Therese and Isabelle (1968) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Somewhere around the summer of 1967, the United States went through a profound social revolution. For you younger guys and Europeans who weren't there, it was far more dramatic and far more rapid than the history books can possibly convey, and probably just as revolutionary as the change that swept Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.
When I was a college freshman in 1966, I was part of the old Eisenhower world. We had to sign in and out of the dorms, and there were numerous rules about what one could and couldn't have in one's room, and how late one could stay out. We actually had a hall monitor living on the hall with us to enforce the rules and proscriptions. Females and alcohol were among the banned substances.

Then we went home for the summer, and when we returned, the whole world was going crazy. When I began sophomore year in 1967, it was just after the legendary "summer of love", the wellspring of the hippie movement in San Francisco, and within a month everything had changed.


Essy Persson and Anna Gael were seen topless in several scenes, and were even seen coupling outdoors at night.

Various women were seen in a shower scene. It was completely unnecessary and irrelevant to the plot, and we loved it.

Students rioted against the old restrictions, against the war, against anything. Bombs went off in the dean's office, students occupied the administration building. The activists took personal and sometimes violent action against the most despised hall monitors. Men who had held dictatorial control over our lives mere days before now lived in fear of their lives. There were hall monitors who tried to cling to the old rules and to do their jobs. They thought everything would soon return to normal, to the way it had been for a century. They thought there was no way that a way of life exists for a century, then changes in a couple of days. They were wrong. Guys beat them up, killed their pets, and drove them forcibly from their own rooms. All the rules were really torn up overnight, and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again.

By Thanksgiving of 1967, we had no restrictions on when we could leave or return, no limitations on women or alcohol in the dorms. Alcohol was relegated to minor importance by then. Guys were openly smoking joints at parties and card games. All this change happened in a few weeks. I'll leave it up to sociologists and social historians to tell you why these things happened. The Vietnam war and the draft process, which required our involuntary participation in that war, were important catalysts, but it's too simplistic to try to establish a direct causality. The important thing is that freedom happened so suddenly, and we didn't know how to be free, so we went insane with drugs and sex and skipping classes and radical politics and playing cards all night, and whatever else we could think of.

I like to think that the most amazing thing about my generation was the speed at which we lost our innocence. My senior ball in 1966 was all white bucks and clean living. Two years later, everyone I knew was either in Vietnam, praying to come home, or taking drugs, praying not to go there. Guys who couldn't name the U.S President in 1967 had pictures of obscure. Latin American revolutionaries on their walls in 1968. Many of my old friends weren't talking to each other because of their divisions over America's role in Southeast Asia.

This cultural revolution started, albeit slowly, to affect the movie industry. The pragmatic businessmen in the industry started to view the new generation as an important target market, and realized that it was now possible to market virtually mainstream movies with new levels of sexual explicitness. But it takes time to make movies, so American businessmen started first to market some existing product - dreadful European films which had some sex and flesh in them (ala "I Am Curious, Yellow"), and then to fund new projects which would pander to those in our generation who wanted to stretch out our newly discovered wings. In this next wave came Therese and Isabelle, one of the first explicit movies to play in mainstream theaters to normal and "nice" suburban audiences.

There is just no way my prose can convey what it was like to go into a non-porn theater, the same theaters where our moms and dads had taken us to see "Old Yeller", and see scenes like this. They may seem conservative by later standards, but these were shocking to us as we emerged from our Howdy Doody years. Therese and Isabelle were two schoolgirls who began a love affair. The story is told with delicacy, and without sensationalism. Therese returns as an adult to her childhood academy, and relives the past in flashbacks as she walks around the school. There is even a scene with both women making passionate nice-nice. I was 18 or so when I saw this. Many of us did not know such things existed. I kinda sorta knew it existed, in theory, but I wasn't sure exactly what it entailed.

"Therese" was also one of the later B&W movies, made by the guy I like to think of us the world's most stylish pornographer, Radley Metzger. Radley could mimic the styles of the great European directors, and shot his films in lavish settings. He was also familiar with the artistic theories of the stage masters like Pirandello, and incorporated some of their concepts in his own work. More to the point, many of can thank Radley for our first real looks at T&A, and this movie was one of the first major films with nudity after the cultural revolution. I don't remember now if Metzger was trying to sell T&A by placing it in the context of a serious movie, or if he really thought he was Fellini and was just taking advantage of the new liberalism to tell his story more explicitly

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen, letterbox, a clear B&W transfer.

  • Includes the trailer, but no other significant features.

Essy Persson was the first woman that many of us saw naked on screen thanks to this movie and her earlier "I, a Woman", a Swedish film which had limited distribution, but received mainstream recognition via reviews and articles in major American publications. Essy was a bit of an international cause celebre because of her explicit scenes, but she disappeared from the film industry within a couple of years after this film was released, and only made one brief comeback many years later.

Many say she just left to dedicate her life to getting some more s's in her name.

Anna Gael didn't have much of a career. She looked ok, but she had a cartoony little girl speaking voice which, when coupled with some strange pronunciation, made her sound like Jennifer Tilly playing Inspector Clouseau.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: Three stars. Apollo scores it 77/100.

  • That's too high, in my opinion. This film hasn't held up that well with time. The cuts seem awkward, the pacing is slow, and some scenes are narrated instead of showing what the words are referring to.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.8, and Apollo viewers socre it 74/100. That's consistent with Apollo's rating.

Return to the Movie House home page