilities – by co-workers and indeed by Butler himself – but suffice to say he does his best acting work here. Perhaps Chuck Vincent’s passion for the material rubbed off on him, shaving away the ham and revealing a heretofore suppressed ability to give the camera a sensitive and emotional portrayal to capture? But more on our leads in due course.
While the storyline itself (by Henri Pachard, and scripted by Rick Marx and Chuck Vincent) isn’t really breaking any new ground, the supporting cast certainly raised the bar and draws us in.
Samantha Fox is delicious as a scheming seductress, but it is Veronica Hart who gives the most haunting performance of the film. Barely speaking a word, she plays Andy’s pregnant and neglected wife – a wife all too aware of her husband’s remoteness and infidelities. At a lavish party, Andy disappears from the room causing his wife’s years of neglect, pain and humiliation to turn into angry despair. Hart conveys all these emotions to the viewer without uttering a sound. It’s all there on her face, in her eyes, as she scans the room in vain looking for her emotionally-neglectful husband. She knows full well that as she does this he is doubtless in the arms of another woman. It is a shattering performance that no other actress in the world of adult film could ever have pulled off.
Gay porn icon Jack Wrangler appears briefly as one of Jill’s many lovers. Wrangler had only recently migrated to straight hardcore films and he plays his heterosexual character with a stereotypical gay flamboyance. This stark contrast to the mucho-macho types he played in gay cinema was an interesting and amusing acting choice.
IN LOVE marks the screen debut of Beth Broderick who has had a long career in film and television and may be best known as Aunt Zelda in Sabrina the Teenage Which. In this film she portrays a unsophisticated but sincere woman who has fallen in love with Jill. Her anguish over these unrequited feelings (which brings up her own feelings of not being “good enough” for the more worldly Jill) culminates in a bombastic and destructive outburst that is just shattering to watch. Broderick’s performance stays with the viewer long after, despite only appearing on screen a scant few minutes.
The film itself looks gorgeous. Cleverly photographed by the talented and prolific Larry Revene, if you didn’t know it was a hardcore film made on a small budget you would never suspect as much. Nearly every shot is a picture postcard. Even the hardcore sex scenes are filmed with restraint and taste not often found in adult films these days.
The theme song is an infectious (in an over-the-top, AM-radio style) ballad that will stick with you after the last reel unravels. It might even inspire a tear or two, it certainly did in me (and I’m man enough to admit it!)
In various interviews both Kelly Nichols and Jerry Butler have said that they had absolutely no affinity for each other and there was certainly no love lost between them. You would never know that to watch them together onscreen. They don’t spend a lot of the film’s running time together, but when they do they are electric. I feel very confident in attributing this almost solely to Kelly Nichols. I’ve seen Butler in other films with actresses he didn’t care for and it was always painfully obvious (particularly in sex scenes.) Not so here. Perhaps it is because Nichols’ ability is head-and-shoulders above so many of the other actresses of the genre? Her character loves Andy and Nichols’ performance is so convincing that it tempers Butler’s more bombastic technique.
In all fairness, Butler really gives us the goods as he crumbles under the taunts of a merciless prostitute played by Sue Nero. This is fortunate as the scene marks Andy’s emotional turning-point.
For all the skill behind IN LOVE, being a hardcore film means quite a bit of character and plot development is eschewed in favor of copious sex scenes. This is just a little tragic. While the sex scenes are nicely shot and fairly erotic, none other than the initial encounter between Jill and Andy give us any insight in to the characters or their motivations. A softcore version was released to cinemas under the title STRANGERS IN LOVE, but that cut simply removed the hardcore without adding any further dimension to the film. Rather than mourning what could have been, I encourage you to see IN LOVE as a well-crafted, beautifully photographed and acted piece of cinema. It can certainly stand proudly beside better-known classics like BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR and THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES.
IN LOVE can be a difficult film to track down, even in the Internet age, but the effort is well-worth making. In a film canon as long as his arm, this stands alongside ROOMMATES as one of Chuck Vincent’s masterworks.