PEN PALS is a good example of how Shaun Costello delivered the porn goods effortlessly in the early '70s. For fans of something more substantial, like a real movie, look elsewhere.
The original product is available with a fine transfer to DVD-R on Vol. 117 of Something Weird's Dragon Art Theatre series. BEWARE the substandard, adulterated version being marketed currently by After Hours Cinema -it's been letter-boxed (removing about 20% of the visuals at top & bottom of frame) and the soundtrack scrapped in favor of generic rock music which spoils the film's tone irrevocably.
High concept from Shaun is merely a gathering of pen pals in Manhattan from all over the country, to meet up and have sex. It's a decades-before forerunner of the more recent Chat Room generated meet-up phenomenon, executed here on the bright & bubbly side, with none of the sinister predatory (and even fatal) results generated by latter-day internet blind date action.
Once they gather in a seedy apartment or two, it's all-sex, well-executed by a cast mixing Shaun regulars with fresh faces. There's mixed combo action, and a stress on sexual initiation (using a handy guidebook from Dr. Kinsey) of some of the out-of-town girls.
Chief thrill now will likely be the sight of a Natalie Portman lookalike (okay, I'm obviously exaggerating) played by an unidentified actress. She didn't catch on due to zero talent: in one scene she is loudly fed her next line and instructions on what to do from off-camera by Shaun and dutifully obeys (this fun stuff is erased from the mutilated AHC edition unfortunately), and in another scene seems to be asleep during the humping, a truly inanimate object. But from certain angles, this perky-nippled cutie should satisfy the dark imagination of Natalie fans.
Other performers range from enthusiastic (NYC regular Mary Stuart and curly-haired bi-coastal actress Toni Scott) to can't be bothered (Costello regular Ashley Moore).
The great Costello himself bookends the film, giving directions out front of the Lincoln Center fountain to the arriving out-of-towners, and popping in for a goofy finish that literally breaks up the cast, serving as an impromptu ending that shatters what's left of the Fourth Wall.
Tech credits are rough & ready, befitting a one-day wonder.
Eclectic original soundtrack establishes the film's mood, with selections from the Soundtrack LP of ON THE TOWN, some jazz including "One Note Samba", "I Surrender Dear" and "I Can't Get Started", Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" and Stevie Wonder performing "You Are the Sunshine of My Life". This is all ruinously removed by the After Hour Cinema guys, who jettison much of the heavy-breathing soundtrack to boot, plus the aforementioned cropping of foreheads and the like at the vertical edges of the frame.
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