As we pause to celebrate the forty-year anniversary of that cinematic gem known as A Night in Heaven (well, the Feminist Sexpert certainly is celebrating it–I don’t know if anyone else is coming to the party, but have bought plenty of party hats and extra large airhorns, just in case), we remember what only could be called an award-winning film that had the critics talking.
OK, so the only award that the movie won took the form of a Razzie honor for Worst Actor. And a critic writing for People Magazine referred to this 80s dance film as “Flashdunce.” Ouch!
It’s true, no one ever would confuse this passionate potboiler, one featuring the talents of Christopher Atkins and Lesley Ann Warren, with Casablanca–and not just because Atkins is arguably way hotter than the legendary Bogie. Here’s lookin’ at you, Chris! So why does the Feminist Sexpert count this male stripper movie among her favorites?
Well, you know the Feminist Sexpert and this is a male stripper movie. Must you really ask? This film, in fact, was the first big screen motion picture to feature a male striptease artist as a main character. And if this wasn’t out and out awesome enough, this picture also ranks among the first to explore five female fetishes. Count ’em! Five!
Male Exotic Dance: Decades before Magic Mike, A Night in Heaven told the story of a gorgeous young male dancer who performs for the pleasure of women. Stunning blond Christopher Atkins portrays Rick Monroe, a free-spirited stud who is dancing his way through school; at one show encountering a female professor (Lesley Ann Warren) who–that very day–has just flunked poor Ricky out of her class. Hijinks ensue! Actually, a really hot lap dance ensues, with Rick–dressed as a sexy space alien–gyrating, undulating, pouting and preening in a blatant attempt to seduce his teach. (Spoiler alert: He so succeeds). He culminates the dance with a passionate kiss that leaves his professor breathless.
Aside from featuring this extended striptease scene, which lasts nearly eight minutes (yep, the Feminist Sexpert timed it and everything) A Night in Heaven features shorter vignettes showcasing the routines of real-life dancers, ranging from Disco King Deney Terrio (onetime host of the Dance Fever television show) to actual male strippers who ruled the nightclub stages of the 1980s.
Clothed Female Naked Male: Y’all know it’s true, Ladies; in the standard Hollywood love scene, the camera tends to focus far more on the glamorous starlet featured in the scene, as opposed to her male co-star. We ladies are lucky if we catch a stray glimpse of his elbow, his back, or (dare we dream?) his rear end–blink and you’ll miss it! The sole, but highly explicit love scene featured in A Night in Heaven flips this script–and to delightful effect.
In this romantic, highly erotic sequence, which also features passionate kissing, delicious eye contact, and a definite emphasis on female pleasure, Lesley Ann Warren remains clothed for the duration. Chris Atkins, by contrast, gets totally nekkid. And, in case you’re wondering; yep, you see his bidness. Just for a second.
Younger Man/Older Woman: As stated earlier, A Night in Heaven portrays a teacher/student romance–and this time, the teasing, super cute blond coed is the male of the pair. Doesn’t that just rock? And Atkins’ character does seem to be genuinely in awe of his beautiful, intelligent prof (and, really, who wouldn’t be in awe of the resplendent Warren?), showing a true desire to please her in and out of the bedroom.
At the same time, it is clearly established that Rick Monroe is a legal adult, 21 years of age–always a good thing!
Married Woman/Single Man: The main female character of A Night in Heaven, Faye Hanlon, is married to a kinda odd, astroscientist type dude who rides a really big recumbent bike, that he himself invented. Their marriage is a strained and troubled one, as Whitney Hanlon recently lost his job and is taking his frustrations out on his poor neglected Mrs.–denying her his affections, turning his back on her in bed, and rejecting her attempts at in-depth conversation regarding their future. It’s implied that Whitney is himself cheating on Faye with an old family friend, and he even rejects her offer of a freshly made chocolate brownie. The cad!
Although initially resisting the affections of the seductive Rick, Faye eventually succumbs to his gentle but determined advances; escaping with him to a motel room on a rainy afternoon for a round of heated, truly passionate lovemaking. Hotcha!
Romance: Again, I repeat; when it comes to the most romantic couples in screen history, Rick and Faye likely will not be remembered alongside the likes of Bogie and Bacall, Heathcliff and Cathy, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, or even Fred and Wilma Flintstone. Indeed, in lieu of a swoonworthy tango scene, A Night in Heaven features one heckuva long lap dance. And instead of an intimate dinner sequence by candlelight, we get a brief and rather uncomfortable scene in which the hero and heroine enjoy light refreshments in a motel cafe; where they are served by a waitress who does double duty as Rick’s mother. Awkward!
Still, in its own way, the film does indeed qualify as a sexy erotic romance. Its lead couple enjoys hot, passionate kisses and shares some sumptuous eye contact. Rick showers Faye with the attention that her husband denies her, praising her beauty, presenting her with red roses, and telling her that he has erotic dreams about her; dreams he eventually realizes in her arms.
So aside from all of these pesky feminist fetishes, does A Night in Heaven feature other good points–assets that render this motion picture a solid, perfectly watchable film? Absolutely! The film’s soundtrack is superb, featuring songs that include the original, in my opinion superior version of the song Obsession, performed by Michael Des Barres and Holly Knight, and The Best Was Yet to Come, the beautiful ballad performed by Bryan Adams.
And speaking of Adams–his classic hit Heaven actually debuted on the soundtrack of this movie. I also love Rita Coolidge’s version of Sugar Don’t Bite, Dirty Creature by Split Enz, and Jan Hammer’s smoking hot Like What You See, also heard in this film.
The film also isn’t short on humor, as Faye attends Rick’s strip shows in the company of natural born comics that come in the form of her sister Patsy (Deborah Rush) and their good friend Shirley (Alix Elias). Their bawdy one-liners and general high energy add a great deal to the proceedings, and demonstrate the communal, sisterly atmosphere that is part and parcel of the male strip show experience.
Although not a motion picture classic, A Night in Heaven is a sexy ’80s time capsule as well as a sensual romance; one written by Joan Tewkesbury (the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Nashville) and directed by John Avildsen, director of Rocky. Best of all, it remains one of the few softcore films custom made for the female gaze. All in all, a heavenly watch!