Ladies Night

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There are few football themed films as relatable as Harry and Elliot Lewis’ porno picture Ladies Night (1980). The entire crux of this little adult film made in Detroit is that desire to escape the obnoxious football fanatic. Having felt that way every football season for my entire life I feel a certain kinship with the character Betty.

Ladies Night satirizes the masculinist tradition of football from the perspective of neglected housewife Betty (Annette Haven). It’s actually really funny just how obsessed the husband is with watching football. He has multiple televisions set up around his hot tub so that he can watch multiple games at a single time. Even as his Monday night football party with his buds devolves into an orgy his focus never leaves the game. While the husbands in Ladies Night are little more than a joke, the women are imbued with something akin to agency and depth.

It’s established early on in Ladies Night that when Annette Haven is unhappy or unsatisfied she goes to her health club to literally hook-up with her gal pals Sonya Summers and Lisa De Leeuw. This scene of obligatory girl on girl action is the best looking sequence in the entire film; evoking the moody photography of the controversial David Hamilton. All of the other scenes in Ladies Night are stagey and stiff. Sex scenes and dramatic scenes are shot with expediency in mind rather than craft. The plasticity inherent to this kind of theatricality only heightens the often flat line delivery of the performers, particularly in the case of Lisa De Leeuw.

The great exception to the notoriously wooden acting in adult films is Annette Haven. Haven has clearly made the choice to play her character Betty as a total dweeb. There’s an eagerness to her pleas to volunteer for Paul Thomas’ act that reveals not just desperation but a social awkwardness and emotional immaturity. The latter character trait is evidenced earlier in Ladies Night when Betty berates her ignorant husband. Rather than just playing a type, Haven creates a sort of rudimentary character that augments her natural onscreen charisma and performative ease.

So it makes sense that it is Annette Haven who is tasked with carrying the dramatic thrust of Ladies Night. It is her character’s frustration with her husband’s football fanaticism that the audience is asked to empathize with and it is her fantasies that the viewer sees performed. There are long stretches in Ladies Night which focus on the debauchery of other characters and Haven is nowhere to be seen. Yet her screen presence is such that she is felt even through her absence.

The relative low budget of Ladies Night coincides with the beginning of the heyday for the VHS dominated market of pornography. Harry and Elliot Lewis rushed through productions to saturate the market with their product. The high demand and low cost of distributing pornography on VHS rather than at theaters marked the end of the golden age of porn. The industry had moved away from more expensive and artful productions like SexWorld (1978) and Dracula Sucks (1978).