Psycho melodrama starts promisingly, but loses its way
Many's the time I've watched a film and wondered: "shouldn't they have used storyboards?". That's evident with A WOMAN IN LOVE, a psychological melodrama that falls apart in a confused and ill-conceived story structure.
Opening reels play like a real film, without sex or luridness, in developing the story of Phil, a salesman who is learning the hard facts of business life - success requires subtle and not so subtle forms of corruption. This theme is hammered home and could have been the basis of a "straight" film not aimed at adult movie houses of the '60s.
He's completing a sale with an out-of-town buyer in the garment industry and discovers the man won't sign unless there's a little extra -namely procuring a woman to service him during the NY visit. At home his wife Bea (cult star Audrey Campbell of OLGA s&m films fame), confesses she too had this issue, having to put out at her ad agency to get ahead. They fight and it looks like Phil & Bea are splits-ville.
An intelligent script, reminiscent of the "problem" TV shows and movies of the '60s, then gives way to an attempted surreal and dream-like story structure, often used in porn but failing here since director Al Viola delivers more tease & innuendo and not enough skin & sex.
Driving along, Phil's T-Bird goes out of control and crashes. He seeks refuge in a nearby lodge where he finds a manuscript by Johnny, which takes us into the tragic story of Johnny and his innocent lover Elinor, told in flashback. It's about sexual pathology, with scenes of a young pig-tailed girl interspersed with Johnny givng Elinor a negligee to wear and test her innocence, with him ultimately raping her at the lodge.
Within this flashback story another flashback takes over as Johnny childhood experiences reveal the source of his pathology - a mean father named John, and his witnessing his step-mom being unfaithful. With various brief sex scenes strewn throughout this narrative a crucial subplot is introduced involving Johnny's sexy step-sister Sue and the boy's incestuous attraction to both her and his step-mom.
A subplot has mom as stage mom trying to get an acting career for Sue, and dad is clearly attracted to the step-daughter, gifting her with a sexy negligee. Johnny's not only chastised for peeping, but later traumatized when he sees dad trying to have sex with Sue. It turns out Sue has been tempting daddy, since she's out to get back at mom due to the "get ahead at any cost" behavior of the stage mother advancing her daughter's career.
During the adult-time frame rape of Elinor, Johnny sees Sue, fantasizing about her many years later during the sex act.
Film has lost sight of protagonist Phil, but his story is artificially injected when he finds a bedraggled Elke hiding in the lodge (he earlier had made sexual advances to her, and she had run away). Picture nearly turns into a William Castle gimmick movie as now Phil hears voices trying to compel him to rape Elke as if influenced by the manuscript he's read (that's pretty serious medicine when we consider the frequent accusation that porn can induce violent behavior!).
Back to Johnny's story in childhood, he gets busty new governess Vera and is attracted to her too. But he finds dad in bed with her, another traumatic experience for the kid in which he recalls the horrific image of dad with Sue. Back to Phil running through the woods and imagining the sleazy out-of-town buyer (we see the movie's stress on the subconscious at work). At this point the film loses all credibility as psychotic Phil (not Johnny) imagines the woman he procured turning into Vera (or at least the visual image he's conjured up of Vera via reading about her?) and then he imagines wife Audrey Campbell with another man and she also turns into Vera.
I was extremely frustrated by the filmmakers' high-handed merging of Phil's problems with Johnny's in such a supposedly "cinematic" way that makes no sense at all. If reading the manuscript has this serious an effect on him then it is even more dangerous to watch this movie -we're moving into that nonsensical (but latterly popular) horror gimmickry of Japanese movies about videotapes taking over the viewer's life & fate. In this movie there is a quickie happy ending which is terrible: Phil apologizing to Elke and then returning home to Audrey to reconcile with her and put his life in order.
So if you charted the progression of this plot you'd have a garbled script sure to be rejected a decade earlier by the story editor on either ONE STEP BEYOND or Boris Karloff's THRILLER TV series. But for indie movies, anything goes and one supposes Al Viola and his teammates were proud of the nearly incomprehensible (yet too emphatic in driving home a psychological point at times) result that is A WOMAN IN LOVE.
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