The trailer for 1975’s Street Girls is a classic exploitation bait and switch. Rather than sassy Sapphic sex workers holding their own amongst pimps and pushers, we get an odd duck melodrama about a whitebread Midwestern dad named Sven (Art Burke) searching for his missing daughter, Angel (Christine Souder).
Of course, Angel is not living up to her bone crushingly literal name. She’s dropped out of college and is working at a strip club that is little more than a front for prostitution. Angel also recently dumped her caring girlfriend, Sally (Carol Case), for a violent suitcase pimp of a boyfriend whose principle personality traits are some unfortunate chest hair and the gleeful facilitation of a heroin habit.
While there is abundant (if indifferently framed and shot) nudity and the played for titillation lesbian angle, Street Girls’ main wheelhouse is more akin to juvenile delinquency films and white slavery scare epics than any straight up softcore sleaze. While it does try to add some dimension to its cast of characters, the more serious implications of its plot points are negated by tonally discordant swerves into goofy trashiness that keep either aspect from really packing a punch.
Sven’s homophobia being a possible cause for Angel’s escape or Sally’s survival sex work being a means of supporting her gender non conforming brother are brushed over, but never really explored. Instead there’s a few hamfisted attempts at shock and grit. The most notable of which is Angel having a nightmare trick with a jingle singing auto mechanic that is very deeply into the specs of protective goggles…..and golden showers.
While unquestionably a bargain bin mess of an effort, there is a certain scruffy charm in the sweeping blasts of pop music that are clearly meant to delineate a SERIOUS DRAMATIC MOMENT, followed by all relevant lines being delivered in the most sonambulant manner possible. This is also the most guileless group of miscreants imaginable, as pimps, pushers and prostitutes gleefully exposition dump the details of their work, suppliers and sex lives at the slightest bit of pleading from the haplessly suburban Sven.
Jazz organist Jimmy Smith has a small part as the club’s resident bartender, the only character who has the good sense to keep his mouth shut. He’s also the only actor who seems to be aware of how ridiculous this all is. His arch line delivery seems imported from a better class of exploitation film, and he lands the film’s insanely silly final (non voiceover) line with the heaping eyeroll it deserves.
Aside from director and co writer Michael Miller (Silent Rage, Jackson County Jail), most of the cast never made another film. Yet in the parade of feature film one and dones, there is an interesting historical footnote. The other co writer on Street Girls was none other than a very young Barry Levinson, who has quietly pretended this movie never happened in the 45 years since its unceremonious release.
While 1979’s Hardcore handles the same base plot with infinitely more skill and 1986’s Hollywood Vice Squad does the same in regard to captivating trashiness, Street Girls is a notable wildcard for one very specific reason.
In this rare as a lottery win instance, Levinson’s career led him not only out of no budget exploitation, but to the upper echelons of “respectable” mainstream cinema. Levinson has had multiple Oscar nominations in major categories, winning Best Director for 1988’s Rain Man.
While other successful film makers showed sparks of promise even in their earliest low budget genre efforts, you wouldn’t necessarily peg the guy who wrote an entire monolog about “turning that holy hole into a money hole” to end up with the coveted gold statuette 13 years down the line. Never give up on your dreams, kids.