PRIVATE LESSONS (1981) Blu-ray
Director: Alan Myerson
Cinema Epoch

Sylvia Kristel is the real "Emmanuelle in America" providing PRIVATE LESSONS in the memorable 1980s teenage sex comedy on Blu-ray from Cinema Epoch.

The son of a wealthy Arizona businessman, fourteen-year-old Philly (Eric Brown, WAXWORK) has just discovered girls but is too shy and introverted to get beyond peeping on his best friend Sherman's (Patrick Piccininni) hot sister Joyce (Pamela Jean Bryant, DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE). His hot teacher Miss Phipps (Meridith Baer, COACH) advises him to seek out more age appropriate girls, but Philly is soon peeping on Nicole Mallow (Kristel), the young and exotic new housekeeper his father (Ron Foster, THE MONEY PIT) his father has hired to look after him while he is on a business trip during the summer. Philly is taken aback when Nicole returns his affections and encourages him to act on them, but Philly is unaware that Nicole is in cahoots with his father's slimy chauffeur Lester (WKRP IN CINCINATTI's Howard Hesseman) in a blackmail scheme. When Nicole has an attack of conscience, Lester threatens her with deportation as well as the felony seduction of a minor.

Based on the novel "Philly" by Dan Greenberg (who adapted the screenplay and cameos as a sleazy motel manager), PRIVATE LESSONS goes farther than most examples of the teenage sex comedy genre into some uncomfortable territory. Nicole's predatory behavior is more unsettling than teasing, and it seems a fault of the film that it veers too often into comic territory when some very unsavory things are going on. Hesseman and teenage Brown play the third act twist with conviction but their efforts are undercut by a lack of suspense and the glossing over of Philly's feelings of betrayal. Ed Begley Jr. (SHE DEVIL) appears as a tennis coach Philly uses as part of a plan to turn the tables on Lester. The audio commentary on the disc reveals much producer interference to what could have been a better film, but the finished film does sport nice production values, good performances, attractive photography by Paul Verhoeven's regular DP Jan de Bont (his first American credit the same year he shot Noel Marshall's controversial ROAR) – assisted by future DPs Frank Byers (BOXING HELENA) and Arledge Armenaki (DEATH SPA) – and a moody eighties soundtrack with well-known songs by Rod Stewart, John "Cougar" Mellencamp, Earth, Wind & Fire, Eric Clapton, and Air Supply. Greenberg would follow up PRIVATE LESSONS with the sex comedy PRIVATE SCHOOL (along with William Friedkin's THE GUARDIAN based on his novel "The Nanny") while Brown would tread similar waters with Sybil Danning in THEY'RE PLAYING WITH FIRE while also appearing in the first two seasons of MAMA'S FAMILY before its cancellation and rebooting the following season. Director Alan Myerson would return to a prolific career in episodic television with only one subsequent feature film in POLICE ACADEMY V: ASSIGNMENT: MIAMI BEACH.

Released theatrically by Sunn Classics-offshoot Jensen-Farley Pictures (CURTAINS) and on video by Paramount, PRIVATE LESSONS received its DVD release via LionsGate in 2006 in an old fullscreen transfer (that optically censored some frontal nudity) with an audio commentary with director Alan Meyerson, screenwriter Dan Greenburg, and actor Howard Hesseman. In 2014, Cinema Epoch released the film on DVD, and the contents has been ported over to their 2016 Blu-ray. Although the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen encode is purported to be derived from a new 4K scan of the original camera negatives, the image quality is nothing to write home about. It is brighter but the colors are dull and the shadows are grayish, and the image is seemingly scrubbed of any semblance of grain and texture in all but the close-ups (it might have made an ideal DVD upgrade last decade), doing a disservice to De Bont's photography. Audio options include the original mono track and an unsatisfying 5.1 upmix in lossy Dolby Digital.

Carried over from the LionsGate disc is the Myerson/Greenberg/Hesseman commentary in which they spend a lot of time poking fun at the movie itself precisely because the final cut differs so much from the original concept. Myerson and Greenberg recall that the producers always wanted scenes to be more salacious ("And now we're in Thailand," quips Hesseman of the bathtub scene) while they contended that a degree of sweetness was required in the scenes between Philly and Nicole to make both of their motivations believable. They also reveal that the third act was supposed to be darker, patterned after DIABOLIQUE (they also note some parallels to Joseph Losey's THE SERVANT) but the recutting spoiled the revelation that Nicole was not dead long before the scene in which she was supposed to reappear onscreen (losing scenes in which a guilt-ridden Philly believe he is being haunted), and that additional scenes were shot with Kristel body double Judy Helden in New Mexico in a mock-up of Philly's bedroom recreated by art director Linda Pearl (COMMUNION). Hesseman has fond memories of the cast and crew (he did his share of grip and gaffer work on the film) as well as some ugly confrontations with the producers. A second comedy commentary track is offered with the participation of Marc Edward Heuck, Gariana Abeyta, and Jackson Stewart. The sole video extra is a collection of TV spots (1:35) for the film. While certainly a more watchable edition of the film than the old LionsGate disc, fans of the film may have to wait until Cinema Epoch's rights expire before another company gives it a go. (Eric Cotenas)