Retro Porn Review – Tomatoes

May 25, 2014
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This week we put the real “Retro” back in the title of this column, as we move back to 1970.

Now, it might seem there’s not much of a difference between a mid-70s flick and one that came out at the beginning of that decade, but this was pre-Deep Throat. Porn wasn’t anywhere close to a big production back then. This was a hell of a lot more low profile than what became the norm after 1973.

Tomatoes starts with a nice montage where the opening credits are displayed on signs and walls in bright red, which was a usual device at the time and it still looks cool. The eerie psychedelic electronics in the background give it an odd tension, especially considering the year. Using synths almost exclusively on a soundtrack was quite unusual at the time.

Tomatoes follows Stanley Jones (Tommy Toole), a rent collector hired by the landlord to gather the money owed by his female-only tenants, who usually get away with not paying the previous collectors by having, well, other methods of payment. Stanley is warned these women are dangerous, but he sets out to do his job and deliver the cash. Of course, the ladies turn out to be far more convincing than he anticipated. He was also a lot more potent – considering the rent collection is supposed to have happened in just one day – than any of us expected.

The movie does have a lot of sex scenes (I believe about 10) for a film that’s barely over an hour long, and it doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary tiresome dialogue to pretend this was an arty endeavor. Joel Robert, the writer and director whose credits begin and end with Tomatoes, was very aware of what he was making: Porn… represented in a silly comedy. There’s no pretension of anything else, although he knew how to use the available resources rather well.

The sex scenes are very oral-driven, and we actually see real penetration only two or three times during the film, which I thought was curious.

There was an interesting scene where Stanley shows up at the apartment of a married couple. The husband was wearing makeup and women’s underwear, which in 1970 was still kind of racy. The guy actually makes subtle moves on Stanley and it almost seems like that scene was improvised and were just trying to fuck with the lead actor. He keeps laughing nervously, and he didn’t sell his acting chops all that well in other moments. He looks genuinely embarrassed and threatened by having a guy coming onto him, which I thought was pretty amusing.

Another funny thing is that drug use is suggested several times, yet it’s never acknowledged. They smoke weed and call them cigarettes, take poppers and call them aspirins, and acid and call it… Well, that was some sort of potion, really, but that’s the way it’s all treated, like a magical, mystical potion that makes them do crazy stuff.

The ending kind of leaves it open for a perfectly valid sequel, but that was the end of most of these people’s careers in the industry. Still, there’s something to be said about the staying power of a tiny – absolutely independent, obviously – movie made 45 years ago that continues to have people talk about it. I think Joel Robert, wherever he might be, would like that.

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