Bite Size: The Love Statue: LSD Experience (1965)

Tyler (Peter Ratray) is just another starving artist in Greenwich Village. His paintings don’t pay the rent, so he must turn to other tools—like keeping financially solvent cabaret dancer Lisa (Broadway dancer Beti Seay) satisfied during their on demand sex sessions. Ty chafes at the sugar baby lifestyle, particularly when constantly reminded of his failings by his acid tongued lover. It’s a constant cycle of break ups to make ups, broken bottles, and Ty tossing Lisa’s latest donation of ready cash off the roof of the building. All of the fireworks are followed by a rush to apologize when the bills come due.

Before the day is out he has sculptor Stan (Harvey J. Goldenberg) squatting in his studio, and Ty is getting miserably sauced at the—slightly disreputable, but still a destination—Bitter End. His attempts to take revenge by humiliating Lisa during her performance fall flat, as she big boots him off the stage and steps on his fallen body as she makes her exit.

His equally underemployed friends Nick (Coleman Younger) and Josh try to offer Ty an ear, but he just keeps on drinking himself insensate. The pair, sensing the need for something stronger, introduce him to Japanese chanteuse Mashiko (Hisako Tsukuba, The Golden Bat). She’s a dealer in the “instant psychotherapy” of L.S.D., “the latest in dreams”. Initially resistant, he decides to join her friends for a little trip. Rather than just a few hours, Ty ends up vanishing for almost three days.

Post trip, he’s feeling confident and clear headed. Finally, he finds the words to break up with Lisa for good. He has a lovely celebratory day running some errands and feeding ducks in the park. Too bad that Ty’s happiness is very short lived. He returns home to find his paintings destroyed, Stan missing, and Lisa’s lifeless body on the floor. Given his adventures in hallucinogenics, he has to try to piece together where he’s been, and if he could’ve been the one to kill her.

This early effort by writer/director David Durston (Stigma) definitely seems like his attempt to add some arty Michelangelo Antonioni style flare to his visuals and some Joe Sarno style psychosexual conflict to his plots. To that point, the opening credits sequence is actually rather effective, with a woman dancing in silhouette behind a screen as a melancholy sounding Japanese language ballad plays. There’s plenty of intercuts of classical statues, art, and candles used as punctuation to events on screen, and a moody black and white cinematography that seems carefully calibrated by comparison to his later work.

Despite the marketing push and the title, The Love Statue has much more in common with something like 1953’s Violated — another poverty stricken Greenwich Village set film that mixes atmospheric arty ambitions with exploitation practicality— than the full on hippie hangover of Durston’s own I Drink Your Blood. The thrust of the narrative lies in the interpersonal conflicts and their implications in the central murder mystery.

As for L.S.D. references, there’s a quick acid fueled party scene, but nothing of note happens. Ty’s own trip is a 5 minute digression into shaky cameras, kaleidoscope style swirling visuals, and a brief cameo from New York sexploitation starlet Gigi Darlene (Bad Girls Go To Hell) as the titular statue. The drug then basically vanishes from the film, only mentioned in a last minute bit of throwaway dialog meant to tie up loose ends.

There’s a certain quaint charm in all of this down at heel hep cat Bohemia, but the snappy, slangy dialog amongst Ty’s group of friends doesn’t really lead to any deeper characterization. Beti Seay’s Lisa is a snarling humiliatrix imported from a roughie, but everyone else (including Peter Ratray’s pushover Ty) is just a “big, beautiful bowl of mush”, acting as convenient devices to move the plot along. Not that it would’ve mattered much, as the very limited cast list makes sussing out the killer a simple operation.

In 1965, Beatniks and noir trappings were both a bit dated, but the garish explosion of flower power had not yet taken over. This left youth culture trendsetters and filmmakers looking for exploitable content a bit betwixt and between. Perhaps this is why The Love Statue never really gels into a cohesive whole. The film is too chaste to really work as sexploitation, too thin to work as a crime thriller and too serious and square to operate as a substance fueled youth scare sleaze fest. There are glimmers of good ideas scattered throughout, all of which were better handled somewhere in Durston’s later filmography .

This leaves The Love Statue as more of a historical curio—it is early example of L.S.D. being painted as a potential boogeyman— than an essential. The movie is certainly of minor interest to exploitation history nerds, fans of the all too brief career of Gigi Darlene, and David Durston completetionists. For everyone else, finding the original source of this popular GIF is likely the best thing gleaned from viewing it.

Bite Size: Shanty Tramp (1967)

Shanty Tramp opens with overexposed black and white photography, the pencil skirted posterior of its protagonist framed squarely across the opening credits. Even without the brass brand bleating “When The Saints Go Marching In” it’s obvious this is somewhere in the American South. Sweat beads on the brows of passerby as the camera pulls out to reveal a toothy brunette doing her best wiggling walk. Dirt floor Marilyn Monroe via a white cocktail dress from the rural route five and dime.

Every night is pretty much the same for Emily Stryker (Eleanor Vaill). The backroads barns or the juke joint, it doesn’t matter. Whereever the men and the money are is good enough for her. On this particular night it’s the revival tent, fire and brimstone Preacher Fallows bellowing at the poverty stricken pious to part with the cold hard cash that the good Lord prefers.

One look at the overflowing collection plate and Emily knows exactly what her offering is going to be. The pair’s innuendo laden exchange is only interrupted by the fact that Preacher Fallows has a midnight tent meeting. He offers her a private “spiritual consultation” afterwards.

She doesn’t even notice the awe struck gaze of Daniel (Lewis Galen), one of the only Black residents of the tiny town. Emily’s gutter glamour is transfixing amongst such a grim backdrop, and he barely hears his mother’s warnings that that “shanty tramp” will be nothing but trouble for him in a town brim full of racists. They’ve already killed Daniel’s father, so she’s keenly aware of what the townsfolk could do to her son.

Emily has time to kill and streets to walk, brushing off her drunken father(Otto Schlessinger) as she struts off into the night. What a night it is, with biker brawls and $5 tricks gone wrong. Violence, murder and chaos trails in Emily’s wake.

Shanty Tramp, when searched on online databases, is shrouded in layers of incorrect information. With a 1967 release date, it’s far from “an early progenitor of exploitation films” —which had arguably existed since the silent era, depending on the definition at hand— nor was it directed by Cuban expat José Prieto (Miss Leslie’s Dolls). George Weiss associate Joseph P. Marwa (the Olga series) directed this and several other films during a stint in Florida, which got credited to Prieto after a conflict with producers.

What separates Shanty Tramp from similar threadbare regional productions is just how many hicksploitation mainstays it manages to pack into a 72 minute run time, with a good ten of that spent on a dance to the (extremely catchy) title tune at a bar. Hypocritical preachers, white trash tramps, racist rednecks, biker bad boys, moonshiners, incest minded drunken patriarchs, the entire catalog of chicken fried exploitable content is here somewhere, with a dash of nudity to garnish the potent trash cinema cocktail.

If anything, the non existent production values and lack of daytime shots help add to the claustrophobic atmosphere of a town where there’s absolutely nowhere to hide, and no one who much gives a damn about anything outside of themselves. Shanty Tramp‘s world is an incredibly bleak one, with pretty much every character in search of sex and/or money by any means necessary. Anyone who believes in even the slightest shred of the less base human emotions finds themselves a rube or a corpse.

Faith in God gets the believers separated from their meager incomes. Daniel attempting to save Emily from both herself and a violent trick is repaid via a false accusation of rape, the murder of his mother, and death. The innocent young man is killed in an automobile explosion when he tries to escape the deadly lynch mob Emily’s lies have brought out.

Shanty Tramp is often a rough watch, but not exactly a roughie. It shares more DNA with the grim Gothic of Common Law Wife than the The Defilers. The film’s violence isn’t a replacement for sex, as carnal desire is omnipresent in Shanty Tramp. There’s not a man in the film who can resist Emily’s pretty poison —including her own father— even though every one of Emily’s toothy smiles is merely a soon to be deadly show of teeth.

In this very specific regard, Eleanor Vaill’s burlesque dancer on Valium disconnected affect becomes an asset. Emily doesn’t know how to be human, so Vaill’s bizarre character choices start making a perverse (and likely unintentional) sort of sense.

It is easy to see how potently scandalous the film would have been at its release, with the death rattle of the Hays code still haunting the cinematic landscape. For decades, the mainstream had dictated that crime and vice must never appear to pay, and Shanty Tramp had the brute force fortitude to wrap up its bitter stew of swamp bred scuzz with a double entendre, a second blast of brass, and a fade to black. Much like Emily’s drunken Pa, Shanty Tramp found itself “a nice warm spot in the gutter” and offered viewers a very dark night without the respite of sleeping it off.

Bite Size: She Mob (1968)

She Mob is about as regional a production as one is likely to find. The movie never saw a first run release outside of Texas, the directors uncredited for decades. Single serving performers were culled from the ranks of Jack Ruby‘s various nightclub ventures. The film was assumed to be lost by the few people outside of the Lone Star state that had ever even seen it. Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video rescued a print from obscurity —later fully restored by the American Genre Film Archive— and without the work of those preservationists, it would be excessively unlikely that She Mob would exist to watch today.

Big Shim (Marni Castle) is a butch top for the ages, a leather loving lesbian who doesn’t even take off her fetish gear (including an impressively pointy cone bra) to sleep. She’s broken out an all girl gang of hellcats from the slammer, and they’re holed up in a rural Texas farmhouse while on the lam from the law.

While Big Shim can get her Mistress kicks with beautiful blonde submissive Baby (Eve Laurie), the rest of the gang is feeling the tension of 5 sexless years. They demand a man for their personal pleasure. Big Shim is a benevolent ruler, and calls upon local gigolo Tony (Adam Clyde) to keep the harem happy.

Soon there’s bigger business afoot than banging, as Tony is currently being kept in sports cars and gold cigarette lighters by local business woman Brenda (Marni Castle again, playing up her femme side in a dual role). Big Shim lures Tony to the house with the promise of his pick of the girls, then holds him hostage for a hefty sum of cash from his lonely lady employer. Not wanting to lose her chance to take things lying down, Brenda hires butt crack baring, delightfully mod girl detective Sweety East ( Monique Duval, in an obvious parody of Honey West) to crack the case.

With a fantastic opening credits sequence, crisp black and white photography and a pretty fantastic library cues and trash jazz score, She Mob positions itself in the early running as the chicken fried cousin to Russ Meyer and Doris Wishman’s “bad girl in a worse world” style of sleaze cinema. That impression doesn’t last very long. Like a lot of movies centered around sex made in an era where very little sexual content could actually be shown, things get much less wild, but way more weird.

Marni Castle never had another screen credit, and it’s a shame, as she’s an absolute joy here. Her “I own 51% of this company, and 100% of your dick” energy as Brenda is delightful, but her turn as Big Shim is a sleaze film all timer. She struts and swaggers and sweats, ordering her girls in and out of lingerie and keeping her trusty shotgun at the ready. Her is gang her own personal palace of big breasted blondes and scantily clad ladies in waiting for their next criminal caper. Had She Mob stayed in the territory of queer camp crime romp, it would have been infinitely more fun.

The arrival of Tony into this world of women slows everything down exponentially, swapping heist plots for constant penis chatter and interminably long softcore scenes that are just weird thrashing of feet and bread kneading on people’s buttocks. The film piles on loads more kink imagery, but it replaces babes in stockings, garters, and peek a boo bras for a full slate of male fantasy wish fulfillment. The back half of the film is straight out of adult bookstore fetish slicks and letters to Penthouse.

There’s the eager group all clamoring for a man, with even the seemingly Sapphic Baby wanting a piece of Tony’s action. There’s some light bondage, a deadly escape attempt, black net lingerie, a spot of whipping, and a forced feminization scene. It’s hard to see what even the most sex starved of women would see in Tony, and it’s even more difficult to give a damn about his fate when he has less personality than the average novelty beer mug. What began as a fresh feeling exercise in hyper regional sleaze becomes another sleepy plod through a queer movie clearly written by and for the titillation of straight people.

At least the women torturing Tony to avenge their fallen friend gives Marni Castle a chance to snarl the immortal line “My tits are as hard as my heart!” before stabbing him with her cone bra. Some verve returns to the film when our lamé jumpsuit wearing girl detective locates the gang. There’s a karate chopping, car chasing, guns blazing showdown between the she mob, Sweety and Johnny Law. Then, it’s back to some moderately skin bearing business for the final reel.

She Mob has some delightfully tacky retro aesthetics, and a fine fashion show of vintage lingerie and fetishwear that is sure to please fans of the kinkier side of sexploitation. That said, the sex scenes are forced to into flatness by the restrictions of the era, and there isn’t nearly enough gun toting and desert car chases to make up the difference. Viewers hoping for freakier riff on the female led destruction of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! will most likely be sorely disappointed by She Mob‘s slower pace.

All of that aside, every second Big Shim is on screen is worth watching, a rare moment where a masculine of center woman gets to fully inhabit space and chew scenery right alongside her far more famous femme counterparts in the grindhouse cinema canon. While the movie tries its hardest (all puns intended) to make Tony’s big dicked tub of Brylcreem the hero, you could fast forward through just about all of his scenes and not miss much. She Mob is Big Shim’s bullet bra world, and the rest of us are just lucky to get to live in it for a little while.

Bite Size: Common Law Wife (1963)

Common Law Wife 1963 film Poster

There’s tons of ways to be thrifty as a filmmaker, from using unknown performers to shooting on the leftover short ends of film stock. Most exploitationeers cut a corner or six, but a few bold as brass souls practiced the cinematic equivalent of extreme couponing. Grab some existing footage from older films, stock libraries or abandoned productions, edit it into whatever new footage the crew did manage to shoot, and patchwork an end product that meets the minimum qualifications for being considered a feature.

What became Common Law Wife began its life cycle as a Larry Buchanan (High Yellow, The Naked Witch) project entitled Swamp Rose. The 1960 production was reputedly a melodrama about an old man and his aging mistress, but the final film was never released. A distributor named M.A. Ripps hired an amateur named Eric Sayers to spice up the existing footage with new sequences geared toward the tastes of the drive in circuit.

Shugfoot Rainey (George Edgley) is a rich old bastard who made his fortune in oil. Like many a geriatric lecher, he uses his wealth to attract a much younger mistress, in this case former cocktail waitress Linda (Annabelle Weenick, Don’t Look In The Basement). Shug has decided that after 5 years of living together, Linda should be traded in. Adding incest to insult, the younger model he lusts after is his own niece, Jonelle (sometimes Nude On The Moon‘s Lacey Kelly, more on that later). The young woman is nicknamed Baby Doll (in an obvious riff on the 1956 controversial Elia Kazan helmed hit), and Shug has already sent for her to come back to Texas when she completes her striptease gigs in New Orleans.

Linda, down but not out, heads straight to a lawyer. Her long term live-in status qualifies her as a common law wife. Baby Doll might have wiggled her way into being the beneficiary of Shug’s will, but the newly minted Mrs. Rainey won’t be displaced from her home so easily.

The splices between the old and new footage are clunky and obvious, with wildly varying contrast levels and degrees of damage on the print. There’s the familiar mismatch between characters’ mouth movements and the actual words coming out of their mouths, and plenty of reliance on dubbed voiceover to deliver exposition during otherwise static scenes. This is all pretty standard stuff for movies of this era and deep discount budget class, and isn’t unduly distracting for those familiar with the form.

What is interesting is the brazen bait and switch Common Law Wife pulls out in regards to one of its main players. While Eric Sayers was able to retain the services of Annabelle Weenick and George Edgley from the original Buchanan film , Lacey Kelley wasn’t involved in any of the later reshoots. Depending on which portion of the film you’re watching, an uncredited second actress plays Baby Doll, often disguised in big hair and delightfully oversized 60s picture hats. It’s a bold move even for long shots, but Common Law Wife takes it even further, including tight close ups of each of its two leading ladies. In being so brazen, the film almost tricks your brain into assuming they’re the same person.

For a film with a production history that borders on collage, there’s some impressive Southern fried histrionics found in the liminal space between the two productions. Baby Doll is a scheming slattern for the ages, quickly rekindling a fling with the town Sheriff (who just happens to be her brother in law) and a swamp surfing moonshiner in her quest to oust Linda, stuff the sexually abusive Shug’s money in her suitcase, and run. There are shoot outs, screaming matches, and even a spite fueled strip tease in a honky tonk when the sheriff refuses to assist Baby Doll in her murderous machinations.

Pretty much every character is morally bankrupt, greed and lust running completely unchecked in the down home Texas dust, following Baby Doll’s bump and grind beat. Some poisoned shine finally causes the sleazy house of double crossing cards to come tumbling down, in a way that feels both impressively grim for 1963, and narratively earned in manner that most of these screeching Southern fried soap operas never quite reach. Common Law Wife isn’t a great film, or even a good one. There’s still something eminently entertaining in its down home, downbeat spin on hillbilly noir. Common Law Wife is cinematically a feast of scraps, but the movie still manages to become the swamp rose it was always meant to be, in spite of itself.

The Shame Of Patty Smith (1962)

In 1959, an unidentified caller alerted the staff of a California hospital to a body lying on the well manicured grass of the grounds. She was pronounced dead immediately, but the body was still warm, her handbag and the labels inside of her clothing having been carefully removed. The only clues to her life (and subsequent untimely death) were a distinctive locket, a delicate wedding ring on her left hand, and two mysterious needle marks.

The story was front page news, and the media attention brought forward family members who were able to identify the young woman as 16 year old Brenda Blonder Emerson. The headstrong daughter of a well to do family, she had recently eloped against her parents’ wishes. The official cause of death was an overdose of sodium pentothal. The subsequent investigation revealed a shady network of fly by night “clinics” and nebulously qualified “doctors” promising desperate young women the bodily agency the law denied them.

While underground abortions had long been reported by hospitals tasked with dealing with the terrible after effects, the high profile death of a wealthy white woman brought a new mainstream attention to the dangerous gauntlet long run by the poor and people of color in seeking reproductive choice. The manhunt and trial for those responsible for Brenda’s death was still enough of a hot topic that her story was used as the lede on a Saturday Evening Post expose on illicit abortion published in the spring of 1961.

The expose was the likely inspiration for Patty (later retitled as both The Case Of Patty Smith and The Shame Of Patty Smith). Filmed in the summer of 1961, but released in 1962, the basic beats are obviously ripped straight from the headlines of the period, in both the grand exploitation tradition and the “timely, topical, not typical” ethos of major studio dramas of the 30s and 40s.

Patty Smith (Dani Lynn, If a Man Answers) is fresh off of the bus from Kansas, having moved out to the coast just five months prior. In that time, she’s found a friend in her roommate, Mary (Merry Anders, Young Jesse James), a job as a secretary for a real estate agency, and a budding romance with the square-ish and square jawed Alan (Carleton Crane).

The pair are out on a date when Alan gets into a fender bender with three leather jacketed miscreants straight out of juvenile delinquency film Central Casting. The young punks mock both Alan’s straight laced nature, and his annoyance at the damage to his fancy car. Patty guides Alan away from further confrontation, reminding him that “there’s no winning with that kind”. Unfortunately, even the mildest form of a woman standing up for herself further angers the crew.

The gang follows the couple to a remote spot on the beach, doubly determined to show that mouthy Patty just what kind they are. What began as a minor mishap turns much darker, as the trio sexually assault Patty and force Alan to watch while held at knife point. Traumatized and shaken, Patty begins apologizing to Alan as they escape to their car. Despite being the victim of unimaginable trauma, the poor woman blames herself for both the assault and Alan’s own cowardice, helping him rationalize his inaction. Knowing she’s too ashamed to report the crime to police, Alan drops Patty at her door with a selfish admonishment to forget the whole thing, and an empty promise to call her later.

Six weeks later, Patty discovers she’s pregnant. Alan is studiously avoiding her phone calls and she’s lost her job in a mistake laden, trauma fueled fog. Patty doesn’t want to give birth to a product of assault, and she and Mary begin searching for a solution to her tragic predicament. Patty’s general practitioner lectures her on legality, and attempts to ship her off to a home for unwed mothers when she reveals that her conservative immigrant father would never accept her condition. Mary finds a doctor willing to break the law, but the pair don’t have his $600 fee (roughly $5000 in 2021 dollars), and the recently unemployed Patty is unlikely to receive a bank loan. Patty appeals to the mercy of her parish priest for the cash, but he condemns her to eternal damnation when he discovers the nature of her needed operation.

While the the topic at hand is firmly in the wheelhouse of roadshow style fare, The Case Of Patty Smith is a somber drama forced to wear the white coater trappings of an exploitation film by virtue of its subject and era. This was writer/producer Leo A. Handel’s only stint in the director’s chair on a feature, but he had a successful business producing 16mm classroom films, which is likely why the bursts of voiceover narration and factoid filled expositional scenes amongst the film’s authority figures carry a much more genuinely educational bent than the usual censorship evading veneer, in a very bold push to reconsider public policy and its side effects (a full 11 years before the landmark decision of Roe vs. Wade).

The film carefully avoids sensationalism, and while individual characters victim blame Patty, the movie itself is very clearly on her side, never castigating her for being a career girl, abandoning small town life or dating before marriage. This is underlined in the opening minutes of the film, when the narrator informs us Patty is “the average American girl, with average hopes and average problems”.

There’s no screeching moralism or lurid camp in the performances, and Dani Lynn is near instantly sympathetic as Patty. Initially determined even in the face of the nightmare she’s endured, it is heartbreaking as she makes herself sweet and small, full of apologies and earnest pleas to be heard and believed. Instead, everyone she turns to hides behind the performance of kindliness and earnest assistance, following the letter of the law (both secular and religious) to avoid addressing the intent of those same principles. So dedicated to the idea of preserving life, none of the men in the film give adequate weight to the actual life consequences for the innocent victim begging for help sitting in front of them, even as they privately acknowledge the horrors of the choices their inaction pushes her toward.

Unsurprisingly, it is Merry Anders’ Mary that is the only person in the film who truly hears and supports Patty, and the genuine warmth of their friendship is one of the few bright spots in a rather dark film. There’s no cattiness or competition in their interactions, only an almost maternal empathy and the sort of steely, sassy protectionism that Patty is too fragile to conjure up for herself in the face of the endless parade of emptily moralizing male authority. There but for the grace of luck or better sexual health education goes Mary, and she treats Patty just as kindly as she would want her fellow women to regard her if the roles were reversed.

Unfortunately, this is still 1962, and by the time the cowardly Alan finally emerges to hand Patty $60 and the address of a bar owner named Colbert (long working character actor Bruno VeSota) who has some very questionable “connections”, the audience knows exactly where the film is headed. Patty’s strength and Mary’s support are no match for the thunderous indifference toward female suffering that would make access to a fly by night underground clinic a profitable addition to the portfolio of shady services a man like Colbert provides in the backroom of a seedy bar.

In the final third, Patty‘s competent, but generally unobtrusive aesthetic takes a turn toward the terror this all is. Colbert spews smoke and casually suggests the already fallen Patty turn a trick or two to raise the $200 for her appointment. A pawn shop is lit like a jail cell, the diamond cross Patty pawns just another dingy trinket. Her journey to the floating “clinic” is full of shadowy corners and twisting staircases. By the time a chain smoking “nurse” pulls a filthy thermometer out of her pocket, leering at how pretty Patty is like the lecherous warden of a b movie women’s prison, what was already heart breaking has become a full on nightmare, all low lit terrors and the creeping dread of the inevitable. Because the bulk of the runtime is played appealingly straight, this sequence is more effective than many of the actual horror films of the same period. As Patty makes her doomed walk into the “doctor’s” (actually an unemployed pharmacist) makeshift surgery, I found myself biting my nails to the quick, stifling the urge to shout a warning at the screen.

When discussing vintage exploitation and horror films, there is often a certain comfortable remove from both the more harrowing aspects of the subject matter, and the retrograde ideas that often drive the narrative. There’s little real danger of atomic mutants, rabid hippies, or cannibals stalking the streets of urban centers. The ongoing work of multiple social justice movements, while far from done, have made notable strides toward a more progressive and inclusive society than the ones that produced these films.

What makes Patty so oddly affecting is how far we haven’t come in the nearly six decades since its release. Abortion is legal in the US, but both that status and actual access to the surgery itself (or non abortion related reproductive health services) are under perpetual attack. Sexual assaults remain under reported, and under prosecuted, when a victim does go forward with charges. The rationales espoused by various characters in the film for denying Patty assistance, both religious and secular, can be found nearly verbatim in recent conservative media thinkpieces (which I’m choosing not to hotlink so as not to heighten engagement for ideologies I’d prefer not to signal boost).

The real shame of Patty Smith is what an enduring stand in she is, not only for young women demographically like her, but as a signpost pointing towards the thousands of women who died needlessly for similar reasons. Those who weren’t deemed acceptable as tragic figures, or found worthy of front page headlines and thinly fictionalized films, who died alone on dirty kitchen tables or anonymously in hospitals from back alley butchery complications. For those born after 1973, it can be a bit too easy to take Patty’s fate for granted as a sad, melodramatic relic of an earlier era, secure in the knowledge that abortion can be safely performed in hospital settings. The sorrowful reality is that without vigilance regarding those protections, the dangerous consequences in the rearview mirror are much closer than they appear.

Bite Size: All The Sins Of Sodom (1968)

Joe Sarno was a pioneer of sexploitation cinema, and his best works are engaging tightrope acts between the arthouse and the grindhouse, combining the forbidden content the sticky seat masses desired with a distinct minimalist aesthetic that those supposedly too highbrow for such lurid fare could use as the tailor made excuse to buy themselves a ticket.

After shooting proto softcore hit Inga in Sweden, Sarno returned to his native New York to lens his next few films. All The Sins Of Sodom was shot back to back with Vibrations, with both movies released in 1968. While the US was in the midst of the roughie boomlet, All The Sins Of Sodom‘s influences lean more toward European cinema of the same approximate period, with a protagonist and setting reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up, and a bit of Ingmar Bergman’s (of whom Sarno was an admitted admirer) constant questioning of the complex mechanics of identity and desire. Livening up the cross continental reference mix is some biting dialog and a pulpy fixation on the creative professions as only a half step from vice dens, full of damaged, wanton seekers.

Henning (credited by IMDB as Dan Machuen, but uncredited on the print I saw, so proceed with caution) is a relatively successful (enough to go by surname only) photographer of cheesecake prints and art nudes, happy to live in his studio and draw from his models as single serving bed partners when the mood strikes. A fantastic session (in both senses) with the charmingly gamine Leslie (Maria Lease, see above) breaks the usual pattern, and the two begin what might be an actual love affair. However, his new muse is slowing his pace on paid assignments, and Leslie can’t quite emote what’s needed for Henning’s next project.

Protecting her 10%, Henning’s agent (Peggy Steffans, who was married to Sarno at the time, and fills in several roles behind the scenes) sends him a sultry brunette waif named Joyce (Marianne Provost, supposedly) who might better suit the brief. Henning is a preacher’s son, and full of the standard issue Madonna/whore complexes and sexual repression such an upbringing usually implies. He wants a model who can be the ultimate temptress, a Jezebel in high heels who embodies lust in its darkest forms. Joyce, with her jaded affect and free wheeling ways, has a dark carnality that Leslie lacks, and soon she’s making her home in Henning’s spare storage room and acting as his personal muse.

Deep in the throes of artistic obsession, Henning is the only one who doesn’t notice that Joyce’s libido fueled cunning goes farther than the photo series she’s posing for. Soon she’s woven herself into his personal life, driving a wedge between Henning and Leslie in the guise of assisting him in capturing his vision. Not content with her machinations, she also carries on a clandestine affair with one of Henning’s best models, a closeted (and obviously conflicted) lesbian.

It’s clear Joyce’s end goal is eventually to seduce Henning himself, and the closing in of a doomed love triangle is reflected in the sparse, claustrophobic nature of the production. There’s just a hint of ambient noise from the street below, the only music cue a rattling, rising heart of a drumbeat when things get steamy. Henning’s single mindedness in regards to his art, is capably echoed by set dressing that shows a living space that would better suit a monk than a swinging photographer.

Nearly the entire film takes placed in the cramped environs of Henning’s apartment/studio. Yet the tiny spaces feel distinct, with the studio lit hot and bright white, an empty canvas for Henning to fill with the models who act out the tableaux he conjures up. The photo shoots are expertly framed, and its one of the few instances in cinema (exploitation or mainstream) where you can see how the session as depicted would produce beautiful stills.

Meanwhile, Joyce’s storage room domain is an inky black underworld, like some shadow dwelling succubus for whom dragging someone into bed is only the first step in dragging them down, period. While there is a slight tentativeness in the sex scenes, it’s likely no coincidence that the stark lighting is focused on the faces, contorted in ecstasy that could also be agony, the literal translation of le petit mort made visual reality.

Despite the title, this isn’t as sinful or as overtly sexual as one might expect, with the sex scenes well integrated into the larger plot. There’s plenty of time to let each character expose their traumas and insecurities before all of these hurt people, hurt people. Sex is just another tool in the arsenal. While the ending of the film is predictable, the journey to that forgone conclusion is consistently engaging.

While there are definite moments of overacting from the less than experienced cast, all of them are far more capable than expected with oft barbed dialog. It’s Maria Lease’s Leslie who steals the show, full of spry sunshine followed by lovelorn fragility as she loses hold on Henning. In the film’s strongest scene, Henning directs Joyce to sexually stimulate Leslie as they shoot, and Leslie’s combination of arousal at the physical touch at odds with her revulsion for the conniving interloper is about as strong a performance as you are ever likely to see in this era of sexploitation film.

All The Sins Of Sodom, while not one of Sarno’s best known features, is probably one of the best arguments for his work being placed alongside with Radley Metzger’s in terms of erotica with ambition and style to spare, overdue for more mainstream reassessment and acclaim. Beautifully photographed in black and white, its a meditation on shades of gray, between love and hate, dedication and obsession, pleasure and pain. One definition of erotic is “to arouse desire”, and All The Sins Of Sodom is a tense, effective character study of the frustration it is to be driven by unquenchable need, sexual or otherwise.

Bite Size: Moonshiner’s Woman (1968)

No matter what illicit substance you’re selling, it’s never wise to start tapping into your own supply. Claude (Bill Crisp) drinks as much moonshine as he sells, and only puts the jug down long enough to scream at his pretty girlfriend Loralee (Linda Lee) for daring to disturb his libations by taking a walk.

Claude’s alcoholism and his judgement are both at rock bottom. When his big city business partner Mr. Jarvis (director Donn Davidson) notices that Claude’s been skimming off the top, he’s is quickly disposed of. Claude hasn’t even finished his excuse before he’s lying dead in the mountain dust. Mr. Jarvis considers Loralee partial payment for what he’s owed, and takes her away to the big city.

Exploitation was full of slick talking salesman, and director Donn Davidson was one of the hardest hustling fixtures of the deep south. A former stage magician and Yo Yo champion, he had long perfected his pitch in the carny like atmosphere of roadshows and spookshows. His first brush with film directing was in service of same, when he created a cheap set of creature feature like inserts for an unauthorized print of David Friedman’s She Freak, and took it out on the road as Asylum Of The Insane.

Moonshiner’s Woman was his first swing at a (just barely) full length feature, and is a film that was most certainly created in reverse. What plot there is was clearly bolted together after he had taken inventory of the footage he had the resources to shoot. Only a few scenes even attempt to poorly sync sound, and pretty much all of the narrative is delivered via voiceover. At least one music cue is clearly someone idly tapping their fingers on a table, and a meeting of the gangsters is backgrounded by library music that sounds like it was stolen from a spaghetti commercial. Because they’re Italian.

If you give up on the hopes of something that makes any linear storyline sense, Moonshiner’s Woman manages to hit a some tried and true exploitation beats, in its own meandering way. In addition to having a blast hamming it up as Mr. Jarvis, Donn Davidson provides narration that is full of overheated audience warnings, fatherly asides to his own creations, and clucking chastisements to himself for almost providing spoilers. The overall effect is charmingly odd, like a rambling story from a favorite uncle who may have had a few too many drinks.

As for protagonist Loralee, she seems to take the bizarre series of events that tore her away from her mountain home in surprising stride. Mr. Jarvis is initially quite charming, and his suggestion she try on “showgirl” costumes allows the film to show a touch of skin. Loralee seems to understand Jarvis’ offer of a showbiz job as a front for something far less upright, but she doesn’t refuse his demands. Instead, Loralee is dazzled by the big city ways of cosmopolitan Daytona Beach, with a stolen shot travelogue of the races providing the background for her doomed love affair with Mitch (Roy Huston), one of Jarvis’ lackeys tasked with keeping an eye on her.

Soon, all traces of the mousy country gal are gone. Loralee much prefers pretty dresses and plane flights to burlap sacks and bare feet. With dangling earrings and heavy eyeliner, she’s gleefully smoking weed and dropping LSD, with her drug trip a swirl of the camera across landscapes and a patterned floor that seems ripped right out of the Andy Milligan playbook. Things escalate from a “simple country girl is corrupted by the big city” riff to catfights, death by magician’s cabinet and revenge. As this happens rather late in the film, its easier to be in sync with the movie’s jerky rhythm in regards to story.

Moonshiner’s Woman is certainly a dismal failure as a narrative feature. The highly dramatic voiceover account of the plot is never quite at the same tone or pace as the rather inert visual events on screen. Nor do most of those events connect in any satisfying way. Almost in spite of itself, what Moonshiner’s Woman does have is a leisurely, folksy charm. Donn Davidson is clearly aware of how little he’s working with, but everyone involved seems to be having a lot of fun. There’s something to be said for his earnestness in attempting to put on the best show he can with the minimal resources available, a refreshingly less cynical take on the old adage about sizzles and steak.

Bite Size: The Mini-Skirt Mob (1968)

Maury Dexter was a reliable low budget journeyman, churning out cheap B features throughout the 60s, ranging from westerns(The Purple Hills) to sci fi (The Day Mars Invaded Earth) to anti drug cautionary tales (Maryjane). 1968’s The Mini-Skirt Mob was the first of his two attempts to cash in on the biker film trend cycle.

Shayne (former Warner Brothers ingenue Diane McBain) is the blonde bouffant sporting queen bee of a biker gang who proudly proclaim themselves “The Mini-Skirts”. Far from an actual mob, the gang is your standard bunch of mildly colorful characters, and their weaker minded hangers on. Shayne’s kid sister Edie (Oscar nominee Patty McCormack, who also sings the film’s theme song) is mostly just along for the thrill of the ride. You could say the same for second banana Lon (Jeremy Slate) and hillbilly caricature Spook (Harry Dean Stanton, in a character role even his considerable talents can’t save). It’s just that in their case, it’s the girls of the group they are hoping to mount.

When champion rodeo rider Jeff Logan (Ross Hagen, The Sidehackers) has the unmitigated gall to marry someone else, Shayne doesn’t take it very well. No man walks out on her, let alone to marry a boring brunette bank teller (Sherry Jackson). She gathers her gang and hatches a plan to terrorize the newlyweds on their honeymoon. If she can’t have Jeff, nobody can.

The premise has promise, and the first 15 minutes or so have a nice diet Russ Meyer vibe, all open air parties, revving engines, catfights and big hair. The score is appropriately groovy, there’s some nice panoramas of the high desert, and the gang’s kicky minis and matching jacket ensembles rival Psychomania for schlock moments of speed demon sartorial acumen. However, the plot pretty quickly swerves into an attempt at grim, and it all fizzles into a talky melodrama that lacks any real stakes.

Who’s afraid of Anne Welles in biker babe drag? Why are both of the supposedly sympathetic characters (Jeff and his new bride Connie) weak, whiny and so easily overpowered? What do two beautiful women see in the rather cowardly lion Jeff that is worth a battle to the death?

It doesn’t help that Diane McBain is decidedly miscast. Her specialty was society girls and spoiled brats, not hard bitten blondes who escalate from nuisance to attempted murder faster than their followers can finish a beer. There’s not enough menace or sensuality to her performance to make us believe this group is so game to go along with her increasingly violent plans, or stay willfully ignorant of her selfish motives. Combined with the hair helmet, her habit of calling everyone “sweets” is less gang girl than mod diner waitress.

Patty McCormack fares a bit better as Edie, though she’s obviously meant to be the conscience of the group, so the first two thirds of the film give her little to do aside from look lovely and meekly nag. When she finally gets to do some shooting and seducing for a good cause in the final act, it genuinely seems the actresses cast in the two main roles ought to have been swapped.

As for the gang’s male hangers on? The less said about any of them, the better. The trio of guys may as well be named plot devices one through three, distinguishable only because one dies, one is a comic book hick, and the third has no other role that to be Shayne’s latest sexually frustrated lackey.

The Mini-Skirt Mob seems like it was trying to hedge its bets. There’s just enough exploitation elements present to boost ticket sales, but it isn’t trying to go too far in bucking mainstream sensibilities. For a film about a hard living, fast riding bike gang, The Mini-Skirt Mob doesn’t ever really put its foot on the gas and shift out of neutral.

Bite Size: The Babysitter (1969)

The Babysitter is a bottom of the bill Crown International cheapie that has all of the negligible production value of a sexed up, mid tier soap opera from the same period. A dash of morality melodrama keeps the threadbare story from falling apart at the seams. If it weren’t for the constant shoehorning of timely slang and fashions I would’ve assumed this film had sat on a shelf somewhere for at least half a decade before its 1969 release date.

George Maxwell (George E. Carey) is an assistant district attorney, about to prosecute a member of a 1 percenter style biker gang for murder. He’s moving up in the ranks at the office, has a brand new baby at home, and his wife Edith (Anne Bellamy) prefers they keep a rather busy social calendar. Enter Candy Wilson (Patricia Wymer), the pretty blonde babysitter they hire to keep an eye on the infant.

Candy overhears the Maxwells arguing, and quickly catches on that George is lonely and mostly sexless. What starts as George giving her a ride home quickly blossoms into a full on May-December affair. Between his torrid tangles with Candy and his daughter’s lesbianism, George soon finds himself being blackmailed by the girlfriend (Kathy Williams) of the biker he’s about to put on trial.

Leading man George E. Carey also co wrote the script and produced the film, and you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger Mary Sue than George Maxwell in all of the vanity projects in exploitation cinema. No matter how many selfish things he does, our sympathy is always supposed to lie with him as a hero in this epic of male fantasy wish fulfillment.

Candy isn’t so much a human being as she is a manic pixie flower child. Her entire personality is constructed out of out of touch adult assumptions of what those free loving hippie chicks must be like. Immediately after the baby has gone to bed, she throws a wild houseparty in the Maxwells’ basement, complete with a full band and some friends to do naked go go dancing to the groovy tunes. Her apology is full of love for the music, man.

The car ride home is full of encouragement for George to let go and just be free to LAUGH and THINK and FEEL. They stop at a roadside stand and eat tacos while holding them horizontally (cue double entendre rimshot noise). Candy attempts to seduce George within maybe 5 minutes, fully hot and bothered by his hangdog air and constant complaints about his cold bitch of a wife. Wyler is actually well cast for the role, but there isn’t an actress on the planet that could make Candy read as anything other than a wet dream.

After Candy is introduced and Maxwell’s daughter establishes her lesbianism with some softcore by the pool, its 55 minutes into a 75 minute runtime before we hear another peep out of the plot. In the meantime, there are lot of montages of (softcore) fucking and frolicking as George falls into lust with the high spirited Candy. She teaches the old man the new dances at a nightclub. They roll around in the park. Candy lovingly caresses George’s crows feet in between rounds of clandestine sex, while a knock off Mamas and The Papas theme song plays (apparently supplied by impossible to Google local band The Food). She really digs this man. He really turns her on, and several other bits of slang that were dated even when the film was first released.

All good things must come to an end, and George finally cuts Candy off when the movie remembers the whole blackmail angle an hour later. Jilted but still full of whimsy and wonder, Candy grabs two toughs and gets the blackmailer to destroy the negatives of the photos, in an attempt to still stand by her former old man.

Not that any of it matters. When the pictures are discovered, George’s wife tearfully apologizes for her expectation he have friends and lovers his own age, rather than someone as young as his collegiate daughter. As for George’s boss? He laughs, asks how the sex was and keeps a photo for creepy spank bank posterity.

Boys will be boys, as the credits roll. The middle aged raincoat crowd had to wait a year for George E. Carey to basically remake his own film as 1970’s Weekend with the Babysitter. The existence of the second film indicates that perhaps they all learned an important lesson. If you are a geriatric lech, your best shot at any face time with a pretty young thing is to shut up and pay for it.

Bite Size: Lola Colt (1967)

Multi-hypenate Lola Falana worked her way up from small club engagements and chorus lines with the sort of dogged determination one would expect from a woman headstrong enough to drop out of high school and move to New York on the slim chance of an entertainment career. A chance Atlantic City meeting with Sammy Davis Jr. led to a long term personal and professional relationship, a featured role in 1964 Broadway hit Golden Boy and a 1965 record deal over at Mercury Records.

The single was only a modest success, but her popularity in the London production of Golden Boy, her European gigs as a nightclub performer and some well received appearances on Italian television helped cement her rising star status overseas. Though 1967’s Lola Colt was only Falana’s third film role (after supporting parts in Sammy Davis Jr. vehicle A Man Called Adam and the somewhat slight Italian musical Quando dico che ti amo), she was given top billing on the movie.

The plot of the film is the sort of cookie cutter oater pumped out by Poverty Row studios throughout the 30s and 40s. Lola Gate (Lola Falana) and her troupe of traveling showgirls are forced to stop in the tiny border town of Santa Ana when one of the performers falls ill. The ladies make a residency as the entertainment at the local saloon while their friend recovers. In between performances, Lola finds herself caught up in both a budding romance with med student Rod (Peter Martell), and the townspeople’s battle with a robber baron nicknamed “El Diablo” (Germán Cobos).

At first retrospective glance, a western with a side of musical numbers seems an odd choice of star vehicle for a Black American singer/dancer/actress. However, the spaghetti western trend was at its peak in 1967, and Lola Falana’s song and dance tours were a proven hit in Italy. It isn’t inconceivable that the producers thought they had a “two great tastes that taste great together” potential success on their hands.

It’s also a stark contrast to many of the other roles in Lola’s later feature film work (which speaks to the limitations of the scope of parts offered to Black actresses, particularly during this era) in that the plot doesn’t hinge on her race. When she’s greeted with a sneering “We don’t like your kind here” upon exiting her stage coach at the beginning of the film, the comment is in reference to the supposed loose morals of showfolk rather than the color of her skin. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this film progressive (a flashback to Lola’s childhood and the loss of her family is inexplicably cast with white actors, which is both incredibly lazy and incredibly telling), but it is a notable departure from the dominant modes of the period.

In any case, Lola Falana’s charisma sparkles in Lola Colt, making it readily apparent why she later became a much larger star. The character of Lola Gate brightens up the rather humdrum proceedings whenever she appears. She looks impossibly lovely throughout, be it in her Barbarella at Ye Old Tyme Saloon stage gear or well fringed Western kitsch and a snow white cowgirl hat. The musical numbers, while blithely anachronistic and a bit bare bones in term of production value, are a high energy showcase for her considerable talent as both a dancer and a singer. Her acting doesn’t look goofy even in the face of a truly execrable English dub. There’s a capable, cheerful athleticism to her single action oriented scene.

Unfortunately, despite her billing, Lola Falana isn’t on screen all that much. The bulk of the 79 minute runtime is spent with the residents of Santa Ana, a pile of uninteresting stock types. It is Peter Martell’s square jawed cardboard cut out turn as Rod that gets the hero build up and music cues. This is made even more ridiculous by the fact that the bulk of his role in the film comprises of idle bickering in a procession of near identical drawing rooms. It’s Lola who formulates the perfectly workable plan of attack against “El Diablo”, and reveals that the mysterious hostage holding raider is less of a devil than he is a greedy schmuck named Larry. Despite singing, dancing and hatching the plan for the town’s liberation, Lola only gets to pick up a gun in the final 20 minutes of the flick. The firepower dispatches exactly one bad guy and a particularly pesky lock.

Lola Colt was not a hit, and the film didn’t receive a US release until 1976, when Falana had reached a much greater level of success stateside. The newly christened Black Tigress was a direct attempt to cash in on both Falana’s appearance in 1975 Blaxploitation effort Lady Cocoa and her groundbreaking status as the spokesmodel for Faberge’s Tigress perfume.

Given that Lola Colt is a very minor effort even on the scale of its spaghetti western counterparts, American audiences were doubly disappointed when the the promotional push attempted to position the film as an action packed Blaxploitation epic. A second, even more ridiculous retitling as Bad And Black failed to improve matters. Lola Colt dropped from the bottom of a double bill, and rode off into the sunset of obscurity.