Monday, 17 July 2017

Malibu High (1979)

When you watch a movie made in the 70s with a title like Malibu High you know what to expect. In this case your expectations are going to prove to be dead wrong. This is not a teen comedy, or a sex comedy. It’s not a teen melodrama. Deciding what it actually is presents a bit of a problem. There is teen melodrama here and the central character is a high school senior but mainly this is a crime thriller - although you won’t know that until about halfway through the picture. 

Kim Bentley (Jill Lansing) is just your average high school student but things are starting to go wrong for her. This is 1979 and the American Dream is still alive and this is southern California, the very epicentre of the American Dream. If you’re a bright, pretty high school student and you have rich parents the world is your oyster. Unfortunately Kim is not exactly a bright student. She’s flunking every class. And her parents are not rich. Her father killed himself and her mother struggles to keep things afloat financially. Worst of all her boyfriend Kevin (Stuart Taylor) has dumped her. To rub salt into the wound he’s dumped her for spoilt rich girl Annette Ingersoll (Tammy Taylor).

Everything Kim wanted seems like it’s being taken away from her. She had desperately wanted to graduate from high school, and she is still madly in love with Kevin. Kim decides that something has to be done and she’s going to do it. The first thing is to do something about her grade point average. That’s not too difficult. If her teachers won’t listen to her she’ll just sleep with them and then blackmail them.

Kim also decides she needs to earn some money. For a girl with her modest accomplishments being a hooker seems like the best bet. Tony (Al Mannino) is a sleazebag dope dealer who operates from a van which also serves as a kind of mobile mini-brothel. Kim is soon the star attraction. In fact she’s the only attraction but she’s a major drawcard.


Soon Kim has attracted the attention of a big time pimp, Lance (Garth Howard). This is a chance to earn real money and to show up that snooty bitch Annette. It’s not quite as simple as that however. Kim has taken a step into another world, the world of organised crime. At this point the movie changes gears and Kim starts to change as well, discovering a side of herself that she might have been better off not discovering. Lots of good girls go bad but very few do so quite as spectacularly as young Kim.

It’s hard to say just how seriously we’re supposed to take this picture. It’s not played for laughs at any stage but the plot is utterly outrageous. In some ways it’s more like a 1950s juvenile delinquent movie than a 70s teen exploitation movie. Everybody’s playing it straight but the content is totally off-the-wall.


This was the last of the handful of films directed by Irvin Berwick and while his approach is straightforward and conventional it’s effective enough. The scenes of violence in the latter part of the movie are handled well. He also knows how to pace a movie.

The acting is pretty average for the most part (sometimes below average) which is not surprising for a low-budget movie released by Crown International and destined for the drive-in circuit. The one exception, and it’s a major exception, is Jill Lansing as Kim. She gives the character real depth. Kim is not exactly a sympathetic character but at least we can understand how she got to where she is and we can see that her emotional wounds are very real and very raw. This was Jill Lansing’s only movie role and she then dropped out of sight never to be heard of again. Which is a pity since this performance should have landed her parts in more prestigious movies.


As an added bonus we get to see a very great deal of Miss Lansing’s naked breasts and rather lovely they are too. For the late 70s this is a movie that (despite the subject matter) is fairly restrained on the sleaze front. Apart from a brief glimpse of pubic hair early on all we see is breasts (admittedly with great frequency) and the sex scenes are positively coy. Miss Lansing’s breasts were however presumably enough to keep the attention of young male viewers at drive-in screenings and they also get a fair amount of violence. Unusually though for this type of movie there’s also enough to keep female viewers interested with Kim’s romantic woes and her vendetta with the self-satisfied rich girl Annette.

Kim’s confrontation with the headmaster is the film’s most bizarre episode. It’s bizarre in a good way. I think. It’s definitely bizarre in an interesting way.


A very pleasant surprise is the extremely good anamorphic transfer included in Mill Creek’s Drive-In Cult Classics: 32 Movie Collection. I believe there’s also been a Blu-Ray release!

Malibu High is a strange one. I can’t decide if it’s a bad movie with a good movie inside it struggling to get out or if it’s a good movie with a bad movie inside struggling to get out. It is original and it is entertaining. It’s perhaps too dark in tone to qualify for camp status, but much too outlandish for the arty crowd. And probably too weird for mainstream audiences at the time. It was popular enough with its intended audience. If the story is too over-the-top for you you can always just wait for yet another topless scene from Jill Lansing. 

Movies like this are the reason why it’s worth delving into the strange and often murky world of drive-in fodder. Every now and then you come across a classic of the genre such as this. Highly recommended.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Teenage Bride (1974)

Teenage Bride is one of those movies that should not be judged by its title, given that there are no teenagers in the movie and no brides! It’s a softcore sex comedy with its main drawcard being its star Sharon Kelly, one of the legendary stars of adult movies in the 70s and 80s.

The mention of the term sex comedy might well scare off some viewers. 70s sex comedies  can be among the most dire movies ever made. Teenage Bride however has several things going for it. There’s an enormous amount of pretty intense sex. There’s a lot of comedy and quite a bit of it is genuinely amusing. And it has Sharon Kelly.

Charlie (Don Summerfield) is a loser. He can’t hold down a job for more than a few weeks and his latest position, as a typewriter salesman, is already hanging by a thread. As his boss points out to him, after two weeks on the job he’s already three weeks behind on his work.

Charlie’s marriage is also in trouble. His wife Sandy (Cyndee Summers) despises him and she has taken to being rather generous with her sexual favours - not to Charlie but to other men. Now Charlie’s stepbrother Dennis (Ron Presson) has arrived to stay for a few days. Dennis is a straight arrow bur Charlie is convinced that Sandy will seduce him in short order. And he’s right.

Meanwhile Charlie is having an affair with Marie (Sharon Kelly). Marie in fact is the woman he really loves. He made the biggest blunder of his life in marrying Sandy instead of Marie.

Charlie might be a schmuck but he has some cunning. If he hires a private detective to prove that Sandy is bedding Dennis he could get a divorce and marry Marie. Unfortunately the PI he hires (played by Elmer Klump) is a drunk whose main interest in life, apart from booze, is having sex with his glamorous secretary Abigail (Cheri Mann). Nonetheless the PI assures him that he can get the photos Charlie needs, no problem.


Of course hiring an alcoholic to do a job is always a bit of a risk and the PI makes a mess of things while the erotic tangle of Charlie, Sandy, Marie and Dennis gets more and more tangled, complicated even further by Charlie having sex with his secretary (played by Jane Tsentas).

The plot summary is necessary because there is an actual plot and while it’s not fantastically deep it does provide a rationale for the sex scenes. It even does a little more than that. There is a certain poignancy to the story. Sandy might not be a model wife but she did really love Charlie once. Charlie and Marie are genuinely in love. These are not bad people, just weak people who made poor decisions. They do have emotions and we do get at least the occasional hint of those emotions. The intensity of the first sex scene between Charlie and Marie does have a point to it - they do want each other desperately.


This is also, for a softcore sex movie, surprisingly wholesome in some ways. There are no orgies or threesomes, not even the usually obligatory lesbian encounters. This is a very heterosexual movie. All of the sex is clearly completely consensual. Most of the sex has at least some slight emotional charge to it (even the PI and his secretary have some weird bond between them).

The acting isn’t too bad. There are, interspersed between the constant couplings, scenes in which a couple of them are required to do at least a modicum of acting. Apart from Dennis, the only dull character in the movie (admittedly he’s supposed to be a bit dull) they all prove to be reasonable capable at comedy. Sharon Kelly has considerable presence. The combination of her stupendously voluptuous body with her rather angelic face is pretty enchanting. She would get the chance to display her comic talents more fully in The Dirty Mind of Young Sally, made at about the same time.


Cyndee Summers is able to give Sandy a bit of depth. When we’re told that Sandy really did try to make her marriage a success Summers manages to make us believe her. Charlie is a loser but Don Summerfield makes him an amusing loser. Elmer Klump as the PI gets many of the best lines and his comic timing is quite adroit.

Director Gary Troy isn’t called on to do much other than to make the sex scenes sexy, which he does, and to vary them a bit, which he also does. The PI and his secretary having sex on the desk in his office is a minor triumph in the sex comedy genre - it’s fairly hot sex combined with some actually amusing funny lines. The sex scenes featuring Sharon Kelly steam up the screen, as you would expect. This is softcore porn but as softcore goes it’s pretty hard.

The screenplay has the odd witty moment.


Of course this is the 1970s. Being voluptuous was considered to be an asset. And of course they have pubic hair. They don’t all have the same body type. Jane Tsentas and Cheri Mann are kind of skinny while the charms of Sharon Kelly and Cyndee Summers are rather more ample. In other words they all look kind of like actual women.

Something Weird paired this one with The Dirty Mind of Young Sally in a Sharon Kelly double-header. The transfer is OK. There’s a tiny amount of print damage but these types of films haven’t exactly been preserved like national treasures and we’re lucky Something Weird found surviving prints in pretty good condition. As usual there are various extras.

Teenage Bride isn’t a great movie but it delivers what it promises to deliver - lots of steamy sex and some comedy that provides some actual laughs. It’s obviously a type of movie that won’t be to everyone’s taste but if this is the sort of thing you enjoy then it’s a very good movie of its type. Recommended.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Love Merchant (1966)

The Love Merchant, which came out in 1966, is a fairly early Joe Sarno sexploitation outing. It’s been released on DVD by Something Weird, paired with a 1969 Sarno film, The Layout.

Sarno has been described as the Ingmar Bergman of sexploitation films. That might be hyperbole but Sarno certainly did approach the genre in a surprisingly thoughtful way. 

Sarno’s career falls into two distinct periods, the early black-and-white sexploitation films made between  1961 and 1969 and the later glossy colour softcore films of the 70s. His 1970s movies have their virtues but personally I think his 1960s output is more interesting. 1960s Sarno is more about the price of decadence than the glories of free love.

Sarno approached sex as something that went far beyond the soulless mechanical couplings that characterise so much of so-called erotic cinema. Sarno was interested in the emotions unleashed by sex, and in the effects on personal relationships. Despite the ultra low budgets and the often rather dodgy acting there’s always a certain intelligence to Sarno’s work. People in his movies have reasons for doing the things they do.


The Love Merchant introduces us to Bobbi (Joanna Mills), a small-town girl who has transformed herself into a bohemian New York artist. She’s not a major artist but she makes a living. Her old school friend Peggy (Patricia McNair) comes to visit and to show off her new advertising executive husband Roger (George Wolfe). Bobbi’s boyfriend Click (Louis Waldon) is a far cry from the ultra respectable Roger. The leather-clad Click is a grifter with ambitions.

Click sees his big chance when he meets Kendall Harvey III (Judson Todd) in a night club. Kendall Harvey III is very very rich. He likes exquisite things. When he sees something exquisite that he likes he buys it. This includes women. Now Click does some thing. Bobbi paints lots of nudes and she has a reputation for finding exceptionally beautiful models. She has a whole roster of these beautiful models. By making use of this convenient fact Click should be able to supply Kendall Harvey II with all the feminine pulchritude he could possibly desire. Click might be able to turn this opportunity into a full-time job supplying the millionaire playboy with pliant bed companions (and Bobbi’s models are mostly very broad-minded girls).


All goes well until Harvey decides he’d like Peggy as one of his bed companions. Peggy and Roger are rather old-fashioned. They believe in marriage. Peggy is not to be bought. Kendall Harvey III however firmly believes that everybody can be bought and he’s sure he can take certain steps that will persuade Peggy to see reason. Harvey’s passion for Peggy will have momentous consequences.

Harvey’s private secretary Polly (Patti Paget) has her own problems, involving her obsession with the statuesque blonde Dixie (Penni Peyton). Polly will discover that her willing participation in Harvey’s woman-collecting will have consequences for her as well.

The performers in a Sarno movie had to do more than take their clothes off. They were required to act as well, and this they attempted to do (with varying degrees of success). In this case Patricia McNair does a pretty fair job. Judson Todd as Kendall Harvey III has the most demanding role in the film and he gives a very creditable performance. Harvey is superficially a bit of a monster but there’s an edge of despair to his character. He’s a man who thinks that everything can be bought - sex, beauty, happiness, fulfillment. There is a part of him though that has its doubts about whether life can really be so simple. There’s a key scene in which he has just spent the night with a luscious young ballet dancer but in the morning, instead of triumph, he feels only emptiness. Todd really proves himself to be quite a capable actor.


One of the joys of 60s sexploitation cinema is the women. They don’t look like models or pornstars. They look like real women. They don’t look like they’re more silicon than woman. They’re pretty but they still look like the sorts of women you could actually meet in the real world. 

This is by later standards very mild stuff. The sex scenes are brief and very very tame and there’s not much nudity, just the occasional topless shot. Today the film would have no difficulty getting a PG rating at most. What it does have is emotional intensity. Buying and selling women has emotional consequences, both for the woman who is being bought and for the man who is doing the buying. 


The movie has intelligence and emotional depth but it has one other major asset - it has go-go dancing! Lots of go-go dancing. Bliss!

Something Weird have demonstrated their usual uncanny ability to find excellent prints of obscure 60s sexploitation titles. The Love Merchant looks pretty good. It’s fullframe but it’s probable that the movie was shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio.

The Love Merchant is most certainly not a softcore porn film. It’s all about sex but it’s really a psychological melodrama and a fairly effective one. The low budget is very much in evidence but Sarno’s characters are complex enough that the viewer is unlikely to be bothered by this. On the whole this is a fine Joe Sarno film. Highly recommended.