“You filthy operator of a sex exchange.”
Strict censorship rules of the Hays Code spawned the production of many sexploitation films–films that were presented as exposes of the lurid charms of various human vices. These films took a strong moral stance against these vices and illustrated the inevitable consequences of sin while indulging the audience with an excuse for puerile voyeurism.
In Gambling with Souls, Mae Miller (Martha Chapin) is married to a doctor (Robert Frazer). He’s devoted to his career, and she’s left to her own devices for long periods of time. She becomes friends with Molly Murdock (Vera Steadman) who quickly introduces her to gambling. Gambling is just the first step into luring Mae into prostitution to pay off the money she owes to gambling club owner, Lucky Wilder (Wheeler Oakman).
Gambling with Souls from director Elmer Clifton contains a strong strain of Victorian melodrama (“you who thrive in the slime of life”)–with the righteous husband appearing (“women are not always to blame for their downfall”), and the wicked, repentant wife sobbing her way through a confession of her life of sin.
For camp fans, there’s a mild degree of entertainment here. Some of the lines are very funny, and there’s one scene in a club that shows a girl dancing, but she’s more of a contortionist than a dancer. She gets up on top of one of the tables, and hikes her skirt up, displaying her undies as she performs contortionist acts. It’s supposed to be sexy–at least that’s the impression I get from the men in the audience drooling as they watch her performance. There’s another scene with a chorus line, and the camera focuses on the girls’ bottoms for an inordinate amount of time. One scene (reminiscent of Hylas and the Nymphs) shows a country bumpkin lured off to a bedroom by a gang of pushy prostitutes. My favourite scene shows Mae returning from a drunken night out. She strips in her bedroom, and even her underwear has become fancier as her sins increase. Those moments provide a vague amusement, but that’s about all. The moralizing is too heavy handed and the characters serve to fill their stock roles only.
The Alpha Video print isn’t that great–there’s some skipping and crackling, but it is watchable.
Test Tube Babies/ Hell is a Place Called Hollywood is a double feature DVD release from Alpha Video. You’d have to go a long way to find a film as peculiar as Test Tube Babies. With a pseudo educational style (the film’s “medical and technical data is approved and supervised” by the National Research Foundation for Fertility, Inc.), this 53 minute long film follows George and Cathy through courtship, marriage, and the arrival of their test tube baby. There’s one breakfast scene that is supposed to illustrate their marital bliss–but then their marriage suddenly turns rocky. Cathy talks about having a baby, George stays late at work, and the next thing you know, Cathy is having wild parties while George is gone.
The best (and funniest) scene in the film takes place during one of Cathy’s wild parties. There’s an underlying hint of an orgy as everyone starts changing partners and one woman starts stripping–her drunken husband joins her. But apart from that, the film is quite awful–and it’s so awful, it’s bizarre. The acting is hideous, the plot is silly, and the film switches back and forth between preachy moral scenes, and sheer nonsense. There’s even one scene that could be called “What to Expect at a Gynecologist’s Office.” The preachy moral stuff probably allowed the naughty bits to sneak by the censors, but the result is an odd blend of voyeuristic non-titillation that runs for a little over 50 minutes
Hell is a Place Called Hollywood is the “2nd sinful feature” on this DVD. It’s a short piece (about 20 minutes) that catalogues the trials and tribulations of a former beauty queen who wins a trip to Hollywood and a small part in the film. The small part turns out to be a nudie role, and soon our heroine is reduced to taking jobs as a bondage model for a calendar photographer.
The DVD quality is poor. The film skips, and black holes appear in the print. Best scene in the film….the naughty party at Cathy’s house: “I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on.”
“I’d put her in boiling oil and watch her fry.”
It’s amazing what you can get away with even when you have censors breathing down your neck. With the Hays Code of film censorship enforced in 1934, a number of films were made which appeared to be moral crusades. In reality, these films gave an excuse for a titillating glimpse at some lurid element. It was also important, in these ‘moral crusade’ films to include moral statements–usually at the beginning of the film–making it clear that the film is some sort of attempt to expose a wicked social ill, and educate the public about it at the same time. These moral crusade films include such titles as Cocaine Fiends and the well-known Reefer Madness. Child Bride (alternate title: Child Bride of the Ozarks)–made in 1938 falls into the same category. In this case, however, the social ill is supposed to be limited geographically to those regions in America that allowed early marriage.
Child Bride is set in the Ozarks, and some seriously bad acting plagues the film. Jennie Colton (Shirley Mills) lives with her parents in a squalid shack and attends school with the other ragamuffins. Freddie (Bob Bolinger) is her innocent sweetheart, and the two children spend a great deal of time together. There are several extremely cheesy scenes of Jennie in the pigpen, Jennie at school etc., but the real action begins when the schoolteacher begins campaigning to raise the legal marrying age in the area. Seems the men wear their women out, and when one dies off after bearing a number of children, the widower just selects another pre-pubescent girl for his next victim.
The film includes two scenes that amazingly sneaked by the censors. One scene involves the schoolteacher whose ripped nightgown gets more tattered with every step and is practically falling off by the time the action reaches a crescendo. The other scene was quite startling and involves Jennie swimming nude in a river. Jennie’s nudity is observed by the film’s wicked villain and salivating Peeping Tom, Jake Bolby (Warner P. Richmond). The film emphasizes the notion of pedophilia when Jake courts little Jennie by giving her a doll. Jennie is a plump cheeked, angelic, sunny little girl, and the idea of her being married has some really sick implications, but this film, amazingly, slid by the censors. With bad acting, and a sappy plot, the film’s main value is as an artifact. Collectors and film history aficionados will be interested in the film, but that’s about its limit. The picture is a bit grainy, and the action includes a few minor skips, but it’s certainly watchable quality.
“The guys are here to have a ball–not a ball and chain.”
Naive young country girl, Nancy (Joy Reynolds), unexpectedly arrives in Los Angeles to move in with her sister, “fashion model” Paula (Lisa Rack). Nancy thinks that Paula has hit the big time, but Paula’s too ashamed to tell Nancy the awful truth. Paula is working as a prostitute in a string of clubs owned by the sinister “Flesh Merchant” Sogel (Guy Manford). Paula tries to shove Nancy on the first bus back to the country, but bratty Nancy just thinks Paula is afraid of the “competition.” Finding an address of a modeling agency in Paula’s apartment, Nancy heads out to start her career. Within minutes, she’s posing nude for a room full of drooling men, and a few hours later, she’s whisked off to the mysterious “Colony” an exclusive retreat for rich men who want a weekend away from their wives.
Nancy puts up a pitiful resistance to the lure of the Flesh trade. After a slap or two and a stern admonition to “cooperate”, Nancy is putty. In spite of dire warnings from fellow Colony girl, oldie-but-goodie, EZ, Nancy is too thrilled with the promise of a mink coat to do anything except slip on her negligee and start “cooperating.”
The Flesh Merchant (also known as: The Wild and Wicked) is a well-paced, well-structured sexploitation film that leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s not completely awful either. There are a few good lines–largely from the men who run the girls at the Colony. One man for example, is told to take care of Nancy as she’s “valuable” He mutters, “when they’re valuable, they’re never very experienced.” There are scenes of guests romping in the pool, and guests dancing with girls, but the naughty bits are largely hinted at more than anything else. The unintended camp effect of the film does yield some laughs, and the best scene is Paula’s speech at the end of the film (“There’s a very dirty word for what you are”). Nancy’s character also adds unintentionally to the fun. She’s so naive and yet utterly corruptible. Playing a naive character requires a great deal of skill–it’s not easy to convey artlessness without appearing a bit dense. Consequently, Nancy is portrayed as a brainless self-serving twit who’s so mesmerized by a bauble or two, she eagerly sinks into debauchery. Ultimately, the film is a cautionary tale that’s too inhibited to capitalize on some of the excellent scenes.
This black and white film from Alpha is acceptable quality. The film skips in just a few places, but is decent overall. Options … play or scene selection.
“Nature never grants favours.”
The film Chained For Life features real-life Siamese twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton starring as singers Dorothy and Vivian Hamilton. The Hamilton sisters’ low-life manager, Hinkley (Allen Jenkins) concocts a publicity stunt scheme which involves one of the sisters marrying sleazy marksman, Andre Pariseau (Mario Laval). Pariseau goes along with the scheme because he wants top billing, and one of the sisters goes along with it because she’d like to have love and romance in her life.
The film shamelessly exploits the physical problems of being a Siamese twin, and the plot flirts with such salacious possibilities as how would the married couple have any privacy. In one scene we’re told that 27 states refuse the couple a marriage license as a marriage between Andre and a Siamese twin is considered bigamous. As the story develops, the implications of being a Siamese twin become much more serious when one of the twins faces the death penalty for murder. One twin commits the crime, but in essence both would serve the sentence. The film is all courtroom drama with flashbacks as various witnesses give their testimony.
The acting in Chained for Life is fairly dismal, but the musical numbers are good quality. The sound quality, however, is not great, and the film is a bit crackly. Chained for Life has little beyond the curiosity factor to recommend it, and all I can say is that I hope the singing Hilton sisters earned some serious money from making this film.
“There’s a drive on against juvenile delinquency.”
Vandalism. Arson. Burglary. Hot Rod Racers. Yes, it “looks like the whole new generation has suddenly gone berserk.” There’s a crime wave afoot in The Devil’s Sleep. Judge Rosalind Ballentine (Lita Grey Chaplin) is determined to discover just who is giving the town’s teens “Bennies”, “Goofies”, and “Phenos” and then urging the teens to commit crimes. The Judge enlists the help of clean-cut Detective Sergeant Dave Kerrigan (William Thomason) to find the criminal mastermind behind the corruption of the city’s youth.
Kerrigan makes a few casual inquiries–beginning with his girlfriend’s teenage brother Bob (Jim Tyde). Soon, word of Kerrigan’s questions comes to the attention of Umberto Scalli (Timothy Farrell), the shady owner of a local gym.
There are some cheap laughs here. The Devil’s Sleep is a 1949 film, and it’s certainly not PC when it comes to portraying overweight people. The funniest scenes occur in the gym when a Rubenesque woman by the name of Tessie T. Tesse (obviously a play on the name Ten Ton Tessie) shows up to enroll. She’s measured, but the tape runs out before her hips do. “When I take off my girdle, I can’t even see the scale,” admits Tessie ruefully. The gym staff makes several comments about the “fat society dames” exercising at the gym. They’re described as “blimps” and “trained elephants”, and the gym workers pop the women pills to help “burn the lard off the girlies without the exercise.”
The Devil’s Sleep isn’t exciting (in spite of the cover warnings of ‘depravity’ and ‘adults only’). Some of the acting is flat, and Bob may be wearing a wig. For those of us who love cheesy camp film, then The Devil’s Sleep from director W. Merle Connell (Test Tube Babies) has some merit. My Alpha DVD black and white print is flawed. There are vertical lines through the print, and the audio track skips words at several points.
“I must try to act as though nothing is the matter.”
Pull up an armchair and prepare yourself for a DVD double sleazefest from writer/director Doris Wishman. These two outrageous 60s sexploitation cult dramas are a campy dream. First there’s Bad Girls Go To Hell (1965). Housewife Meg Kelton (Gigi Darlene)–naturally wearing just some black lacy underwear–meets a janitor on the stairs. He drags her off to his apartment, and attacks her. Later he threatens to tell her husband–and well … she’s forced to bludgeon him to death. Next thing you know, she’s on the run in New York. But what happens to any nice innocent housewife who has no money and just a suitcase to her name? It’s not long before she’s picked up and exploited by every strange person in New York. Abused and misused, she spins from apartment to apartment in this tawdry tacky fall from housewifely bliss.
In the second feature Another Day, Another Man (1966) Ann (Barbi Kemp) moves into an apartment with her hubbie Steve (Tony Gregory). After eating her spaghetti and meatballs, he falls mysteriously ill and is bedridden for months. Since Steve is the breadwinner, it doesn’t take long before poor Ann is off “entertaining” men and raking in $200 a week. She’s aided and abetted in her fall from grace by Meg (Gigi Darlene) and Bert (Sam Stewart).
The moral to both stories is essentially the same–outside of that nice little housewife role, the world is a dangerous, sick place, and director/writer Doris Wishman is right there to show us just how sick and depraved the world can be. Wishman’s eccentric style adds to the fun here. In one scene for example, two girls start yawning and declare it’s time to go to bed. Normally the girls would exit to their respective bedrooms–not so in a Wishman film. The two girls strip slowly in the living room. Just as you think this scene is an excuse to see women in their underwear (and you could be right), the camera shoots off of the lingerie, and settles on something else … a plant … an ashtray … the furniture. At other times, the camera spins around cleavage, diving in and out for frantic close-ups. For some scenes, Wishman films feet with disembodied voices. There’s a lot of grunting and groaning, but naughty doings are implied rather than actually filmed. One thing you can count here on is women with big beehive hairstyles, fake eyelashes, lace body suits, those big 60s knickers and push up bras. While the acting is equally appalling in both films Another Day, Another Man is my favourite. Perhaps it was the nasty hair pulling girl fight. Or perhaps it’s the naughty twins clad in black see-through peignoirs falling on Meg’s “hayseed” boyfriend as he struggles to crawl out of their apartment.
This DVD from Something Weird video is a bargain price for anyone who wants to wallow in a Wishman festival–it’s loaded. Apart from the two “roughies”, there’s the standard Something Weird intro (and this has to be seen to be believed), Let’s Go to the Drive-In! (over 3 hours long), trailers for other Wishman films, an adult book pitch, and last but not least a Doris Wishman Gallery of Exploitation Art. If you want a good intro to the Works of Doris Wishman, this DVD (from the middle of her career) is a good place to start. You’ll either love it or hate it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.