Monday, 24 July 2017

Help Wanted: Female (1968)

One of the joys of exploring the bizarre world of 1960s American sexploitation films is the discovery of truly strange little movies like Help Wanted: Female.

Oddities like this were possible because of the nature of the exploitation movie business. The distributors wanted films with sex and nudity. If a film had those ingredients they were happy.They knew how to promote such movies and they could always make a buck out of them. The actual content of the movies was of no interest to the distributors. This gave the makers of these films a degree of creative freedom that mainstream film-makers could only dream about. As long as you were happy to make films on ridiculously low budgets, and you remembered to include sex and nudity, you could indulge yourself. And Help Wanted: Female was the kind of delightfully warped but weirdly fascinating movie to which this industry occasionally gave birth.

The action starts with the glamorous Jo-Jo picking up some poor schmuck of a salesman, bedding him and then making off with his wallet. At least that’s the plan but it nearly comes unstuck when the mark wakes up at a very inopportune moment. Luckily Jo-Jo just happens to be a kung fu expert!

Jo-Jo goes home to her live-in gal pal Luana. Luana is setting off for her regular monthly session with Mr Gregory. Luana is a hooker, but her technique is a little unusual (and also involves robbing her clients when the opportunity arises). Mr Gregory is a wealthy sophisticate who may perhaps be a little dangerous. He likes to imply that he has some sort of military background and possibly even some links to the more murky intelligence agencies. Perhaps he’s some kind of spy, or perhaps he’s just an ordinary common and garden variety degenerate.

In the 60s there were still very definite limits as to how far sexual content could go. Any kind of even moderately graphic sex was out and full frontal nudity was rare until the end of the decade. Given these constraints how could film-makers give their movies the right erotic charge? The answer was to add lots of hints of kinkiness. Luana does not actually go to bed with Mr Gregory. She gives him three hours of her own distinctive strip-tease style. Her approach to strip-tease is rather unusual. At least I assume that taking off your panties right at the start of your routine was somewhat unusual. She then slowly sheds the rest of her clothing.

Adding to the kinky (and in fact rather depraved) feel is Luana’s open contempt for her client and her obvious detachment from the proceedings in hand. She also demonstrates her ability to do some rather impressive things with her posterior.

Mr Gregory likes to watch girls taking off their clothes and he likes to heighten the atmosphere with a judicious dosing of LSD. And he likes to tell stories to the girls. The story he tells Luana is certainly startling. This story is then shown to us in a lengthy flashback. Mr Gregory and his girlfriend Barbara, having exhausted all the routine methods of sexually gratifying each had moved on to more exotic pleasures, such as the pleasure of inflicting pain. Even that fails to satisfy them, but perhaps murder will do the trick. They persuade the naïve Tina to go back to their apartment for a photo shoot. The photos are just standard girlie magazine stuff (although they do provide an excuse for including some more nudity). The photography stuff is however intended to be merely the bait. Tina is to be the subject for their first experiment in the erotic possibilities of murder.

Of course one murder often leads to another and in this case it leads us to a truly bizarre and surreal sequence that is the film’s disturbing highlight (or depending on your tastes it might be the film’s low point in depravity). Barbara’s trip to the beach is truly jaw-droppingly bizarre.

Mr Gregory’s story disturbs Luana a great deal but now the plot twists start to come thick and fast. And it has to be said that these twists really are unexpected and remarkably effective. There is actual suspense here. Mr Gregory seems to be a very dangerous psychotic killer. 

The acting on the whole is bad but it’s bad in a good way. The guy who plays Mr Gregory is the exception. He gets to attempt some real acting. The results are mixed but he does succeed in keeping us uncertain as to exactly what makes this character tick and to that extent it has to be considered to be an effective performance. And he certainly manages to be creepy.

I have no intention of revealing anything about those plot twists. This is a rare case in which a sexploitation roughie deserves not to have its surprises ruined by the revelation of spoilers.

The style of the movie is as strange as its content. As is the case with so many 60s sexploitation flicks it’s the weirdness that is the attraction rather than the erotic impact and it’s hard to say if the nude scenes are erotic or perverse or totally non-erotic or just simply disturbing.

Any discussion of sexploitation movies has to eventually touch on the subject of the women themselves. These are not women who conform in any way to modern notions of what pornstars, or actresses, should look like. They look like women. Some are extremely pretty, some not so pretty, but the not so pretty ones are not so pretty in interesting ways. I still can’t decide if the actress who pays Luana is ugly, or ugly in an oddly appealing way, or pretty in a strangely ugly way. She does however have that rather talented derriere I alluded to earlier.

Help Wanted: Female is the sort of buried treasure that the folks at Something Weird unearth from time to time. They’ve included it on a great value three-movie disc along Rent-a-Girl and Aroused, neither of which I’ve had time to watch yet. Help Wanted: Female is a must-see for devotees of 60s sexploitation at its most outré. Highly recommended.

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