Metro Weekly

The Gay Erotic ‘Drifter’ Dives Into Bisexual Panic (Review)

"Drifter," Pat Rocco's adult '70s queer curio, resurfaces in Kino Lorber's DVD release of a restored print.


Produced, shot, edited, and directed by late gay erotica auteur Pat Rocco, the flavorful 1974 drama Drifter isn’t quite good, but this story of a ramblin’ bad boy battling his bisexual panic is never boring.

Recently restored from the original 16mm negatives, the film, though considered Rocco’s magnum opus, never received a commercial release. Now, to commemorate the movie’s 50th anniversary, Kino Lorber (through its Kino Cult label) is releasing the restored version in a special edition on digital and DVD/Blu-ray.

Billed as Rocco’s West Coast response to controversial X-rated Oscar-winner Midnight Cowboy, Drifter reassembled much of the same cast as his 1968 feature debut, Someone. Also written by novelist Edward Middletown, Someone similarly followed a hot, maybe straight dude struggling with feelings of same-sex attraction.

Both films star Joe Adair, credited onscreen here as “Joed Adair in Two Way Drift,” who overemotes but otherwise fits the bill as the hunky wayward hustler who can’t be pinned down by a man or a woman.

“To my friends and enemies, I’m just Drift,” he declares, as somewhat of a pickup line, and definitely a red flag that he won’t stick around. But smitten Steve (David Russell, stiff as a board), who picks up Drift by the side of a road on the way to Scottsdale, is slow to get the message.

Steve is also slow to put together the pieces figuring out Drift’s secret life as a gay hustler in Hollywood. While Steve wonders what Drift is doing in “Phoenix” every weekend, Drift, clad in tight jeans and a low-cut tank top, is actually hitchhiking to LaLa Land every week to cop some cash as a call-boy. He’s a habitual liar, deceiving not only Steve, but amorous cocktail waitress, Klamath (Bambi Allen), who also can’t figure out who or what Drift really is or wants.

The film keeps viewers guessing, too, by presenting events out of order, intercutting Drift’s parallel lives of romancing Steve in Scottsdale and hustling trade in Hollywood. By far, Rocco’s most inventive touch in Drift is the structure, which works its way non-chronologically back to the tense opening scene of two men tussling in the dark as strings on the soundtrack scream a high-pitched warning.

The soundtrack tends to be as overwrought as the acting. Only Joe Caruso, as slimy L.A. player Gino, gives a truly impressive performance, though Ann Collins captures the spirit of ’70s exploitation cinema in her amusing turn as Maxine, a casting agent who doesn’t just cast motion pictures.

Allen is surprisingly tender as Klamath, the proverbial harlot with a heart of gold. Her talents and efforts match the movie she’s in, an underground indie erotic drama with all the grungy glamour and uneven quality of early John Waters, or a Paul Morrissey/Andy Warhol production like Trash.


Certainly, Allen, Caruso, and Adair come off better than Inga Maria, playing Drift’s bubble-headed Swedish love interest Karen. Maria’s performance registers as someone who is not aware of the kind of movie they’re in, perhaps convinced that Drifter might indeed achieve the artistic and commercial success of a Midnight Cowboy.

Whatever Rocco’s ambitions were for the film, his goals are hampered by heaps of awkwardly judged touches like the laughable slo-mo dream montage of Steve and Drift frolicking in the desert, or the even sillier regular-speed, day-at-the-carnival montage of unconvincing lovebirds Drift and Karen. The stylized lighting that looks like Rocco just waved a bare bulb at the actors, and oddly framed sex scenes, containing mere glimpses of nudity, aren’t any more convincing.

Alternatively, Rocco frames two sex scenes in particular as taut, horrifying encounters, including a fairly shocking scene of brutal sexual assault. From Deliverance to Looking for Mr. Goodbar to Midnight Cowboy, filmmakers of the era had a thing for driving the drama toward rape and assault, especially as a manifestation of sexual confusion.

In that sense, and in many others, this patently strange curio of queer cinema aptly reflects its bygone era, as well as Pat Rocco’s fascinating career of maverick filmmaking.

Drifter (★★☆☆☆) is available to stream on digital, and for purchase on DVD/Blu-ray from Kino Lorber video in a special edition that includes four of Pat Rocco’s short films. Visit or to stream,

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