If you get deep enough into film-fanatic circles, you will find us split into two camps: The classier kind, who know director Noel Black for his 1968 potboiler PRETTY POISON, with Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins, and those of us who only know him for his 1983 teen sex comedy PRIVATE SCHOOL, starring Phoebe Cates (GREMLINS 2), Matthew Modine (THE DARK KNIGHT RISES), and Betsy Russell (AVENGING ANGEL).
Aw, Betsy Russell.
As the “bad girl” who tries to lure Matthew Modine away from “good girl” Phoebe Cates, Betsy Russell made the kind of indelible impression on legions of pre-pubescent moviegoers and VHS hounds that only a handful of voluptuous redheads have ever made in all of cinema history. To men of a certain generation, Betsy Russell is our Rita Hayworth and her topless horseback ride in PRIVATE SCHOOL is her GILDA moment. She may not be a household name, but Betsy Russell solidified a generation’s sexual orientations.
Doubtless she also sparked a number of film editing careers, since many budding filmmakers’ first experience cutting footage was our desperate attempts to edit Matthew Modine and that guy who played “Bubba” (Michael Zorek, a kind of failed Seth Rogen prototype) out of the many scenes where an energetic and enthusiastic Betsy Russell appears in varying degrees of undress. I’ll tell you how much Betsy Russell meant to my budding libido when I first saw it – I could barely be bothered to notice Phoebe Cates in the same movie. Phoebe Cates! The Jessica Alba of the 1980s! There’s maybe no higher compliment.
Now, the rest of PRIVATE SCHOOL is substandard PORKY’S (which itself is fairly substandard ANIMAL HOUSE). It’s a teen sex comedy so resolutely horny that the sex-ed teacher is played by Sylvia Kristel from the then-notorious French exploitation film EMMANUELLE. I don’t always recommend Wikipedia entries, but the PRIVATE SCHOOL Wikipedia page is pretty funny, since it boils down the movie strictly to its plot elements and really underlines how stupid most teen sex comedies of the 1980s were. PRIVATE SCHOOL has a couple actors who went on to bigger things, and a couple who didn’t (life’s not fair, maybe), and it actually has a fairly decent soundtrack (including Harry Nilsson, The Stray Cats, Vanity 6, and… um… Phoebe Cates), and a couple of the gags are genuinely funny, but no one will make the argument that this is some underrated gem.
PRIVATE SCHOOL is clumsy, episodic, generally poorly-acted, and its prevailing attitude towards sex and pretty young girls is strictly of the leering variety, but since it’s the shuttle delivering an atomic red-headed curvaceous payload, it’s difficult not to feel just a little grateful to the movie. It did, after all, contribute to making some of us the men we are today. For better or otherwise.
PRIVATE SCHOOL played tonight at 92Y Tribeca in Manhattan, as part of their very fun “Back To School” film series.
Watch me regret this one in the morning on Twitter: @jonnyabomb