Thursday, August 24, 2017

Frasier, the Sensuous Lion (1973)

          Stories about shy young men receiving lessons in love from aging lotharios are fairly commonplace, and so too are stories about humans gaining deeper understandings about life by bonding with animals. Blending these archetypal narratives was a strange idea, but that’s what happens in Frasier, the Sensuous Lion, sometimes more timidly titled Frasier, the Loveable Lion. The plot revolves around a meek zoologist who becomes friends with an aging African lion. The animal has two remarkable qualities. First, he maintains extraordinary virility despite being the equivalent of an 80-year-old man, and second, he can telepathically communicate with the zookeeper. Somehow, the plot also involves a mobster with (implied) erectile dysfunction, a pair of bumbling hit men, and a public craze during which media reports about Frasier inspire countless Americans of a certain age to get frisky. You might begin to wonder if Frasier, the Sensuous Lion is an outrageous satire, but excepting one pointless f-bomb, it’s a tame picture with a PG rating. Because, hey, isn’t a lighthearted movie about a jungle cat with a preternaturally potent phallus suitable for viewers of nearly all ages?
          Marvin Feldman (Michael Callan) is a 34-year-old zoology professor who still lives with his domineering Jewish mother. He’s thrilled to receive an invitation to work at a nature preserve in Southern California, so he schleps his luggage and his pet bird across the country to begin his new adventure. Upon reaching California, Marvin inexplicably requests and receives permission to take a lion cub back to his hotel room. Somehow, this isn’t a red flag for his new coworkers. The next morning, Marvin is shocked that the cub trashed his hotel room while Marvin slept. Again, Marvin is a zoologist; one imagines he didn’t receive great marks in animal-behavior classes. Soon Marvin is assigned to study Frasier, patriarch of a pride with seven lionesses, all of whom Frasier satisfies regularly.
          Once they’re alone, Frasier begins transmitting messages into Marvin’s mind, explaining in voiceover (performed by Victor Jory) that he has special mental powers. Frasier talks about other things, too—and talks and talks and talks. He jokes about lions eating Christians in ancient Rome, he rhapsodizes about his first love (“her fur was the texture of spun gold”), and he whines about insatiable lionesses. Eventually Marvin’s coworkers learn about his “conversations” with the big cat, and word leaks to the press. As Frasier achieves stardom, seemingly every character in the story becomes sex-crazed. The preserve’s hot secretary, Minerva (Lori Saunders), warns tough-guy game warden Bill (Malachi Throne) not to watch Frasier in action, because doing makes Bill horny. Another preserve worker, Allison (Katherine Justice), becomes amorous around Marvin. A mobster sends hoods to kidnap Marvin so the mobster can learn the “secret” of Frasier’s virility. All of this is played straight, with nobody questioning the idea of fetishizing an animal’s sex lifein one scene, a geezer flashes his Frasier T-shirt as a means of communicating to his nurse that he got laid the night before.
          Frasier, the Sensuous Lion is the sort of odd movie that raises vexing questions. Who thought this was a good idea? Did no one realize the project was in poor taste? Who was the intended audience? And here’s the kicker. This movie was based on a true story. There really was a Frasier at a preserve in Laguna Hills circa 1972, and he really did get busy with the ladies. In fact, before this film was released, the big cat’s exploits were celebrated in a song called “Frasier (The Sensuous Lion)” by jazz great Sarah Vaughan. Don’t ask why—it was the ’70s, man.

Frasier, the Sensuous Lion: FREAKY


By Peter Hanson said...

And, yes, I'm aware of the insane Frasier-themed episode of HBO's The Leftovers...

Unknown said...

This whole story makes a little more sense to me -- the story, not the movie, which still sounds horribly ill-advised -- after I tracked down on Youtube a Jean Shepherd radio broadcast about Frasier. The story goes that the zoo was trying to start a new pride and kept offering young lions, but the lionesses would have nothing to do with them. Then the zoo tried Frasier. Frasier was in a bad way, moving with difficulty and not even able to control his tongue anymore, as it was always lolling out. For whatever reasons best known to lionesses, they not only accepted him but began to dote on him. I suppose this is in some way mildly charming. I also think that older men hunt around for such stories for all the affirmation they can get. I think of John Glenn's Space Shuttle mission, or George Foreman winning back the World Heavyweight Championship at age 45, or Anthony Quinn fathering a son at age 81, and each time you would hear that older men were walking around with a new spring in their step. So as an anecdote, Frasier may be rather typical and passable, but to be expected. But as a movie? It sounds like pure desperation.

By Peter Hanson said...

The Quinn episode reminds me of a favorite NY tabloid headline, probably the Post: "Zorba the Stud!"

Guy Callaway said...

I need that 1-sheet!
Though almost a decade earlier, this reminds me of the bizarre Tommy Kirk title 'The Unkissed Bride' - pure madness.