Thursday 28 March 2019

Hideout in the Sun (1960)

Hideout in the Sun was the first movie by sexploitation legend Doris Wishman. The film’s cinematographer Larry Wolk is listed in the credits as director although Wishman possibly took a hand in the directing as well. Wishman certainly produced the movie. The movie has some of the Wishman trademarks (lengthy shots of people’s feet, looped dialogue done with the actor’s backs to the camera to avoid the need for synchronisation) and Wishman was the driving force behind the production so it must count as a genuine Doris Wishman film. It started production as early as 1957 but it seems that she realised that the original footage was much too raunchy and did re-shoots the following year. It’s possible that none of the original version survives in the final release version.

It’s definitely a nudie-cutie, a genre that emerged when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that nudity as such was not obscene. Anything even remotely approaching sex on the other hand was still forbidden and most distributors considered it wise not to push things by including any full frontal nudity. The solution was the nudie-cutie, more often than not set in a nudist camp, with at best a wafer-thin lightweight plot serving as an excuse for the nudity and lots of gags to keep the tone light-hearted. The nudity had to be kept absolutely non-sexual.

Hideout in the Sun breaks many of these rules. It creates its own sub-genre, the nudie-cutie film noir. It not only has a plot, it’s a reasonably coherent plot, and it’s a genuine crime movie as well as a nudie-cutie. The plot is not just an excuse to get the characters to a nudist camp - the crime plot keeps going throughout the movie.

It differs from the roughies that started to appear a few years later in remaining light-hearted and innocent. How do you make a film noir light-hearted and innocent? It isn’t easy but this movie gives it a try.

This film takes another big risk. We get some shots of a naked girl in the opening credits sequence but for the first 25 minutes of the actual film there’s not a hint of naked flesh and the focus is entirely on the crime movie plot.

Another risk taken here is the inclusion of a love story. It’s a risk in the sense that if you have a man and a woman obviously falling madly in love and they’re both spending most of the movie naked you are entitled to wonder if they’re likely to start taking a less innocent interest in each other’s nakedness.

The crime plot concerns two armed robbers, Duke and Steve. Duke is the brains of the outfit and he’s a very hardboiled and possibly dangerous character. Steve is a nice guy who allowed himself to be talked into participating in the robbery even though he was never enthusiastic about it and he’s now seriously regretting it. The robbery goes smoothly but the well-planned getaway runs into problems. Duke and Steve kidnap Dorothy (Dolores Carlos) and steal a car and start looking for somewhere to hide out. When Duke discovers that Dorothy is on the staff of the Hibiscus Country Club he decides that would be a perfect place to lie low for a while.

What Dorothy neglects to tell them is that the Hibiscus Country Club is a nudist club.

Duke is not thrilled at all about this development. Steve on the other hand seems quite happy to shed his clothes and spend his time doing nudist camp stuff with Dorothy. And falling in love with her.

The crime plot is unexpected in a nudie-cutie but it’s not a bad idea. No matter how pretty the girls too much nude volleyball and nude archery can get wearying so Wishman keeps bringing us back to the crime plot.

You might be thinking that this movie sounds worryingly like a real movie rather than a glorious exercise in Doris Wishman movie insanity and this is true to some extent. The two main plot-lines, the attempt of the robbers to escape the police dragnet and the love story, both get resolved in a relatively straightforward and successful manner. There’s even an action climax, set in the Miami Serpentarium, and it’s fairly effective. The plot would pass muster in the average crime B-feature of its era.

There was an art to shooting a nudie-cutie. The objective was to show every square inch of bare female flesh that you could get away with without allowing any glimpses of the pubic region. This movie follows that rule for the most part but does risk some brief flashes of pubic hair. And film-makers being an inventive lot they quickly came up with ways of sailing a bit closer to the wind. Ways like underwater swimming scenes, in which you could risk frontal nudity as long as the details were slightly obscured. This movie must be one of the earliest movies to try that trick.

The acting in a Doris Wishman film has to be judged by Doris Wishman film standards. The worse the acting the better, it all adds to the enjoyment. Greg Conrad chews the scenery as Duke. Earl Bauer as Steve just gazes adoringly at the wonderfulness that is the naked Dorothy. Dolores Carlos as Dorothy is pretty terrible but what you want from an actress in a nudie-cutie is not someone who can act but someone who is pretty and can be totally relaxed about being nude for most of the picture. And Dolores Carlos is definitely pretty and having been one of Bunny Yeager’s models she was presumably an old hand at taking her clothes off for the camera. In fact there are apparently quite a few Bunny Yeager models in the movie.

I should also mention the theme song (actually written for the movie by Wishman’s niece) which is kinda cute. None of Wishman’s movies can be described as conventionally good but I thought Hideout in the Sun was great fun, and not just for all the nude girls.

The Retro-Seduction Cinema DVD offers both a full-frame and a widescreen version of the movie. The correct aspect ratio is almost certainly 1.33:1. The transfer is pretty good. Sexploitation movies in pristine condition are a rarity. The colours look pretty good especially given that the movie was shot in Eastmancolor. There are lots of extras including a commentary track. There’s also another 27-minute nudist camp film of unknown origin. It’s a worthwhile inclusion because it shows just how awful such movies could be. Wishman at least understood that you cannot rely purely on nudity. You have to do other things as well to make a nudie movie entertaining. And Wishman clearly understood that nobody wants to see real nudists nude. They want to see beautiful young women nude, so she used glamour models. Postcards from a Nudist Camp, despite copious quantities of frontal nudity, is a whole lot less alluring than Hideout in the Sun.

Hideout in the Sun works as a nudie-cutie (it features lots of pretty girls without a stitch of clothing between the lot of them), as a crime movie it’s no worse than many of the cheaper 50s B-movies, as a love story it’s odd but touching. Dorothy’s a sweet kid and we want to see her happy, and Steve is a bad boy who hopes to find redemption from the noir nightmare world and Dorothy’s love is his best hope. It has everything that makes Wishman’s nudie-cuties so appealing and if you’ve loved movies like Blaze Starr Goes Nudist and the delightfully nutty Nude on the Moon you’ll be eager to see this one. If you haven’t encountered Wishman’s nudie-cuties before this one will give you a pretty fair idea of whether they’re for you. I thought Hideout in the Sun was great fun, and not just for all the nude girls.

Thursday 21 March 2019

Midnight Frolics (1949)

Midnight Frolics, made around 1949, is a burlesque movie. The burlesque movie is one of those odd and now incredibly obscure exploitation genres. It enjoyed a vogue in the 40s and 50s and then vanished without trace when other exploitation genres emerged that could show a great deal more skin.

Of course burlesque itself is an art form that is also long gone, somewhat ironically swept away by the sexual revolution. Everyone has heard of burlesque and most people they have at least a vague idea that it was synonymous with strip-tease. In fact strip-tease was merely one element of the classic burlesque show. A show would also feature singers, fully clothed musical routines and comics. It was kind of like vaudeville but with semi-naked ladies.

For those who wonder what an actual burlesque show was like there is no need to wonder. Quite a few burlesque shows were filmed and quite a few of these burlesque movies survive. Some can be found online or on public domain DVD releases but the quality is often dire. Fortunately Something Weird Video offered something much better - a two-disc set including six complete feature-length burlesque movies of the late 40s and early 50s, with very acceptable transfers.

Midnight Frolics is the first movie on disc one and it’s the only one I’ve watched so far.

Of course there is no plot at all. It’s just a filmed stage show (filmed at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles). There are lots of strip-tease artistes but there’s also plenty of the other characteristic burlesque acts.

The comedy routines are excruciatingly bad. I wasn’t surprised that there were plenty of dirty jokes but I was surprised that most of the jokes aren’t sexual jokes but rather crude toilet humour. Of the four or five comic turns there is one that has some amusing moments and it’s the clean parts of the routine that provide the only laughs.

There’s a girl singer who’s OK. There are several all-singing all-dancing big production numbers that involve absolutely no nudity or even any suggestion of such a thing. They’re just the kinds of production numbers you’d expect to see in an average B-movie musical of that era. They’re actually not too bad. And there’s a girl acrobat.

Of course what attracted customers to burlesque shows and burlesque movie was the prospect of seeing attractive ladies taking their clothes off. And this movie features lots of strippers. In the heyday of burlesque the girls usually did not strip naked (although I believe that when they played cities that were known for their relaxed approach to such matters they did on occasion strip fully naked). In this movie they don’t even go close to nakedness. Relatively substantial G-strings and bras is as far as they go. The secret to the success of the strip-tease artiste was her ability to make the audience think she was being much naughtier than she actually was. So if you think you’re going to see naked female flesh you’re going to be disappointed. This is stuff that would be considered only just raunchy enough to get a PG rating today!

It is interesting to see how the classical strip-tease act actually worked. Each girl’s routine is broken into three distinct segments. First she does a fully-clothed dance that is breathtakingly respectable. Mind you, in those days the strippers actually did know how to dance. She then leaves the stage and immediately returns and does her strip-tease. She then leaves the stage again and again immediately returns, this time to do another dance. This third stage is in all cases by far the most raunchy part of the act. They’re now scantily clad and they’re getting into bump and grind territory. These young ladies know how to shake those parts of the female anatomy that look good when they’re shaking. While it would still seem very tame compared to what strippers were getting up to a few decades later they do achieve a degree or eroticism that would have been fairly exciting at the time and actually seems quite attractive today for its ability to be sexually suggestive without being crude.

The star performer of this show is a young lady named Sunny Knight. She also incidentally is the one who ends up most scantily clad. I rather suspect that being allowed to reveal a lot more flesh may have been one of the privileges of stardom.

This is one of the six burlesque movies in Something Weird's Strip Strip Hooray two-disc set.

Midnight Frolics has a lot of historical cultural interest. It’s an intriguing glimpse of an extinct art form and it’s a reminder of an era when the emphasis was on sexiness rather than sex. Whether you’ll enjoy the movie depends entirely on how interested you are in burlesque.

Saturday 9 March 2019

Night Has a Thousand Desires (1984)

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Jess Franco film. I’m not entirely sure that eurosleaze is my thing any more. But I own a Blu-Ray copy of his 1984 opus Mil sexos tiene la noche (Night Has a Thousand Desires although a more literal translation would have been Night Has a Thousand Sexes) and it seemed silly not to watch it.

Night Has a Thousand Desires was inspired in part at least by the excellent 1948 film noir Night Has a Thousand Eyes which was in turn based on one of Cornell Woolrich's stories. Jess Franco was apparently a bit of a Cornell Woolrich fan, which given the darkness and the vicious little twists that characterise Woolrich’s work is not entirely surprising.

Franco was keeping himself pretty busy in 1984, directing nine(!) films that year. One of the reasons Franco had no problem making so many movies is that rather than find a location he liked and then make his film there he’d find a location he liked, make his film there, and then keep shooting until he’d made three or four movies. There was none of this nonsense of having movies languishing in the development stage for months or years - for Franco the development stage for a movie was the time it took to reload the camera after completing the previous movie. What makes Franco so fascinating and unique is that although inevitably some of the 200-plus movies he made were pretty bad it’s extraordinary just how many were at the very least interesting, and often rather good. There are dozens of Franco movies worth seeing.

In this case the locations he’d found were in the Canary Islands and on the Costa del Sol. Franco really was remarkably good at picking great locations that were not the locations most people would have chosen for the types of films he made. This is a guy who was happy to use stark modernist locations as a setting for a gothic horror movie about vampires. Naturally a vampire who lives in a modernist house is not going to spend her time lying about in coffins - in fact she spends much of her leisure time sunbathing. It sounds like a recipe for movie disaster but the result, Vampyros Lesbos, is one of his best films. Night Has a Thousand Desires makes great use of its locations, especially a very kind of palace near Malaga which looks both Moorish and oddly modernist in its starkness.

This film of course stars Lina Romay. She plays Irina, who earns a living doing a mind-reading act in clubs with her partner Fabián (Daniel Katz). The strangeness starts when the clairvoyant powers start to be kind of real. But this is a Jess Franco movie and the haziness of the line between fantasy and reality and the impossibility of being sure which side of that line you’re on was one of his favourite themes. In this case Irina has so much trouble with reality and dreams bleeding into each other that she is driven to madness.

Franco adds another layer to the dream/reality problem because in his films there isn’t really any reality. They don’t even pretend to take place in what most people think of as the real world - they take place in a kind of alternate reality, Jess Franco World, in which reality is a sort of dream. And of course since movies are not reality anyway a character in a Franco movie that finds himself or herself losing touch with reality is actually a frightening number of steps away from reality. This is the kind of thing that Franco fans love in his movies and Night Has a Thousand Desires is one of his best explorations of such ideas.

This movie also allows Franco to focus on another of his favourite subjects, Lina Romay’s va-jay-jay. Having said that this film is actually not especially graphic. There’s a lot nudity and sex but it’s all strictly softcore. That’s a good thing on balance. Romay could be plenty sexy without having to resort to anything explicit.

And while there’s violence it’s also relatively restrained by Franco standards. In fact it’s restrained by 1980s standards in general. It’s the emotional impact of the violence that matters.

The original 1948 Night Has a Thousand Eyes includes hints that something actually supernatural might be occurring so for that reason among others it’s perhaps not a true film noir. Whether Franco’s film includes supernatural or paranormal events is possibly open to debate given that much of the film is either dream sequences or it’s dreams that might be real or reality that might be dreams. Despite all this, and despite the sun-drenched setting, Night Has a Thousand Desires does have definite film noir touches.

And it is a crime movie.

Jess Franco plays a small but important rôle as Irina’s psychiatrist.

Like most of the Franco-Romay movies this one is dominated by Franco’s extravagant style and Miss Romay’s performance. You will be stunned to learn that she spends much of the film without her clothes on. I know, I was shocked as well. Of course the thing about Lina Romay is that her performances tended to get better once she took her clothes off. Being naked seemed to inspire her. And the things she did best as an actress were usually related in some way to her character’s sexuality. This movie is Romay at her best, on par with her performances in Female Vampire and Doriana Gray.

Franco gets some pretty disturbing shots of Romay’s eyes. She gets to do some over-the-top mad stuff but it’s those shots of her eyes that really tell the story.

The music is even more disorienting than usual for a Franco movie and while that sort of thing sometimes irritates me I have to admit that here it works.

The plot is not really complicated but the important thing to keep sight of is that even when the movie seems to be drifting into arty surrealist territory the plot is still there and it matters. The style and the mood are much more important of course but in this case there’s something a bit rare in Franco’s filmography - the plot does get resolved in a realistic and straightforward manner in the end. But of course it all happens in Jess Franco World where reality is untrustworthy and elusive so is it actually resolved?

The pacing is languorous. OK, at times it’s a bit too slow but I’m inclined to think that’s deliberate. Franco wants to mesmerise us. He wants us to be a mesmerised as Irina is. This is a psychedelic film without any psychedelia. Which makes it more disturbingly psychedelic since there are no cues to help the viewer or the characters to judge the level of unreality with which they’re dealing.

Night Has a Thousand Desires is a pretty good 80s Franco movie. Both Franco in his directing and Romay in her acting are very much playing to their strengths. This was the kind of thing they could do well, even on an almost non-existent budget.

Mondo Macabro’s Blu-Ray includes some extras and the transfer is mostly good although I’m not entirely convinced that a good DVD transfer wouldn’t have looked just as good. If you’re a Franco or a Lina Romay fan this one is highly recommended.