Friday 24 September 2021

The Prime Time (1960)

The Prime Time is a 1960 low-budget American exploitation movie which is one of those “these crazy teenagers today” movies.

Jean Norton (Jo Ann LeCompte) is seventeen and she’s running with a wild bunch and she’s out of control. These kids stay out all hours of the night (sometimes after ten o’clock) , hanging out, listening to rock’n’roll and drinking soda pop like it’s soda pop. This kind of immorality is bound to lead to consequences.

Jean’s parents think she’s dating a nice boy named Tony (James Brooks) but Tony is just a blind. Tony drives her to the Golden Goose Lounge and from there she meets her real boyfriend, a detective named Mack. Tony isn’t happy with this arrangement because he’s sweet on Jean but she isn’t interested in him. Jean and her cop boyfriend often rendezvous at the Beard’s pad. The Beard is a crazy cat who’s more or less a beatnik and he’s a painter, which is every bit as bad. And he paints pictures of women without any clothes on.

The trouble starts one night when Tony drops Jean off as usual but the cop boyfriend can’t make the date so he tells her to go to the Beard’s pad.

Jean, being a crazy out-of-control teenager, asks the Beard to do a nude painting of her and then things get really out of control.

Tony is in a real bind. He’s gone to the Golden Goose to meet Jean and take her home but Jean doesn’t show. Tony goes off looking for her but all he finds is her car, abandoned.

Tony’s parents and Jean’s parents are plenty mad but they don’t seem to know what to do. So Tony and his friends decide to play detective. They’re going to find out where Jean has gone to.

Curiously enough although the parents call the cops the cops don’t seem to do anything at all so all the detecting is done by the teenagers.

We know Jean has landed herself in deep trouble but we don’t know how deep. Maybe she’s lying dead somewhere, maybe she’s left town (as she’s been threatening to do).

This movie was made just about the time that the sexploitation was boom was starting. The fist nudie-cuties had already appeared. The Prime Time isn’t quite a nudie-cutie but it does feature some nudity when the kids go skinny-dipping in the lake.

It’s kind of a transitional movie, bridging the gap between the 1950s exploitation movies (focused on juvenile delinquency and the immorality of teenagers) and the early 60s sexploitation movies. A bit in the same mould as Louisiana Hussey although Louisiana Hussey is a much better movie.

James Brooks, who plays Tony, looks very much like Stephen Brooks (the star of the early seasons of The F.B.I.) - in fact he looks so much like him that I suspect that either he is Stephen Brooks, or maybe his twin brother).

Jo Ann Le Compte is OK as the wild child Jean. She’s supposed to be seventeen but she looks like she’s closer to thirty. Ray Gronwold is reasonably effective as the sleazy beatnik painter. Look out for Karen Black in a small rôle. Apparently her nude scenes were cut from the final print.

This movie was produced and co-written by Herschell G. Lewis and it’s sometimes believed that he directed it. That doesn’t appear to be the case. The credited director is Gordon Weisenborn. The directing is pretty uninspired but it’s nowhere near dull enough to be a Herschell G. Lewis film. The legendary David F. Friedman also had a hand in the making of this movie.

Alpha Video have paired this with another “these crazy teenagers today” movie, Flaming Teenage, on a single disc. The transfer is fullframe (which is quite correct) and it’s fairly typical Alpha Video quality - it’s a bit on the dark and murky side and image quality is none too sharp. But it’s quite watchable.

The Prime Time isn’t very good but it has some camp appeal and some amusement value and some actual rock’n’roll. And it’s an interesting look at how youth culture was perceived in 1960. It’s enjoyable enough if you dig this sort of stuff and you’re in the mood.

Monday 20 September 2021

The Secret of Dorian Gray (1970), Blu-Ray review

Massimo Dallamano’s The Secret of Dorian Gray (Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray) claims to be a modern allegory inspired by Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray rather than being an adaptation but while the setting has been updated to contemporary times it is in fact a reasonably sound adaptation.

I’d previously only seen this movie in a very poor fullframe version so seeing it now on Blu-Ray from Raro Video was quite treat.

Dorian Gray (Helmut Berger) is an idle elegant young man of the Swinging 60s who seems to get through life purely on his sex appeal. He has been an idle elegant young man for a very very long time.

While his friend Basil (Richard Todd) is working on his portrait of Dorian young Dorian meets beautiful young actress Sybil Vane (Marie Liljedahl). They fall in love. Dorian at this stage of his life is still an innocent, still capable of caring about other people.

Dorian also meets the ostentatiously decadent Henry Wotton (Herbert Lom). Wotton is something of a philosopher - a philosopher of selfishness. He gains a great deal of influence over Dorian. He explains to Dorian that nothing matters but pleasure and that pleasure can only be enjoyed by the young and the beautiful so Dorian would be well advised to make the most of his youth and beauty.

Dorian is a little disturbed by Basil’s painting of him. It seems so unfair that the painting will remain forever beautiful while he, Dorian, will age and decay. Dorian announces that he would give his soul if he could remain young while the painting aged in his place.

Dorian’s life prospers. He sells a run-down old cottage for a fortune (he had to pay a price for the deal but everything has its price). Dorian has his pick of beautiful women (and men) and he explores other sexual avenues as well. He is rich and successful and adored. The only thing that worries him (and it worries him a good deal) is that the portrait seems to be changing. The Dorian of the portrait now seems older and harder, while Doria himself still looks like an innocent angel.

Of course while Dorian’s life prospers others pay the price. Sybil Vane pays a very high price.

One of the odd things about this movie is that it begins in the present day, in other words 1970. We then get a lengthy flashback to events that occurred decades earlier but in the flashback we’re clearly still in 1970! This may have been a deliberate choice but I suspect the real reason was simply that the budget was way too small to allow for an authentic 1920s or 1930s look and Dallamano wisely decided that it would be better not to make a half-hearted attempt at a period look. Or, since this is a Harry Alan Towers-produced movie, it’s even more likely that Towers decided that he didn’t give a damn and just wanted to get the picture made as cheaply as possible.

The world of the rich and the famous, the Beautiful People, of 1970 proves to be an ideal setting for an adaptation of Wilde’s novel.

This is a movie packed with eye candy for both sexes. While the ladies can swoon over Helmut Berger the men can drool over three of the major euro-sex kittens of the day - Marie Liljedahl (from Joe Sarno's Inga), Margaret Lee and Maria Rohm. Marie Liljedahl has the right kind of sweet fragile innocence to play Sybil Vane.

This is actually a much more successful adaptation than the 1945 The Picture of Dorian Gray which could only hint at the full extent of Dorian’s debaucheries and Henry Wotton’s decadence. Dallamano doesn’t have to pull his punches. What’s surprising is that although the movie explores all the lurid details of the subject matter it does so in a classy and tasteful way. It never descends to crassness.

Helmut Berger was ideal casting. He has the impossible good looks and the sexual ambiguity and he captures Dorian’s thoughtless cruelty extremely well. He is infinitely more effective than the wooden Hurd Hatfield in the 1945 version. Berger has the screen presence that Hatfield so disastrously lacked.

Herbert Lom does equally well as Henry Wotton (whom Wilde used as a mouthpiece for many of his own views). George Sanders was better in the 1945 version but Lom is still excellent.

Massimo Dallamano was one of the best Italian directors of the late 60s and early 70s. His Venus in Furs (Le malizie di Venere, 1969) is a tour-de-force. His giallo What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) and his poliziotteschi What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974) and Super Bitch (1973) are all well worth seeing.

Raro Video’s Blu-Ray presentation of The Secret of Dorian Gray gives us the most complete version of the film in existence and the anamorphic transfer is superb. Extras are limited to an interview with the film’s assistant director and some very sparse liner notes.

The Secret of Dorian Gray manages to be genuinely decadent but in a classy stylish way. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 15 September 2021

Double Exposure (1982)

Double Exposure is a low-budget 1982 erotic thriller (with definite slasher movie overtones) released by Crown International.

It starts with a stake-out that goes really badly wrong. The cops are trying to catch a psycho killer who’s been preying on prostitutes but what they end up with is a dead undercover cop.

Then we switch to a psychiatrist’s office where Adrian Wilde (Michael Callan) is trying to work through his problems with women. When he leaves the office he runs into Mindy Jordache (Joanna Pettet) in the lift. He starts coming on to her and he does it in such a creepy way that we can see why he might be having a few problems with the ladies.

Adrian has bad dreams. Really bad dreams. Bad violent dreams. Sometimes he thinks the dreams are real. Obviously the audience is also supposed to be unsure whether the dreams are just dreams.

Despite the ineptness of his approach Mindy agrees to a dinner date with Adrian. Things seem like they’re going fairly well between them.

Adrian’s brother B.J. is a stunt driver. A car accident left him with one arm and one leg, and a bad attitude. But the brothers will do anything to help each other.

Mind you most of the people in this movie have a few problems. Mindy’s a nice person but maybe her judgment isn’t as good as she thinks it is.

Even Adrian’s psychiatrist has a few problems. His biggest problem is that he thinks Adrian is harmless but he’s not sure.

Adrian is a photographer. He photographs women. A lot of his dreams involve photography. Of course the kind of photography he does is kind of on the borderland between dream and fantasy.

There are lots more dreams, and lots more murders. The most promising lead for the two cops working the case, Sergeant Fontain (Pamela Hensley) and Sergeant Buckhold (David Young), is a sleazy bar frequented by a strange assortment of models, hookers and misfits. The main attraction at this bar is mud-wrestling. Fontain and Buckhold aren’t stupid but they make slow progress. They do find one interesting clue, which suggests that somebody was taking photographs near the murder scene. To the audience that obviously points to Adrian as the killer, except for the fact that at least three other characters are either professional or amateur photographers.

There’s some very effective suspense. We know that Mindy is acquainted with all the likely suspects and as the movie progresses it’s more and more obvious that she’s in real danger.

The killings are not just gruesome but cleverly and imaginatively staged and genuinely shocking.

For a low-budget release this film has a more than OK cast. Michael Callan and Joanna Pettet were not exactly A-listers but they were not complete nobodies either. They’re both impressive. In fact the acting overall is a lot better than you’d expect. It’s interesting to see Cleavon Little in a totally straight role as a hardbitten police lieutenant.

What sets this film apart from the average slasher film is that it attempts some real psychological complexity. We’re not just waiting to find out the identity of the killer - we’re even more interested in the motivation, and in the motivation of the other characters as well. Double Exposure can be sen as an attempt to make an intelligent slasher movie and the remarkable thing is that it mostly succeeds.

There are also some genuine surprises. Characters don’t always do what we’re expecting them to do. And the blurring of the line between dream and reality is handled quite well.

Writer-director William Byron Hillman and Michael Callan (who co-produced the movie) had made an earlier movie together, The Photographer, dealing with very similar themes. Double Exposure essentially takes the same basic ideas but apparently deals with them rather differently (I haven’t seen The Photographer so I’m only going on what I’ve heard about it).

Crown International released the movie briefly and then dumped it which was rather unfortunate (and unjust). It has however developed something of a cult following.

This movie is included in the excellent Mill Creek Drive-In Cult Classics 32 Movie Collection. The transfer is anamorphic and reasonably good. That’s the version I watched. It’s also had a Blu-Ray release from Vinegar Syndrome.

Double Exposure is a superior slasher movie and it works as a genuine psychological thriller as well. It’s ambitious and generally well-crafted and well-acted. It’s a movie that arguably deserves more attention than it’s received. Highly recommended.

Thursday 9 September 2021

Women of Inferno Island (1980)

When I tell you that the movie I’m about to review is called Women of Inferno Island, that it’s a women-in-prison (WiP) movie and that it was written and directed by Erwin C. Dietrich I don’t think I need to break it to you gently that it’s not going to be Citizen Kane. It’s going to be a sleazefest. On the other Erwin C. Dietrich’s sleazefest tend to be fun and they tend to feature rather attractive ladies. In this case one of the lovely ladies is Brigitte Lahaie so that’s a definite bonus.

Also known as Caged Women and Gefangene Frauen, Women of Inferno Island is a Swiss production, made in German and shot in Spain (and set in South America). It was released in 1980.

The movie opens with a beauty contest. It’s the Miss Beautiful Breast pageant, not quite as prestigious as the Miss World pageant perhaps but with a lot more bare flesh. You might be wondering what this has to do with a WiP movie. The answer is, nothing at all. It’s just an excuse to show us nine topless girls while the opening credits roll.

The scene then moves to an unnamed South American country. El Presidente has a problem. The UN is ending a team to investigate reports of girls being forced to work in the capital’s brothels against their will. This is worrying because El Presidente knows that the reports are true, because he runs the brothels. It’s essential that the investigators don’t get to talk to the women. El Presidente’s mistress, Carla (Karine Gambier), comes up with a clever scheme. Why not ship the girls, temporarily, to the old prison on Rat Island? She’s so excited by her idea that she has to immediately masturbate.

This must be a very small country since the huge nation-wide roundup of prostitutes only nets seventeen girls. They’re bewildered and indignant but they’re not frightened. Not yet. But maybe they will be when they get to know the prison warden. The warden is of course Carla. Carla intends to have some fun. She has a shiny leather slightly fetishistic uniform. She has a whole squad of soldiers to enforce her will. And she has seventeen helpless girls at her mercy.

Naturally when they arrive at the prison they’re sent to the showers. What would a WiP movie be without a shower scene? The girls also get subjected a medical examination. It’s supposed to be a complete checkup but the doctor seems to think that a gynaecological examination (which is filmed surprisingly graphically) is all that is required.

The three prettiest girls, Rita (Brigitte Lahaie), Rosi (Nadina Pascal) and Lisa (France Lomay), find themselves sharing a cell. Three women stuck in a bare cell with nothing to do. And they’re surrounded by bored soldiers, cut off from contact with any women apart from the prisoners, with nothing to do. Fortunately the three girls and three of the soldiers hit on a solution. It’s a solution that they all find to be thoroughly enjoyable.

Meanwhile Carla is filling her time having sex with her chief warder and cooking up political schemes.

At first it looks like it’s going to be a straightforward WiP movie that ticks all the usual boxes. But it isn’t. Carla isn’t brutal and sadistic. The most cruel punishment she can think up for the girls is to force them to discard their boring prison dresses and remain naked all the time. The girls think this is terrific. They like being naked.

The soldiers just want to have sex with the women, and the women just want to have sex with the soldiers. The women don’t get raped. In fact they’re almost tearing the trousers off the soldiers in their eagerness to get some lovin’.

Two of the girls do try to escape, and get whipped for their trouble. But that brief whipping scene is the only moment of brutality and the girls don’t seem to be too worried about. They did try to escape after all.

This is a movie that relies on wackiness rather than sadism. Carla and her chief warder indulge in some clay pigeon shooting. They don’t have one of those machines to launch the clay pigeons into the air so they get a couple of nude girls to hurl them into the air. For the two girls it’s basically a bit of outdoor leisure. Carla decides that she and the chief warder will have a shooting competition. The loser will have to take on the strongest prisoner in unarmed combat. The warder loses but he’s not too worried since after all the strongest prisoner on the island is a pretty young woman. The girl proceeds to demonstrate how unarmed combat is done. She beats the daylights out of him. Carla ominously instructs the victorious girl to join her in her quarters later. But instead of some awful punishment, all Carla has in mind is a bedroom romp with the girl (which the girl enjoys).

Rita, Rosi and Lisa do eventually decide to make an escape attempt, but it’s not clear why since they’re actually having a good time on the island. Then we get a few amusing and actually quite clever plot twists (there hasn’t been any actual plot up to this point).

Erwin C. Dietrich understood his market very well. He knows what the movie wants in a softcore movie is some fun and lots and lots of naked women. And the women have to be beautiful. That’s what Dietrich gives them. This is a softcore movie but there’s a truly incredible amount of very explicit female nudity. It’s like Let’s Play Gynaecologist. But the girls are quite pretty and the three girls on whom most of the action focuses are absolutely gorgeous. Miss Lahaie does get one brief clothed scene. She puts on a rather fetching red dress, then discards it ten seconds later. Apart from that she and the other girls are pretty much naked for the entire movie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a softcore feature from this era with more female frontal nudity. And there’s plenty of very obviously simulated sex. Karine Gambier is also frequently nude.

The acting is OK considering that this movie is pretty undemanding stuff. Karine Gambier gives the standout performance as the sex and power-crazed Carla.

Full Moon’s DVD release offers an excellent anamorphic transfer. The colours are bright and they look right. Only the English dubbed version is offered.

This might sound strange but this is a light-hearted feelgood women-in-prison movie. It’s bright and cheerful. Yes, really. It has a bright cheerful look (gorgeous locations and lots of sunshine) and the content matches the look. This is really a “nude girls having fun in the sun movie” - it’s more like Club Med than a prison. It manages to pack an extraordinary amount of political incorrectness into its 80 minute running time but there’s nothing misogynistic about it. The female prisoners are whores but they’re actually really nice girls. Women of Inferno Island is more of an exercise in goofy fun than a conventional women-in-prison movie. It’s a women-in-prison movie you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying. Highly recommended.

Friday 3 September 2021

Rent-a-Girl (1965)

Rent-a-Girl is a 1965 American sexploitation movie which belongs to the roughie sub-genre, although it’s very much at the mild end of that sub-genre. It was written and directed by William Rose and shot (in black-and-white) in New York.

So perhaps I should start by explaining what a roughie is. In the early 60s the sexploitation genre was dominated by nudie-cuties. Nudie-cuties contained quite a bit of T&A but it was all done in a light-hearted good-natured wholesome and definitely non-sexual sort of way. Then a number of sexploitation directors and producers got the curious idea into their heads that American audiences would soon grow tired of looking at naked women. They decided they needed a new exploitation genre. Their solution was to add violence and sadism to the mix whilst still keeping the sexual content as innocuous as possible.

Karen Anderson is having boyfriend troubles and she’s lonely and depressed. She hears the sounds of merry-making in the apartment upstairs and decides to cheer herself up by introducing herself to her neighbours. She mets Evelyn Marshall and later Evelyn’s brother Adam. They seem very nice and they even tell her they might be able to get her some modelling work. Karen is the kind of girl whose judgment goes straight out the window when the prospect of a career in modelling is dangled in front of her. 

But it seems to work out really well. At first.

The modelling is just a little bit more risqué than she’d expected. She has to strip down to bra and panties. But she figures that that’s pretty normal even in respectable modelling. That sort of stuff appears even in respectable magazines.

In fact Evelyn and Adam are luring innocent girls into working in their call-girl ring. Their service specialises in kinky stuff. But they introduce their girls to that kinkiness very gradually. Karen still think it’s just regular modelling and she’s enjoying it and feeling really good about herself. So she’s not worried when the suggestion is made that she should do some nude modelling for them. It’s very tasteful and it seems harmless. And Evelyn and her brother are so sweet to her.

Karen has two problems looming of which she’s blissfully unaware. Firstly she’s going to be pushed into prostitution and kinky sex stuff and secondly she’s going to find that when she decides to quit it isn’t so easy. Evelyn and Adam don’t like their girls quitting on them. They don’t like it at all.

Evelyn and Adam provide their girls to wealthy clients with odd sexual tastes. Those clients aren’t always men. One of their best clients is Harriet Grant who is very rich and very kinky. She likes disciplining girls. Harriet, having seen some of her photos, has decided she definitely wants Karen. She’s throwing a big party which will be a kind of orgy and she intends Karen to be the main attraction. Karen knows about the party and of course has no idea of the sorts of things that go on at Harriet’s parties. If she attends she’s going to be in big trouble.

This was 1965 so while there’s a lot of nudity it’s just T&A. There’s only the mildest suggestion of actual sexual activity. The kinky stuff is ridiculously tame and rather amusing, except for one scene at the end which comes out of nowhere.

Rent-a-Girl has plenty of classic roughie ingredients with some of the delightfully weird touches that 60s American sexploitation movies so much fun - there’s some light bondage, a bit of whipping, a noughts-and-crosses game played on a nude girl’s body, girls sprayed with soda siphons, predatory lesbians, strip billiards and crazy Bohemian artists. And since this is 1965 it’s an absolute bonanza for viewers who like seeing girls in stockings and suspender belts. You’ll spot a few bouffant hairdos (which is always a plus). And there’s some very 60s dancing.

The cast includes three of my favourite sexploitation ladies of the 60s - Gigi Darlene, June Roberts and Darlene Bennett. They're always great to see. And Barbara Wood as Karen gives a competent acting performance. And Evelyn and Adam are great sleazy scheming villains. 

Rent-a-Girl is part of a Something Weird triple-feature (teamed with Aroused and the fabulously strange but entrancing Help Wanted: Female). The transfer of Rent-a-Girl is mostly very good although with occasional mild print damage. The black-and-white image is pleasingly sharp with good contrast.

Rent-a-Girl is classic 60s sexploitation, in other words it’s delightfully weird silly fun. Highly recommended.