Although it may be seen by only a fraction of the audience that made a bestseller out of its source, "You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again: The Documentary" makes a stronger impression than the book it's taken from.
That document, which would have been called a "kiss and tell" creation in simpler times, detailed the sexual experiences of four women, three of them professionals, with some of Hollywood's more celebrated citizens. Because it named names, lots of names, and came with the imprimatur of both Gloria Steinem and Children of the Night's Dr. Lois Lee, "You'll Never" managed that combination of salacious detail and moral uplift that Americans have never been able to resist.
The new documentary, purposefully timed to coincide with the book's appearance in paperback, is not going to have Marcel Ophuls looking to his laurels. Consisting exclusively of talking-head interviews with the four women, plus occasional comments by Peter Bart of Daily Variety, it was made by Michael Viner of Dove International, the book's publisher, for what looks to be a bare minimum budget.
Broken up into sections, each one introduced by the same insipid music and repetitive logo, "Never" spends a portion of its time investigating its subjects' childhood and wondering what their favorite color and their favorite movies are. ("Pretty Woman" does not get high marks.)
Probably the longest section, not surprisingly, is titled "Sleeping With Celebrities." Among the names encountered here are Warren Beatty, James Caan, Don Henley, George Harrison, Gary Busey, Don Simpson, Billy Idol, two unidentified kings and enough wealthy Saudis to make it clear that key citizens of that country have way too much disposable income for anyone's good.
Though the original goes into more detail, the movie makes a more emotional presentation. Freed of the book's boilerplate prose that made it difficult to tell these women apart, they emerge on screen, even without last names, as well-defined individuals. This includes tough-talking and reclusive Tiffany, who is photographed only in deep shadows out of respect, she says, for her family.
Sharpest and most perceptive of the quartet is former actress Robin, never a professional but someone with an active social life. If you want to date a famous actor, she says with hard-earned wryness, "you need to carry a floodlight and point it at them everywhere you go. They require a lot of attention."
The saddest cases are Liza, Robin's sister, who survived serious drug abuse and a suicide attempt that left her forearms a mass of scars, and Linda, who frequently breaks down on screen as she wonders aloud, "How did I end up here?"
"You'll Never" is strongest almost in spite of itself, in its non-salacious moments when it reveals the vapidness and superficiality of lives thrown away for the chance to sip champagne by a Las Vegas pool or get a free shopping trip to Paris.
Despite the book's success, everything has not gone well for these women and two of them, Tiffany and Linda, have since filed lawsuits against Dove. It's impossible to watch this documentary version of their story and not hope that they are not being exploited and manipulated all over again.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: adult themes and frank and explicit discussions of sexual activities.
'You'll Never Make Love in This
Town Again: The Documentary'
Released by Dove Entertainment. Director Michael Viner. Producer Michael Viner. Camera operators Eric Bakke, Chip Goebert. Editor Tony Nassour. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
* Exclusively at Mann-4, 1050 Gayley Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-7664.