The Secret Sex Lives Of Romeo And Juliet

Director: "A. P. Stootsberry" (Peter Perry)  
Forman Shane, Diedre Nelson, Stuart Lancaster

Many years ago I read something about filmmaker Tom Laughlin (the man behind the Billy Jack movies, including Billy Jack Goes To Washington) that has stuck with me. It was when he released the non-Billy Jack movie The Master Gunfighter. All the movie critics hated it, which infuriated Laughlin, and in retaliation he spent thousands of dollars on advertisements that blasted these movie critics, saying (among other things) that the critics were "frustrated writers who failed to make it into show business." I don't know about other movie critics, but I do know that this movie critic once did have aspirations to make it in Hollywood. When I was in grade eleven, I took a television class in my high school with dreams to make my own productions. I remember one of the productions I had in mind, a series of commercials one after the other. The first would be a man taking a walk, and encountering a man desiring a chocolate treat. The man taking a walk would give the other man a Kit Kat. The man would walk on, and encounter another man, this man having a bad case of hemorrhoids. The helpful man would pull out another product, this one being titled "Sit Sat". The man would walk on, and then encounter a man who was unable to talk. The resourceful man would pull out a third product, this one being titled "Chit Chat". The man walks on, and encounters a man who is suffering from constipation. Yes, our helpful man has something for this individual as well. He reaches in his pocket, and pulls out... a box of Ex-Lax.

Well, I thought it was pretty funny at the time. It was certainly better than the various ideas for short subjects my group in the television class came up with. The unfortunate fact for me in that class was that the group I was in was (aside from me) consisted of morons. They not only came up with stupid and unfunny ideas for our various productions, they constantly rejected my various (and much better) ideas. When I finally got the chance to do my Kit Kat sketch as part of a larger production (as a commercial break for a live television production assignment), shortly after starting it I had to abandon it with much frustration. Not only were the people in my group poor actors, they couldn't remember their lines. I soon realized that if I wanted to live out my ideas, I would have to do it on my own. Later, I did a short two-part comedy sketch about a guy and his sarcastic computer that I wrote, acted, and directed completely on my own. I had the satisfaction of having it aired on community TV not long after it was completed, though my sense of humor in the sketch was so salty that my television teacher edited it before it was aired. So this boy with eyes towards Hollywood was definitely frustrated by his experiences in television class. Fortunately, I have had other experiences with entertainment that have been more satisfying. In grade three, I had the satisfaction of being cast as Mutch, the miller's son, in the class play of Robin Hood. It was a good experience, even if the play's production values were pretty poor.

My biggest experience, however, was in grade twelve when I auditioned for the school play Romeo & Juliet. Though I was originally cast in a smaller role, when someone quit the play I was recast in the pivotal role of Friar Lawrence. Let me be excused for my bragging when I reveal I was told that I was one of the best things about the play. The behind-the-scenes experiences I had were great as well. I managed to bring something to the other actors when I showed them a passage from a book called Banned Films that I had found in the school library. One of the banned films described was The Secret Sex Lives Of Romeo And Juliet, and my castmates were tickled to read the description of the movie (except for the actor who played Paris, because his character was described in the movie as being a homosexual.) I tried for years to find the movie, but I couldn't find it anywhere. Fortunately, it was released on DVD a few years ago, and I finally got a copy to watch and review for this web site. The setting, as you have probably guessed, is in ye olden tymes, specifically in "beautiful downtown Verona" of this period. We are told that we are to see Romeo & Juliet in the way Shakespeare intended, as a reflection of those ribald times. Romeo's and Juliet's family are feuding, but when they are not feuding they are boinking. For example, Juliet is sleeping with the prince of Verona, as well as her nurse, while Romeo is sleeping with Juliet's mother. Yet despite this, the two are deeply in love and yearn to be together. In this version, will they manage to overcome tragedy and get together?

I really wanted to like The Secret Sex Lives Of Romeo And Juliet. In fact, I fully expected that I would have a lot of fun with this movie. That's because for years non-stop, I have been exposed to Shakespeare in a serious vein. There was the play I was in, of course, but I have had other serious experiences with Shakespeare. In my high school English class we took several weeks to study Romeo & Juliet, while in university I took a full term devoted to the study of several Shakespeare plays. After all this serious (and sometimes boring) study of Billy-boy, I was ready to see some serious spoofing of the Bard. Then there was also the timing of this movie. It was released in 1969, one year after the release of the hugely successful Franco Zeffirelli Romeo & Juliet movie. I had the impression that this movie would also spoof elements of the Zeffirelli movie, which in my opinion is ripe for parody. Of course, there is also the fact that The Secret Sex Lives Of Romeo And Juliet promised to be chock-full of nudity and sex, and those elements can certainly add to the watchability of a movie. But a fun time was not to be. By the end of the movie, I felt as numb as if I had been watching an Andy Sidaris movie. To be fair, the movie could have been a lot worse. There were a few times when I found the going-ons amusing. For example, there are a lot of cuts to characters making brief comments a la the then-hot TV show Laugh-In, like when one character pops by to say, "If Juliet sold oranges on the corner, would she be called Orange Juliet?" before disappearing.

Corny, I'll admit it. But there are a ton of one-liner asides like that in the movie, and with so many it's inevitable that some of them will hit their mark and make you smile or laugh. It also helps that a number of the actors in the movie, from those who just say these one-liners to those who have more substantial parts, are pretty enthusiastic in their roles, big or small or whatever they have to do. Two of the performers deserve special mention. As Lord Capulet, Stuart Lancaster (a veteran of grindhouse movies like these, including some Russ Meyer movies) reminded me of Sid Caesar, both in looks and the way he delivers his dialogue. He's amusing, and it's a pity that his role isn't very big. Wendell Swink (who only made one other movie after this one), who plays Friar Lawrence, is a hoot. His bug-eyed, tongue-licking, and giggling performance got some much needed laughs from me when he appears late in the movie. But unfortunately he gets even less screen time than Lancaster. Besides the one-liners and the go-for-it acting by the cast, I suppose I could also praise the musical score, which does sound appropriately medieval, even when they play something other than Greensleeves. But they play too much of the same bars of music over and over, and during the parts when there is actually a singer on the soundtrack, you can't really make out anything she sings. I did make out the phrase "golden showers" at a couple of points, so the song may have been intended to be comic. But as it is, the song and the rest of the music are just the tip of the iceberg as to what goes wrong with this movie.

The first of the big ways that the movie goes terribly wrong is with the screenplay. Those who are expecting a story that is pretty faithful to the Shakespeare original will be sorely disappointed. There are only a few elements of the Shakespeare play here, and they are introduced almost casually (the true introduction of Paris into the various going-ons does not happen until over half an hour has passed) As a result, any chance of Shakespeare's original play being satirized is virtually destroyed. (It should come as no surprise when I reveal that there are no elements of the Zeffirelli movie that are satirized.) Maybe this wouldn't matter if the movie found another way to be funny, but aside from those few one-liners that I mentioned earlier, the movie simply isn't funny. The "Sock it to me!" line of humor here hasn't dated well overall, and the movie seems more concerned with delivering an endless number of scenes with sex and nudity instead of humor or plot. There's a chance this sexual material could have saved the movie, but it doesn't. That is, unless you find appealing pale bodies covered with freckles and other marks, sex scenes directed with constant close-ups of feet and heads instead of full-on views, and the various undressings and sex scenes going on for such a long time that the little erotic content they have is overwhelmed by the boredom they generate. (And the lesbian scene is filmed in the dark - boo hiss!) By the end of the movie, I had a new appreciation for Shakespeare's original work. He knew how to deliver the goods in his day, but most of all he knew when some things should remain a secret.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: The Fantasticks, Let My..., Revenge Of The Teenage...