The Low Down on the Lost Jesus Gay Porn Movie, HIM

Him! Him! (What a title … it reminds me of that giant ants horror flick of the 1950s, where someone screams the title Them! Them!) But it's the title of the much sought-after, famously lost 1974 Jesus gay porn film.

 

Advertisement for Him showing at the 55th Street Playhouse

 

First of all, it's almost become a trope of Western culture: speculation about Jesus' sexuality. Think Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The DaVinci Code, and the controversial Terrence McNally play Corpus Christi. Either Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene (or at least some kind of attraction between the two occurs), or Jesus was gay, because he hung around with a bunch of guys (Uh… Peter we know was married, because his sick mother-in-law was cured by Jesus, not that being married always makes a difference, but still…). And then there's the speculation about Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, who may or may not have been John, because of certain cuddly iconography of the two.

I'm not going to get into the detail about all the speculation above, and I also think all the speculation about this 1974 movie ends up going around in circles.

Starting with Wikipedia (a well-documented article, and I checked the cites), we do know that there was a film of that title that premiered on Mary 27, 1974, at the 55th Street Playhouse in New York, at that time becoming more of a porn house than an art house. The film was directed by someone going by the name Ed D. Louie and featured a mural artist named Tava Von Will as Jesus.

Now, I initially thought it was some kind of sword and sandals knock-off, Jesus wandering around having sex with the disciples, but it actually told the story of a young guy with an erotic fixation on Jesus. Actually, not that unusual a theme, for goodness sake… just open any Catholic devotional work or story about the saints (usually female). The spiritual delights of being married to Jesus often look and sound orgasmic, even sadomasochistic.

Anyway, the film also played at Chicago's Bijou Theater in January and February of 1975. The ad shows a guy in a tuxedo, not clothing one associates with Jews in 1st century Palestine. Why? Maybe to avoid controversy, but no one remembers much of a fall-out, even in the still very much underground LGBTQ world of that time.

 

Vintage ad for Him showing at Chicago's Bijou Theater

 

The film fell into obscurity, and in fact, no one seems to be able to locate a copy; film critic and later culture warrior Michael Medved even claimed it was a hoax (huh?).

Peter Malone in his book Screen Jesus: Portrayals of Christ in Television and Film, actually quotes Medved, who claims it is tasteless (how would he know? Did he see it?) but also innovative. Medved claims one scene, a “low point in the history of cinema,” involves a handjob in the confessional as the young man confesses to the priest his erotic fantasies about Jesus. (I wouldn't actually call that scene remarkably innovative in the world of porn.)

But then Medved in his 1980 book Golden Turkey Awards implies that, among the bad movies he and his brother Harry review in his book, Him wasn't real. The beginnings of an urban legend?

A number of years ago, the late porn star/director Gino Colbert was trying to find out if the film was indeed real or was a hoax, and contacted Bijou Video as part of his research. We could not at the time verify, but more recently, another researcher on the film brought to our attention the Bijou Theater ad shown above. The film indeed played in New York, Chicago, and in many other places.

 

Another ad for Him at the 55th Street Playhouse

 

We may never know all the details on this film, unless a copy or more information is tracked down. It seems to have clearly existed and, like many a classic porn film, may sadly have no copies any longer in existence. The scarcity of information or memories about this film, its missing status, and its scandalous subject matter have made it somewhat of a legend and fueled the aforementioned rumors.

In the meantime, you can find religiously-themed porn scenes in a number of other classics, many of which are featured in our compilation, For the Love of God (on DVD and Streaming), which contains scenes from our films that explore the complex connection between sexuality and religion.

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Jack Deveau: Vintage Gay Porn Director Profile

by guest blogger Miriam Webster

Jack Deveau filming

Jack Deveau was one of the major directors, producers, and distributors of gay porn from 1972 to 1982. He made films that were “literate, artistically ambitious and, of course, sexually hot” (Mandate); shot films in Paris, Fire Island, NYC, and Woodstock, NY; and helped to launch careers in gay porn for countless writers, directors, actors, and musicians. Hand in Hand Films, the studio co-founded by Deveau with Robert Alvarez and Jaap Penraat, was referred to as “the M.G.M of gay porno” (with Deveau dubbed “the Louis B. Mayer”) and was known for making and distributing many high quality productions.

Jack was born in Manhattan, New York on January 25, 1935. He attended Cornell University, Sir George Williams College, and McGill University. In the early '70s, he was working at an architecture and graphic design business and – with his business partner, renowned architect/designer Jaap Penraat – had developed several patents and co-authored a book. At this time, Jack's lover Robert Alvarez and their friend, Rebel Without a Cause actor Sal Mineo, suggested to Jack that he ought to get into making movies. Robert told Manshots, in a 1982 interview, that he knew Jack would be well-suited for this profession: “I thought he was a natural. I thought he had a kind of charisma, the ability to make people listen, to make people enjoy what they were doing... Whoever he set his sights on, he could somehow charm into doing anything or saying what he wanted. He was the kind of person who, literally, had a lot of tricks up his sleeve – because he'd studied magic [when he was young] – and he was used to dealing with people.”
 

Jack and cast on the set of Sex Magic
Jack and cast on the set of Sex Magic (1977)

Jack Deveau, cast & crew on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)
Jack Deveau, cast & crew on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)

Alvarez had become a film editor several years prior, working on underground/experimental films and documentaries and laying the music track for landmark early gay hardcore film Boys in the Sand (Wakefield Poole), which Jack also helped to promote. Alvarez wanted to make a film with Jack “because from the beginning I wanted us to work together. That's part of what the relationship meant to me. I just wanted him around all the time.” Jack had seen some of his friends producing porn films and making a profit from them, but he was still unsure about being in the movie business. Sal convinced Jack to accompany him to a production meeting for one of his upcoming films. “I didn't really know what he had in mind,” said Jack, “but I went and sat quietly in a corner while a room full of film executives said some of the dumbest things I'd ever heard. I thought, I could do better than that, so with a little more encouragement, I became a film producer.”

Deveau, Alvarez, and Penraat formed New York-based studio Hand in Hand Films in 1972 with the aim of creating an alternative to the minimally plotted West Coast gay films that made up the majority of what was being produced. They wanted to create a definite East Coast look and feel and to produce artistically and narratively strong releases. The studio began with the production of their first film, Left-Handed, a feature directed by Deveau and Penraat about a hustler who seduces, then dumps, a straight man.
 

Ray Frank and Robert Rikas, stars of Left-Handed
Ray Frank and Robert Rikas, stars of Left-Handed (1972)

Robert Alvarez remarked on the film's tone and themes to Manshots, saying “It's cynical in a way, because Jack was cynical in a way about a lot of gay relationships and things that happen in gay society... It had a real story to tell. It had characters you could identify with, whether you liked them or not. Like, the lead character is sort of a shit. It was a breakthrough in that sense because it had an anti-hero. It also had all the required elements to make it a hardcore film.” The film's budget – fairly large compared to what was being spent on gay porn films at the time – came from Jack, who sold his stocks and took out loans to pay for it.

Left-Handed was shot on 16mm on a Bolex, as were many later Hand in Hand films. Jack was the primary cinematographer for the films he directed as well as for several of their other productions by different directors. Alvarez referred to Jack as a “tinkerer” who had a background in still photography: “He knew about the exposures and focus and all that business... He knew how to take a camera apart and put it back together. He knew exactly what made it work.”
 

The Carnegie Hall Cinema preparing to premiere American Cream & Left-Handed
The Carnegie Hall Cinema preparing to premiere American Cream & Left-Handed

Left-Handed premiered at the Carnegie Hall Cinema, adjacent to Carnegie Hall, and was well-received, getting glowing reviews from Variety and a number of gay publications. The film ran for a time there and at the 55th Street Playhouse, also in NYC. Then Jack and Robert took “a cross-country trip in Jack's new Maserati (Jack felt we had to look the part of movie moguls) to meet and sell our movie to other cities' owners of gay x-rated venues.” Having got to know the exhibitors in the gay film market, Hand in Hand began to make and distribute additional films, becoming the first company to “provide a sort of national clearing house for gay films” (Manshots). Instead of selling prints to exhibitors, which most people were doing at the time and which resulted in many pirated film prints being created and screened, Hand in Hand rented out prints of the films they carried, winning over exhibitors by guaranteeing that they would have high quality new product regularly available. They were able to achieve this by promoting the brand name of Hand in Hand, itself, and attracting other directors to it. These included Peter de Rome (whose collection of shorts, The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, was Hand in Hand's next release), Tom DeSimone (Catching Up, The Idol), Arch Brown (The Night Before), playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie (American Cream), John Stephens (Jack), and more.

1974 saw the release of Jack's most wild and ambitious film, Drive, co-written with and starring Christopher Rage and featuring a cast of 50 men; a short stint where Jack and Robert owned the Lincoln Art Theatre in New York (where they showed Drive and Gerard Damiano's classic straight porn The Devil in Miss Jones); and Jack and Peter de Rome shooting de Rome's first feature, Adam and Yves, in Paris. (Jack was the cinematographer and producer for Peter's second and final feature, The Destroying Angel, in 1976.)
 

Poster for and stars of Adam and Yves
Peter de Rome's Adam and Yves (1974)

Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome filming Adam and Yves in France
Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome filming Adam and Yves in France

Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome on the set of The Destroying Angel (1976)

Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome on the set of The Destroying Angel (1976)


Jack (who had French roots) spent more time in France shortly afterwards, when Hand in Hand's documentary Good Hot Stuff (1975), a fascinating behind the scenes look at the production of gay porn films in the '70s, became the first gay porn film to open in Paris, billed there as Histoires d'Hommes. The run in Paris was successful. Said Jack, “Not only did we get lots of interesting press and critical attention, most of it quite favorable, but the film out-grossed Nashville our opening week. The most satisfying part of the whole experience, though, was to be treated as a serious filmmaker.”
 

Jack and Robert Alvarez in front of a Histoires d'Hommes billboard in Paris

You can watch excerpts from Good Hot Stuff here on our YouTube channel and see clips of Jack Deveau, himself, discussing filmmaking. He would return to Paris a year later to shoot Le Musee (later re-titled Strictly Forbidden and released, after a delay, posthumously) at the Musee Rodin, with cooperation from the French government.
 

Jack with Jaap Penraat, Peter de Rome & Christopher Rage in Good Hot Stuff (1976)
Jack with Penraat, de Rome & Christopher Rage in Good Hot Stuff (1975)

After Good Hot Stuff, Jack directed two excellent dramatic character pieces, Ballet Down the Highway and Wanted: Billy the Kid, in quick succession. Ballet Down the Highway was highly promoted and, according to an oddly glib and scathing Michael's Thing write-up, had a large premiere with champagne and souvenir t-shirts which was attended by Jamie Gillis, Divine, and Tennessee Williams.
 

Hand in Hand make-up artist Gene Kelton, Jack Deveau, Jettie Jenraat, Jamie Gillis, and Divine at the Ballet Down the Highway premiere

Hand in Hand make-up artist Gene Kelton, Jack Deveau, Jettie Penraat, Jamie Gillis, and Divine at the Ballet Down the Highway premiere


Jack always sought out talented writers and cast and crew members to work with. He recruited writer Lorenzo Mans (aka P.P. Mans) for Ballet Down the Highway and worked with trained dancers on a choreographed ballet sequence in that film. Hand in Hand soundtracks include outstanding original music by Emmy Award-winning television and Broadway composer Stan Freeman (Left-Handed, Drive, Ballet Down the Highway) and talented orchestral composer David Earnest (The Night Before, Drive, Adam and Yves, Ballet Down the Highway, and Wanted: Billy the Kid).

In performers, Jack would use his instincts to find men who had the right combination of elements to work well on screen: “When you're looking for men who can suck and fuck for the screen and in front of a crew of technicians, there's a poise and confidence that emanates from those who can. You can feel it just sitting and talking to someone. We also ask why the applicant wants to appear in a pornographic movie. If money is the only answer, I'm rarely interested in going any further. The work of being in a porn film, the physical and mental demands, just can't be bought with money alone. You have to have some interest in being in front of a camera, whether through sheer narcissism or attempting to ply your craft as an actor. And as corny as it sounds, there is such a thing as star quality, a sense of himself a man can have that sets him apart.”
 

Star Henk van Dijk licking Jack Deveau's light meter on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)

Star Henk van Dijk licking Jack Deveau's light meter on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)


In addition to Jack's charm and people skills, Robert Alvarez discussed with Manshots his quickness and adaptability, which helped Jack to reshape anything that wasn't working during the shooting of a film and make it function. Jack's friend and Hand in Hand business associate Kees Chapman described how Jack always wanted to use the best equipment. For A Night at the Adonis (a 1978 film set in the Adonis Theater and starring Jack Wrangler, Malo, and Jayson MacBride), Jack wanted to get a stead cam, “which he was just dying to use, and this was the place to use it.” They were supposed to be cutting back on their spending because of changes in the industry taking place by the late '70s which made large scale productions less profitable, but Jack still wanted to get the technical side right. Chapman: “I miss Jack's influence that way, because – as much as I was always trying to pull him back and say, 'You can't rent another light because we can't afford it' – he'd go rent ten more – and he'd always be right.'”
 

Geraldo, Jack Deveau, Jayson MacBride & Malo in A Night at the Adonis (1978)

Geraldo, Jack Wrangler, Jayson MacBride & Malo in A Night at the Adonis (1978)


Jack wanted Hand in Hand's films to be well-executed and taken seriously by other filmmakers and by viewers. He was an early force shaping the newly forming genre of hardcore. His interview with Soho Weekly News contains some fascinating commentary on structure of the genre from Jack: “We came to an interesting idea about porno movies. We were looking for a while to describe the porno movie because it doesn't really relate to anything else. It is only starting to find its milieu, or genre, whatever you want to call it. It's a musical comedy, but now instead of singing, they fuck. Now that I've been able to make that generalization I think, well, are they going to sing a happy song now or a sad one? What condition is this character in? And then we try to structure the sex in those terms.”

Robert Alvarez commented to Manshots that “there was a period there where there was a lot of magic going on. It's not ever going to be the same again. There was a period in porn filmmaking when there was hope that you could do something... You could do whatever the hell you wanted. You could be as audacious as you wanted. You were working on a very low budget. You knew there was a limit on how much you could spend. You had that much money to do something. Therefore you could do whatever you wanted as long as you had the required amount of sex scenes.”

Hand in Hand amassed at least 40 films in their library, Jack directing many more through 1982 (Rough Trades, Hot House, Sex Magic, Dune Buddies, Fire Island Fever, Just Blonds, The Boys from Riverside Drive, and Times Square Strip), and they had plans to begin developing some non-pornographic gay films that could reach a wider audience.

Jack Deveau's filmography as writer, director, cinematographer, and producer

Jack Deveau passed away on December 2, 1982 after a long battle with cancer. Strictly Forbidden and a second shorts collection with segments directed by Deveau, In Heat, (following Hand in Hand's 1980 shorts compilation, Private Collection) were released posthumously. The adult film industry changed considerably in the following years with the advent of home video and the decline of porn theaters. Hand in Hand continued to operate as a mail order business until Kees Chapman died in 1988, at which point Alvarez sold Hand in Hand's entire library to Bijou Video, where we still preserve and carry their films, available on DVD and Video on Demand. They are truly worth checking out and range from beautiful and artistic, to bizarre, to romantic, campy, sleazy, funny, thoughtful, surreal, sweet, clever, dramatic – all while being hot.
 

Vintage posters for Dune Buddies, Ballet Down the Highway & Drive

Vintage posters for Dune Buddies, Ballet Down the Highway & Drive

 

Jack had hope for the legacy of the films he produced and for gay films as a whole: “There are magazines in Europe who are devoting whole issues every other month to critiques of the erotic cinema. Eventually this will have to become a literature... There are many stories to be told, as people finally listen to and begin to understand the experiences of gay men and women. I think there'll soon be a larger audience for movies about the way gay people feel about themselves and how they interact with the rest of society. And from a purely commercial standpoint, gay people have been supporting the film industry for years. It's about time they started getting some feedback.”

Alvarez also touched on Jack's notion of gay porn as recorded literature in his Manshots interview.

Manshots: What were his strengths that made his films so special?
Alvarez: Jack said what he wanted to.
Manshots: The fact that he made erotic films that said anything at all is a rarity.
Alvarez: Yes, I feel it's an unfinished story. I feel that there's more there than even I can comment on. One of the things that Jack always said was that “no matter what – this is recorded literature, or a piece of literature. You can be sure when you're dead that that piece of literature will be around.” As long as the film negative doesn't deteriorate or the lab doesn't burn down, it's true. Whatever is there that he made is going to be there for a long time. Who knows what people will make of it – but it will be there.
 

Jack Deveau illustrated portrait
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It's Art and It's Porn: The Legacy of Arch Brown

It's Art and It's Porn: The Legacy of Arch Brown
By Madam Bubby

 

“Zee art film … “ I remember that campy scene in Valley of the Dolls where the beautiful Jennifer North played by the beautiful Sharon Tate has to get a job making soft porn films for a sleazy French movie director. Jennifer complains that a beautiful scenery and a bare bottom doesn't make art. 


That may have been the case with those many of those XXX movies about "boobies, boobies, boobies, boobies" that Neely O'Hara laments she didn't have, but the gay filmmakers that emerged from the gay liberation movement of the 1970s radically changed in many ways, at least for many communities in major urban areas, the perception that gay films were either pornographic peep shows, exercises in camp, or mainstream films where a gay character commits suicide after being outed. 

 

One of these filmmakers was Arch Brown, who made a number of gay porn classics, including the particularly notable The Night Before, which was created with and produced by Jack Deveau, Bob Alvarez, and co. of the legendary Hand in Hand Films (read more on them in our blog on Hand in Hand/Deveau, our interview with Alvarez, the Hand in Hand Films wikipedia article, or in the book Good Hot Stuff: The Life & Times of Gay Film Pioneer Jack Deveau).

 

The Night Before poster image


Arch Brown

Arch did not even set out to make gay films, much less films that - because of explicit sex - were deemed pornographic. 

He was born in Chicago as Arnold Kreuger in 1936. After attending Northwestern University, he came to New York City, the destination of so many artistically-inclined and LGBTQ people during the 1960s (and before!). His parents thought it would be respectable for him to go into television (perhaps because less overtly gay-oriented than the actual theater), but he switched majors and decided he wanted to write and direct plays. (Many in the 1970s NYC gay porn world had direct ties to theater, including Alvarez, Wakefield Poole, and Casey Donovan.)

He first worked at Circle Square in the Village, but then he switched careers and got a job in advertising. After contracting hepatitis, he had to quit that job, and ended up, after picking up a guy in Central Park who liked him and his camera expertise, began making “home movies.” But apparently his home movies weren't at the level of crude amateur ones of the peep show variety, and they ended up showing in the private gay movie club, Cinema 7. 

According to an interview in the 1970s gay magazine Michael's Thing, “Andy Warhol's Interview got to him, and Variety sent one of their guys downtown to take a look at these new-fangled movies.”

I wonder if Warhol saw something of his own transformation of new realist techniques such as collage used in his own pop art in Arch Brown's concretely realistic, but also surrealism-infused, films of gay men's sexual relationships. 

These films were realistic because the sex was actually occurring on the screen, themes and characters (and their emotions) came out of real gay life of the time and place, and they also creatively used materials from everyday life at that time, ranging from pop music to advertising. 

Arch Brown perfected the above approaches when he collaborated with Hand in Hand on The Night Before (available from Bijou on DVD and Streaming; images featured below). 

 

This surreal porn classic offers a funny, touching, and realistic look at lovers and their emotional responses to both jealousy and carnal lust. Casting a group of nine men of varied types and cock sizes, the film begins with two average guys, Hank (Coke Hennessy) and Paul (Michael Cade - aka omni-present man of many hats in the NYC gay porn world Frank Ross), who meet and fall in love in New York City when Hank helps photographer Paul with a shoot in the park. 

 

Cast of The Night Before

At Paul's place, they check out photos that he's taken, including one of Paul with another man, both naked. Hank and Paul's ensuing relationship and lust develops through dinners, visiting an art gallery, picking out a kitten, and making out in the dark room. 

They have their first touching and intimate sexual encounter after this (with no live sound, but a great orchestral score by frequent Hand in Hand composer and Arch Brown collaborator David Earnest): Paul passionately eats out Hank's asshole and rolls around the bed with him to fall into a 69 session. Paul later stands and humps Hank's throat before filling his butt with cock; they go to bed after sex. 

Sounds simple enough, but at this point Brown takes us into the surreal world of Hank's dreams (or paranoid fantasies). In his dreams, Hank watches Paul hungrily sucking one man's thick prick after seducing him and fucking another man's tight asshole, while Hank himself sucks, then fucks, a delivery man in the basement of a building. 

Also occurring in this dream sexual montage are: Paul fucking the hairy ass of the kitten seller on a roof, Paul and Hank painting each other's naked bodies and kissing in a shower, cocks appearing through curtains to be sucked, two professional dancers in a vintage Advocate cover photo coming to life and dancing naked to an operetic score, and Hank participating in an orgy where a cock emerges from a fruit bowl and a massive double-headed dildo seems to fantastically penetrate entire bodies. 

Dancers in The Night Before
Orgy scene from The Night Before


The dream depicts what Brown terms "lover's paranoia," the kind of insecurity one feels when one falls too hard for someone too fast. 

What's interesting here is how some elements of the film were influenced by Brown's own life (a camera shoot in the park), and how artistic mediums (in this case, painting and photography, which themselves have always undergone a rather fraught relationship!) can both concretely and symbolically convey various dynamics of sexual attraction. 

In 1974, according to Variety, this classic gay porn film was one of the 50 top-grossing movies at the 55th Street Playhouse in New York City, and The Advocate said of this Arch Brown masterpiece, "proves that a little Cocteau, a dash of Fellini, and sex do mix well." 

 

For a deeper dive behind the scenes of The Night Before, check out this podcast episode from Ask Any Buddy.

 

Vintage 55th Street Playhouse movie ads


Starting in 1976, Brown made a series of films for P.M. Productions, including the gay porn spoof of Charlie's AngelsHarley's Angels, and also classics like All Tied UpFive Hard PiecesHot FlashesMuscle BoundPier Groups (which we now carry on DVD & VOD), and Dynamite, which often included popular stars like Jack Wrangler, Jayson MacBride, Keith Anthoni, and Eric Ryan among their cast members. His other work outside of P.M. and Hand in Hand includes such titles as (Bijou releases) Trips and So Many Men So Little Time.

Vintage posters for Dynamite and Harley's Angels


Brown said in his interview in Michael's Thing, that he didn't want to be political; he basically wanted to make a good fuck film, but his films aren't just two guys fucking, nor are they apolitical. They come out of a sociopolitical movement that wanted to carve out a visible niche in New York's arts community, and they also, without hitting the viewer over the head with slogans, realistically show the challenges of gay sexual relationships in a world just starting to break down closets of fear and hiding. (Just observe the interesting commentary on the NYC piers' significance to LGBTQ culture and their looming demolition in Pier Groups and the psychological dimensions of out-ness and gay romance and sexuality in The Night Before.)

Brown himself took advantage of a new climate of tolerance.  According to his obituary (he died in 2012), in the late 1970s, Brown began writing plays, which he continued to do into the 2000s. His first play, News Boy, was his most successful, receiving an Off Broadway production in 1979; it focused on the coming out of the gay son of a conservative politician. 

A 1998 comedy by Brown, FREEZE!, received the Eric Bentley Playwriting Prize that year and has been produced several times. 

During the last decade of his life, Brown founded and ran the Thorny Theater in Palm Springs, which mounted several gay-themed plays each season; the theater closed in 2010. 

After his partner, Bruce Brown, died in 1993 (Arch used his lover's last name professionally), Brown established the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation, which ran until several years ago, giving grants to queer playwrights and to theater groups mounting LGBTQ-themed plays, as well as sponsoring periodic literary competitions that awarded prizes to playwrights and fiction writers whose works are “based on, or inspired by, a historic person, culture, event, or work of art.” 

 

And, fascinatingly, an unpublished manuscript was discovered shortly after Arch Brown's death and published in 2017 as his memoir, A Pornographer.

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