Tuesday 26 May 2020

The Young Nurses (1973)

There aren’t too many exploitation sub-genres that Roger Corman hasn’t explored at some stage. In the early 70s one of his reliable money-spinners was the nurse movie. The formula was simply. Take a group of pretty nurses (usually three of them) and then follow their adventures over a couple of days. Those adventures would invariably require them to take their clothes off. The formula required very little of the scriptwriters apart from thinking up situations in which a young woman was likely to get naked. Since every red-blooded American male has at some time had sexual fantasies about nurses the formula could not possibly fail.

The Young Nurses, released in 1973, is a completely typical Roger Corman nurse movie.

Of course the most important thing was to find pretty actresses prepared to do nude scenes. In the early 70s it would have been more difficult to find young actresses who were not prepared to shed their clothes. There was absolutely no need for the actresses to be able to act. In fact it was better if they couldn’t - actresses who could act were likely to ask for too much money and if there was one thing Roger Corman disliked it was spending money on unnecessary luxuries like acting talent. In this particular movie the three actresses can’t act at all but two of them get naked frequently.

The three nurses in this movie are Kitty (Jeane Manson), Joanne (Ashley Porter) and Michelle (Angela Gibbs). Kitty rescues a rich handsome young yachtsman who has fallen off his yacht. One of Michelle’s patients died of a drug overdose but it’s a rare and exotic drug and she decides to play amateur detective to find the source of the drug. Joanne wants to be more than a nurse - she wants to play doctor.

The beachside setting helps. At least there’s nice scenery to look at as well as pretty girls.

There are some attempts at humour, mostly not overly successful.

This was Clint Kimbrough’s only movie as a director, which is probably just as well. To say that he does an uninspired job would be an understatement.

Howard R. Cohen wrote the screenplay (and wrote several other movies for Corman) and it would be unfair to blame him for the way the movie turned out which was mainly due to the directing and the acting. He knew the ingredients Corman wanted and he provided them.

While Angela Gibbs and Jeane Manson are just routine bad actresses Ashley Porter is something else again. It’s no surprise that this film launched her film career, and sank it as well. On the other hand she looks good without her clothes on.

The casting of black actress Angela Gibbs seems to have been an attempt to cover more exploitation movie bases by adding some blaxploitation elements - she rides a motorcycle and gets involved in a drug-smuggling sub-plot.

Look out for legendary director Sam Fuller as a drug lord.

There’s not much to say about the three sub-plots. The Michelle segment does offer a few action scenes although somehow it seems like it belongs to a different movie.

The Joanne sub-plot is excruciating and heavy-handed as Joanne battles an uncaring system that just doesn’t recognise that she knows far more about medicine than a mere doctor. They should just put her in charge of the whole hospital.

The only sub-plot that really works is the one involving Kitty. Even though Jeane Manson can’t really act she does have some actual charm, and it has to be said that her body is pretty stunning. And Kitty is a nice girl and you can’t help hoping she snares her rich boy. It’s just a light love-conquers-all romance plot but it’s harmless.

This is a movie with a lot of things wrong with it. It just doesn’t have quite enough energy or quite enough of the sense of fun that it needed. The intercutting between the three unconnected plots which vary wildly in mood is also unsettling. It really does feel like three totally different movies spliced together.

There is however plenty of nudity. There’s also a scene in which a young lady is undergoing a vaginal examination which, depending on your tastes, you might find uncomfortable or titillating. Or even both.

The DVD transfer (the movie is included in the Shout! Factory four-disc nurses set) is a good one.

The Young Nurses is a bit of a disjointed mess. But maybe I’m being too hard on it. It is what it is, and what it is is a Roger Corman nurseploitation movie. You expect nurses taking their clothes off and that’s what you get. There are probably better movies of this type but if you just can’t get enough of sexy nurses and you’ve bought the four-movie set anyway then I guess it’s worth a look.

Friday 22 May 2020

The Vanishing Shadow (serial, 1934)

The Vanishing Shadow is a well above average and very well-made 1934 twelve-chapter serial from Universal which combines both science fiction and crime thriller elements and does so very successfully indeed.

This one pretty much qualifies as a must-see for serial fans.

Here's the link to my review at Classic Movie Ramblings.

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Louisiana Hussy (1959)

Louisiana Hussy is a 1959 exploitation movie set in the bayou country. In other words it’s a hicksploitation movie.

Pierre (Robert Richards) and Jacques (Peter Coe) Guillot are brothers but the problem is that they both love Lili (Betty Lynn). Lili has chosen Pierre and they’re getting married and Jacques is very very unhappy. Then Callie, an old gris-gris woman, tells Jacques that she’s found a sick child in the swamp. Only this is no child. Minette Lanier (for that is her name), is a very attractive and very well-developed young woman. Very well-developed indeed.

Minette is very reluctant to reveal anything about herself or where she comes from. Her clothes are expensive so it is assumed that she must be rich but she claims to have no home.

It is decided that Minette will stay with Pierre and Lili for a while.

The first thing Minette does is to seduce Pierre. But that doesn’t seem to interest her as a long-term proposition. The houses in this backwater village are tiny and the presence of Pierre’s wife in the house as well is going to cramp her style. So then she seduces Jacques.

Pierre and Jacques (and in fact all the inhabitants of this village known as The Pit) are decent honest people but they know nothing of the dangers of women like Minette. Seducing the brothers is child’s play to her. The way she wiggles that bottom of hers poor Jacques doesn't stand a chance.

Of course things are going to get rather tense between Pierre and Jacques, especially as Minette has convinced Jacques that Pierre tried to seduce her.

The big question is what on earth a woman like Minette Lanier is doing in such a backwater. She is obviously not the type. Not the type at all. Pierre, having decided that whatever else Minette might be she’s a bad woman (and a woman no man including himself could resist), decides to find out her secret before she can lead Jacques to his doom.

Director Lee Sholem worked mostly in television but made a few features as well. He was renowned for never ever going over schedule making him an ideal choice for low-budget material like this.

The acting isn’t great but the performances are mostly fun. Nan Peterson’s performance  as Minette is particularly enjoyable. She oozes sex. She is certainly a convincing hussey.

By the standards of the time this film was probably considered to be rather racy but in 1959 the exploitation movie business was about to be revolutionised by the release of Russ Meyer’s The Immoral Mr Teas, the first of the genre that became known as nudie-cuties. The nudie-cuties would make movies like Louisiana Hussey seem very tame indeed. It’s fascinating to compare Louisiana Hussey with Meyer’s Lorna, released just three years later. The subject matter and settings of the two films are fairly similar. Lorna has a fair bit of nudity and a great deal of fairly explicit violence. It’s a whole different cinematic world. Of course being a Russ Meyer movie Lorna also has a lot more style and energy.

But Louisiana Hussey has its own charms and it manages to generate a considerable amount of sexual heat. Minette is like an alley cat on heat, but she’s also a ruthless schemer. She uses her sexual power (which she has in abundance) without any scruples at all. She has no difficulty convincing us that she can wrap any man around her finger. Minette is a whole lot of woman.

There is a brief nude swimming scene in Louisiana Hussey but it’s nudity 1959-style - trying to convince the audience they’re seeing something while making sure that mostly they don’t.

The Louisiana bayou setting is one of the film’s big pluses wth some pretty nice location shooting. And in movies the bayous seem to be an ideal setting for sex and sin and madness.

One interesting feature is that the movie doesn’t adopt a mocking tone towards the people of The Pit. They may be a bit out of their depth dealing with a woman like Minette but they’re not stupid and they’re not inbred.

I don’t get to say this very often but the Alpha Video DVD offers a very good transfer indeed. The black-and-white image quality is nice and sharp, contrast is excellent and it looks pleasingly bright without being the slightest bit washed-out. This is definitely one of the company’s better efforts.

And, amazingly, this is an Alpha Video DVD with extras. Yes, extras. There’s a very brief snippet of an interview with Samuel Z. Arkoff plus 15 minutes of nudie shorts (judging by the girls’ hairstyles they date from the 40s to the 60s).

This movie is pure trash but it’s good thoroughly enjoyable trash. If you love bad girl movies (and I’m assuming that everybody does) then Minette is a pretty memorable bad girl and Louisiana Hussey can be highly recommended. And given that it’s a fun movie and the transfer is good and the disc contains some actual extras Alpha Video’s DVD can be unhesitatingly recommended.

Saturday 16 May 2020

Kitten with a Whip (1964)

Kitten with a Whip is a 1964 juvenile delinquent melodrama (based on Wade Miller's novel of the same name) which despite its indifferent reputation is very much worth seeing and not just for Ann-Margret's awesomely over-the-top performance.

It's an absolute must-see for Ann-Margret fans and for aficionados of juvenile delinquent movies.

Here's the link to my review of this kitschy delight at Classic Movie Ramblings.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

The Rica Trilogy 1: Rica (1972)

The Rica trilogy might not be exactly classics of the pinky violence genre but they are at least representative of that genre.

The first film in the series, Rica (Konketsuji Rika), was released by Toho in 1972. This is an interesting reminder that although Toei is the studio most associated with pinky violence the other Japanese studios also dabbled in this disreputable but lucrative genre.

The gimmick to this series is that the lead character is half-Japanese and half-American, as is the actress (Rika Aoki) who plays her.

Rica is a girl with plenty of reasons to be bitter. The reason she’s mixed race is that her mother, a Japanese schoolgirl, was raped by American soldiers during the Korean War. Rica herself was raped by one of her mother’s boyfriends. As you might expect she has a bit of a problem with anger. She’s found a way to deal with this. She finds that committing acts of extreme violence helps.

Now Rica has another problem, and another reason to be angry. She’s the boss of a girl gang and gangsters have raped and kidnapped seven of her girls. Even worse, the girls have been sold into sex slavery to feed the appetites of American servicemen in Vietnam. Being a girl boss she’s going to have to do something about it. It’s a matter of honour.

It all gets very complicated from here on in, with rival yakuza gangs and rival girl gangs and betrayals and strange alliances. Rica gets sent to a Christian reform school but soon escapes. In fact she gets sent to the reform school several times but security is not exactly tight. She makes a bitter enemy, Dragon God Reiko. Reiko is the girl boss at the reformatory but Rica has a problem with any kind of authority figures.

This movie contains all the key pinky violence elements. There’s graphic violence (some very graphic indeed), there are countless rapes, Rica gets chained up, there are full-scale gang fights, there’s a fair bit of consensual sex, there’s prostitution, there are drugs, there’s sex slavery, there are vicious girl-on-girl fights, there’s some nudity. Rica also finds love. He’s a gangster of some kind but he’s a good gangster.

Rica’s world is not a world divided into criminals and law-abiding citizens, it’s a world divided into honourable criminals and dishonourable criminals. Authority figures play very little part in this world and they’re usually corrupt and inept (although the Japanese Christian lady who runs the reform school is surprisingly enough portrayed as quite well-meaning if a little naïve). In this world girl juvenile delinquents usually have a sense of honour. In pinky violence films girl juvenile delinquents are often portrayed as being essentially samurai, living by the honourable code of the warrior.

The main problem with Rica is the lead actress. It’s not that Rika Aoki is terrible. She isn’t. And she does look like an athletic sort of girl. The problem is that if you’re a pinky violence fan you’re going to immediately compare her to Meiko Kaji and Miki Sugimoto and she’s not in the same league as those ladies. She doesn’t quite have their looks, or their acting talent or their charm. Most crucially, she lacks the charisma that Miss Kaji and Miss Sugimoto have in spades. But she’s OK. And she’s quite attractive, but not in an obvious sex kitten way.

Rica also lacks the visual inspiration of the better pinky violence movies. On the other hand director Kô Nakahira can’t be faulted for his pacing. This is a movie that never stops for a second.

Japanese exploitation movies often had political themes. There’s a bit of an anti-war theme here, with American deserters from the Vietnam War treated sympathetically. They’re the only Americans sympathetically treated. There’s a fair bit of bitterness here about the American occupation. On the other hand, while Rica’s mother was raped by an American soldier (and the mother of one of her gang members suffered the same fate) the real anger here is directed at Japanese yakuza (with perhaps some help from corrupt authority figures) selling Japanese girls as sex slaves. The fact that they’re going to be used as sex slaves by Americans does seem to intensify the anger a little but of course that could be put down to nationalism rather than overt anti-Americanism. The important thing is that the political angles are not laboured - this is an exploitation movie, its job is to deliver excitement and sleaze and that’s what it concentrates on doing.

There’s one odd scene of Rica singing and dancing in a night club in a bikini. What’s odd about it is that you expect it to get sleazy but it doesn’t. It could just about pass muster in a Hollywood beach party movie. Incidentally, as was quite common in Japanese exploitation movies, the lead actress does her own singing.

The Media Blasters Rica DVD set includes all three movies on three discs. The anamorphic widescreen transfer for Rica is excellent.

Rica is a roller-coaster ride of sleazy thrills. If you like the pinky violence genre you’ll find it worth your time. It’s not difficult to see why this movie was successful enough to spawn two sequels. Recommended.

Monday 4 May 2020

Venus in Furs (AKA Paroxismus, 1969)

Venus in Furs (AKA Paroxismus) was released in 1969 and is one of Jess Franco’s most satisfying films. It’s a dream-like hallucinogenic movie that plays havoc with reality and illusion. It was a British/Italian/West German co-production and it’s also one of the most impressive movies to be made under the auspices of notorious English producer Harry Alan Towers.

Jazz trumpeter Jimmy Logan (James Darren) finds the body of a girl on the beach in Istanbul. She is Wanda (played by Towers’ real-life wife Maria Rohm), a girl with whom he had become slightly obsessed. Wanda and her friends were into some fairly weird sexual stuff. Friends like Ahmed (Klaus Kinski) and photographer Olga (Margaret Lee). And Percival Kapp (Denis Price).

Two years later, in Rio, Jimmy meets Wanda. Is it the same woman? She certainly looks the same. He becomes even more obsessed by her, much to the sorrow of his girlfriend Rita (Barbara McNair).

Jimmy and Wanda return to Istanbul. Olga and Ahmed and the rest of their crowd are still there. Olga is obsessed by Wanda although whether she’s motivated by guilt or lust is difficult to say. Ahmed’s obsession may be somewhat different.

The Turkish police are interested in Wanda. The Brazilian police are interested in well. Of course Inspector Kaplan of the Turkish police knows that Wanda is dead, but he’d still like to talk to her.

An obvious question that is going to occur to the viewer is whether Jimmy (who provides us with a voiceover narration) might be an unreliable narrator. In fact one might wonder if Jimmy’s ideas about what is going on have any connection with reality. One might wonder how in touch with reality any of the characters are. Or whether they exist. Or whether anything that happens is real. Of course it’s also possible that all of it is real. The answer to all of these questions are in fact revealed at the end, in a fairly satisfying manner.

One might also suspect that what appears to be a straightforward linear narrative is really linear at all. Franco was a jazz aficionado and was rather interested in the idea of structuring movies like jazz improvisations.

The title Venus in Furs obviously comes from the novella by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (from whose name the term masochism is derived). It’s not in any sense an adaptation of the novel but Wanda was the name of the woman in the novella. And she does wear furs. There are certainly plenty of hints of masochism in the relationships of both men and women with the film’s Wanda.

To complicate things the title was not chosen by Franco and the distributors made changes to the film (which was pretty much standard practice with low-budget European films of this era).

This is one of Franco’s most visually impressive and hypnotic movies. He comes up with some suitably striking images without resorting to too many cinematic tricks.

This is also one of his most technically polished films. While Franco fans are generally unconcerned by his occasional technical blemishes that criticism cannot be levelled at this production. It looks professional and it benefits from the generous (by the standards of Franco films) budget. It’s also much tighter in plot terms than most of his movies.

It also benefits from one of the strongest casts he ever managed to assemble. James Darren is very good as Jimmy, a character who is both sympathetic and at times unsympathetic. Maria Rohm is extraordinary. This may be the finest achievement of her career. Klaus Kinski manages to be sinister and weird and pathetic and generally disturbing, as only Kinski could be.

The soundtrack is an odd but successful mix of jazz and pop, courtesy of Manfred Mann (who makes a cameo appearance as a jazz musician). Franco loved music as much as he loved film and in Venus in Furs the two are combined seamlessly. James Darren was cast partly because he really was a fine trumpet player and having an actual musician playing the lead rôle was a smart choice.

While Franco liked surrealism and indulged in it from time to time curiously enough he wasn’t happy with the overt surrealist touches in this movie (which were forced on him). He wanted the film to be as realistic as possible. Given that the entire film has the feel of a dreamscape his instincts are probably correct. The overt surrealism is an extra layer that isn’t needed.

The beach scenes are strongly reminiscent of those found in most of Jean Rollin’s films. In fact this movie bears some stylistic similarity to Rollin’s The Iron Rose.

Blue Underground’s DVD came out quite a while ago but it offers a good anamorphic transfer plus interviews with both Franco and Maria Rohm. Franco reveals some intriguing thing about the film, such as the fact that he got the original idea from legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker.

Venus in Furs is one of the two or three best movies Franco ever made. Very highly recommended.