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Adulterous Affair

(AKA The Love Blackmailer, Room for a Stranger) 1966, Starring Jean Christopher, Bruce Gray, Sean Sullivan, Faith Gardiner and Brian James. Directed by Ted Leversuch.

Don't bother looking up Adulterous Affair director Ted Leversuch in any book on Canadian film7mdash though the little-recognized auteur had his thumb in a spate of locally-lensed sexploitation films in the mid-1960s, Leversuch has been entirely overlooked in the history of Canadian film. It's little wonder, then, that his rare 1960s flick Adulterous Affair remains a virtually undiscovered clas-sick, a readily enjoyable B-movie that links the "angry young Canuck" films of the late 1950s with the sleazier fare that defined the last half of the decade, including Montreal's controversial "maple syrup porn" films.

Adulterous Affair begins when Russ (Bruce Gray) breezes into Toronto and rents a cheap room from Lola (Faith Gardiner), an ex-stripper who takes a more-than-friendly interest in her boarder. Though not entirely immune to her hardened charms, Russ believes in business before pleasure, and keeps Lola on a string while he works his racket, extorting hush money from unfaithful wives by threatening to tell their husbands. Of course, his new room affords him a perfect view of the apartment across the street and his latest mark, Barbara (Jean Christopher), who is cheating on her clueless hubby Frank (Sean Sullivan) with family physician Stephen (Brian James). Hauling a trunkload of photographic equipment up to his pad, Russ takes a few snapshots of the two lovebirds cavorting in bed while Frank's off on a business trip. Upon Barbara and Stephen's return from a weekend tryst in Niagara Falls, Russ calls up Barbara and demands payment--only this time, he's less interested in cash than he is in her body. She unwillingly gives in to his lustful demands, but her shame causes her to break down and tell Stephen, who isn't too happy that another would-be-Lothario is horning in on his action!

Obviously inspired by the burgeoning adult film movement taking hold south of the border, British-born Ted Leversuch arrived in Canada in the early 1960s and quickly became one of the most daring figures in our still-fledgling industry. First, Leversuch penned the 1963 nature colony flick Have Figure Will Travel for future Starlost director Leo Orenstein, and two years later, directed the nudie cutie French Without Dressing. This was followed by a string of slightly nastier "adults only" melodramas starting with Adulterous Affair, Take Her By Surprise (as producer) and Sex and the Lonely Woman Pt. 2, each film progressively more audacious than the last. The relatively demure Adulterous Affair, however, remains Leversuch's most identifiably Canadian filma fine low-budget outing that helped usher in Canada's kinky '60s "sinema."

Despite a palpable cheapness and an over-reliance on talk to move the plot forward, Adulterous Affair is a fast and dirty tale of money and sex that is nicely captured by Leversuch. Though there is no revealing nudity in the film at allJean Christopher modestly covers up in the few scenes where she does disrobe--the film doesn't shy away from sleazy content, including a disturbing scene of Russ forcing himself on Barbara, a violent finale, and an overall, unseemly voyeuristic tone as Russ constantly spies on his cheating neighbours through his blinds. While there's no question that Adulterous Affair is an exploitation film, it does share some similarities with Larry Kent's 1965 Canadian infidelity drama When Tomorrow Dies that help earmark it as a Canadian film. Though it's not exactly a character study on the same level as Kent's well-regarded film, Adulterous Affair does try to get inside Barbara's head a little when she's victimized by Russ, and it appears that domestic unhappiness is at the root of her extra-marital activities. And yet, unlike most sexploitation films of the time, it really doesn't condemn or pass judgement on Barbara and Stephen's affair--when they're in the Niagara Falls hotel room, she echoes the grey-area morality of When Tomorrow Dies by asking the good doctor "What we're doing isn't wrong, is it?" As with Julian Roffman's earlier beatnik film The Bloody Brood, it's the manipulation and degradation of those who live unconventional lives that Leversuch reveals as the true societal evil, not the act of adultery itself--an attitude that clearly sets it apart from the "roughies" of American schlockers like David F. Friendman, which were far more puritanical in their presentation of female sexuality.

Jean Christopher started her screen career as one of the stars of the infamous CBC satire program Nightcap, a bawdy late night hit hosted by Canadian super-entertainer Billy Van. In a career misstep, she apparently left the show at the height of its popularity to pursue a film career in an industry that had not yet come of age, and she managed to land only two roles: this one, and the lead in Playgirl Killer a few years later. Too bad, because she's by far the best reason to catch Adulterous Affair, delivering a measured and believable performance a world away from her comedic work. Several of Christopher's co-stars, however, managed to parlay their big screen debuts into notable careers. Sean Sullivan continued to work in local films, appearing as authority figures in everything from outright schlock like Dr. Frankenstein On Campus and Deadly Harvest, to respected films including The Grey Fox, while Bruce Gray put in a year at the CBC soap opera Strange Paradise before heading to Hollywood for several decades as a TV guest star and character actor. Gray returned to Canada to a lead role in Alliance Atlantis' TV drama Traders, and a few other Canadian productions including the genre sequel Cube 2.

Although The Drylanders, The Luck of Ginger Coffey and Nobody Waved Goodbye are considered the key Anglophone films of the pre-Canadian Film Development Corporation days, it was the thriving adult-oriented boom of the mid-1960s that really characterized the turbulent period, and Adulterous Affair was one of the first Canadian films aimed at the international market that specifically takes place north of the border. While the film rarely ventures outside a handful of apartments and clandestine hotel rooms'--seemingly shot at Nat Taylor's Toronto International Film Studios in Kleinburg--there are several mentions of the downtown Toronto setting accompanied by notable location shots, including the opening credit sequence driving down Toronto's neon-lit avenues, Russ buying binoculars from a Yonge Street pawn shop, and Stephen and Barbara trolling the wax museums in Niagara Fall's Clifton Hill.

Canadian critics may still turn a blind eye to the pivotal role that kinkier efforts like Playgirl Killer and Naked Flame have played in creating and defining the industry as a whole, but that doesn't diminish their importance. While hardly a masterpiece of Canadian cinema, Adulterous Affair is an essential entry in the Canuxploitation canon, a hidden gem very much deserving of rediscovery.

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