Break out your crystal snifter and Virginia Slims because MGM’s Limited Edition DVD on Demand archive has once again fabulously expanded, this time to include, among other notables, the made-for-TV cautionary melodrama Portrait of an Escort. Starring Susan Anspach, and featuring Kevin McCarthy in a strange and unusually restrained minor role, Escort sets out to warn blowsy housewives of the early ‘80s, as well as kitsch thrill seekers of today, about the alleged dangers of escort dating, which include getting physically attacked, making your children hate you, and being dead inside.
Jordan is a single mother working a dead-end secretarial job at a real estate office and struggling to complete certification program in the evenings to become an agent herself. Between the late nights and long hours, however, Jordan has almost no time leftover to spend at home with her thirteen-year-old daughter, and no finances to cover extra expenses like car repair and braces. Brushed off by her snidely indifferent boss and desperate to somehow augment her meager earnings, Jordan allows one of her co-workers to talk her into applying for a moonlighting gig at an escort service.
The service is ostensibly above board, with no on-the-books sexual perks provided, but Jordan soon discovers that client expectations, financial incentive, and the feigned obliviousness of company administrators conspire to tempt most of the service’s regular employees into stepping up their game and crossing the line into discreet prostitution. With her breadwinning capacity, moral scruples, and parental credibility on the line, Jordan is forced to navigate the ethical ambiguities of her newfound auxiliary profession despite its potentially devastating consequences to her other longstanding priorities.
Escort stacks up pretty formidably against the tastefully sleazy, Vaseline-lensed psychodramas of the made-for-TV period, peppering warmly sedate, K-mart catalogue family idealism with the inflated frisson of risqué pseudo-deviance. Virtually all the movie’s female performances are drag queenishly amplified, particularly Gretchen Wyler as Jordan’s effete, Betty Crockerish real estate boss, and Cyd Charisse, who appears in a bizarrely incidental, minor role as the widowed elder mistress of a younger man with whom Jordan becomes romantically entangled. The cinematography and art design bleed early ‘80s, and typically hard-nosed character actor Kevin McCarthy’s appearance as a chaste, gentlemanly escort patron makes the milieu that much more surreal.
As always, the on-demand disc is stripped down and generic, with timed chapter stops and no other special features. Regardless, it’s good to know movies like this are becoming available, even if its presentation is not spectacular. Escort is occasionally bland and often shrilly moralizing, but its unintentionally prudish hilarity makes it a fun guilty pleasure at very least.