It received largely negative reviews from local film critics. Despite this it was a major hit with Australian audiences. Alvin Purple became the most commercially successful Australian film released to that time, breaking the box office record set by Michael Powell's pioneering Anglo-Australian comedy feature They're a Weird Mob (1966).
The score and title theme were composed by iconic Australian singer-songwriter Brian Cadd.
This was followed by a 1976 Australian Broadcasting Commission situation comedy television series titled Alvin Purple. Blundell reprised the title role in both, as well as in the 1984 movie Melvin, Son of Alvin.
The film is a sex-farce which follows the misadventures of a naïve young Melbourne man Alvin Purple, whom women find irresistible. Working in door to door sales, Alvin (unsuccessfully) tries to resist legions of women who want him.
Alvin is so worn-out he seeks psychiatric help to solve his problems. His psychiatrist is, of course, a woman. Alvin ultimately falls in love with the one girl who doesn't throw herself at him. She becomes a nun, and Alvin ends up a gardener in the convent's gardens.
Director Tim Burstall had worked extensively in film both in Australia and overseas in the 1960s and in the late Sixties he was closely involved in the foundation of the famous La Mama Theatre in Melbourne, established by his wife Betty Burstall. La Mama was a major focus for the new wave of Australian drama that was emerging at that time, showcasing many new plays, performance pieces and films by people such as Jack Hibberd, Alex Buzo, David Williamson, Bert Deling and Burstall himself.
Burstall's first feature film, 2000 Weeks was an ambitious contemporary drama about a writer, starring Scots-born actor Mark McManus (of Taggart fame) and Australian actress Jeannie Drynan, which was very notable at the time, being the first all-Australian feature film produced since Charles Chauvel's Jedda in 1954. Although it was reportedly well-received overseas, 2000 Weeks was panned by local critics and it failed disastrously at the box office. The experience affected Burstall strongly and also influenced other directors and producers, including John B. Murray and Phillip Adams, who observed the hostile reaction to 2000 Weeks and who as a result took their film-making in a more populist direction, as Burstall soon did himself.
This was followed by a low-budget surfing feature Getting Back to Nothing (1970). His second feature, the contemporary comedy Stork (1972) was much more successful. As well as launching the cinema career of actor Bruce Spence, who played the title role, it was the first of many successful film adaptations of plays by renowned Australian dramatist David Williamson. Stork was adapted from his play The Coming of Stork, which had premiered at La Mama.
In 1972 Burstall became a partner in a new film production company, Hexagon Productions. Their first project was meant to be Sittin' based on a script from David Williamson but Williamson was still lecturing at the time as well as being inundated with other work and was not able to complete it in time (it eventually became Petersen (1974)). Burstall then decided to make an Australian version of The Decameron, which was popular in cinemas at the time, and would enable Hexagon to take advantage of the new "R" certificate, which had been introduced to Australia in 1971. Another influence was Bedroom Mazurka.
Burstall considered 26 stories from writers such as Bob Ellis, Williamson, Barry Oakley and Frank Hardy before settling on Alvin Purple by Alan Hopgood.
Hopgood had enjoyed considerable critical success in the early 1960s with his Aussie rules football satire And the Big Men Fly and he was well-known to TV audiences at the time for his long-running role as the town doctor in the ABC's Bellbird. He originally wrote Alvin Purple for the English company Tigon Films.
Hopgood's story was originally half comic, half serious, and Burstall originally envisioned it as a 20-minute section of a multi story picture. However he then decided to make the story strictly comic and expand it to feature length. Burstall says he rewrote much of Hopgood's script, adding many chases and the water bed sequence, and turning McBurney figure into a sex maniac. The original script played more emphasis on the relationship between Alvin and his virginal girlfriend but this was cut in the final film.
The budget was provided entirely by Hexagon - half from Roadshow, half from Burstall, Bilcock and Copping - apart from a short term loan from the Australian Film Development Corporation, which was repaid before the film's release. Burstall cast Graeme Blundell in the lead:
I remember Bourkie [Roadshow executive Graham Burke] saying, 'You've got to cast somebody like Jack Thompson.' I said, 'Absolutely not. You've got to cast somebody who wouldn't, on the surface, seem a stud or even particularly attractive'. I actually thought that Alvin wasn't, that the comic element was connected with having a Woody Allen or a Dustin Hoffman figure who is not very obviously sexually attractive, and the girls rushing him. This becomes much funnier than if he was a stud figure.
Blundell was paid $500 a week for the role.
The film was shot over five and a half weeks in March and April 1973.
The film was a massive success and took $4,720,000 at the box office in Australia, which is equivalent to $36,721,600 in 2009 dollars. This is 7th highest grossing Australian film of all time when adjusted for inflation.
In 1979 Burstall said the film had returned $2.4 million to the exhibitors, $1.6 million to the distributors, who took $500,000, leaving Hexagon with $1.1 million. The movie sold to television for $40,000 in 1977.
In 2008 Catharine Lumby wrote a book about the film in the Australian Screen Classic Series.
The film was released in the US as The Sex Therapist.
It was accompanied on release by a 48-minute promotional documentary Inside Alvin Purple directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. This film was pulled from screening due to censorship concerns but was passed after some cuts had been made.
Alvin Purple was released on DVD by Umbrella Entertainment in April 2011. The DVD is compatible with region codes 2 and 4 and includes special features such as the theatrical trailer, a picture gallery, the Inside Alvin Purple documentary and interviews with cast,Tim Burstall, Alan Finney, Robin Copping, Graeme Blundell, Jacki Weaver, and Ellie MacLure.