In Praise of Older Women (1978) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The movie begins with a 12 year old Hungarian boy having his first sexual encounter with a mature prostitute. The next scene picks up four years later, when the same boy (now played by Tom Berenger) has some disappointing experiences with girls his own age, and decides that he can eliminate his sexual incompetence in the same way he originally lost his virginity - by turning to older women for instruction. He not only learns from the experienced women, but discovers jubilant sexuality, warmth, and complexity with them, and they in turn are invigorated by his enthusiasm, innocence, and lusty prowess. He ultimately concludes that he does not want to use sex with older women as a training ground for younger conquests, but as the end itself. By the time he figures that out, the "older" women are his own age.

The background story is epic in scope, following a Hungarian's life through the crazy decade or so between 1945 to 1957. It starts in wartime Hungary (which fought with the Axis), then moves into the territory controlled by the Allies in the aftermath of the Hungarian surrender, then shifts into Communist Hungary, and eventually concludes in Canada after the ill-fated 1956 Hungarian Revolution. (The story was written in Canada, and the film is also Canadian.).

The semi-autobiographical source novel was a respected work of 20th century literature which was widely praised for its elegant prose style, humor, and candid (some said too candid, and politically incorrect) insights into the thought processes of women. Many critics praised the English-language version, and Le Monde awarded all five of its stars to the French version, offering the following comments:

"... For eight years, living from hand to mouth, Vizinczey learned to become a writer in a language of exile. At the end of his apprenticeship, he published a masterpiece, In Praise of Older Women ... At the price of discouraging some readers who are fond of sexual spectacles and amorous gymnastics, it has to be said that the novel, far from being about fantasies and neuroses, seeks, like all great novels, to teach those who read it the truth about life. It is a novel of apprenticeship which would be a good thing to offer to young people of both sexes as soon as they approach the enchanted and agonizing shores of sexuality... "

(I assume that the phrase "enchanted shores of sexuality" doesn't sound as sophomoric in French.)

In addition to its poetic use of language, the book seems to have developed some philosophical and literary threads that kept it worth reading.

I'm just assuming that.

In fact, I haven't read the book, and the movie accomplishes none of that. The film is actually rather clumsy.

  • It's just several (often repetitive) episodes with different women, and not much ties the entire film together. It's the 70s equivalent of a softcore Cinemax movie.

  • Although the book was praised for its eloquence, the narration of the film was straightforward, prosaic, and even a bit confusing since it was supposed to be the thoughts of Tom Berenger's character, but was not done by Tom Berenger. The lines were delivered by a disembodied voice which sounded nothing like Tom.

  • The production values are weak. The lighting is poor, and the sound is often incomprehensible.

  • The music in the film is just a disaster. It used the wah-wah mutes of slapstick comedy and the merry tinkling transition music of light comedies and sitcoms. It's just plain goofy. There are plenty of times when the music seems to be totally inappropriate and completely at odds with the onscreen action, and I expected Berenger to look at the camera and mug, ala Corporal Agarn in F Troop.

IPOOW won a bunch of awards from the Canadian Academy, but I found it often tedious and occasionally amateurish. It rarely held my interest, but it is worth watching just for three things:

  • Helen Shaver's beauty and explicit nudity.

  • The sex scene between Susan Strasberg and Berenger (and Strasberg's performance in general).

  • An amusingly quirky and oddly sexy character actress named Marilyn Lightstone.


DVD Info


Book Info

Nudity Report

Now here was a tough assignment for Tom Berenger! Check out the nudity report below. Tom did all the sex scenes listed there except the one with Monique LePage, which was done by a young boy playing Berenger as a 12 year old. Berenger himself played the character at age 16, which was no small achievement, considering that he was approaching 30 when this movie was made. Believe it or not, he was reasonably credible as a schoolboy. He had the gangly body, his face looked young enough, and he faked the voice and mannerisms convincingly.

  • Karen Black: shows her breasts in a post-sex scene.
  • Helen Shaver shows the whole works including an open leg shot in a lengthy and well lit scene. She looked great. Beautiful body, and a face to match.
  • Alberta Watson shows her breasts in a lengthy sexual encounter which is mostly talk.
  • Monique LePage shows breasts and bum in a shower scene
  • Marilyn Lightstone shows one breast in a sex scene
  • Marianne McIsaac shows her breasts and buns and a very brief flash of pubes as she gets in and out of bed.
  • Alexandra Stewart shows the full monty pre, during, and post sex.
  • Susan Strasberg shows her breasts in a sex scene with Tom Berenger, and then clearly after he rolls off her. There isn't much titillation in the visuals, but this is still quite a hot sex scene simply because the lovers make hungry erotic talk throughout the lovemaking, as people often do in real life, but seldom do in the movies!
  • Berenger shows his bum and Mr Happy in various sex scenes.

The Critics Vote ...

  • The film was nominated for five Etrogs (the inelegant name for the Canadian Oscars before they were called Genies), winning four. Helen Shaver won for Best Leading Actress, and Marilyn Lightstone for Best Supporting Actress.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. Occasionally very sexy, and not without other positives, but not a consistently engaging film.

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