Original Air Date: March 21st, 1983
Intimate Agony is one of those movies that seem to be begging for ridicule. I mean, it’s about an epidemic of herpes amongst the locals of an island paradise! However, there are two things about this movie that kept me from putting on my Mock Hat: 1. It’s actually a very well made and acted piece of film and 2. It harkens back to a time when the worst sexual disease we had to worry about was herpes. Dreaded at the time, it felt like a death sentence and Intimate Agony came out right before the woes of the then-unknown killer HIV began making headlines. Although this film is often of work of morbid fantasy (a herpes epidemic at a resort?) and takes every possible ugly situation and uses it for dramatic purposes, it’s still a time capsule that takes a rather straight faced and often moving look at the last of our sexual innocence. Didn’t expect me to get so serious, did you?
Anthony Geary is Dr. Kyle Richards, an up and coming medical rebel who takes a job at a tropical tourist hot spot for the summer. He runs into his old friend Tommy (Mark Harmon with a silly machismo-laden mustache), who is the local tennis instructor and town stud. He’s only interested in one thing and if you’re not willing to put it out, he wants you to get out. There are some other unrelated locals as well, such as the naïve and pretty Katy (Cindy Fisher) whose father, Dave (Robert Vaughn), runs the show on the island. Her parents are all about what it looks like rather than how it actually is, which until now hasn’t bothered Katy one bit. There is also Nick (Brian Kerwin) who is working on the island for the summer and he’s brought his very pregnant wife (Lori Lethin) with him. And there’s Judith Light who is a single mother working as a waitress, and constantly turning down Tommy. Although not connected in any substantial way for the most part, each one of these characters will be deeply affected by their new disease.
Intimate Agony is an effective film. I know it gets some flack because, let’s face it, anything made in the 80s always meets some sort of “ironic” antagonism and because the premise is admittedly pretty out there. Yet, I found it to be moving. It’s full of swinging singles (and some swinging marrieds!) in discos, on tennis courts and just about any place a swinging single should be located. If HIV had never happened, maybe this movie would seem more absurd but as it stands, it’s a very bittersweet film about a devastation that was soon to become not so devastating. Anthony Geary is fantastic as the doctor trying to contain the virus as it spreads to his friends and strangers and Mark Harmon is great as the superficial hot guy who has to let go of the one thing that gave him any kind of sense of self. I also really liked Cindy Fisher as the teenager whose life comes to a complete stop and, to top it off, the pregnancy storyline with Lori Lethin almost made me cry. I know, call me Softie! I thought the subject matter was very well handled and of course at the time, this hot button topic was making some serious waves. I distinctly remember an Afterschool Special called A Very Delicate Matter where they wouldn’t even use the word herpes, because back then it was just too controversial. At the time most sexually transmitted diseases were referred to as V.D. on the tele, regardless of the severity of it.
It’s always interesting to see prime time movies featuring a lot of daytime soap actors. This type of melodrama, which was so popular back then, is perfectly suited for this type of acting style. It’s engaging, even if it’s sometimes a little over the top. There’s an art form there, one I find truly underrated, and Intimate Agony is a good example of why melodrama is so compelling.
According to my all time favorite book Movies Made for Television by Alvin H. Marill, Intimate Agony was originally called Lovesick the Herpes Story. I think it’s safe to say that this review might have been slightly different had they kept that title!