Thursday, 7 September 2017

Hollywood Babylon (1972)

Hollywood Babylon is a softcore sexploitation expose of Hollywood in the silent era. It’s a clever idea - take lots of stock footage from the First World War and the 1920s and lots of footage from silent movies, purporting to tell the story of Hollywood, then mix in some hot softcore sex scenes illustrating the most colourful episodes of Tinseltown depravity. So you get an 87 minute movie but you only need to shoot about 40 minutes of new footage and since all of the new footage is wall-to-wall nudity and sex you still have a potent little sexploitation feature.

There’s also the advantage that all the sex scenes are period scenes, with Jazz Age trappings and clothing (although the ladies tend to shed their clothing pretty quickly). 

And there’s the further bonus that all this depraved and illicit sex involves celebrities.

It’s based loosely on Kenneth Anger’s infamous 1965 book Hollywood Babylon. The book details the degenerate lifestyles of Hollywood’s rich and famous in salacious detail although to a large extent it’s mere gossip. Anger assumed that if there was a scandalous rumour about a Hollywood star then it must have been true. Of course the Hollywood elite did lead lives of staggering excess and there was undoubtedly a great deal of illicit and often perverted sex, even if the particular stories retailed by Anger were not necessarily true.

True or not these stories do make great material for an exploitation movie. And they’re done in full colour, in a fairly glossy style (by low-budget movie standards) with some very attractive actresses and absolutely copious quantities of sex and nudity and assorted naughtiness.

During the 20s Hollywood was rocked by a series of scandals, the most famous being the Fatty Arbuckle case. Aspiring actress Virginia Rappe died soon after attending a party thrown by Arbuckle at a San Francisco hotel. Arbuckle, one of the most popular silent comics, was accused of raping her and causing her death. He was acquitted but his career was ruined. Anger, and the fim-makers, have chosen the most outrageous and titillating of the many rumours surrounding the case, the rumour involving a somewhat unconventional use of a champagne bottle as a sex aid.

Equally over-the-top is the sequence involving Charlie Chaplin, his child bride, his aversion to ordinary sex (given that he’d been trapped into marriage by a pregnancy) and his efforts to persuade his bride that his favoured alternative to regular sex was actually perfectly normal, even though it was contrary to the California Penal Code. She finds his story a bit hard to swallow, if you’ll forgive my unforgivable pun.

And then there’s the celebrated story about the It Girl, Clara Bow, being serviced by an entire football team, a proceeding from which (in the movie) she seems to derive considerable satisfaction.

For cult movie fans the highlight is probably going to be Uschi Digard as Marlene Dietrich, a sequence featuring not just lesbian sex but lesbian domestic violence (you would certainly not get away with such a scene today), some kinky dressing-up games and some fairly hot heterosexual sex as well (Marlene being a gal who played for both teams).

Various drug scandals are dealt with as well, and of course if you’re going to deal with drugs you naturally want the actresses to take their clothes off. There’s also a rare orgy scene that manages to be genuinely decadent, and even genuinely erotic.

The totally episodic format of the movie meant there was no need to worry about a plot and the newly filmed inserts could be concentrated entirely on the sinful doings of the stars.

Hollywood Babylon is included as an extra on Bayview Entertainment’s DVD release of The Beast and the Vixens. Hollywood Babylon is in some ways the more entertaining film.

Hollywood Babylon is amusingly scandalous, genuinely sexy, quite kinky and it achieves a truly decadent feel. It succeeds rather well in doing what it sets out to do. Recommended.

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