Secrets Of Sex

The battle of the sexes may be the longest-running battle in human history, but what that has to do with an Egyptian mummy is frankly beyond me. Admittedly, Secrets Of Sex, a cult UK film from 1970, does open with a short sketch set in ancient Egypt. A respected judge (Richard Schulman) returns home to discover that his wife has locked the trunk in the bedroom and refuses to give up the key. The servant suspects it contains her lover. The judge takes the key from his wife, but doesn’t open the trunk. After a night thinking on what might be inside it, he tells his servants to bury it. Still locked…

This, then, is apparently the origin of the mummy – although how he came to be mummified is a mystery. The mummy, voiced by Valentine Dyall, is the viewer’s guide through Secrets Of Sex. The film is structured as a series of sketches illustrating the war between the genders. There is no narrative link between the sketches,

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other than the mummy’s commentary. Some of the sketches do not even have stories – such as the two after the one set in Egypt: a woman in leather strips naked; and is then followed by a number of naked men and women – some with guns, some on bales of hay – in a series of cheesy centrefold-type poses, while the mummy says, “Imagine having sex with this woman, imagine having sex with this man,” repeatedly.

Once the two sides in the battle of the sexes have been agreed, the conflict itself must be introduced. And so it is, as a group of young women appear on the screen and begin to dance to music and remove their clothes. When they are down to their underwear, they are pelted with vegetables, and then attacked by a group of semi-clad men carrying machineguns. The battleground has been set, the lines of battle drawn. The film then presents a series of sketches as skirmishes in the war…

A young man (Anthony Rowlands) models for a female photographer (Dorothy Grumbar) who has been commissioned to produce pictures for a book on mediaeval torture. He poses in shackles. Then he is placed on the ‘Spanish horse’… which kills him. A female scientist (Yvonne Quenet), betrothed to a rich older man (Kenneth Benda), promises him a son. She then discovers – through her work – that she is a carrier for a condition which will result in a badly-deformed male child. Nonetheless, she gets pregnant and has the son. The father, who had not known of the condition, is shocked on seeing it.

A female cat burglar (Cathy Howard) breaks into a house, but is caught in the act by the young male resident (Mike Briton). She has sex with him to prevent him calling the police. Afterwards, she gathers up the silver, but he threatens to call 999 unless she leaves empty-handed. She tells him that if he doesn’t let her take it, she will tell the man’s wife.

Lindy Leigh (Maria Frost) is Agent 28 – apparently a character from Mayfair magazine – and she needs to break into the Moranian embassy to recover some secret plans. She is briefed in a cinema, which is showing a 1920s-style silent farce set in a hotel, with much running around in corridors, cuckolded husbands and swapping of beds. After the film, she joins a party at the embassy, seeks out the military attaché, and seduces him. While he is asleep, she cracks open his safe… but he pushes her into it and she finds herself among a group of semi-naked women. Previous ‘conquests’, clearly…

A strange young man (Elliott Stein) rings up for a call-girl (Sue Bond). She appears, and they fool around. Then he fetches out his pet pangolin – actually a monitor lizard – because he wants it to join in. This, according to a flashback sequence, is because of the man witnessing as a child couples having sex in a park filled with statues of dinosaurs. The call-girl leaves. Just before arriving home, she sees an old woman petting a pangolin. An older woman (Laurelle Streeter) and her new valet (Bob Raymond) are in a greenhouse. The woman imagines a young naked couple into existence. They watch them have sex. The woman talks about bodiless souls clamouring to possess the conceived embryo. The valet murders the woman.

Such a quick précis does little to explain quite how odd this film is. It’s resolutely amateur – not one of the sets really convinces, and the acting is mostly poor. The entire cast – but for the two or three Americans – have remarkably posh English accents. Imagine a comedy sketch show that is not in the slightest bit humorous, nor intended to be. Yes, there’s an element of self-mockery to Secrets Of Sex – particularly in the ‘strange young man’ sketch. But it’s easy to believe the director intended the film to carry a heavier message than it actually does.

Secrets Of Sex is definitely a curio, but Odeon Entertainment have done this DVD release proud. Included on the disc are an interview with the film’s writer, Elliott Stein, and a pair of short black and white films (The Cut-Up and Towers Open Fire) directed by Antony Balch, but written and starring William S. Burroughs. The Cut-Up is a montage of images re-enacting scenes from The Naked Lunch, but cut-up like the novel itself, with a voiceover which repeats endlessly “Yes? Hello?” If the second film had a plot, I couldn’t find it; but it does include shots of Burroughs shooting up. There are also trailers for three other UK sex films from the late 1960s which have been released by Odeon Entertainment.