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Friday, 21 August 2009

The Seniors (1978)

Director: Rodney Amateau
Stars: Jeffrey Byron, Gary Imhoff, Dennis Quaid and Lou Richards

As the animated professor tells us during the opening credits, this is a movie about how college kids can not graduate. They love it there! Our four heroes (all American boys called Larry, Ben, Alan and Steve) don't want to work, they want to stay in college and be with the lovely Sylvia, who takes care of them all even though she's engaged to a minister back in Iowa. Sylvia is perhaps the closest thing I've ever seen to a dream woman on screen, and there have been a lot of attempts. She's beautiful, in the form of Priscilla Barnes, who had replaced Suzanne Somers on Three's Company; she's awesome in bed, something that all four of them can attest to; and she cooks and cleans and does all the womanly things around the house. What's more, she doesn't speak a word through the entire film.

So, they work out a plan to stay with her. A three times Nobel prize winner is a recluse on campus and he only trusts his assistant Arnold, a dweeb who lusts after Sylvia. Arnold reminds this scientist, Prof Heigner, of an insect, which in this instance is a good thing. The professor likes insects, though he doesn't like people and so he's happily attempting to breed a super mosquito to replace mankind as the dominant species on the planet. He's a deliciously contrary character, ably played by Alan Reed, who doesn't trust anyone or anything except Arnold and he trusts him to do everything. And Arnold is easily bought, merely by turning Sylvia into his sex slave.

Here's what our four heroes do, bearing in mind that this is an early 1978 precursor to the outrageous genre of the 1980s teen sex comedy so naturally it all works like a charm. They type up a grant proposal, suggesting that the professor has completed his work on the sex life of the insect and is about to start new research into the sex life of the liberated college girl. They ask for $50,000 from the board offering grants and set up a phantom company called Phantom Research Corp to run the show. And so while Sylvia and Arnold are busy in bed, the four boys have eager college girls leaping into theirs for $20 an hour, living out all the girls' fantasies from shower sex to bondage to being ravished by King Kong.

What this film teaches us more than anything is that anything can scale, without any mathematical limit. So when the money starts running a litle low, they start up their own cathouse, erm I mean they extend the study to 'selected executive businessmen' who don't pay but make 'tax deductible contributions', by leasing an entire motel and bussing the girls in school buses. The boys keep the difference and turn the study into the first such thing to ever have turned a profit. And they keep scale up... after all they can double the amount they earn by doubling the girls or doubling the centres. There are no limits, not even of eager liberated college girls. Which town is this again and how much are the flights?

Of course this all sounds like plenty of sex but not necessarily a lot of comedy, which is what The Seniors is supposed to be. Well there's plenty of comedy here, perhaps not as much from the boys themselves but from the many supporting characters, not lest Arnold who ends up taking the chemicals the professor has designed to turn his mosquitos into super studs so that he can keep up with Sylvia. Soon he's on crutches but he never quits. Miss Creighton, the old maid who servers as head of the board donating the grant turns up herself and misunderstanding everything the professor says as being about women not insects, for obvious reasons wants to volunteer, turning into a stalker with an inevitable letdown due.

The Phantom Research Corp enters into partnership with a bank manager, a bishop, a judge and a police commissioner. These jokes almost write themselves, including plenty of opportunity for cracks at sex, age and religion, especially when Ben the Jew converts and the bishop is delighted. You can just tell how sensitively this is handled from the tone of this review. Next thing you know they'll have nuns running the cathouses. Check. Best of all is Ian Wolfe, who plays a very old and very deaf businessman called Mr Bleiffer who wants to take them over. He steals every scene he's in, regardless who he's sharing the screen with, but then again he's had plenty of practice. This is my 41st Ian Wolfe, the earliest being Mad Love in 1935, and the only real surprise is that his last film wouldn't be for nother 12 years, that being Warren Beatty's 1990 version of Dick Tracy.

The Seniors is fun though it's pretty inconsequential in most other regards. The leads are capable but none of them shine, not even the young Dennis Quaid, who is easily recognisable here given that he gets plenty of opportunity to show us his unique grin. He'd appeared in four films before this one, three of them credited. It took him a couple more years to really arrive with a prominent role in 1979's Breaking Away and a supporting slot in Walter Hill's The Long Riders in 1980, the Jesse James story that cast a lot of brothers to play a lot of brothers, not just the Quaids but the Guests, Keaches and Carradines too.

There is one serious point that I'm sure wasn't in the minds of the filmmakers when they made this, but I couldn't fail to notice and that's the big lie propaganda technique expounded by Josef Goebbels. He said, 'If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it,' a concept he mastered as the propaganda minister for the Nazis. It's precisely what happens here. When our four heroes begin their lie, they're constantly in danger of being caught. As it gets bigger, they need to grease the palms of the local police to keep it moving. But once it reaches a certain size, they don't need to worry at all; they're now respectable businessmen and they make the cover of Time. What a uniquely American take on Nazi propaganda!

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