Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)

Posted: February 12, 2015 in Movie Review
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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (1972)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, John Carradine, Lou Jacobi, Louise Lasser, Anthony Quale, Tony Randall, Lynne Redgrave, Burt Reynolds, Gene Wilder

When it comes to the subject of sex education, it seems that the definition of “Too Much Information” is directly proportional to where in the world we live. Some, rightly so, believe that the more our youth knows about the positives and negatives of sex will lead to better decisions down the road. Others believe that it’s the parents’ responsibility. Leave it out of the school system, they say. That’s pretty stupid! What if the kids don’t have a good enough rapport with their parents to have that crucial “birds and bees” conversation? What then? Well, if the schools won’t help, and the parents won’t help, these days the default setting is to Google the damn thing… except that usually only directs you to pornography. Not exactly the best representation of real-world situations. So what if everyone’s mind is on sex? Some would just like to know what to do vs. what not to do.

Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)” is a parody of the sex manual of the same name. It’s largely hit-and-miss. This is due to the movie being broken up in to seven segments, each beginning with a different sex-related question, and then taking it from there. While some of the vignettes are fall-down funny, others simply fall flat. The first segment is called “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?” Firstly, the answer to that is “yes.” Secondly, the sketch itself also works. It features Allen as a court jester who receives a Hamlet-like vision from his dead father, who tells him to “make it” with the Queen (Lynne Redgrave). Acquiring a love potion which makes the Queen very horny, the court jester’s progress is then foiled by her chastity belt, placed there by the jealous King.

Segment Two is called “What is Sodomy?” This time, a doctor (Gene Wilder) sees an Armenian patient who says that his lover is giving him the cold shoulder. The problem is Dr. Ross is a medical doctor, not a psychiatrist, and the Armenian’s lover is a sheep. Further complications set in once the sheep is brought in and Dr. Ross finds that he, too, is falling for her! Had the role of Dr. Ross been cast with anyone other than Gene Wilder, I don’t believe that “What is Sodomy?” would be able to stand on all four legs. Segment Three is “Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching an Orgasm?” This one, featuring Woody Allen and Louise Lasser as an Italian couple who can only have meaningful sex when in public, is easily the weakest of the bunch. Simply put, it’s a one-joke premise that goes on way too long.

“Are Transvestites Homosexuals?” is the title of Segment Four. This could be said to be the most offensive chapter. In it, Lou Jacobi plays a middle-aged married man who likes to wear women’s clothes, but is scared to death of getting caught. Maybe I’m misinterpreting Allen’s intent, or maybe it’s just because it’s not especially funny, but the whole episode seems to play out like a denouncement of transvestites in general. Segment Five gets things back on track. This one is called “What Are Sex Perverts?” Shot in black & white kinescope, it serves as a parody of the old TV game show “What’s My Line?” In this case, the name of the game is “What’s My Perversion?” Jack Barry hosts, and a panel group of four (including a 40-something Regis Philbin) are tasked with guessing the contestant (a rabbi)’s sexual perversion, which turns out to be exposing himself on subways. The way this segment so authentically recreates the whole game show atmosphere of the 1950’s/early 1960’s, coupled with the novelty of seeing Regis Philbin at a younger age makes this a highly enjoyable sketch.

Segment Six: “Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate?” This one is, without a doubt, my favorite. Woody Allen plays a researcher named Victor who has a chance encounter with journalist Helen (Heather MacRae) at a gas station. It just so happens that the two are headed to the same place, the laboratory of Dr. Bernardo (John Carradine). Both are quite excited to meet the doctor, but are soon horrified when they see how crazy the man is. Dr. Bernardo specializes in bizarre sexual experiments, and he intends to make Helen his latest test subject. Victor and Helen manage to escape, only to have to defend the town against a giant, marauding female breast. A parody of both “Bride of the Monster” and “The Blob,” I laughed the hardest during this sketch, thanks to some wonderfully delivered dialogue from John Carradine. It occurred to me as I watched him work that, if the role of Dr. Bernardo were being cast today, it would likely go to Sir Ian McKellen.

The concluding piece is called “What Happens During Ejaculation?” Definitely the most ambitious of the seven segments, this one depicts a man’s brain like a NASA control center as he goes on a date with an NYU graduate, and subsequently takes her to the parking lot to have sex in his car. Among those manning the controls in his brain are Tony Randall and Burt Reynolds. Woody Allen appears, along with several others, dressed as sperm about to take that journey into the great coital unknown. Wild, and highly involved, it can’t compete with the previous segment but still manages to send the movie off on a high note.

This being an early entry in the directorial career of Woody Allen, I can forgive him for not totally knocking it out of the park on this one, as I know that he had many big successes that would come afterwards. I first saw “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex” several years ago, but had largely forgotten it by the time I sat down to watch it again for this review. The most I had remembered came from the last segment. That image of Allen suited up to resemble semen is hard to put out of your mind. I don’t feel that watching such a movie at a young age is unhealthy, but it might help to be older/wiser/more experienced in order to best appreciate the dirtiest parts of the humor. Wouldn’t recommend it as a sexual education tool. That’s what the “birds and bees” chat is for.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Nice, Chuck!!!

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