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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The Telephone Book [Blu-ray]


(Nelson Lyon, 1971)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Rosebud Films

Video: Vinegar Syndrome



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:27:41.923

Disc Size: 23,477,534,157 bytes

Feature Size: 22,326,589,440 bytes

Video Bitrate: 32.00 Mbps

Chapters: 5

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: May 7th, 2013



Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps






• Commentary track with Producer Merv Bloch
Photo Still Gallery
Theatrical Trailers (Re-issue - 2:06, Original - :38)

Radio Spots (3:32)





Description: A major, though forgotten, work from New York's underground film scene of the late 60s and early 70s, Nelson Lyon's The Telephone Book tells the story of a sex-obsessed hippie who falls in love with the world's greatest obscene phone caller and embarks on a quest to find him. Her journey introduces to her to an avant-garde stag filmmaker, a manipulative psychiatrist, a bored lesbian housewife, and more. Photographed in high-contrast black-and-white, and punctuated with a remarkable, surreal animated sequence, The Telephone Book is one of the greatest cult films you've probably never heard of.



The Film:

Alice (TV regular Sarah Kennedy) is a lonely blonde bimbo living in a one room New York apartment with pornographic wallpaper and a US flag bedspread. She spends her days exercising nude and calling Dial-A-Prayer. One day she receives what the US advertising calls “the world’s dirtiest phone call” and begins a relationship with the caller (Norman Rose, whose face is obscured throughout). When Alice wants to meet him, he tells her his name is John Smith (“I’m in the telephone book”). And so begins Alice’s adventure as she seeks out various John Smiths from the phone book in search of her obscene phone caller. The first John Smith she meets turns out to be a former stag film actor (Barry Morse who apparently wanted to do the scene nude but settled on funny boxers) planning to make his comeback as director and star (his real name’s John Smith but he goes under the stage name “Har Poon”) and he claims he called her as a way of auditioning her for a role. In no time, Alice is stripped (all she really has to do is remove her coat) and she joins him in bed with eight other women (“Position 17!”) but then she receives a phone call (“Could someone hand this to the girl holding my right leg”) from her obscene caller and leaves in search of him.

Alice then takes to the streets and telephone booths in search of Mr. Smith since her eyemask-wearing friend (Jill Clyburgh) won’t let her use her phone and Alice does not want to call from her apartment (“If I’m in there too long, I start trying to kill myself”). She next encounters a psychiatrist who first flashes her on a train only to be shocked by her flashing him back; a scene that possibly inspired the opening scene of Tinto Brass’ TRA(SGRE)DIRE. He ends up paying her (in quarters from a change dispenser strapped to his belt) to answer his questions excitingly before suffering a blockage in his dispenser as she relates to him the story of her encounter with a man (William Hickey) suffering from a lengthy bout of Priapism. Alice’s earnings are stolen from her by a mugger before she can spend them on telephone calls but a stroller-pushing lesbian invites her up to her apartment to use her telephone (and sample her vibrators) where Mr. Smith is able to reach her again by the phone and instructs her to go home where he finally appears behind a pig mask (in a creepy image that anticipates one in Kubrick’s THE SHINING).

One might wonder what the likes of Barry Morse, William Hickey (MOUSE HUNT), Dolph Sweet (the dad in the Nell Carter sitcom GIMME A BREAK), Captain Haggerty (dog trainer/TV personality/the boat zombie in Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE), Jill Clyburgh (in a very early role), TV regular Lucy Lee Flippin (shocking as an housewife by night, obscene phone caller by day with a fetish for bananas), and lead Kennedy (who looks and sounds like her LAUGH-IN co-star Goldie Hawn) would be doing in an X-rated film alongside Warhol regulars Ondine and Ultra Violet. The fact that these actors continued to work in legitimate film and family-friendly television should clue the viewer in that not all X-rated American films were the likes of DEEP THROAT or the sometimes self-applied X softcore-bordering-on-hardcore releases of companies like Cinemation and Box Office International.

THE TELEPHONE BOOK is a relatively late entry in mainstream X-rated American cinema (before X became synonymous with pornography – with a brief respite due to Paramount’s “X was never like this!” advertising campaign for Just Jaeckin’s EMMANUELLE” – and before the NC-17 rating was created in the nineties). Though fairly graphic for an early seventies mainstream film (if not for the color animation sequences towards the end, the rest of the film would garner an R most likely though the MPAA might bulk at a scene in which Mr. Smith calls a teenage girl), it’s really – as producer Merv Bloch points out in his commentary – ALICE IN WONDERLAND by way of Terry Southern’s CANDY. Shot in black and white in a sometimes self-consciously art film/underground style with wonderful views of New York in the seventies – just as real as the exteriors of Joe Sarno’s, the Findlays’, and Doris Wishman’s sixties New York but somehow simultaneously dreamlike (cinematographer Leon Perera worked under Gordon Willis and Michael Chapman). Nathan Sassover’s score touches upon the undercurrent of melancholy underlined by both Alice’s need for connection and Mr. Smith’s distance (evinced by his mask when he finally does visit Alice and his admonition that “I’m all talk”).

Excerpt from Eric Corenas at the CultMovieForums located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The Telephone Line looks quite nice on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.  The image quality shows some wonderful grain and contrast has pleasing layers. It probably looked quite similar to this theatrically over 40 years ago.  This is only single-layered and I am very happy to see films like this reach the 1080P format - and having them look so strong. There are speckles and light surface scratches but no heavy damage. The source may have lost a shade of density but overall this looks batter than I would have anticipated.  The conclusion has the clean animation and a brief color sequence with rich visuals. This Blu-ray has an authentic feel and I expect it towers over the past SD editions.



















Audio :

No boost going on here - its a standard Dolby track in 2.0 channel - so no lossless. Not knowing its original audio - I can only think this is authentic with the expected limitations of the production still audible. It's clean and clear enough and the scattering can sound nostalgic and charismatic. The Nate Sassover score seems unusually suitable and has no detrimental flaws through the Dolby. There are no subtitles and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.


Extras :

Supplements include a commentary track with Producer Merv Bloch, a click-thru Photo Still Gallery with some behind-the-scenes photos, Theatrical Trailers (Re-issue - 2:06, Original - :38) and 3.5-minutes of Radio Spots.



Interesting and certainly more sex-oriented than I was anticipating. There is a lot of 'cuteness' in The Telephone Line and some over-the-edge raunchiness - most notable in the animated finale sequence. I liked it enough but it is not a film I would revisits frequently. The Blu-ray is quite competent with an impressive image despite the slight imperfections. Nice to see the commentary added (although I have yet to indulge) and those keen on these 'underground cinema' efforts should be in their element with this baby. But it is not for all tastes.  

Gary Tooze

May 1st, 2013


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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Gary W. Tooze






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