Bite Size: Ginger (1971)

Unexplained disappearances and kidnappings are on the rise in an upscale community on the New Jersey shore. Private detective Jason Varone (William Grannel) has been retained by some of the residents to crack the case. Unfortunately, his last two operatives have died trying. With the disaffected air of someone who has nothing of importance to lose, he hires a society girl named Ginger (Cheri Caffaro) to attempt to infiltrate the gang from the outside.

Despite the fact that she has zero relevant experience other than being just as idly wealthy, overly tan and casually racist as her targets, Ginger is provided a suitcase of spy tools, and official secret operative status. Armed with a kit that came straight out of the back of a midcentury comic book, she’s quickly dispatched to break up the gang’s business in both drug smuggling and prostitution, before she can change her mind.

This softcore sexploitation romp was the brainchild of a New Jersey theater chain owner, Don Schain. Having taken on writing and directing duties himself, he kept the casting close to home and put his (then) wife in the starring role. Cheri Caffaro had primarily worked as a model up to that point, other than a bit part in 1971 comedy Up Your Alley.

Don Schain had a keen eye what would get asses in the seats, and Ginger is structured to have some trailer ready moments for just about every flavor of sexploitation sleaze. In the course of busting boss Rex Halsey (a neckerchief wearing Duane Tucker) and his gang of assorted racist stereotypes, dumb pretty boys and prostitutes, Ginger’s investigative techniques seem to come straight out of an adolescent fantasy round of Truth Or Dare.

She earns her way into the gang’s inner circle by giving a member named Rodney (gay porn star Casey Donovan) a pole dance at a bar. A conflict with the gang’s angry girlfriends becomes a beach bikini catfight where the loser is stripped naked and bound with her own bikini. Her attempt to convince one of the prostitutes to go states’ evidence leads to a brief lesbian affair.

Of course honey trap isn’t always going to be the best tact to take when dealing with hardened criminals who have already committed multiple homicides, so Ginger spends a good portion of the runtime in bondage or handcuffs as she plots her escapes, culminating in a wince inducing assault straight out of the 60s roughie playbook.

Despite the copious amounts of nudity (including a relatively rare male full frontal in addition to the female), the softcore scenes are lifeless. It’s mostly just poorly lit people lying on top of one another. The actual plot doesn’t fare much better. Ginger’s action scenes and nominal fight choreography are unconvincing, and the movie’s biggest bit of violent vengeance (a piano wire castration) happens off screen.

The story beats move in a muddied motivation slog, with characters shifting in and out at random to better allow for the next salacious set piece to have its moment in the sun. While the highlight reel approach was enough to make Ginger a hit that spawned two progressively more competent sequels, it doesn’t make for much of a viewing experience over 90 minutes.

Ginger is a historical curiosity of note, in that it marks a notable sea change in the history of exploitation film. The Ginger series was one of the last gasps of the hard R/soft X style of softcore film that the arrival of hardcore essentially obliterated. It is also a transitional point between two distinct grindhouse modes,combining the fetishistic elements of the fading late 60s roughie trend with a more assertive female fronted action and revenge angle that would become more prominent as the 70s progressed.

Yet, for a film so utterly packed with sex, violence and general what the fuckery, Ginger desperately lacks any sense of energy or fun. What slight pleasures the movie has can be attributed to Cheri Caffaro. There’s a certain daffy delight in her obvious confidence that she is the most spectacular creature in the room, even when she delivers her lines like Bridgette Bardot on Quaaludes or is furiously dancing like a slightly misprogrammed sex bot (the clip I included above, as I could not locate a theatrical trailer).

That said, there are better showcases for her wacky camp charm in her filmography (1977’s Too Hot to Handle being my personal favorite), and the few moments of Ginger that manage to transcend their status as a good idea poorly executed are easily found on Youtube without having to subject yourself to the entire thing.

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