The time between 1969 and 1970 was a tumultuous one for both the gay rights movement and the American sex film. THE BOY WITH THE HUNGRY EYES captures the spirit of the times for both quite effectively.
The movie opens with a young guy (Steve Moreno) sitting on a mountaintop, engaged in an oblique internal monologue that constitutes the film's only bit of dialogue or narration. Deciding he can't change who he is (terms like "gay" or "homosexual" are never uttered), he heads down to the city and makes his way to a park, where he promptly starts cruising pretty much every guy who stumbles across his path. Finally catching the eye of a hunky sailor (Tom Allen), Moreno plops down on a bench and the two begin checking each other out. Fleeting glimpses of fantasized hardcore give way to an idyllic romp through the mountains, as Moreno chases and is pursued by the various denizens of the park before reuniting with his love.
Simple and idealistic almost to a fault, BOY redeems itself with ambitious low-budget filmmaking and a charming earnestness. This pervading sense of hope and positivity evokes the soft-core shorts Pat Rocco was producing at the same time for LA's Park Theater, where motifs of sunshine and open spaces provided a rebuke to decades of closeting and shame. If this seems a bit mawkish by today's standards, it's nevertheless touching when viewed in the context of the time, a period when the simple image of two guys holding hands (much less naked and standing on a mountaintop!) constituted an act of political and social defiance.
Speaking of Rocco, BOY plays like one of his longer-form opuses retro-fitted to meet the demands of the burgeoning hardcore market. Taking a good 11 minutes to get to any actual sex, what's there is generally fleeting and somewhat removed from the story line, popping up as fantasy sequences or tightly framed inserts not terribly essential to the broader narrative of boys romping naked in the mountains. If this is indeed the case, it would be fascinating to compare the soft-core original and see what kind of difference excising these scenes would make. The film would still run around 40 minutes, and might prove all the stronger for it.
On the thespian front, Steve Moreno proves quite the little heart-breaker, with a gorgeous, natural smile and propensity for striking hip-thrusting poses that indicates both a keen awareness of his physical assets as well as an obvious delight in playing to their strengths. The rest of the cast is all right, but director Monroe Beehler (working under the alias Mark Aaron) clearly knew what he was doing in selecting his lead. The same goes for constructing his film as a whole, which ultimately proves a sweet, sexy throwback to the earliest days of gay liberation, when America's closeted young men finally began stepping out of the shadows and into the sunlight.
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