Wealthy San Francisco socialite Gloria Saunders (Marilyn) is kidnap--, er, taken against her will, and brought to an elite, underground North Beach sex club. (Do places like this still exist in North Beach?) There she is hypnotized by an older woman, led through a green door where she is ravished by six women; at first afraid and uneasy she eventually gives way to her sexual desires while making love to a black man and then a group of four young men simultaneously while straddling a trapeze, because the '70s.
Along with Deep Throat, released six months earlier, and The Devil In Miss Jones, released in 1973, Behind the Green Door helped usher in what many refer to as the Golden Aage of Pornography. The films of this period achieved success with mainstream audiences and were by and large taken seriously as works of art. A 1972 article in the New York Times chronicling the increasing popularity of pornography as art gave the movement a name: "porno chic."
The film did moderate business in New York and at the Mitchell Brothers' theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area upon its release, but it wasn't until May 3, 1973 when it was revealed that Marilyn was the new model of young American motherhood on the box of Ivory Snow detergent. Ivory Snow, a Proctor & Gamble product, was a staple in homes for generations as detergent for baby's clothes. Its famous tagline was "99 44/100th% Pure." When Marilyn told the Mitchell Brothers she was on the box, the brothers seized the opportunity and started calling newspapers, newscasters and magazines across the country. The controversy of the Ivory Snow girl willingly and joyously engaging in a series of bizarre sexual acts on film proved to be a perfectly-timed promotional bonanza.
Behind the Green Door went on to become to first widely-distributed pornographic film in the United States. On a budget of approximately $60,000 the film ultimately grossed $50 million. It went on to become the fourth highest grossing film of the year surpassed only by The Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure and What's Up, Doc? It played the Cannes Film Festival in 1973.
One of the more well-known stories about the making of Green Door is how Marilyn, when being interviewed by the Mitchell brothers during casting, negotiated a hefty salary for herself and a percentage of the profits. In 1989 Marilyn told Larry King that the share she received from the film's profit totaled more than her base salary. It's unclear how much she was paid to star in Green Door. Reports range from $2,500 to $25,000.
Behind the Green Door (1972)
"...[Behind the Green Door] has high-quality camera work, imaginative use of music and visual effects, and Marilyn Chambers. She is the most beautiful porno actress yet. (You may find her smiling out at you from the front of our Ivory Snow box.) And there's no denying that in the movie's trapeze scene she qualifies as the busiest actress in porno history."
-- Roger Ebert, 1973
This is not really a film to which one can apply traditional critical standards, and its cultural significance definitely outshines its artistic merit. Nevertheless, for a film in a genre that had never been known for quality of any kind...Behind the Green Door is an impressive achievement. It looks fairly good, has decent music, something of a story, and the men in it don't look like underfed car thieves.
"Marilyn Chambers makes her hardcore debut in Behind the Green Door. Unlike the crones who used to populate pornos, Chambers may be remembered as the fresh-faced 'innocent' in Together [1971, directed by Sean S. Cunningham]. In that one, she was bare a lot, but never went all the way. In this, she does everything, quite realistically."
-- Variety, 1972
What the Critics Said:
Starring: Marilyn Chambers, Johnnie Keyes, George McDonald, Ben Davidson
Director: The Mitchell Brothers
Producer: The Mitchell Brothers
Writer: From the short story by Anonymous
Released: December 1972 (San Francisco), Mitchell Brothers Film Group; January 13, 1973 (UK); April 1973 (New York)
Availability: In print, DVD; numerous VHS, Betamax, 16MM and 8MM copies from the 70s, 80s and 90s are available on eBay and through online collectors; a 35MM print likely exists in the Mitchell Brothers' holdings (Cinema Seven Ltd.) or with private collectors
When Behind the Green Door was released in August 1972, newspaper ads, like the one on the left, focused on the film, its making and the stars. After the Ivory Snow scandal, Marilyn became the focal point of all advertisements.
The advertisement in the middle was featured in trade publications like Box Office touting the revenue totals for the film. The photos at left and right were promotional press photos.
Rare promotional poster. It's unclear how it was used or who did the artwork.
One of two posters used for the Japanese release of the film in 1976.