Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Love Is a Four-Letter Word (1966)

Love Is a Four-Letter Word (AKA The Love Girls) is a 1966 sexploitation movie believed to have been a lost film until the discovery of a print a few years back. It was written and produced by Bob Cresse and directed by Lee Frost, both key figures in the west coast sexploitation business.

Jerry is a pleasant if rather quiet young man. Life should be pretty good for him. He’s attending university. He has a beautiful girlfriend named Sheila. It’s Sheila that is the problem. While she’s happy to parade around in front of him wearing nothing but a towel she reacts with shock and horror if he tries to lay a finger on her.

Jerry has the feeling that everyone is having lots of sex. Everyone except him. His frustrations are increased by the fact that when he looks out the window he has a clear view into a neighbouring building and every window of that neighbouring building reveals the same thing - beautiful young ladies getting dressed or getting undressed or taking showers or just cavorting about in their birthday suits.

Jerry is starting to get seriously obsessed and seriously worried, especially when his psychology lecturer is droning on about sex offenders. It naturally occurs to Jerry that he might be a sex offender himself.

For Jerry the problem is not just his voyeurism. It’s the dreams. He’s starting to have trouble distinguishing between the dreams and reality. Naturally the dreams are always about attractive young ladies and naturally they’re always naked, or in the process of getting naked.

Frost handles this confusion between reality and fantasy rather well, with a couple of quite surreal scenes. The scene in the brothel is particularly disturbing. The movie was shot with synchronised sound but suddenly in this scene there’s no synchronised sound but we hear the two girls’ voices. But are they really saying the things we hear, or does Jerry just think they’re saying those things?

Equally disturbing is the scene in which Jerry is watching a nudie short in one of those old-fashioned coin-operated peep shows. The girl in the movie stares straight at the camera, and clearly Jerry has the feeling she really is looking at him. This idea crops up again when Jerry is watching a girl stripping at a party and he imagines that they’re at home in the kitchen and she’s doing the strip-tease just for him.

At times we are not quite sure if what we’re seeing is real or if it’s just happening in Jerry’s fevered mind. This kind of approach is fairly ambitious (and rather arty) for a sexploitation move but Frost is confident enough and competent enough to pull it off.

There are lots of lovely women in this movie and none of them spend more than a few brief moments fully clothed. As a sexploitation movie it therefore works very well but the great thing about this genre is that if you felt like making more than just a sex film there was nothing to stop you. You could add some arty touches or even attempt a bit of psychological insight. Most of the people seeing the movie at the time weren’t going to notice but if it gave you some satisfaction to feel like you were making a real movie you went ahead and did it. The results could be surprisingly interesting which is one of the reason the genre has gained a cult following. You just never know when a sexploitation movie is going to deliver a bit more than just naked flesh.

Love Is a Four-Letter Word does offer a little more, it does have those intriguingly surreal touches and with Lee Frost at the helm it’s executed with a certain panache.

I should also mention that there’s some fantastic surf music on the soundtrack.

Love Is a Four-Letter Word was released (under the title The Love Girls) on DVD a few years back by Cinema Epoch. There’s a very brief moment halfway through when there’s severe print damage but taken overall this is an excellent transfer. There’s not much in the way of extras but the brief essay by Bill Gibron does offer a few worthwhile snippets of information.

This movie turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Highly recommended.

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