Monday 27 November 2017

Mermaids of Tiburon (1962)

There are not all that many mermaid movies. This is perhaps not surprising since if you’re going to make a movie about mermaids you really need to be able to include underwater photography, preferably plenty of and preferably of high quality. In writer-director-producer-cinematographer John Lamb Mermaids of Tiburon had someone who could certainly provide that. Lamb would go on to do underwater photography for a number of TV series including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. As far as the underwater photography is concerned Mermaids of Tiburon is just about the ultimate mermaid movie.

It’s also rather an oddity. It’s a fantasy adventure, a thriller and (depending on the version you see) an erotic film. The thriller plot is fairly weak but at least it provides a small amount of action and suspense. As a fantasy adventure it has a genuine quirky charm.

Which brings us to the erotic element and that’s quite a complicated story. This movie exists in at least three, and possibly four, different versions. The original US theatrical version would have no trouble getting a G rating today. There was in all probability an international version with some nudity. A couple of years later Lamb did some reshoots, adding quite a bit of nudity, and retitled the film The Aqua Sex. Then, twenty-five years after its original release, Lamb drastically recut the movie and the result was the final version which was given the title Mermaids of Tiburon, The Nude version. This version has lots and lots of nudity. It’s only partial nudity. The girls are topless, although they aren’t wearing a great deal on the bottom half either. Which version you prefer is a matter of taste. The Nude Version goes a bit overboard in terms of the quantity of female flesh on display but it’s still tasteful nudity and the girls are certainly very attractive.

The plot can be disposed of very quickly. Marine biologist Dr Samuel Jamison (George Rowe) heads off to the remote island of Tiburon off the coast of Mexico to investigate reports of a hitherto unknown sea mammal seen in the area. There’s also the lure of pearls, very large pearls of very high quality, so the expedition offers the promise of both scientific interest and money. If you’re a marine biologist life doesn’t get much better than that.

Except that Dr Jamison is about to discover that Tiburon offers a third attraction that makes science and profit seem rather unimportant. He discovers that the island is home to a colony of mermaids. Very pretty mermaids they are too. Dr Jamison knows all the legends about mermaids, how they lure men to their doom, but he’s willing to take that chance. Sometimes you have to take risks when you’re a scientist.

While Dr Jamison is busily pursuing the aquatic lovelies the unscrupulous hoodlum Milo Sangster (Timothy Carey) is after those pearls and he’s prepared to take extreme measures to get them.

The acting is mostly pretty awful although Timothy Carey’s scenery-chewing is a great deal of fun. Dr Jamison provides the voiceover narration. Whether the narration is supposed to dead serious or somewhat tongue-in-cheek is hard to say but it turns out to be rather amusing in a deadpan way.

Diane Webber plays the mermaid with whom the hero is obsessed in the original version while Gaby Martone is the main focus in the Nude Version with Miss Webber’s screen time unfortunately seriously curtailed. Neither has to do much besides looking lovely and both manage that with no great difficulty.

One real oddity of the Nude Version is that some of the mermaids have tails and some don’t. No reason is given for this and one is left to assume that when Lamb did the 1964 reshoots he decided to ditch the tails because the girls without tails could wear skimpy fur bikini bottom things which show off their semi-naked behinds rather nicely.

The underwater sequences take up a very large part of the film’s running time and they’re superbly done, and not just by the standards of 1962. The fact that in the Nude Version these sequences feature beautiful near-naked women might well be seen by some people as being a definite bonus.

The two versions of Mermaids of Tiburon are not quite entirely different films, but the differences are significant. Apart from the added nudity the Nude Version has been extensively recut. The two versions end up being the same story turned into two different kinds of film. The original version is a charming and rather innocent romantic fantasy with just a hint of eroticism (you can’t make mermaids entirely unerotic) and it is in no sense an exploitation movie. The Nude Version still retains much of the charm but it is much more overtly and frankly an erotic fantasy movie, and it’s definitely an exploitation movie. Since John Lamb was responsible for both versions it raises interesting questions about his intentions. It would appear that his intentions in 1987 were not at all the same as his intentions in 1962.

While the Nude Version includes an enormous amount of nudity it must still have seemed very tame indeed by 1980s standards. There’s absolutely no sex at all and not a glimpse of pubic hair, and only the briefest glimpse of a bare bottom. Even compared to the average early 1960s nudie-cutie this movie is fairly tame. On the other hand I guess one could argue that topless young ladies swimming underwater with their breasts (and these are rather well-developed young ladies) freed from the constraints of gravity might be seen as having a certain erotic charge!

The original version is probably the better film overall, with mermaids who look like mermaids rather than just semi-naked aquatic girls. It’s also much more focused, with the hero’s attention centred on just one of the mermaids. There’s a real romantic angle involved. It works as a fantasy movie. The Nude Version isn’t terrible by any means. As long as you accept that it’s about the nude girls then it has to be said that it works in the same way that the better nudie-cuties work.

Kit Parker Films and VCI Entertainment have released this movie as their Psychotronica Volume 3 disc, paired with the Mexican-Cuban oddity Yambao. The DVD includes both the Nude Version and the original non-nude theatrical version of Mermaids of Tiburon which is rather nice since they are so different in tone. There’s also a boxed set that includes all three Psychotronica Volumes, a total of six films. They make up a varied but extremely interesting collection and the boxed set is definitely the way to go.

The Nude Version of Mermaids of Tiburon is letterboxed and the transfer is quite acceptable if not dazzling. The original non-nude theatrical version is fullframe but the image quality is slightly superior compared to the Nude Version.

Monday 20 November 2017

Bowanga Bowanga (1953)

Bowanga Bowanga: White Sirens of Africa (also released as Wild Women) is an ultra low budget 1953 jungle adventure movie which is quite enjoyable if you’re in the mood.

A couple of big game hunters on safari in Africa, Count Michelangelo Sparafucile (Don Orlando) and Kirby (Mort Thompson), come across the exhausted Trent (Lewis Wilson). Trent is an explorer and he has a strange tale to tell. Many years earlier, as a small boy, he had a terrifying encounter with the dreaded Ulama, the White Sirens of Africa. Just a few days earlier, tramping through the African jungle, he encountered them again. He is determined to lead an expedition to solve once and for all the question of the origin and nature of the Ulama.

And what are the Ulama? They are a tribe of savage white women who live in the jungle and they are feared by one and all. These amazons appear to have no menfolk.

Our three intrepid adventurers manage to get themselves captured by the Ulama almost immediately. The Count is much too scrawny to be of interest to the Ulama. The Ulama queen is however very interested in Trent. He is a strong man and she has a use for such a man. Judging by their reactions the other Ulama girls can also think of some interesting uses for a strong man. There is a great deal of excitement in the Ulama camp.

Our captive explorers do not know what strange and terrible fate awaits them. They might end up in the cooking pot, sacrificed to heathen gods or perhaps (most frightening of all) they might even be called upon to satisfy the lusts of these fearsome amazons.

Trent soon has reason to believe that it’s the queen’s lusts that he’s going to be called upon to satisfy. We discover that the Ulama do not live entirely without men but at the moment the queen is without a man. Her last husband was speared (by the queen herself) attempting to escape. Being the husband of the queen might turn out to be a slightly dangerous and not overly attractive occupation, even if the queen happens to be young and pretty.

The Ulama women are easily roused to anger and jealousy which offers the opportunity to include a couple of fairly energetic cat fights. The Ulama women seem to enjoy fighting rather a lot, and as we will learn later they like fighting against men as well.

There is some dissent within the Ulama camp. They don’t seem to be enough strong men to go around and the girls who are likely to miss out are not very happy about it. They might even prove to be allies of Trent and his companions against the queen. But first our explorers will have to survive single combat against the most formidable of the Ulama warriors.

There’s also an all-too-brief guy-in-a-gorilla-suit scene but apparently all this gorilla is interested in doing is strolling through the jungle hand-in-hand with an Ulama maiden.

This was 1953 so the Ulama are fairly modestly attired, their outfits being variations on the fur bikini theme. While these jungle women live a primitive lifestyle, hunting with spears, they do seem to have mastered the art of hairstyling (and may even have invented the permanent wave).

This film makes very extensive use of stock footage, which you’d expect in a low-budget offering in this genre. Other parts of the film were shot on location in the steamy jungles of Darkest California. This is a movie which probably cost almost nothing to make. It certainly looks like a film on which no money at all was spent.

Veteran writer-director Norman Dawn had worked extensively in the adventure genre. It’s probably unfair to offer a judgment on his talents based on a zero-budget feature such as this.

Queen Bonga Bonga is played by Dana Wilson, who went on to marry legendary producer Albert R. Broccoli. She does the fierce, proud and lustful amazon queen thing well enough. Let’s be honest, this is not a movie that was ever going to give any of the performers the chance to enhance their acting reputations. At best it was a much-needed pay cheque.

This movie is part of a jungle movie triple-header released by Something Weird, along with Wild Women of Wongo and Virgin Sacrifice  (and unusually for a Something Weird triple feature there are quite a few extras as well). Bowanga Bowanga is in reasonable shape although the print used was far from pristine. The movie was shot in black-and-white and is presented in its correct 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

Bowanga Bowanga is pretty bad but it’s entertainingly bad if jungle movies and lusty amazon warriors are your thing. Recommended, and the DVD really is exceptional value for money.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Dr. Sex (1964)

Dr. Sex is a nudie-cutie from the flamboyant and eccentric low-budget producer-director Ted V. Mikels (responsible for such amazing kitsch classics as Doll Squad).

By 1964 the nudie-cutie genre was starting to run out of steam. The problem was that while you could get away with quite a lot of nudity you could only do so by avoiding overtly sexual situations. The more you were able to keep things non-sexual the more nudity you could pack into your movie. The nudist camp movie had initially been the easiest way to do this but by 1964 movie audiences had seen as much nude volleyball as they ever wanted to see.

There were other ways to show large amounts of naked female flesh in a non-sexual way but they required some imagination. Dr. Sex is one of the more successful attempts.

Three sexual therapists recount their more interesting recent cases. We see the patients’ stories while the therapists narrate. This obviously offers ample opportunities for showing attractive naked ladies but since they’re sex therapists it might seem to be a bit tricky to keep the nudity non-sexual. In fact Mikels manages this very cleverly.

The nudie-cutie was essentially a good-humoured light-hearted genre and so the cases recounted are odd but in a very harmless way and the emphasis is on humour (humour being considered to be a very desirable ingredient in a nudie-cutie). There’s even some reasonably effective satire at the expense of both psychiatry and art.

The first case involves a peeping tom and a dog and the idea is silly but it is amusing.

The second case involves a window dresser and his shop-window mannequins. To this window dresser the mannequins are real. Very real indeed. More real to him than any real girls he knows. Which of course offers the movie the opportunity to switch between the mannequins and real girls, and since this chap likes to help the mannequins undress every night after the store closes (mannequins not being able to undress themselves) there’s the opportunity for some more nakedness.

This story can almost be regarded as a homage to one of the most famous of all Twilight Zone episodes.

Then in the next segment we get a young female exhibitionist who satisfies her urges to disrobe in public by working as an artists’ model. Her encounter with modernist art quickly convinces her to find another way to satisfy her cravings. She goes on to find fulfilment as a strip-tease artiste (and her routine suggests that the actress in question was obviously a professional stripper).

After this we’re back in paranormal territory with a haunted house story. This patient’s house is haunted by lovely nude women with a passion for doing the housework. Now you might think that being haunted by beautiful unclad girls whose only desire is to wait on you hand and foot is actually not such a terrible situation. The problem is that he wants to make contact with them but he can’t touch them. Which, as I’m sure you will admit, takes some of the fun out of being surrounded by beautiful nude women.

It has to be said that Mikels found some remarkably luscious young ladies prepared to spend most of the screen time without their clothes on.

Unfortunately the source material was in very poor shape with a great deal of print damage. It’s still watchable.

Something Weird paired Dr Sex with Wanda, the Sadistic Hypnotist for a double-header DVD release. The DVD includes a swag of extras. Most notable among these are five short films and these are truly bizarre examples of the sexploitation short subject.

The Casting Director is quite amusing and features a rather lovely lady. The Handyman is really strange. The idea is straightforward - a janitor discovers naked girls in all the rooms on the 19th floor of a hotel. The treatment of the subject and the visuals are however fascinatingly weird and surreal. Things get even stranger with Duelling Divas. Who knew that girls in bra and panties and stockings was an actual fetish? But on the evidence of this film that’s the case. It has to be admitted that it has a certain fascination. Naked Devil Doll features an undraped young lady who does look like a naked devil doll. Jane on a Train is very brief - a man travelling on a train tries out his skills at hypnotism to persuade a young female passenger to shed her clothes.

There’s a jokiness to both Dr. Sex and to these shorts that you don’t really get these days. The idea of combining nudity and comedy has rather gone out of fashion. Considering what some of the sex comedies of the 70s were like it’s perhaps understandable but the very concept of sex comedies became discredited but it’s still a bit sad that the element of fun has largely gone.

Dr. Sex isn’t exactly art. It’s a nudie-cutie and as such it’s an excuse to show as much naked feminine pulchritude as possible. This objective is however accomplished with a certain style and cleverness, there are amusing moments, there are a couple of stories that achieve a low-key weirdness, the girls are extremely pretty and while there’s no frontal nudity (which you weren’t going to get away with in 1964) there are enough bare breasts and bare bottoms to satisfy any reasonable person. In other words Dr. Sex has to be considered to be a rather successful nudie-cutie. If you have a soft spot for this oddly good-natured genre then this one can be highly recommended.

Saturday 4 November 2017

Felicity (1978)

Felicity is a 1978 Australian Emmanuelle clone.

And when I say it’s an Emmanuelle clone I’m not kidding. It’s an absolute carbon copy of the Emmanuelle formula down to the smallest detail.

Emmanuelle had been an incredibly clever idea. The French believed that they had a surefire plan for taking advantage of the US X Certificate and making a ton of money. They would make a softcore porn movie but they had no interest in getting into grindhouses. They were going for the mainstream. A full-scale commercial release in major cinemas. They were aiming for the multiplexes. And how were they going to achieve this? Simple. They would make a softcore porn movie for women. It worked beyond their wildest imaginings. They didn’t just make a ton of money. They made many many tons of money. Emmanuelle proceeded to smash box-office records.

Not surprisingly the film spawned several official and countless unofficial sequels. It was not entirely surprising that Emmanuelle’s success would be noted in Australia where it was a massive hit. Producer-director John D. Lamond decided to jump on the bandwagon. His movie would not however be merely influenced by Emmanuelle. It would follow the formula in every single respect. It would be pretty much Emmanuelle Down Under.

There was more to the success of Emmanuelle than naked flesh. To appeal to women the production values had to be high, the cinematography had to be lush, there had to be an air of class about the production, there had to be beautiful and exotic locations, it had to be told entirely from a female perspective and the sex scenes had to be the kinds of sex scenes that women would like with the right mix of romance and stylish raunchiness.

John D. Lamond studied the blueprints and made sure that every element that had made Emmanuelle a success would be present in Felicity. Felicity looks much more expensive than it was and it looks fairly classy. Instead of Thailand it uses Hong Kong as the backdrop, which works just as well. The plot is the same - a sexually inexperienced young woman goes to the Mysterious Orient where she has a sexual awakening. The story is told from Felicity’s point of view. In fact she’s the narrator. There’s lots of steamy simulated sex with the right blend of romanticism and raunch.

The one thing Felicity doesn’t have is Sylvia Kristel. Kristel’s unconventional and exotic beauty and her overwhelming sexuality is certainly missed. On the other hand it has to be said that Felicity’s Glory Annen is very easy on the eye and she’s extremely good at combining innocence with wantonness. And she was a competent actress. She was actually Canadian but she does the Australian accent rather well (and it is unbelievably rare to find non-Australian actors who can do a convincing Australian accent). Lamond wanted her to sound like an educated cultured Australian (stop laughing, we do have such things here) and she manages it without any problems.

As the movie opens Felicity is a schoolgirl somewhere in eastern Australia. For some reason which I confess I didn’t quite grasp she is then whisked off to Hong Kong. Her first priority is obviously to lose her virginity and that is accomplished almost immediately.

Naturally, this being a softcore sex movie, Felicity will have to be initiated into the joys of lesbian sex. This is handled by hew new Hong Kong friend Me Ling (Joni Flynn). Me Ling is supposed to be Chinese while Joni Flynn is actually Indian but that’s a minor detail. Flynn isn’t much of an actress but her job is to be exotic, glamorous and sexy and to embody the dangerous but seductive flavour of the Orient, which she does. Who cares which part of the Orient she represents? And she has a whole bevy of naked young women with her to make sure that Felicity gets her initiation.

This is very firmly within the porn movie for women genre so there has to be a love story and that love story has to be central to the plot. That part of the movie succeeds well enough and it offers the chance for some very romantic sex scenes which presumably pleased the female audience. And insofar as the movie has any message it’s a surprisingly old-fashioned one. Felicity doesn’t just want to discover sex, she wants to discover love, and she finds out that sex is only good when it’s combined with love. For 1978 that’s a pretty extraordinarily traditional viewpoint for a porn movie to take.

Making a good softcore sex film as distinct from a routine one requires a bit of imagination. You wants to include lots of nudity and sex but you want to do so in a reasonably stylish way. Lamond clearly put some thought into this. Seeing a girl taking her panties off is sexy. Is there a way we can have Felicity taking her panties o0ff a dozen times in a few minutes. Yes there is! We’ll take her shopping for clothes. Naturally the first thing she wants to buy is new panties, but they have to be just right so she has to try on quite a few. And since we want to see how nice her new underwear looks there’s a perfect excuse for lots of close-ups of her nether regions, with and without panties.

It has to be said that Felicity is a remarkably clean girl. She seems to take a bath every five minutes. Since cleanliness is obviously very important to her it’s vital for us to see her take each and every bath. When it comes to finding ways to keep his lead actress naked for most of the film’s running time Lamond has few equals.

To give you an idea of just how closely this movie adheres to the Emmanuelle formula we see Glory Annen lounging naked in a cane chair that is almost identical to the one in which Sylvia Kristel lounged naked in Emmanuelle. In fact this was almost certainly intended as a deliberate homage. Just before the plane sex scene (of course there’s a plane sex scene since there was a very celebrated one in Emmanuelle) we see Felicity reading a copy of Emmanuelle Arsan’s novel on which Emmanuelle was based.

The Hong Kong setting works superbly. Watching the movie today it works even better since this is British Hong Kong, with all the glamour of a vanished world. Arguably it’s even more effective than the Thailand setting of Emmanuelle, Hong Kong at that time being an extraordinarily exciting (and decadent) place.

The visuals don’t quite have the lushness that Just Jaeckin brought to Emmanuelle but they’re stylish enough and there’s far more of a sense of vibrancy and excitement than in Emmanuelle.

The amount of nudity (including frontal nudity) in this movie is truly staggering. I don’t think we ever go more than a few minutes without another lingering loving shot of Felicity’s bare bottom.

Felicity certainly didn’t go anywhere near to equalling the immense commercial success of Emmanuelle but it did do extremely well in box-office terms, and apparently it did particularly well with women. According to Lamond Australian critics hated the film and were offended by its overt heterosexuality!

Umbrella’s Region 4 DVD offers a lovely anamorphic transfer and there are some very worthwhile extras including an audio commentary by director Lamond and star Glory Annen.

To me Felicity is in fact a more genuinely woman-centred erotic movie than Emmanuelle. It takes the Emmanuelle template but it adds a slightly different flavour - it’s definitely more straightforwardly romantic. Lamond obviously felt that if the movie was going to reach women it had to be tasteful and despite all the nudity and sex it really is tasteful. Luckily it succeeds in being  tasteful without sacrificing the eroticism. It also has playfulness, a few moments of humour and even perhaps just the tiniest touch of wit.

It’s very sexy in a very classy way and if that’s what you’re after then it delivers the goods. Highly recommended.