Thursday, March 1, 2012

Debbie Does Dallas (1978)

Directed by Jim Clark
With Bambi Woods and R. Bolla
Plot Summary: Young Debbie Benson has a dream - to join the "Texas Cowgirl" cheerleaders! When her parents disapprove, she and her girlfriends hatch a plan to help Debbie raise money to go to the Texas auditions.

Review: Just the title Debbie Does Dallas makes people sit up and take notice. It's one of those adult films that everyone - from the porn novice to the connoisseur - has heard of, but it seems few of them have actually seen. When people find out I write about classic adult films, Debbie is usually the first thing they ask me about. "What's it about?" "Is it really dirty?" "Is it any good?" Well, the answer to the latter is certainly subjective, but I usually answer with: "Well, that depends on what you're expecting."

It's hard to discern just where Debbie Does Dallas gets its reputation as a classic. The story, while not particularly original, is certainly as engaging as any of the better R-rated T&A comedies of the day. The direction and performances are adequate (even though our heroine, played by Bambi Woods, seems to be suffering from early-onset perma-fry.) And while the sex scenes are completely by-the-numbers, they have enough enthusiasm and naïve charm to hold the viewer's attention. These ingredients, presented here in prose, make Debbie Does Dallas seem rather ordinary, and in some ways it is. However, the film really is so much more.

"IR serioz actrezz. Plz u sex me now?"
Debbie appeared at an odd time for adult film, that nebulous era between Porno Chic in the early 1970's and the videocassette boom of the early 1980's. During this period, adult films were moving away from the silliness of Deep Throat and into the darker realms of directors like Henri Pachard and the lush melodramas of Chuck Vincent. Debbie Does Dallas was one of the last gasps of the hardcore sex comedy and, under the circumstances, acquits itself quite nicely.

The film certainly boasts an impressive cast. Familiar faces like R. Bolla and Eric Edwards are on hand to usher in a bevy of young actresses at the dawn of their carnal careers. These new faces include Merle Michaels, Rikki O'Neal, Georgette Sanders and the always-delightful Arcadia Lake. Part of people's attraction to this film may well be the fact that the cast all look like real, live human beings - rather than the tattooed, pierced and implanted sexbombs of today's porn films. The women and men of Debbie could well be your kid's teacher, your bank teller or your neighbors. This lends a reality that just about makes up for some of the film's technical and acting shortcomings.

And then...there's Bambi Woods. Yes, the mysterious vanishing superstar who created a huge splash in adult films before disappearing into an abyss of rumor and speculation.

The first time I saw the film (at a time when I was much too young to be watching such things), I assumed Debbie was meant to be mentally challenged. Now, older and having seen the film at least a dozen times, I'm more inclined to believe that Bambi Woods'...erm...eccentric, toked-out performance likely stems from the fact that she was still finding her acting feet in her debut...and a large dose of herbs and/or pharmaceuticals. These days, I find Woods' wide-eyed, spacey delivery rather charming, and her deflowering that I once found somewhat distasteful, now seems sweetly quaint.

Good and bad adult films are very like good and bad musicals. In a good musical, the songs serve to flesh out character and advance the plot. Conversely, in a bad musical, the songs bring the story to a screeching halt. Fortunately, Debbie's sex scenes fall into the former part of that analogy. The sex, while certainly not the hottest ever committed to celluloid, is natural and organic, and often quite humorous.

On a personal note, one of the sex scenes always gives me a sudden case of raised eyebrow - the threeway between Rikki O'Neal, David Peirce and Jenny Cole. Not only does Cole bear a striking resemblance to an childhood babysitter of mine - they even share the same name! To see her doing an anal scene (which still wasn't all that common by 1978) sends my head spinning!

While many of the coital couplings are of the older man/younger woman variety, for the most part these scenes don't feel as exploitative as they might have. The story is seen through the eyes its female protagonistas (I just made that word up) which makes scenes that could otherwise seem seedy much more palatable. To the women, these men are the means to an end, and any manipulation is by the women of the piece. Andrea Dworkin would be proud. Or not.

The plot may be threadbare, but the enthusiasm of the young and inexperienced cast makes the characters quite likable - and you may just find yourself rooting for them! Bambi Woods is the star of the show here, and her name couldn't be more apropos. She does often remind one of a deer caught in the headlights. However, she gives us the occasional knowing glance and slight smile, leading me to wonder if the high-as-a-kite, babydoll bimbo routine is all a ruse.

I could go on at length about the many flaws to be found in Debbie Does Dallas - such as the fact that most of the cast looks about five years too old for their roles - but that would be missing the point. As a diverting bit of fluff, it certainly succeeds, and there's nothing wrong with a bit of silliness. Debbie Does Dallas may not transcend the high bar set by The Devil in Miss Jones or Café Flesh, Debbie is certainly an enjoyable evening's entertainment. Definitely a film to watch with friends over pizza and beer.

DVD Details: Debbie Does Dallas was one of the first adult films to make its way to videocassette, and since then, it has been re-released countless times. These releases tended to be muddy, scratchy transfers that made the film look even cheaper than it is. This was remedied circa 2005 when Media Blasters' Raincoat Theater imprint, in conjunction with VCX, released the Definitive Collectors Edition.

This presentation is breathtaking, with a gorgeous new transfer, and multiple audio options (including a vintage Spanish track!) The 2-disc set is filled to the brim with extra features, which include trailers, bios, on-camera interviews and even the softcore "cable version!" This release was further supplemented a couple years later with a special 30th Anniversary Edition. Regardless of how you feel about the film - this is certainly a very handsome package, well worth checking out!

-Johnny Stanwyck


  1. Wow!!! So many years have passed. The film was a cultural stepping stone. We all knew it, take about it, commented on it. But so few people actually saw it. I am 56 now and never saw it.

  2. You should definitely watch it, it's a lot of fun!

  3. Ah, HOT LEGS! Now this is what the Golden Age of Adult Films is all about! Bob Chinn, by this point a veteran of adult cinema whose name just screams quality, directs a first-rate cast performing a first-rate script, shot by a first-rate crew of professionals. Not only does the film look terrific, full of clever camera work and sizzling sex scenes, it's just plain FUN!

  4. I was the projectionist in a porno theater when this was released. It played for weeks when almost everything else was one and done. This is definitely one of the better films of the era.