Truck Stop/Traveling Companions/Erotic Encounters/L’Amour Chez les Poids Lourds (1978) -*½
People have been rewriting the Odyssey along peculiar lines since at least the days of James Joyce, but Jean-Marie Pallardy may have them all beat in the weirdness department. His version of Homer’s epic is a softcore porn film in which the Trojan War was a long-haul shipping run, Ithaca is a truck stop, and Penelope’s troublesome suitors are the drivers who routinely drop in at her place of business on their way to the next destination. It’s a pity the movie is so frigging awful, because a premise that cracked deserves a standing ovation, regardless of how badly it’s executed.
Two men are driving a tractor-trailer laden with refrigerators across an expansive desert— just don’t ask me where that desert is supposed to be, because the geography of Truck Stop makes just as much sense as that of its model. Eugene, the owner of the truck (called “Ulysse” in the French version, and played by director Pallardy whichever language the soundtrack is speaking), is currently asleep in the cab’s bunk, while his partner, Jeff (Jean-Claude Strömme, from Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack and Body Games), takes the wheel. Either the heat or the monotony of the landscape must be getting to the older man, because he suddenly starts hearing voices calling to him. Jeff stops the truck and wanders off across the arid hills in pursuit of the voices— which now sound recognizably female— leaving Eugene alone to continue his nap. After some considerable time spent hiking through the desert, Jeff crests one last ridge to behold a trio of nearly naked girls, beckoning to him and squealing with excitement over his arrival. Yes, I too suspect that these are supposed to be the sirens. They’re also a mirage, but Eugene has a hard time convincing Jeff of that when he finally manages to track the old fool down after who knows how many hours of searching. I’m sure it wasn’t nearly as many hours as Eugene and Jeff now spend lost in the desert, though, futilely trying to find their way back to the truck.
That’s the last anybody back home sees of Jeff and Eugene for an entire year. Eugene’s girlfriend, Pamela (Elizabeth Turner, from Cannibal Apocalypse and Seven Notes in Black), has remained faithful to him all the while, unshakably certain that he will return someday, but the regulars at Pamela’s truck stop see things rather differently. They’re all equally sure that Eugene has died or run off with some floozy, and will never be heard from again by any of them. That being the case, they all think it’s time for Pamela to get herself a new man, and each of the truckers hopes to be the one to step into Eugene’s shoes. Curiously (because he’s easily twice Pamela’s age), the only one of the suitors who looks to have any chance of realizing such an ambition is the brawny and irascible Jojo (Georges Guéret, of Sex Without Love and A Real Young Girl), whom we meet when he enlists a pretty transsexual (Annik Borel, from The Legend of the Wolf Woman and Truck Turner) to play a birthday prank on his driving partner in exchange for a lift down the highway. Despite being every bit as ribald, uncouth, and bumptious as his fellows, Jojo sees Pamela as more than someone he’d like to take to bed, and he possesses a fair number of the qualities that endeared Eugene to Pamela. But even so, she persists in her resistance to the idea of taking a new mate, and her employees— all of them attractive and sexually insatiable young women, naturally— continue to have their hands full drawing the truckers’ fire, as it were.
As it happens, Pamela is right about Eugene’s survival. It was a near thing, but he was eventually rescued from the desert by a racially ambiguous woman (sexually ambiguous, too— she’s played by Ajita Wilson, a went-all-the-way transsexual who became a surprisingly major fixture of European sexploitation movies like The Joy of Flying and Catherine Cherie) who calls herself Calypso. Calypso took Eugene and Jeff in at her sprawling oasis compound, where both men are discovering exactly how much laying they can take. Interestingly, it’s Eugene, the younger man, who chafes under Calypso’s insistent carnality. Part of it, of course, is that he wants to get back to Pamela, but he also resents being treated like a stud in the original, livestock-centric meaning of the term. Eventually— it only takes him a year— Eugene manages to persuade Calypso to let him go, and to show him the way to his truck. Thus begins this movie’s interpretation of what Richmond Lattimore called the Great Wanderings, as Eugene and Jeff face a panoply of often absurd hazards on their route home to Pamela’s place. Just wait ‘til you see the fucking cyclops…
It would not be unfair to call Truck Stop almost the antithesis of Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack. Whereas that movie let its absurd premise be the driving force behind the humor, only rarely resorting to jokes in the ordinary sense, this one just as rarely lets slip an opportunity to stage a clunky set-piece gag on the level that one would expect in a David Friedman movie proceeding from a similar idea. Truck Stop is thus much more in keeping with the image usually conjured up by the phrase, “sex comedy.” It would have made a perfectly plausible double bill with Lady Godiva Rides or The Erotic Adventures of Zorro, and it becomes tiresome just as quickly. The rigged competitions whereby Pamela stalls for time while supposedly giving the truckers a chance to win her hand are drearily repetitive, and relate in no sensible way to their purported purpose. Too little time is spent on the travails attending Eugene’s homeward journey (although, to be fair, that’s a defect of the Odyssey as well), and only the cyclops incident displays the kind of cracked imagination that I was hoping for from a soft-porn Homer parody about truck drivers. Furthermore, even that one really bright spot drags on past the point when it stops being funny anymore. It’s worth observing, however, that Pallardy has said that he was beginning to grow bored with erotic movies by the mid-1970’s, and was interested in branching out into other fields. A look at his filmography suggests that he enjoyed next to no success in realizing that ambition (Pallardy made one crime drama, The Man from Chicago, in 1977, then it was right back to the skin flicks for the next seven years), so perhaps we should not be surprised if Truck Stop seems conventional and somewhat desultory beside the director’s earlier work.