Although it’s probably not the best movie of the period, Nothing To Hide may well be the quintessential Golden Age classic. It follows the adventures of a smooth-talking ladies man, Jack (John Leslie), and his slow witted/ semi-retarded buddy, Lenny (Richard Pacheco). While Jack lives the bachelor life for all it’s worth, moving effortlessly from one conquest to the next, Lenny – despite his buddy’s repeated promises to set him up – has no such luck. However, when he becomes (literally) bumps into and becomes besotted with a similarly awkward girl (‘Karen’), Jack is faced with the prospect of a future without his sidekick.
Unlikely as it sounds, this is essentially a XXX ‘buddy movie’, with the relationship of the two male leads at the centre of the narrative. The opening scene – in which Lenny provides a ‘look out’ while Jack fornicates with a, presumably unhappily, married woman – reveals the hierarchy from the outset. Immediately thereafter we see the duo wrestling and engaging in good-natured horseplay, but it doesn’t take long for cracks to appear: Lenny is condemned – to his visible distress – to spend the night in the bath-tub, as ‘Mr. Valentino’ engages with yet another willing partner. Conversely, after his second encounter with Karen, Lenny asserts that he’s in love but it barely even registers with Jack. The divergent paths of our principals are thus established and, during the second half of the movie, the pair that appeared so close are barely seen together. As Lenny and Karen grow closer, Jack continues to do what he does best, but without the approval of his buddy, you get the feeling his heart’s not really in it.
As if it weren’t already obvious, the central characters are unusually well-drawn and the performances of Leslie and Pacheco are suitably distinguished. Of course, Leslie is widely acknowledged as being one of the best actors to appear in adult films and this is one of his signature performances – he’s the very embodiment of the ‘lady killer’, while also bringing a sense of vulnerability to Jack, the self-assured gigolo whose carefree existence is called into question. Every bit as impressive – perhaps even more so – is Richard Pacheco, another capable actor who, for one reason or another, tended to be confined to supporting roles. It’s to his considerable credit that he plays the difficult role of Lenny without falling into parody or becoming embarrassing.
Despite being quite prosaic in its narrative concerns, this is an extremely well executed film and likely to be quite a surprise to anyone unacquainted with productions from this period. For a start, the sex scenes are far shorter than would be acceptable today, and from a dramatic perspective, that’s no bad thing. Furthermore, the scenes that do occur are expertly integrated into the narrative. Indeed, Nothing To Hide would be an excellent repost to those who suggest explicit sex and narrative story-telling are fundamentally incompatible: here, sex scenes support and inform the narrative rather than simply interrupting it. For example, the scene between Leslie and Erica Boyer – which is a key scene because it follows our first sight of ‘Jack’ on a charm offensive – is very warm. He’s undeniably a hedonist – perhaps even a chauvinist – but apparently not selfish. However, towards the end of the film – faced with the loss of his erstwhile partner – we see a very different side of ‘the American gigolo’, now verbally humiliating and callously pounding his latest conquest. Even more interesting is the scene in which Lenny and Karen (played by the obviously pseudonymous ‘Tigr’) consummate their relationship; both virgins, they stand naked in front of each other, nervous, seemingly unsure what to do next. When it comes to using a condom, neither is entirely sure what to do but they work it out together, talking each other through the process of unwrapping and unrolling the curious latex apparel. It might not be high art, it might not even be erotic (that will depend largely on the sensibility of the viewer) but it’s a far cry from the crude primitivism that – rightly or wrongly – is often associated with the genre.
According to a poll published in AVN magazine, Nothing To Hide is the second best adult film of all time and, although it isn’t one of my personal favourites, it’s not hard to see why. It’s engaging, life-affirming, and inarguably well made. It’s probably the most sophisticated of all Spinelli’s masterpieces and as palatable to mainstream audiences as anything the genre has to offer. Indeed, with the excision of its hardcore footage, this could easily provide an afternoon matinee without betraying its origins to unsuspecting viewers. Incidentally, approximately half of the film’s running time takes place outdoors – in parks, on the beach, strolling urban streets – and we shouldn’t underestimate the role this plays in establishing an air of respectability.
Note: This review first appeared – and to the best of knowledge can still be found at – Adult DVD Talk.