Gary Graver (sic. Robert McCallum) was one of the finest directors ever to work in hardcore film. A student of the great Orson Welles, Graver always brought a heir of sophistication and characterization to his films which few other directors could approach. This is his first film and is is his best.
The film opens with a slow pan and then zoom into a beach house in the dead of night. As we enter a room, Kate (Georgina Spelvin) begins her narration. She is the sister of Elaine, a married woman whose husband Mark owns the house. She explains that her sister has two children with her husband, Ronnie and Stacey (both of whom are to be supposed to be in their mid teens). As Elaine and her husband have sex (which is audible to everyone else in the house), Kate sits awake in her bed and explains (in voice-over) that she has been having an affair with her brother in-law for many years. Ronnie and Stacey are also awake, nervously listening to their parents lovemaking which quickly turns into an argument culminating with Mark saying that he's fed up with his life and needs to get away (i.e. he's gonna leave for good). Kate runs after him (unknown to everyone else in the house) and follows him to his prize boat on which she asks him to to go away with her. He says no and in a momentary fit of rage she hits him on the head with a bottle of wine, knocking him unconscious and sending him tumbling overboard. Quickly jumping in the water after him, Kate quickly realizes that he is gone for good and returns to the house both grief stricken and terrified.
The film then proceeds to chronicle how each family member copes with the loss of a loved one. All the while, Kate keeps her secret as her own struggles with guilt and loss are quickly catching up to her...
Although director Graver had worked as both cinematographer and director on a few softcore films prior to this endeavor, his move to hardcore marks his true transition from noteworthy cinematographer to a truly visionary director. Graver skillfully crafts a very moving and at times downright depressing tale of an isolated family's descent into near madness. Perfectly cast with Georgina Spelvin playing a heroine and a villainess simultaneously, Graver makes sure never to directly cast stones at the actions of any of his characters, no matter how disgusting and evil they might be. In fact, despite her malicious deeds, Spelvin is almost made out as a pitiful woman rather than an evil one.
The three other principle cast members, Charles Hooper (Ronnie) Clair Dia (Stacey) Rhonda Gallard (Elaine) are also cast to perfection and each brings a sense of believability and desperation to their roles which makes their individual stories all the more affecting.
Although taught by Orson Welles, Graver seems to draw more heavily on Ingmar Bergman throughout this film. From the cool, foggy beach on which the film takes place, to the constant feelings of both isolation and claustrophobia, to even the cinematography, Graver's nods to Bergman are apparent from beginning to end.
It's somewhat hard to pin down a direct philosophy or "deeper meaning" contained within this film as there appear to be a few. For one, Graver attempts to show the effects of living in an isolated world where secrets, no matter how well concealed, can really stay buried for ever. Characters make frequent mention of the physical walls of the house being unable to keep sound from traveling to everyone inside of it. From the opening sex scene and argument which is heard by everyone, to Ronnie remarking to Kate "Don't you know how sound travels in this house?" and "I heard you crying in your room last night," and even Kate's final act which is eavesdropped on. Graver also makes a strong attempt to examine the sense of loss and internal guilt felt by each family member when Mark is killed. Through this, Ronnie is established as easily the strongest character, yet even he is shown to have his faults. One particularly interesting sequence involves Stacey attempting to rebuff what she felt was her father's preference for her brother. Her approach is direct as she flat out tells her brother "You might have thought dad loved you more but you're wrong; he loved us both equally." It is soon revealed that despite her seemingly jealous attitude towards her brother, she is actually looking at him as almost a replacement for her father.
Photographically, 3 A.M. is near perfect, with much attention payed to skillful composition and pitch perfect lighting. The script and dialog never misses, and the excellent cast truly do bring "Tony Trelos'" brilliant script to life. The music, a stirring mixture of atmospheric original and classical pieces, perfectly enhances the mood of any scene and is used to great affect.
Although better known for his later efforts such as V The Hot One and Amanda By Night, 3 A.M. is easily the best film Gary Graver ever directed and one of the top 10 American hardcore films of all time.
Since I feel like I should at least mention the sex, although I would strongly urge anyone looking to get turned on to look elsewhere, the film includes a number of sexual encounters, most of them heterosexual although two are lesbian oriented.
There are no extras related to this film besides a still gallery consisting of screen shots from the sex scenes. There are trailers to a bunch of new porn movies on the flip side of the disc though.
This is a bit tricky. When Cal Vista first put this film out on VHS in the early 1980s, they listed a running time of 95 minutes. This DVD runs 87 minutes. I own an uncut theatrical print of the film which is aprox. 3400 feet which when converted to minutes is around 91-92. However (I have NOT seen the early Cal Vista VHS), the DVD is identical to my print except for the opening and closing credits running around 30 seconds longer on the print. I therefore do not believe anything is missing but rather feel the time discrepancy comes from a faster telecine transfer which was probably performed at 25 fps rather than the standard 24.
The DVD (A & V, etc.)
Surprisingly in the wake of shoddy transfers from companies like VCX and Video-X-Pix to name a couple, Nu Tech is really the only DVD company which seems to actually have nice looking 3/4 inch tapes to transfer to DVD instead of simply using old VHS and Beta dubs. The colors are rich and although the black levels seem to be a bit on the grey side, this is hardly an issue. Print damage, although minimal, still presents a few watermarks here and there as well as some lines and scratches around reel changes. However, compared to what else is on the market, watching any older film in which there are no sound or picture dropouts and there are more than nearly bleached greyscale colors makes for a treat. It would be nice though to see a new transfer made from some nice 35mm elements.
The framing is also accurate. The film was shot in full screen (1.37:1) and the minimal cropping down to standard 1.33:1 is no problem at all. The only issue I have with this DVD is the fact that the master tape being used (an old Cal Vista 3/4 Inch) has their annoying "Please stay tuned for our coming attractions" announcement wipe out the film soundtrack around 20 seconds before the ending credits. Considering the nature of the scene is occurs during, it kinda kills the drama.
Certainly not a fun romp, 3 A.M. is the kind of X Rated movie for everyone tired of the old "Oh, Mr. Postman" type routine. A well acted, well directed, and just plain GOOD movie that really does hold up 32 years later...