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‘…If you can ignore the hideous 70’s décor, music and attitudes, it’s a powerful little B movie that’s worth braving the ignominy of having Hussy on your search history…’

Post Star Wars, there was a brief period where there remained a vogue for adult film; not pornography, but serious-minded dramas which reflected the seedy side of life. Saint Jack, Atlantic City, Tales of Ordinary Madness are all quality films that followed on from the mainstream success of Emmanuelle, and reflected a desire to see believable characters on the screen depicted with a new sexual frankness. Matthew Chapman’s debut film Hussy, like most of the above mentioned films, was rapidly forgotten about post 1980, but now resurfaces to demonstrate that it’s something of a neglected classic, not least because it features brilliant performances, not just from Helen Mirren in the titular role, but from the whole ensemble cast.

Mirren plays Beaty Simons, a call girl who hangs around a bin-juice encrusted urban nightclub with other prostitutes like it’s a grubby knocking-shop, oblivious to regular, grand performances by disco pioneer Patti Boulaye, who seems to be previewing material for the Royal Variety Performance. Beaty has a past and a child, but still finds idealism enough to fall for chauffeur Emory (John Shea), who seeks to take her away from the squalor she lives in and share the similar squalor that he lives in.

After some fairly raunchy sex scenes, the plot takes over as Emory fends off Max (Murray Salem) an outrageous gay criminal with a plan, while she bristles at the intrusion of her old pimp Alex (Paul Angelis) who moves in with them. Both Salem and Angelis give extraordinary, larger-than-life performances here, barely giving the leads any space to work. Indeed, the second half of the film hardly features Mirren at all, but focuses on a deal gone wrong that leads Max and Alex into a bloody mess. Of course, Mirren towers over the material as indeed you might expect; she’s been a brilliant performer since the 60’s, and when she gets a chance, takes it.

Hussy is something of a blot in Mirren’s esteemed copybook, regarded by many as a crummy sex-movie that’s borderline exploitation. And yet, if you’re broadminded enough, it’s also a very good film indeed, and catching Chapman on his way up (a descendent of Charles Darwin, he later wrote Color of Night and Runaway Jury) while also giving Salem something substantial to do; Salem later wrote the screenplay for Kindergarten Cop. Shea has proved to be a dependable actor as well, making Hussy something of a hothouse for emerging talent. If you can ignore the hideous 70’s décor, music and attitudes, it’s a powerful little B movie that’s worth braving the ignominy of having Hussy on your search history; for my US readers, Hussy is a British term that suggests a person of unreliable morals.


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  1. “Hussy,” as a film event, seems to be dedicated to the proposition that one bit of sleaze equals fifteen minutes of quality eye candy. This is a pre-CGI movie, meaning it’s T&A instead of exploding alien heads. If that’s better, then so be it. All the exploding alien heads in the universe couldn’t mask the fact that “Hussy” is built around simple titillation.

    — Catxman

    • I can see that. The appeal of the film’s advertising is very much about titillation. But there’s a story too, from those who stick around.

  2. Not sure why this counts as a blot, Mirren was always a sensual performer and had less clout at that time than later – and even now when she’s one of the few stars to greenlight a production. Got to be considered superior to her previous outing in Caligula or SOS Titanic if you are counting TV films. She had only made a handful of pictures by this point and was generally seen as an incendiary addition to a cast rather than the star turn. Thought this a decent B-picture at the time.

    • She’s awesome in every phase of her career. Parkinson’s interview shows the kind of attitudes Mirren had to deal with, and movies like this show was a great performer she was in her youth.

  3. I didn’t see Hussy on its release but I found your post intriguing. You seem to have a different way of classifying films and I am often surprised by the aspects you pick out to explain why films might be forgotten or might not be attractive to audiences. This isn’t a criticism since you are probably correct in most cases. On this occasion though, you include Atlantic City (1980) on your list of quality adult-themed stories that have been forgotten. I don’t think this is true of Atlantic City which had five Oscar nominations and is part of Louis Malle’s distinguished body of work, here starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarrandon. I screened it for a course recently and it stands up very well. Perhaps it hasn’t been seen too much recently because it’s a French-Canadian production with distribution issues?

    Helen Mirren is usually well worth watching. I think there is a region-free Indicator Blu-ray of Hussy with lots of extras?

    ‘Hussy’ also appears in US dictionaries but it is a term that has several meanings. For me, it has always meant an assertive and even ‘brazen’ woman, not averse to promiscuity, but not necessarily immoral – unless someone has a very narrow view of ‘acceptable’ sexual behaviour.

    • Yup, I think of ‘hussy’ having a derogatory meaning, but that might just be me. I also note the blu-ray for this is cheaper than the DVD. And yes, maybe I should think about my definition of adult. I’m not implying sleaze, but genuinely adult subject matter. But I get that some of the films mentioned here might be considered exploitation, and Atlantic City has a far more respectable pedigree. I saw it on bbc 2 in the 80’s, and it’s a shame that it’s fallen into disrepair. I do remember it having a more grown-up tone like Malle’s Pretty Baby, which also seems to have slipped through the cracks, deliberately or not…

    • Quick google search suggests it was Atlantic City’s lemon juice scene that made such an impression on my teenage self. Sorry for lowering the tone!

        • I think I’ve been using it wrong. But Roy’s point is probably right, I’m infecting my view of Atlantic City with Pretty Baby’s controversy. That’s what I get for getting my info from the Russell Harty show.

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