40 Years Ago: ‘Porky’s’ Peeps Its Way Into Cinematic History
Porky's could proudly be summed up in one sentence from a Los Angeles Times review: “Six horny Florida teen-agers venture out in search of a good lay and tumble into a series of misadventures climaxed by the trashing of a bayou whorehouse.”
High art this was not — not that it aspired to be.
An unlikely pop-culture phenomenon, Porky’s was inspired by the real-life exploits of writer-director Bob Clark, who looked to depict teenagers just as he remembered them: adventurous, outlandish and horny.
“I was quite a savage little being," Clark recalled of his childhood years later to Canuxploitation. “We were very poor. My father died; my mother was a barmaid. So, I pretty much ran the streets. I used to climb up on the top of the fences of the baseball stadium, and run along, and the guards would chase me.”
Growing up first in Alabama before moving to Florida, Clark routinely found himself mixed up in all kinds of hijinks. Even after he moved to Los Angeles as an adult to focus on his film career, Clark couldn’t help but regale colleagues of his teenage antics.
Watch the Trailer for 'Porky's'
“Bob carried this brilliant vision around in his head for more than a decade before starting to put it on paper,” Roger Swaybill, who co-authored the script to Porky’s, told the Los Angeles Times in 1985. “Everybody who knew Bob knew that he was obsessed with doing this picture.”
Still, it wasn’t until illness briefly derailed Clark that the screenplay really began to take shape.
“When Bob was in bed with mono in the summer of 1979, he suddenly began dictating the story of Porky’s to me,” Swaybill continued, "and for four days, he dictated into a cassette recorder. I was weeping with laughter. About an hour into the original narrative, I became convinced that I was sharing in the birth of a major moment in movie history: It was the funniest film story I had ever heard.”
Together, Clark and Swaybill hammered out a script, but they were unable to garner any interest from Hollywood studios. Even after the success of 1978’s Animal House, executives were leery of producing a sex-filled comedy focused on high-school students.
Eventually, Clark was able to secure financing through a Canadian firm, with the caveat that the movie had to be filmed in the there in order to obtain government tax benefits. For a modest budget of $5 million, Clark was able to bring his teenage raunch-fest to the big screen.
Watch the 'Lassie Scene' From 'Porky's'
Fhe film’s highly sexualized scenes — including high-school coaches copulating, a legendary peephole scene and the ensuing grabbing of a boy’s “tallywhacker” — earned most of the attention. But physical comedy, bodily functions and even racism were all used for laughs.
“People were railing about how racist the characters are, but this was 1954 we're talking about,” Clark later explained, noting that their point of view was honest to the time period in which it was set. “We made it clear that [the characters] were contemptuous of the racism around them.”
Clark also disagreed with those who suggested that Porky’s — with its nudity and ogling of women — was misogynistic. “It's not the women who are the subject of ridicule in Porky's, not at all!” he insisted. “It's continually the men who made to be fools, while the girls are allowed to express their sexuality.”
Porky’s was initially released in select markets on Nov. 13, 1981. Positive word of mouth convinced distributors to give it a nationwide release the following March. Though the film was roundly panned by critics, moviegoers turned out in droves.
Watch the 'Tallywhacker' Conversation in 'Porky's'
The movie hit No. 1 at the box office on its first weekend of wide release, a position Porky's held for eight consecutive weeks. It went on to earn more than $100 million domestically in 1982, making Porky's the year's fifth-highest-grossing release.
That success opened the door for a long list of copycats, including low-brow comedies like Bachelor Party, Revenge of the Nerds, Spring Break and Police Academy. While pundits decried the trend as somehow cheapening cinema, Clark — who went on to helm such other classics as A Christmas Story — always defended Porky’s place in history.
“Sure the film was outrageous, it was the most outrageous film of its kind, but it was the truth,” Clark declared, shortly before his untimely death in 2007. “Animal House is a wonderful film, I love it, but Porky's doesn't deserve to be compared to it.
“Animal House was a caricature of college, but Porky's was the first one to play us the way we were,” Clark added, “and I think it did it damn well. I would pull back a little if I was doing it again today, but we were so far over the top anyways.”