Alice in Wonderland – Rediscovering ‘The Telephone Book’ (US 1971 – 80 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - September 13, 2015
Alice in Wonderland – Rediscovering ‘The Telephone Book’ (US 1971 – 80 mins)

A genuinely obscure one-off, the funny low-budget sex comedy ‘The Telephone Book’ has an intriguing premise that’s too good to pass up; a woman falls in love with the world’s most obscene phone caller.

After receiving a graphically dirty phone call, pretty blonde Alice (Sarah Kennedy), instead of feeling repulsed, is moved by the callers words and feels a desperate desire to meet the man, who calls himself John Smith (Norman Rose). Unfortunately, apart from his name, all she knows is that he lives in Manhattan. Determined to meet the filthy caller, she works her way through the phone book and, after encountering various men (including another John Smith and other oddballs), Alice finally meets her man.

One of underground cinema’s greatest achievements, ‘The Telephone Book’ featured a terrific lead performance from a completely unknown actress. Adorable Sarah Kennedy was perfect as the horny and lovable Alice. Her bubbly-blonde persona was spot-on, even giving her character a real sense of wonder. Kennedy stuck mainly to television in her 10 year career, only appearing in a couple of more movies, including the more well-known exploitation comedy ‘Working Girls’ (’74). The more well-known supporting cast includes a semi-naked Barry Morse as an art-house director called Har Poon, cavorting in his studio with a plethora of naked girls. New York tough guy Dolph Sweet plays one of the obscene callers, Jill Clayburgh has an early role as Alice’s best friend, and Warhol regular Ultra Violet turns up as a groupie.

This was future ‘Saturday Night Live’ writer Nelson Lyon’s sole directorial effort, and it looks like he had a lot of fun with the story. Shot in a stark Black and White, the movie has some bizarre moments exploring the sexual liberation of the time, and features an unexpected and rather explicit Disney-esque cartoon sequence towards the end.

What could so easily have been made into a fashionable porn movie, instead turned into a rude yet not overly explicit erotic comedy. The central story is interlaced with documentary style vignettes, including flashers and fetishists indulging in their hobbies, often speaking directly to the camera. The scene with William Hickey and his erection that won’t go away, is particularly memorable and genuinely funny.

A forgotten minor gem, ‘The Telephone Book’ is not your typical sexploitation piece, and it benefits from a likeable star performance from the lovely Sarah Kennedy (who should have had a bigger career). While it’s well deserving of its X-rated status, it also has a lot of heart and is very funny in places. For those who like to indulge in offbeat early Seventies sex comedies, this is one of the best.

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