Private Lessons

Private Lessons 6Last year, as a part of the 1984-a-thon, I reviewed a strange little film called They’re Playing with Fire. It focused on a relationship between a young college student, played by Eric Brown, and one of his professors, played by Sybil Danning. The film somehow jumps from sex comedy to thriller to slasher movie all in its short running time. Strangely enough, I found the film to be a so-bad-it’s-good type of experience. Well just a few years before that film, Eric Brown appeared in another movie where he gets involved with an older woman…only this time it’s a bit creepier. Here comes 1981’s Private Lessons.

Private Lessons1This time, Brown plays 15-year-old rich kid Philly. He and his buddy, Sherman (Patrick Piccininni) are a bit sex-obsessed…go figure, they’re fifteen. Philly has taken a particular interest lately in his new French housekeeper Nicole (Sylvia Kristel…yep, Emmanuelle herself). Philly often sneaks over to the servant’s quarters to spy on her with his binoculars. His dad is too busy to notice all this; he’s hardly ever there. In fact, he heads off on an extended business trip, leaving Philly in the care of his trusted chauffeur, Lester (Howard Hesseman).

Private Lessons 5Lester is not as trustworthy as he seems, though. He has a plan to blackmail the rich kid, and it involves Nicole seducing the youngster. First, she catches him spying on her one night. Rather than stopping him, she invites Philly in to watch her undress. A few days later, Philly finds her taking a bath and she invites him to join her. He resists at first but she talks him into it. Before long, Philly is taking her out to dinner and has thoughts of marrying the twice-his-age maid. Eventually it all culminates in the teen’s first sexual encounter. Here is where Lester’s plan kicks in. Philly is, of course, confused by the strange noises Nicole makes as they make love…but then afterwards she is unresponsive. Philly panics and Lester confirms that she is dead. Lester then guides the boy through burying the body in the backyard, but then a few days later a letter arrives claiming to have seen what was done and demanding money. Meanwhile, the very much not dead Nicole, begins to have second thoughts about the plot and determines to help Philly take down Lester.

Private Lessons 4I’ve seen a lot of things in movies, not all of it pleasant. With this movie, though, we’re getting into kind of sick territory. I mean the movie is about a roughly thirty-year-old woman seducing a fifteen-year-old boy. Making it worse is the fact that Eric Brown is lucky if he looks twelve in this movie. Then they cast the actress who starred in Emmanuelle as the older woman!? Needless to say, the film is extremely uncomfortable to watch. I’m sure big part of that is the fact that Sylvia Kristel is very sexy, so watching her try to coax a kid whose fifteen (but looks twelve) out his swimming trunks is just plain squirm inducing. The whole death by orgasm thing, though, is just stupid.

Private Lessons 7The acting is woeful all the way around. Eric Brown’s primary direction seems to have been “open your mouth and bug your eyes out a bit.” Then again, he may not have needed to be told that since he was, after all, fifteen and playing scenes with a naked woman. I actually felt a little sorry for his parents watching this. I can’t imagine this is what they had in mind when the shelled out the bucks for acting lessons. Kristel is, like I said, quite sexy…but her acting is somewhat stilted and it’s just plain hard to like a character I wanted to call the cops on. Howard Hesseman is a long way from Johnny Fever with his part here. Lester is a real slimeball and Hesseman makes a solid effort with the character. Yet you can kind of see behind Hesseman’s eyes that he realizes he shouldn’t be in this skeezy little flick.

Private Lessons 8Private Lessons has a few other odd quirks. First, it’ll change your impression of Rod Stewart music as several of his songs blare over the soundtrack. One of the strangest things, though, is that the film was produced by Jack Barry and Dan Enright Productions. If you were a 70’s kid, like me, then you may remember those names as producers of many TV game shows like The Joker’s Wild and Tic Tac Dough. So apparently the joker was wild about fifteen year olds dating thirty year olds. For me, though, there’s nothing to be wild about with this film.

5 thoughts on “Private Lessons

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  1. Even for being from an era that has many teenage raunchy sex themed movies, this one sounds like it crossed a line and I am glad I missed it.

  2. Apparently, the actor who played Sherman, Patrick Piccininni, went on to become an Ohio prosecutor, ran as a Republican in a race for judge. and is now a chief legal counsel for the Ohio Dept of Transportation. Also listed as Roman Catholic. I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to judge and quite honestly, I would probably take the role too if I were in his position at that age. I also realize people change and that we are talking 35 years ago. But I’m curious, anyone know if he ever publicly reconciled his role in this film with being a Republican prosecutor and wanting to serve as Judge? I’m not saying he should do so on a personal level, but wouldn’t it make political sense to, e.g., make a speech or issue a statement that he’s a changed man? And I’m wondering if his appearance in this film hurt his electability for judge. This all assumes we’re talking about the same ‘Patrick Piccininni’. If not, my apologies. Any feedback is greatly appreciated.

  3. Nothing wrong with a hot, older woman seducing a younger man. Young men should all be so lucky. The younger man can’t get pregnant; he isn’t go ing to go into an emotional meltdown if it’s only sex, and she’s not strong enough to coerce him. A man seducing a girl (or a young boy) is a problem.

  4. I saw Private Lessons for the first time last May, and when I read the synopsis first, I was disgusted by its concept of an older woman having a sexual affair with a teenaged boy since I was already grossed out by how it was done in That’s My Boy, mainly because it portrays things like child molestation, pedophilia, and statutory in such an exaggeratedly comic light!

    However, while I still don’t condone such things being portrayed in films in such an over-the-top, comical manner, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Private Lessons was much tamer and lighter, or rather far less disturbing, than I thought it would be with the nudity and sexual content, at least it is when you compare it to That’s My Boy. I would also say it is better than They’re Playing with Fire, the film Eric Brown made three years after he made Private Lessons.

    Now even though I don’t like Private Lessons’ concept of an older woman having intercourse with an underage teen boy, I find it a tolerable film despite that and despite it being a sex comedy because Philly and Nicole are decent, likable characters, largely based on their individual moralities, and their feelings for each other become genuine. Additionally, unlike the Emmanuelle films and other popular sex comedies of the 80s, Private Lessons is not explicit, as in like a pornographic film, with nudity and sex scenes. It’s not a film that has comedy stretched to a preposterous degree to generate laughter, but it actually has moments of drama and even attempts to show the development of a romance between the main characters.

    Nicole is reluctant to seduce Philly from Lester’s orders for their blackmail scheme, but even as she begins and continues to entice him in each succeeding scene, her advances are gentle, slow, and subtle. She never brutally forces anything on Philly, but rather constantly asks for his consent and permission before doing something, showing that she doesn’t want to make him totally uncomfortable and still respects his personal space. As a result, Philly shows maturity by always being kind to Nicole and developing a respect for her, too. When she sees how much she has scared Philly by faking her death, Nicole shows more morality by not wanting to go through with the plan anymore, but also because she has fallen in love with Philly.

    So again, I’m not a lover of Private Lessons since it does kind of romanticize female predators against underage males, but I have come to tolerate it because it is not an explicit, exaggeratedly, or grossly funny sex comedy, and also because Philly and Nicole develop genuine feelings for each other through an affair in which no adultery is involved. Given that, I cannot say the same for what happens in That’s My Boy and They’re Playing with Fire.

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