Last 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.
This 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).
Lester 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.
I’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.
The 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 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.