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Joe Sarno carved a name for himself in the '60s by grinding out numerous adults-only films that emphasized a growing malaise in suburban America. He turned his camera on bored housewives, key parties, partner swapping, and other signs that America's sexual mores had undergone a drastic shift in the post-Eisenhower era. In contrast to the films of Russ Meyer, you'll find no cartoonish excesses in Sarno's films. Rather in films such as Sin the Suburbs (1964) and The Swap and How They Make It (1966), both of which are now available on a double feature DVD from Something Weird Video, Sarno dealt in loneliness and boredom. While many of the lead characters end up dead in Meyer's films (as punishment for their licentious ways), Sarno's characters survive, but they're scarred for their indiscretions. In Sin in the Suburbs, for example, at a sex party where all the participants wear masks, a mother is paired up with her own daughter. When the woman realizes what has happened (a bit too late for comfort), she becomes hysterical.

Sin in the Suburbs is arguably Sarno's most well-known film. The amount of skin on display is relatively modest. Sarno was much less interested in showing the sex act itself than he was in creating characters and watching what happens as their loneliness and boredom pushes them to try various couplings. After their dalliances, the characters discover they're still lonely and bored; they're still not satisfied with their spouses, and their lives still seem empty and pointless. Sex with a stranger fulfills a momentary emotional need, but the satisfaction is fleeting.

Sin in the Suburbs pulls us into a suburban community where a predatory man and woman (who pose as brother and sister) establish a sex club. The club members dress in capes and masks and sit in the audience, while other members are called forth to perform for the audience's benefit. If you've seen Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, this scenario might sound vaguely familiar. Kubrick likely knew of Sin in the Suburbs. However, while Kubrick's film deals with the ideal rich, Sarno's film deals with middle-class suburbanites. The club proprietors are vultures who live by exploiting the weaknesses of others. They're all about making money off their patsies. For them, the club is merely a scam that separates cash from the wallets of their neighbors. Like poker gamblers in a Western town, they blow into town, make their bundle, and then prepare to run for greener pastures.

Much of the reputation of Sin in the Suburbs is built on the subsequent careers of two of its stars—Audrey Campbell and Dyanne Thorne. Campbell would subsequently star in the notorious Olga film series (e.g., Olga's House of Shame), and Thorne (billed here as "Lahna Monroe") would star in the even more notorious Ilsa films (e.g., Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS).

Unfortunately, Something Weird's presentation of Sin in the Suburbs is less than ideal. The video transfer was culled from a print that was liberally mined of many of the choice frames (a frequent pastime of projectionists in the '60s and '70s). Frequently when the story brings us to one of the more graphic scenes, the footage is clumsily patched together as if it had been edited with a meat cleaver.

In comparison, the video transfer for The Swap and How They Make It looks pristine. The tones of grey are more faithfully reproduced here, which makes watching The Swap much easier. While I was frequently wincing at the choppy footage in Sin in the Suburbs, The Swap looks remarkably fresh. Maybe I'm just reacting to the differences in the prints, but I found The Swap to be the superior film. Sarno seems to have learned a great deal after his first filmmaking efforts. By the time he made The Swap, Sarno knew more about how to use the camera and how to edit his sequences. The Swap is a much more professionally made film. It also features an insidiously bouncy soundtrack tune that surges beneath many of the movie's more salacious moments, providing an ironic playfulness that temporarily masks the characters' self-destructive impulses.

The Swap follows the exploits of a group of spouse swappers. In particular, it focuses on two couples. The husbands run a business together. They spend almost all their time at work, so the wives become bored and seek out sexual dalliances. Karen Picard (Stella Britton) licks her lips when she sees a college boy throwing a football on the street in front of a friend's house. Soon enough, she's asking him inside, where she begs her friend, Mona Parsons (Patricia McNair), to let her borrow the bed for an hour. Mona initially objects, but she soon gives in. Before long, Karen and her college stud make a daily routine of stopping by for a quickie. Soon the boy hasn't been to school for weeks and he's concerned about his grades. Meanwhile, Mona finds herself tempted by a friend's suggestion that she join the wife swapping circuit. Eventually, with so much sex happening around her, but none with her husband, Mona gives in and agrees to a trial run with a stranger. Soon enough, the women pull their husbands into the spouse swapping group and everyone is having frequent sex with strangers. But everyone isn't necessarily happy and therefore the situation begins to spiral toward destruction.

The Swap is surprisingly well acted. While it doesn't have the killer cast of Sin in the Suburbs, overall the lead performances are just as good and the supporting performances are much better.

Sin in the Suburbs and The Swap and How They Make It are both surprisingly good movies, considering they come from the vast wasteland of '60s adults-only drama. That might seem like faint praise, but Joe Sarno always placed a higher priority on characters than sex. His movies are filled with unbridled lust (that frequently goes astray in dangerous directions), but the focus is always on how this lust affects the lives of his characters. His camera doesn't linger over the nudity.

Sarno is a much different filmmaker than the more widely known Russ Meyer. Both filmmakers forged their careers in the '60s by giving their audiences salacious stories frequently punctuated by sexual couplings; however, while Meyer's movies embraced camp and cartoonish excesses, Sarno dealt with serious topics.

Sin in the Suburbs and The Swap and How They Make It are now available on a double-feature DVD from Something Weird Video. The disc contains an audio commentary for Sin in the Suburbs that features director Joe Sarno, actress Cleo Nova, and producer David Friedman. Additional special features: an original theatrical trailer of The Swap and How They Make It; trailers for additional suburban lust movies; a gallery of '60s sexploitation art; and a Joe Sarno short titled "A Sneak Peek at Strip Poker." Suggested retail price: $19.99. For more information, check out the Something Weird Video Web site.