Review: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel
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PLOT: The first, fully authorized documentary examining the life of Hugh Hefner; founder of Playboy Magazine, and his various battles with the religious right, militant feminists, and censorship.

REVIEW: Just when you thought it was impossible to envy Hugh Hefner more, along comes HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST, & REBEL. Turns out, in addition to being perhaps the greatest cocksman of the last hundred or so years, Hef’s also been one of the most outspoken and effective proponents of free speech of our time.

When he started PLAYBOY back in the strict, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER-fifties, Hef had to fight an epic battle against the religious right in order to not be considered a pornographer. It’s incredible how close he came to actually being jailed for publishing nude, yet tasteful, photos of willing and well-paid models. Yet, while the battle for his freedom was won fairly quickly, he still had to defend his empire from a variety of attacks over the years. For the first time, we get Hef in his own words, explaining exactly what type of battles he’s had to fight over the years- with opponents including Gloria Steinem’s militant feminist organization of the seventies. He also fought a brave battle for civil rights in the sixties, by insisting black musicians and comedians, such as Dick Gregory, be allowed to perform in his Southern Playboy Clubs in the Sixties. And, while the blacklist was going full steam in the fifties, and early sixties, Hef din't hesitate to hire blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo to write articles for the magazine.

What’s interesting about these battles is, as illustrated in the film, many of his opponents ended up being totally won over by Hefner’s charm. In the fifties, Mike Wallace said on-the-air that Playboy was pornography, but here he clearly recants. Pat Boone, Mr. White-bread Christianity himself, while not condoning Hefner, clearly admires the man- and even some of his feminist opponents; acknowledge that despite initially thinking he was a chauvinist, Hefner clearly proved himself to be otherwise. One thing everyone agrees on is that Hef’s never been one to back down from a fight, and many of his most heated debates are presented here- with Hefner clearly besting his opponents each and every time.

However, it has to be said that HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST, AND REBEL is not the most balanced of documentaries. The few opponents Hef wasn’t able to win over, like Gloria Steinem are mocked as fools, while Hef is presented as nothing less than a true blue crusader for free speech. This is clearly an almost worshipful look at the man, and perhaps a little less reverence, and a little more balance might have made this a more effective film.

Lack of balance aside, HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST AND REBEL is still a lot of fun. The debates we see are nothing if not lively, and the fun side of Hefner’s life (ya know- the sex) isn’t ignored. There’s lots of vintage footage from Hef’s PLAYBOY CLUB TV show from the fifties featuring a clearly inebriated Lenny Bruce, a St. Bernard-toting Sammy Davis Jr., and Tony Curtis- who admits to having his way with more than his share of playmates. Probably the most entertaining interviewee is the one and only James Caan, who remembers living at the Playboy Mansion for a few years in the seventies- and there’s lots of footage proving Caan’s claims that he had a good ol’ time.

I’d say that if you’re interested in Hef’s story (and really, who isn’t?), PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST, & REBEL is definitely worth a look. While I think a true examination of the man has yet to be made, this will do until that comes along. It’s still a damn entertaining look at the man all men, at some time or another in their lives, has wanted to be.

RATING: 7/10

Source: JoBlo.com



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