Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Girl with the Hungry Eyes (1967)

The Girl with the Hungry Eyes is part of a two-movie set of Harry Novak-produced sexploitation movies from the 60s released by Something Weird, the other being the excellent The Agony of Love. Both were written and directed by William Rotsler, who also directed the wonderful sexploitation/horror flick Mantis in Lace. Those three films on their own are enough to establish him as one of the most interesting directors working in this field during the 60s.

All three movies are stylish and visually interesting, and are a good example of the advantages for a low-budget film-maker of working in this genre - as long as you included some titillation and could keep within a very limited budget and a very tight shooting schedule most producers didn’t really mind what else you did. If you wanted to get arty, that was no problem.

The Girl with the Hungry Eyes is the story of two lesbians, Tigercat and Kitty. Well Tigercat is a lesbian. Kitty isn’t quite sure. She’s had some bad experiences with men, and Tigercat was there for her when that happened, but on the other hand some men seem rather nice and some are definitely rather hunky. Kitty’s confusion about her sexuality comes to a head when the two women pick up a man named Tom whose car has broken down. Kitty and Tom started getting acquainted and Tigercat throws them out of the car. She can’t stand being without Kitty though, so she goes back to retrieve her, to find Kitty mating with her Tom in a field. Tigercat does not take this well, and the whole episode ends in an act of extreme violence.

Tigercat and Kitty are back together, but Kitty keeps thinking back to the events of the past that have led her to her current situation. She’s been involved with some low-life guys, but they weren’t all bad. One of them, Brian, was pretty nice and they were very much in love until the relationship ended due to a misunderstanding.

Kitty’s doubts about her sexuality come to the fire again during a mildly psychedelic lesbian sex party (the highlight of which is an extended topless go-go dancing routine by sexploitation icon Pat Barrington). Tigercat comes to blows with a butch lesbian who’s been making movies on Kitty, and while Tigercat is pummeling her rival senseless Kitty flees. The rest of the movie is occupied by Tigercat’s frantic efforts to find her vanished girlfriend.

What really makes this movie work is the performance of Cathy Crowfoot as Tigercat. She might not be the world’s greatest actress but she has real presence, and she makes Tigercat an intriguingly ambiguous character. She’s not just a stereotypical predatory lesbian. Her violently obsessive jealousy and possessiveness are certainly scary, but her equally obsessive love for Kitty makes her a somewhat sympathetic character as well. And she makes a convincing lesbian. That’s another fascinating feature of the film. Lesbian sex was always one of the staples of sexploitation and of porn, but it’s almost always lesbian sex involving women who are very obviously straight. But this movie gives the impression of having been made by someone who had actually met real lesbians.

Like other exploitation movies of its era it’s also a great time capsule of 1960s attitudes. The sexual revolution was just beginning, and thriving gay and lesbian subcultures were developing. Experimentation with sexuality and gender roles was the order of the day.

It may sometimes seem that I take these sorts of movies more seriously than they deserve to be taken, but I’ve always felt that exploitation movies often reflect such social tensions in a much more direct and honest way than mainstream movies, and this movie is a good example. It deals with male fears of lesbians stealing their women, but it also deals with lesbians’ fears of heterosexual men stealing their girlfriends! Kitty’s ambivalence about her feelings towards both men and women and Tigercat’s struggles to assume a male role are both portrayed with surprisingly complexity. Kitty’s old boyfriend does deliver a little speech on the unnaturalness of the lesbian lifestyle, but this was almost certainly the traditional exploitation movie square-up - a moral message inserted to justify the movie’s treatment of controversial subject matter.

It’s also a terrific time capsule of 1960s style, with Tigercat’s amazingly sexy mid-60s Corvette being a highlight, and some great mid-60s LA streetscapes. And some terrific hairdos!

It certainly has its flaws. The 85 minute running time is much too long for the very slight plot. It could easily have been cut to around 60 minutes, and it would have benefited considerably. I guess I have a fairly high tolerance for these sorts of movies - I love the style and the campness.

The image quality varies quite a bit, some scenes being very grainy while others are very sharp. This is probably more to do with the source material than anything else. Being a low-budget film it may well have been shot on a variety of film stocks including short ends (unused leftovers from used cans of film). The picture quality is still quite acceptable and it's another highly entertaining double feature from Something Weird.

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