Format: 16mm Black & White
Runtime: 85 min
Larry Kent Productions
Tom (Robert Howay), a high-school student from a lower-middle-class background, plans to go to university on a scholarship. Like his male friends, he is obsessed by adolescent sexual urges. He gets involved with the attractive but conventional Elaine (Angela Gann) but she insists they have no sex before marriage. He also meets Cathy (Carol Pastinsky), less glamorous but more open than Elaine, who works with him on their studies. In a fit of sexual frustration, Tom solicits a prostitute, but rejects her at the last moment. He and Cathy then make love and she becomes pregnant. Though his first reaction is to marry her and give up his career plans, he opts instead for his university scholarship and makes a cowardly return to Elaine and the safer confines of middle-class respectability.
A stylistically brash and sexually frank drama, Sweet Substitute is a seminal independent feature of the early sixties. The second feature from Vancouver director Larry Kent, it was financed by the receipts from his controversial first film, The Bitter Ash (1963). Sweet Substitute explores the same adolescent milieu and attitudes as The Bitter Ash and, like its predecessor, used semi-improvisational techniques. Though the dialogue is often pretentious and/or clichéd, the film as a whole has a graphic power and credibility that transcends this limitation.
Though most Canadian critics were harsh, Sweet Substitute was well received abroad, especially in the United States, where it was released under the title Caressed and enjoyed considerable commercial success. The film received a special jury mention at the Montreal Film Festival, a Special Feature Award at the Canadian Film Awards – for "the very great promise and already substantial accomplishment clearly shown by director and actors alike, and for the sensitive and imaginative handling of the story" – and also played at the London and New York Film Festivals.