Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
There's nothing like seeing with one's own eyes, and the independent doc Mau Mau Sex Sex
shows us the true story behind America's top sexploitation producers of the 50s and 60s, the
so-called smut peddlers that filled adult theaters with dirty old men before X-rated sex films
ended their game.
In their 80s and getting along nicely, David F. Friedman and Dan Sonney reminisce for 80
minutes about the beginnings of their trade and their independent entrepreneurship in a
field either ignored or reviled by society at large.
In interviews in the back of a car and at their homes - where their tolerant wives seem very content
with the now-kindly old men - Sonney and Friedman recount how the exploiteers of the 30s got
started, men like Sonney's father, an ex-sheriff turned dirty film maker. With the instincts of
carnival hucksters they explain how there were always tawdry theaters down in the burlesque
districts of big cities showing forbidden movies that were mostly smoke and no fire. The pioneers
in this trade learned the lessons: retitling a movie until it sold, pitching the ads right, getting
the suckers in the door.
In the 1950s, they took off on their own. Successful studio PR man Friedman went independent just as
Dan Sonney was producing his own outrageous fare, with gambits like splicing trashy nude footage
into a serious film about trouble in the Congo and calling it Mau Mau. As anything like
was verboten, they went from bizarro jungle films (often focusing on the irrational idea of
apes mating with women) to silly nature films shot at nudist camps where pro ringers had to be
brought in so that the naked people wouldn't be too depressing. Then came 'nudie cuties', silly
censor-evading comedies about men who could see (but not interact with) naked women.
Sonney and Friedman's first team-up was on a new subgenre called 'roughies' that indulged the fantasy
of men abusing women. On his own, Friedman invented the Gore film with Blood Feast. From then
on they made semi-comedies with a come-on hook, simulating sex and delivering nudity while promising
much more in the ads than ever made it to the screen.
This was no ticket to immediate riches, but Friedman and Sonney obviously relished the
idea of being independent wheeler-dealers. We visit the old row of buildings, now a church, that
used to house their offices, cutting rooms, insert stage and poster shop. They also talk about
owning or part-owning many businesses across the country, including many of the theaters in which
their films were shown. They appear to be very content in retirement.
We also visit a film warehouse and watch them speak to Mike Vraney, the modern entrepreneur who
bought most of their old pictures. By purchasing films abandoned in lab vaults, Vraney
seems to have rescued an entire heritage of exploitation pictures single-handed. It
is his company Something Weird that releases them on video and DVD.
Vraney's clips illustrate Mau Mau Sex Sex with all manner of trashy forbidden subject material,
from 30's films about child brides, to 50s filmed strip shows with Lili St. Cyr, to Friedman and
Sonney's dirty epics of the 60s.
Like all good carnies, the two cigar-smoking, vulgar but affectionate old men don't tell the whole
story. Herschel Gordon Lewis and Russ Meyer, cult figures key to their chosen field, are not
mentioned. Although Sonney apparently came up with the idea for a chain of Pussycat theaters, they
dismiss the X-rated films that put them out of business with claims that showing real sex was no
fun - they were dirty film makers, not pornographers! No mention is made of the fact that
the sudden millions from porn more likely than not brought in mob money and other kinds of
trouble for independents like themselves. When it was an unknown little niche industry, they
did fine. They don't say as much, but it's possible they owned or had interests in porn theaters
after they themselves stopped producing.
We do get many a good lesson in exploiteering: 'Mau Mau' or 'Maniac' as a title did no business
word 'Sex' was added. It's tough figuring out how to shoot a volleyball game and avoid showing
private parts. Ads are everything, and making the poster and trailers is much more critical than
the attraction itself.
The really interesting thing about the docu is how the families of these men coped with their chosen
profession. The wives openly talk about ignoring the fact that their husbands slept with many of their
leading ladies, while living in simple denial that their living came from smutty showbiz. They talk
about being part of Hollywood, but one daughter remembers feeling odd when
her dad's name was on the 'art theater' right around the corner from their Catholic school.
Friedman hits the nail on the head with one anecdote about buying space for a print ad that he had
carefully designed to sneak in the word 'sucked'. The idiot at the newspaper office objected only
to the word 'nubile', which he thought had something to do with black women having sex. In
a free but completely hypocritical society, it doesn't do much good to point fingers at this
pair of happy jokers and their harmless, trashy films.
Not only that, but how does one brand these two as morally lacking, when many of us make our livings
doing things equally exploitative, even if only in the abstract sense, like
advertising. Mau Mau Sex Sex is an educational look at the carny side of filmdom and the
two pioneers that made it happen. There's plenty in print about their wild times and sleazy
pictures, but seeing a few well-chosen pictures makes all the difference.
7th Planet Productions' disc of Mau Mau Sex Sex is an expert encoding of well-shot video
interviews combined with archive clips in excellent condition. This quick history of film
exploitation is also a good look at the spectrum of films available from Something Weird,
which seems to have them all.
The 'Special Collector's Edition' has two audio commentaries, from the funny, bickering Sonney and
Friedman, and filmmakers Ted Bonnitt and Eddie Muller. There are galleries of stills, artwork,
filmographies and biographies, and four really sleazy trailers from the late 60s.
I didn't find Mau Mau Sex Sex for sale at Amazon. Their direct website is
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Mau Mau Sex Sex rates:
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: commentaries, trailers, galleries of art and stills, filmographies, biographies
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 4, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson