Sunday, 19 April 2020

Reflections on ... Love Me Deadly (1972)

Love Me Deadly (1973). Tagline: “First The Exorcist … NOW Love Me Deadly!” 

I’m using this period of enforced social isolation to explore the weirder corners of YouTube for long forgotten and obscure movies. (My boyfriend Pal is accompanying me only semi-willingly). Absolutely nothing can psychologically prepare you for inexplicable early seventies exploitation movie Love Me Deadly - and in fact, I strongly encourage you to watch it without reading anything about it beforehand to experience its full jolting impact. (You’ll be Googling Love Me Deadly afterwards to try to clarify, “What the fuck did I just watch and who is responsible?!”). It’s truly one of those films that you spend its entirety wondering, “what were they thinking?!” I’m going to be deliberately vague about plot points here, but what I will say is that the lurid ad campaign for Love Me Deadly (“She was possessed by demons!” “The most shocking occult ordeal ever permitted on the screen!”) is entirely misleading, designed to capitalize on the box office success of The Exorcist. 

It stars Mary Wilcox (“Miss Body of 1973”) and two of the preeminent hunks of the period, Lyle Waggoner (formerly of The Carol Burnett Show, later of Wonder Woman) and Christopher Stone (sadly, you don’t get to see his naked ass this time like you do in 1970’s The Grasshopper). I can understand why Waggoner – a charming, handsome and square-jawed leading man in the Rock Hudson / John Gavin school – would want to shake-up his staid image with a more “challenging” film. I just can’t believe he thought Love Me Deadly was the right choice! 

What’s weirdly compelling about Love Me is its wildly erratic tone, abruptly switching from terror and gore to campy soap opera to full-frontal nudity to zany romantic comedy. The action is punctuated with loads of mistily romantic “date montage” scenes of the characters picnicking and holding hands in the park, and the whole thing is slathered with an inappropriately perky musical soundtrack (the opening credits song is belted by a poor man’s Shirley Bassey and feels like a lost James Bond theme tune. The chanteuse in question is Kit Fuller and she actually performs two songs: "Love Me Deadly" and "You're Something Special." Sadly, Google searches reveal nothing about her). There is also a great emphasis on heroine Wilcox’s many ultra-seventies wardrobe changes (she’s partial to cute crocheted caps and maxi-dresses). 

WARNING: there is a segment of genuinely traumatic horror about 15-minutes in which is like something out of a Dennis Cooper novel. Do what I did (cover your eyes the entire time – although you’ll still hear the very convincing screams!). Love Me Deadly is the movie that finally pushed Pal over the edge: he wanted to know who recommended this one and requested, “Can we watch a normal movie next time?” 

As always: watch at your own risk! As the ad campaign warns: “Beware! This film in which supernatural suspense and terror go hand in icy hand is not recommended for the emotionally immature!”

/ Watch Love Me Deadly (if you dare!) here /

Further reading. 

As always, you get a reward for reading this far.

/ Lyle Waggoner's 1973 Playgirl pictorial. Can you say "DILF"? /

/ Luscious Christopher Stone's memorable nude scene in The Grasshopper (1970). Via /

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Reflections on ... Pitfall (1948)

/ A girl and a gun ... Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr in Pitfall (1948). Interestingly, this publicity still bears no relation to anything that happens in the film itself! /

A Lobotomy Room film recommendation: tense and compelling 1948 film noir Pitfall, directed by Andre de Toth. Thematically and stylistically it may remind you of two movies we’ve already screened at the monthly Lobotomy Room film club (currently on hiatus due to coronavirus pandemic!). Like Too Late for Tears (1949) – also starring the luscious croaky-voiced Lizabeth Scott – Pitfall is a film noir rooted in a degree of relative plausibility and set in the milieu of comfortably affluent sun-lit middle-class suburbia (suburban Los Angeles in this case). And married middle-aged protagonist John Forbes (the Olympic Insurance Company employee played by Dick Powell) finds himself in the same dilemma as Fred MacMurray’s character in the 1956 Douglas Sirk melodrama There’s Always Tomorrow (1956): he’s ostensibly achieved the American dream (good “white collar” salary, a beautiful house in the ‘burbs, dutiful wife, a cute child) but is consumed with a gnawing dissatisfaction with the ordered routine of his life and a yearning for excitement. Investigating what appears to be a standard embezzlement case, Forbes becomes entangled with alluring fashion model Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott) and soon finds himself unwittingly caught-up in adultery, crime – and murder! To considerably complicate proceedings, corrupt private eye Raymond Burr - erotically fixated on Mona (this was before the concept of “stalking”) - is lurking on the sidelines. (Burr makes for a genuinely ominous villain not just due to his menacing physical bulk, but his eerily calm, unblinking demeanor).

/ Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott in Pitfall (1948) /

What's also noteworthy: for a Production Code-era film, Pitfall takes a remarkably non-judgmental and adult perspective on Forbes' extramarital affair. 

The whole cast is exemplary (including Jane Wyatt as Forbes’ unsuspecting wife) but Scott is heart-wrenching as Mona. In contrast to Too Late for Tears, here she’s a good girl – well, a complicated, sinned-against and down-on-her-luck girl striving to be good. (At every turn, Mona strives to do the honorable thing - which never does her any favours). It’s astonishing to reflect that years ago Scott was routinely dismissed as an ersatz Lauren Bacall. An all-too typical assessment is writer Penny Stalling’s: “Scott ... churned out twenty-two films between 1945 and 1953, but few are memorable.” How could a filmography studded with gems likes Pitfall, Too Late for Tears and Desert Fury be “unmemorable”? Even Scott’s lesser films (like The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers and Dead Reckoning) are at least interesting! In Pitfall, Scott is particularly seductive when extolling the virtues of day-time drinking: “Have you ever noticed if for some reason you want to feel completely out of step with the rest of the world, the only thing to do is sit around a cocktail lounge in the afternoon?”

High quality version of Pitfall on YouTube here. 

Monday, 13 April 2020

Reflections on ... Pink Angels (1972)

Pink Angels (1972). Tagline: “It's New! It's Wild! Catch the Pink Angels ... if you can!” 

I’m using this period of enforced social isolation to explore the weirder corners of YouTube for long forgotten and obscure movies. (my boyfriend Pal is accompanying me only semi-willingly). Now this is a real oddity: an el cheapo grindhouse / exploitation road trip comedy about an outlaw gay biker gang crossing the coast to get to Los Angeles in time for a drag queen ball and the wacky mishaps they encounter along the way (getting harassed by pigs – I mean, cops; clashing with “straight” establishment society; feuding with a nastier rival heterosexual biker gang). 

Quick thoughts: the film-making is cheerfully inept (the weird “cold opening” seemingly bears no relation to the rest of the film, for example. The scenes of the buffoon-ish far-right military general are clearly spliced-in from a completely different movie which explains why he never interacts with any of the main characters), but it has a nice sun-kissed look, the dialogue feels improvised, the cast is certainly game for a laugh, and it packs a loopy, meandering and amiable charm for most of its 81-minutes. 

Having said that: while Pink Angels’ representation of homosexuality is broadly positive, its tasteless, tone-deaf embracing of swishy stereotypes, the preponderance of bare female boobs (but zero male nudity) and the fact that the gay bikers bicker queenily among themselves but don’t seem to have sex lives reveals it was never intended for a gay audience and was definitely made by heterosexuals for heterosexuals. Also: the soundtrack of generic groovy hippie rock music grates after a while. 

One major caveat: the abruptly violent (if obviously fake) shock-o-rama ending completely at odds with the tone of the preceding film concludes things on a “what the fuck?” downer. (One plausible theory floating online: the money ran out before a “proper” ending for Pink Angels was filmed, and this grimly downbeat Easy Riders-influenced conclusion was “tacked-on” afterwards). One major plus: the commanding John Alderman (1934 – 1987) as side-burned, leather-jacketed leader of the Pink Angels is a smouldering hunk and John Hamm-level handsome. Apparently, his wayward acting career encompassed theatre, low-budget exploitation flicks (including 1973 blaxploitation film Cleopatra Jones), mainstream movies (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) and even hardcore (hetero) porn! Sadly, he died aged 52 of a heart attack.

/ Screen grab via /

Watch Pink Angels here.  

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Reflections on ... Sins of Rachel (1972)

It’s been suggested that – while Fontaine’s bar is temporarily shuttered due to the coronavirus scourge and the world is socially-isolating itself – the Lobotomy Room film club (specializing in the cult, the kitsch and the queer!) could continue online for the time being. I’ll be occasionally posting fun oddities and obscurities that are viewable on YouTube for your delectation. Remember: Lobotomy Room is the home of Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People) so watch at your own risk! 

There’s putrid trash … and then there’s Sins of Rachel (1972). Tagline: “Oh Rachel, my love, the lives you shatter … if you should die, would it really matter?” Brief synopsis: in an unnamed Los Angeles suburb, blowzy middle-aged cocktail lounge singer Rachel Waring is found brutally murdered in her home. Could it be because Rachel was about to write her salacious tell-all memoirs, blowing-open the town’s long-suppressed secrets? The intrepid police inspector interrogates various potential suspects (including her sensitive and sexually uncertain son, her parasitic younger lover and the local reverend) and in flashbacks we see their tortured relationships with the dead woman and their motivations for why they might have killed her.

/ Our first glimpse of a carefree, fun-loving sensualist Rachel Waring in the film's "cold opening". Little does Rachel suspect she has a date ... with death! (Note: Sins of Rachel is so obscure there are no decent stills or photos online, so these are my own inexpert screen grabs) / 

Filmed in a process called “Texturetone” with the threadbare production values and grungy vibe of a seventies porn film, Sins of Rachel is sometimes misrepresented as a gruesome horror movie (it could be loosely categorized as “hagsploitation”, and there is one gory Herschell Gordon Lewis-style close-up of the murder victim’s blood-drenched face, but the special effects ain’t exactly convincing). Sins is truthfully more of an ultra-lurid, heavy-breathing soap opera crossed with a crime who-done-it, all overlaid with a frankly queer sensibility and an ineffable veneer of sleaze. In other words: our kind of movie!

/ Above: the blood-drenched fate of Rachel Waring /

/ What was Texturetone? If Sins of Rachel is meant to be an example of the glories of Texturetone, no wonder it never caught on! Zenith Films was the same production company director Richard Fontaine used to release his earlier beefcake homo porn short movies like A Date with the Boys (1956), Days of Greek Gods (1954) and Hot Harem (1965) /

/ The emphasis on homoerotica already begins in Sins' opening credits with shots of Peter Thomas (Chase Cordell) moodily roaring down the freeway on his hog. The theme tune is a gorgeous adult contemporary ballad called "What Does a Bird Do?" by Jerry Kane. There is virtually no information on the song or the singer online, sadly /

The director Richard “Dick” Fontaine, an associate of Athletic Model Guild’s Bob Mizer, had an extensive background in the realm of mid-century beefcake homoerotica and Sins’ cast is “fleshed-out” with a lusciously buff selection of sinewy male actors who certainly look like escapees from a hardcore gay porn set of the period (think shaggy hair, mustaches, mutton chop sideburns). Clearly a connoisseur of firm male flesh, Fontaine finds copious opportunities for them to do things like strip down to their tighty whitie underwear, ride shirtless on motorcycles and exchange sexually-charged glances, and keeps his camera securely focused on their pert asses in tight pants. (No complaints here!). I own a DVD of Fontaine’s vintage homo physique work (Thirteen Apollo Films: 1954 – 1965) and he displays genuine flair and artistry in baby oil-and-posing-pouch territory. As a “regular” mainstream director, though, he’s catastrophically Edward D Wood Jr-level inept. (At one point, two characters exchange some crucial dialogue and Fontaine films them at length completely obscured by a fireplace in the foreground).

/ The framing I refer to above, worthy of Ed Wood or Doris Wishman - this is actually a key scene! /

/ Director Richard Fontaine's "queer eye" for sun-kissed male flesh (actor Bruce Campbell as Rachel's nubile son Jimmy Waring in The Sins of Rachel) /

/ An example of the beefcake / physique photography of Richard Fontaine. Model: Clark Hunter, circa 1968 /

/ Detective Bruce Jennings, investing Rachel Waring's grisly murder. As far as I can discern, actor and mustached cutie Brett Marriott made only one further film after Sins - the intriguing Blood Orgy of The She-Devils in 1973 /

The suspects include:

/ Rachel's grasping lounge lizard toy boy lover Hank. Actor Jerome Scott had already collaborated with director Richard Fontaine and Ann Noble on the 1971 short film Threads of Man and went on to make just one further film appearance (as "Adult Film Director" in something called Drop Out (1973)). His nude scene is one of Sins' highlights  /

/ Rachel's sensitive, closeted gay son Jimmy Waring. Did Rachel's dysfunctional, borderline incestuous relationship with him push Jimmy over the edge?!  Sins is the sole film appearance by Bruce Campbell. Cute as he is (those thick lush sideburns!), acting wasn't really his forte /

/ Patricia Rees as Jimmy's sexpot blonde girlfriend Shirley Taylor - who does not appreciate having to share him with his needy mother Rachel! According to IMDb, Rees may have gone on to make fleeting appearances on TV shows like Cagney & Lacey and Growing Pains in the eighties /

/ Swiftly to replace Shirley in Jimmy's affections - the ruggedly handsome and brooding Peter Thomas (I'm unsure why some characters are afforded surnames and others aren't?). We've already seen the enigmatic Peter driving his motorcycle over Sins' opening credits (sans shirt and helmet). Director Fontaine also seems to delight in showing Peter doing shirtless martial arts. The skimpy filmography of actor Chase Cordell (great name worthy of Henry Willson!) is sprinkled with titles like The Curse of a Faithful Wife (1972), November Children (1972) and Track of the Moon Beast (1976) /

/ Or could it be Chester Brown - the suave and urbane publisher of Rachel's sensational autobiography? (Actually, no - that makes no sense and the character has zero motivation). Making his film debut in Sins, durable actor Fred D Scott would proceed to have the most impressive acting career of anyone in the cast. His numerous acting credits on IMDb encompass blaxploitation cinema (Black Shampoo (1976)) and numerous television roles on everything from Sanford and Son, Roots, Knot's Landing and Murder She Wrote! /

/ And what's the deal with Reverend Taylor, father of Shirley ... who recoils in undisguised horror when Jimmy confides in him about his homosexuality? Reverend Taylor is (hammily) portrayed by actor Stephen Lester - who was Ann Noble's off-screen husband! More about him later on /

Full credit where it’s due: Sins of Rachel is laudably positive about the erotic awakening of anguished mama’s boy Jimmy and his eventual acceptance of his own homosexuality in the arms of his buddy Peter. (This was, after all, the post-Stonewall era of gay liberation and Sins seems clear-eyed about who its intended audience is). Ann Noble was clearly an ally! Not that the word “gay” is ever uttered, and Jimmy and Peter never kiss onscreen. (Seriously! I was shouting, “Kiss! Kiss!” at the screen). 

/ “I’m all mixed up inside!” The adorable Jimmy /

/ Jimmy halfheartedly attempting a facade of heterosexuality with Shirley /

/ Below: the scenes between Peter and Jimmy crackle with homoerotic tension / 

/ The look of love /

An admission: I’ve become fixated on portly leading lady-of-a-certain age Ann Noble, who not only stars in the title role as the doomed Rachel, but wrote the screenplay (take that, Barbra Streisand!). For Noble, Sins was clearly a profound personal statement, a labour of love a and a cri de coeur. But who was this unsung Renaissance woman? What motivated her? Noble has no Wikipedia page and the information on her IMDb profile is sparse to say the least. (For example, it provides no birth and death dates for her. Noble is presumably long dead by now). She made only a handful of movie appearances in the early seventies when she appeared to be already in her fifties, all on the grubby outer fringes of reputable film-making: horror movie The Corpse Grinders (1971)  (seemingly her debut), Threads of Man (1971) (a homoerotic short film also directed by Richard Fontaine,  unavailable online), Sins of Rachel (1972) and two triple-x  gay porn flicks, Hollywood Cowboy (1972) (in which her character is credited only as “Barfly”) and The Light from the Second Story Window (1973). After that – total silence. An outrageous and bizarre queer Valley of the Dolls-style exposé about the sheer hell of getting ahead in the cutthroat show business glamour jungle, The Light from the Second Story Window merits its own blog post (and will get one!). Billed as “Vicki Mills”, Noble’s performance in the secondary role of Alma is equal to her efforts in Sins (her opening line: “I’ve been waiting all night to get fucked!”) and let’s just say she seems convincingly intoxicated in her drunk scenes. (I haven’t explored Hollywood Cowboy yet).

From my own online sleuthing, I’ve deduced that Noble originally hailed from Portsmouth here in the United Kingdom (hence the unmistakable plummy British accent) and her “government name” was Mrs Irene Philcox. (Ann Noble. Vicki Mills. Irene Philcox. She was a woman of many aliases).  A local newspaper article from 1972 headlined “Movie star came home to Portsmouth” documented a rare visit home to see her parents, Mr and Mrs P Noble-Airy, as if Noble was a noteworthy local dignitary (it must have been an extremely slow news day?). Presumably Noble fudged the precise nature of her movie work, but the piece does mention Sins of Rachel: “Miss Noble carried out promotional work, and made personal appearances in connection with Sins of Rachel, an intriguing look at life, death, social morality and love, which she wrote and starred in.” The article also mentions “for the second successive year, she received a best-actress-of-the-year award in Hollywood.” What could this weirdly non-specific award have been? I love how they leave it vaguely unclear, as if it may well have been an Oscar! Also name-dropped is Noble’s husband, Mr Lester Philcox “who was also in show business.” His stage name was Stephen Lester – and he appeared onscreen opposite Noble in The Corpse Grinders, Threads of Man, Sins of Rachel (he plays Reverend Taylor), Hollywood Cowboy and The Light from the Second Story Window. So, the duo was clearly the low-rent sexploitation equivalent of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh or Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. (One possible theory: Mr and Mrs Philcox were financial investors in these shoe-string movies – on the condition they also got to appear onscreen?).

/ Ann Noble (or should that be "Irene Philcox"?) en famille. At left is her husband, Lester Philcox (aka Stephen Lester) /

Anyway, back to Sins. Noble had clearly watched and absorbed her share of old Joan Crawford, Lana Turner and Elizabeth Taylor melodramas over the decades and seized this opportunity to make her own “star vehicle” in this vein (albeit updated for the "permissive age"). Sins was filmed on location in Noble’s own home, which explains all the flattering and idealized portraits of herself bedecking the walls. (Her choice in interior décor is as frou-frou and chi chi as you’d expect). She also inevitably wears her own personal wardrobe onscreen and frolics in all her best finery: ruffled blouses, chic pantsuits, cocktail dresses, peignoirs trimmed with feathers and – in one eye-popping sequence – spilling out of skimpy lingerie.

/ Glimpses of Rachel Waring's / Ann Noble's interior decor: note the flattering photos and portraits of herself displayed everywhere /

/ “I need someone! I’m a lonely woman! I need the warmth of another human being!” At her most tormented, hot-pool-of-woman-need Noble seems to be channeling Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) / 

/ The manipulative Rachel quickly deduces that Peter represents a threat to her unhealthy hold over Jimmy in this high-voltage confrontation /

Sins’ script takes pains to stress that the volatile Rachel was a local celebrity (as well as being – as a bartender bluntly puts it – “a pretty good lay”), with awe-struck characters repeatedly emphasizing what a great “star” she was in her prime (“she was quite a performer in her day!”). And Rachel – who certainly behaves like a queenly grand dame - maintains a voluminous scrapbook filled with clippings about herself.  (But then she also argues, “As far as this town is concerned, I’m more “notorious” than “prominent””). The evidence for this stardom is weirdly unclear, though. Rachel was supposedly a celebrated nightclub chanteuse, but Noble never once sings in the film. But then neither does her scheming, much-younger stud muffin gigolo lover, aspiring singer Hank (although on the plus side, director Fontaine ensures we get a lingering look at actor Jerome Scott’s memorable naked ass). Throughout, Noble’s cat-on-a-hot-tin roof performance - clearly striving for Bette Davis-like intensity - is gloriously overripe, whether chain-smoking and swilling sherry (it must be said that Noble’s demeanor is believably “tipsy”), engaging in shrewish mood swings or lustfully groping her significantly younger leading men (including – gasp! – her own son!). Credit where it’s due – Noble grasps her moment in this film, understandably earning comparisons to fellow “outsider actress” Edith Massey, "Hermione Baddeley crossed with some moldy Yorkshire pudding" and even “Marlene Dietrich after a two-week bender.” 

/ Rachel in seduction mode /

/ Coquette-ish Rachel toys with her with sherry glass when she encounters Hank for the first time /

/ The film could just have easily been entitled Vices of Rachel. Was the alcohol in these glasses real, I wonder? /

/ Below: raw sensuality, scorching the screen! Last of the red-hot mamas Rachel and Hank romping in bed together /

/ Your reward for reading this far: Hank's memorable nude scene. I don't know about you, but I'd like to see more of actor Jerome Scott /

Sins is what trash auteur John Waters would admiringly term a “gutter film”, and it abounds with Waters-style moments (especially the broad, shout-y acting. Watch for the secondary characters of Rachel’s gossipy female neighbour and her housekeeper, who bitchily speculate that Rachel “wears padded bras”). Like its star Ann Noble, the film is simultaneously appalling and majestic. The Sins of Rachel is a rancid cult film waiting to be discovered.

/ Refugees from a John Waters movie? Rachel's nosy neighbour and her cleaning lady gossip about her /

Watch Sins of Rachel here!

Read more here.