Dead by Dawn (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Major Spoilers - if you really care about spoiling a sex film.

Alan Pakula was a serious-minded Yale graduate who migrated westward toward California-style showbiz, and first made his mark in the movies as a producer. He must have been pretty damned good at it, because his credits in that role include To Kill a Mockingbird. After he did that for a decade or so, the studio system started to crumble in the late sixties and early seventies, so Pakula started directing his own films. He was a top-notch filmmaker in the 70s and 80s, having directed such acknowledged triumphs as Sophie's Choice and All the President's Men, and other noteworthy films which were characterized by their intelligence and their compassionate liberalism. After All The President's Men, his career took a downturn, and by the 1990s he was directing thrillers, some pretty good (1990's Presumed Innocent, starring Harrison Ford), some not so good at all (1986's Dream Lover, starring Kristy McNichol).

If you are an intelligent and patient person, you are probably wondering why I am discussing one of Hollywood's most beloved A-list icons in an article that is supposed to be about a lame softcore sex movie made a year after Pakula's death.

I'm getting there. Stay patient for a minute.

In 1992, during the thriller phase of his career, Pakula directed a movie called Consenting Adults, which didn't do much at the box office ($21 million) and is now largely forgotten. Here are his directorial efforts sorted by IMDb rating:

  1. (7.99) - All the President's Men (1976)
  2. (7.48) - Sophie's Choice (1982)
  3. (7.16) - Parallax View, The (1974)
  4. (7.07) - Klute (1971)
  5. (6.79) - Presumed Innocent (1990)
  6. (6.67) - Orphans (1987)
  7. (6.51) - Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973)
  8. (6.37) - Sterile Cuckoo, The (1969)
  9. (6.20) - Pelican Brief, The (1993)
  10. (6.12) - Starting Over (1979)
  11. (5.71) - Comes a Horseman (1978)
  12. (5.70) - Devil's Own, The (1997)
  13. (5.53) - See You in the Morning (1989)
  14. (5.34) - Consenting Adults (1992)
  15. (5.19) - Rollover (1981)
  16. (4.68) - Dream Lover (1986)

Consenting Adults is near the bottom of that list, and deservedly so, but it did star two familiar Hollywood names, Kevin Spacey (pre-stardom) and Kevin Kline. I reckon that "The Two Kevins" are the grade-A version of "The Two Coreys." Spacey played a shifty wheeler-dealer who was always looking for the bigger, better deal. Kline played a 40ish fuddy-duddy who found himself trapped in a joyless suburban life - pretty much the same role Kevin Kline always plays when he's not doing comedy. The two men became neighbors and then friends, after a fashion, whereupon Spacey started to seduce Kline into a more sinful and daring world-view. The piece de resistance of the seduction was an offer to swap wives. Simple enough - one night they would each go to the other's wife in the dark, and make love to her. The women would catch on, but if they refused, well, so what? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Kline gave in, and the women agreed to the deal. The lovemaking went fine, but Kline woke up with a major problem. Spacey's wife was killed during the swap-night, bludgeoned to death with a Louisville Slugger. When the bat was found with Kline's fingerprints all over it, he seemed to be headed for the electric chair. There are many more twists to the plot, but I can't reveal them without spoiling the entire movie. You have the idea, and can probably guess the rest.

I suppose even the most patient among you has now lost patience with me, so I'll get to the point. Dead by Dawn is basically the same movie as Consenting Adults. The plot description above is identical in both films - right down to the baseball bat.  The only real difference between the films was generated by time constraints. Dead by Dawn is a softcore sex film, so it has lengthy sex scenes. Since the film includes some 25 minutes worth of sex scenes and topless swimming, the script had to economize somewhere else, so Dead by Dawn was only able to fit in the first half of the plot from Consenting Adults.


Shannon Tweed- one breast and the top of her buns

Jodie Fisher - breasts and buns

In Consenting Adults, Kevin Kline made bail about halfway through, found out that his own wife had moved in with Spacey, and that's basically where the real movie began. Dead by Dawn condensed the plot to the point where the pseudo-Kline did find out about his friend and his wife, but was still in the slammer at the time. The film ends with our understanding that the ersatz Kline character will fry for a crime he did not commit.

I'll bet you are thinking, "So, a softcore sex movie actually had a plot as good as an Alan Pakula film. That's probably a pretty good thing, right?"

Well, sorta. It wasn't a bad idea, I guess, but ...

  • The original Consenting Adults plot was butchered so badly with inexplicable editing and an unsatisfying and too-abrupt ending that it was no longer at the  level of the original. It was sort of an interesting idea to end the film with the patsy realizing that he's been had, ala Body Heat, but in this case it seems totally inappropriate for the character, and therefore annoying. In Body Heat, Bill Hurt was charming, but he was also a genuine sleazeball who committed acts so heinous that he deserved to be in prison. The poor schnook in this movie, on the other hand, never did anything bad in his life except to sleep with his neighbor's wife one time. He was simply a victim, so his impending and certain murder conviction seemed like an unsatisfying denouement.

  • As you might expect, the actors in Dead by Dawn are not quite up to the standard of Kline and Spacey.

  • Remember this is a softcore sex film. By that genre's standard it does have a decent plot, but that's not the sole standard for evaluating such a film. Dead by Dawn isn't good in the other areas where a softcore sex film should deliver, like sex and nudity, for example.

  • Shannon Tweed, 40ish and near the end of her career in erotica, did two sex scenes. In the first, she wore her underwear until the final minute, when she removed her clothing while sitting down with her back to the camera, so that only the top of her buns were visible. In her second sex scene, she stayed in her underwear throughout. She finally flashed one of her mammoth breasts in the last minute of the film.

  • Jodie Fisher also performed in two sex scenes. The first one included some pleasant nudity, but wasn't really a sex scene at all. It was just a topless woman hugging a man interminably, while they flopped around a suburban swimming pool. Fisher's final sex scene was the only good one in the film. She was seen fully naked from the rear (she looked great), and her breasts were exposed from several angles.

I can't recommend this film at all. The borrowed plot is not the reason. The salient point is that the film is filled with long, passionless sex scenes in which the participants are fully-dressed or in panties. There's no sign of a pubic area anywhere, and almost no nudity from Shannon Tweed.

The Critics Vote ...

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The People Vote ...


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a D. Although the borrowed plot is serviceable by genre standards, this film is below the minimum softcore standard in other ways: there's not enough nudity, and the sex scenes are lifeless.

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