Not readily available on DVD, "The Palace of Pleasure" represents a high-water mark in Romance films with XXX content, released in 1996 by Adam & Eve Productions from Ultimate Pictures. This was a second Golden Age of porn lasting through a couple of years into the new millennium, signified by this wonderful feature being shot on film, rather than video.
It's a simple but effective story, set in 1932 at a brothel called The Palace, where two government agents (Jonathan Morgan and Melissa Hill) pose as a swinging couple there for gaming (poker and roulette) as well as sex. Hill, a great actress of the era, is particularly convincing as the prudish undercover officer, who ends up having a crash course in sex with strangers in order not to blow her cover, and adds immeasurably to the story line's effectiveness and final twists.
Madam of The Palace is Nici Sterling, magisterial with her British accent adding to her frequent narration, who is carrying a mighty torch for her lost love, Peter North. An unusual aspect of the film is that a lengthy flashback sex scene of North & Sterling is interspersed (accompanied by her voice-over) at many points in the tale, constituting an eleventh XXX scene -this and the ten integral sex bouts are a throwback to the Golden Age, diametrically opposed to 21st Century porn's insistence on stand-alone (for streaming/downloading separately) lengthy sex vignettes.
Steven St. Croix runs the place, and is suspicious of the newbie couple (Jonathan and Melissa), but their uninhibited sex with each other and with brothel staff assuages both his and wary Sterling's fears.
Filmmaker Justin Sterling, using the moniker Michael Santangelo, wisely avoids the attempted action scenes or location hopping that most Adult Cinema used to adopt (think Private Media sub-par releases) in a vain effort to pretend to be a "real film". Instead, this period piece set during Prohibition has fabulous costumes (including vintage undergarments for the ladies), jewelry, hair styling, terrific jazz score and even classic cars to set the mood. As Sterling's character says as a riposte to an insult by Morgan on how easy it must be to set up a brothel, "It takes artistic vision to create the right atmosphere".
Between the frequent gambling scenes, where winning a special silver or gold coin entitles the punter to a roll in the hay with a designated whore or gigolo on staff, the sex scenes are sensual and arousing, performed by a most able cast. Crystal Gold, the busty blonde bombshell back then, is terrific as an assistant to St. Croix, as is Felecia in her usual lesbian scene and the beautiful Madelyn Knight as fellow prostitute. Future superstar Stephanie Swift makes waves as a newbie hooker, and Sid Deuce's humping in a roadster as one of the lucky gamblers was worthy of excerpting into Ultimate Pictures' effective compilation film "Outdoor Ecstacy".
Slowly unfolding with a charm all its own, "The Palace of Pleasure" is highly recommended to any fan of the erotic romanticism that A & E embodied two decades ago, and is no longer pursued by today's gonzo video folk.
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