Saturday, 18 July 2009

My Brother’s Wife (1966)

The films of Doris Wishman, one of the few female exploitation directors of the 60s, have become a major guilty pleasure for me since I discovered Bad Girls Go To Hell last year. She was a true low-budget auteur with a style as distinctive as (although very different from) that of Russ Meyer. I haven’t seen any of her later movies, or her early nudie-cuties, but I’ve now seen several of her “roughies” from the 1960s and they’re immense fun and delightfully off-beat.

At the opening of My Brother’s Wife Frankie returns to his home town to find that his much older and much pudgier brother Bob has acquired a stunningly beautiful 23-year-old wife named Mary. It doesn’t take long before sexual sparks start to fly between Frankie and Mary. The tension is exacerbated by Bob’s lack of sexual interest in his new bride. Frankie has also hooked up with an old flame, Zena. We’re never sure if Frankie is actually a petty criminal or not, but he’s definitely a bad boy and he’s very bad news for any woman who falls for him. Frankie wants to head to more exciting pastures, and both Mary and Zena would like to go with him. To do this he needs money, and that’s where Mary offers to help. The money won’t exactly be legally come by, but that doesn’t trouble Frankie too much. This tangled romantic situation is of course going to end in tears.

My Brother’s Wife is really less of a sexploitation feature than a strange crime/romantic melodrama that manages to be both cynical and campy. There’s only a single actual nude scene. It does have the characteristic features you expect in a Doris Wishman movie - lots of footage of people’s feet, of scenery, and assorted items of furniture. And it has classic jaw-dropping Wishman dialogue (she wrote, directed and produced this one). Despite her odd filmic obsessions Wishman was no Ed Wood. She was not really an incompetent film-maker. She had no formal training, and therefore her movies look nothing whatever like any kind of commercial feature films. Her approach was totally individual, and it’s weirdly fascinating. She had definite arty pretensions, but her art was entirely her own creation. She had a vision, even if it wasn’t a vision shared by too many other people. And this one even has synchronised sound! Well, it’s mostly synchronised!

The cast includes a host of regulars from the sexploitation circuit of that time and most of them appear in quite a few of her movies. The acting is not exactly professional, but it works in the context of the type of movie that My Brother’s Wife is. June Roberts as Mary and Darlene Bennett as Zena have a mid-1960s glamour that is rather seductive, while Sam Stewart is suitably untrustworthy as Frankie.

Something Weird’s DVD transfer is superb as usual. For lovers of camp and connoisseurs of unconventional and eccentric cinema this movie delivers the goods.

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