Hugh Hefner DVD Review: He’s Just Doing What He Loves

Tony Palmer’s 1973 Film About Hugh Hefner, the Founder and Editor of Playboy — henceforth known as Hugh Hefner — seems to be something of a cultural enigma. It was originally recorded in 1972 and presumably screened (at least in some limited capacity) in 1973, yet has no IMDB listing that I can find. This new DVD isn’t being billed as a remaster or an anniversary edition or anything, which also makes it sound like it never saw the light of day before, yet there are quotes from the likes of Mary Whitehouse, The Times, and The Daily Express lambasting the film for being crude, controversial, and morally bankrupt. Sounds enticing.

By today’s standards, it’s basically an incomplete biopic, with Hef narrating and chronicling primarily how awesome his life is and all the wonderful playthings (both material and female) the Playboy empire hath brought him, with bits here and there about his younger years and the struggles of starting the magazine. The two-thirds of it that is about his house, his animals, his tricked-out bedroom and bathroom, home theater, grotto, personal jet, clubs, theaters, stables, etc. seemed like the awkward pilot episode for MTV’s Cribs. The one-third that I found interesting talks about his childhood, his first marriage and early family, starting a controversial publication during a very conservative era, and being ignored by entrepreneurs big and small due to the small fraction of content his brand became synonymous with — naked ladies. His aim was to build a “book” about everything guys aspired to, fantasized about, and sought after, be it fine cigars, food, drink, reading, fashion, or, yes, ladies. He didn’t set out to be part of the sexual revolution, but wanted to include sex in the bigger discussion about enjoying life’s pleasures.

I did learn some interesting stuff from the 53 minutes of film. Did you know Bunny candidates had to take some sort of IQ test before they could become servers at a Playboy Club? Believe it. However, there were other parts where I found myself groaning “Yes, Hef, we get it — my life will never be as awesome as yours..” It’s an unusual bit of filmmaking in that regard, because it’s not polarized to make a specific point or align with a moral or political ideal. It’s just Hef discussing how he came to be a household name, and how despite amassing enormous fortune, he strives for humility and gratitude for everything he has, along with trying to elevate the lives of his readers. He’s a firm believer that violence and war should be deemed obscene, not love and beauty and expressions thereof.

The feature is unrated, and there are a few topless women in the hour of footage. The film quality is definitely from long before high definition became the standard, with its grainy, fuzzy film-stock charm. The only contents on the disc are the feature and chapter selections. The music soundtrack sports Wagner, Aaron Copland, and Walton Ravel, but mostly alternates between silence or blaring and grandiose, which I suppose is consistent with the lifestyle Hef is rubbing in our faces throughout.

For fans of the man and his brand, Hugh Hefner is probably a worthwhile addition to your collection and offers some more personal insights from the man himself than you’re likely to find many other places. For those looking for greater commentary on the Playboy empire’s contribution to the sexual revolution, you might be better served by other more focused documentaries on the subject.

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Mark Buckingham

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