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The Undergraduate (1971)
I've seen it all before, literally
Newly re-released on DVD by Alpha Blue Archives as part of its laudable tribute to Ed Wood, this obscure porn film turns out to be a direct followup to THE POSTGRADUATE COURSE IN SEXUAL LOVE, a title I enjoyed in a Video-X-Pix DVD. ABA apparently also released THE POSTGRADUATE years back on VHS in a softcore edition.
Though marketed on the basis of Ed Wood's impressive posthumous following (and cult draw literally surpassing all the struggling directors chronicled in Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn's seminal tome KINGS OF THE BS), it is not clear what contribution he made. THE UNDERGRADUATE plays almost identically to its 1970 POSTGRADUATE forebear, whose credited producer "John Flanders" (a likely pseudonym) gets an additional screen credit as director this second time around.
Porn veteran John Dullaghan returns in an identical role as the professor lecturing his class on sex education, and we get to see the young class members acting out sexual activities (including how to put on a rubber) just as before. Besides the prof's spiel, there is plenty of silly voice-over narration telling us about the protagonists.
For good measure (and the usual padding), the prof also shows them a stag film featuring Eve Orlon and a busty actress who I could not immediately identify, but possibly was Nora Wieternik -quite active in hardcore productions at this time.
Of the two, I would recommend THE POSTGRADUATE. If Wood was indeed involved it turns out to be a "who cares?" situation, given the utterly generic aspects of this white-coater exercise.
The Blue Hour (1971)
Rarity but not so hot
THE BLUE HOUR (which also sports the pretentious French translation title "L'heure bleue") is an apparently unreleased (or at best marginally booked) soft porn opus rescued from the junk heap of film history in a well-preserved print for video collectors. I love seeing obscure or nearly lost films, but this one is of only minor interest.
It suffers from many deadly flaws, notably a shredded editing style reminiscent of pretentious early '70s efforts like Henry Jaglom's directorial debut A SAFE PLACE. So many montages and pointless jump-cuts are employed that it seems as if we are watching an attempt at salvaging an unfinished film.
Indeed, THE BLUE HOUR boasts some curious credits: a screenwriter (Hittleman) laying claim to "original production" and a presenter and co-director (Nicholas) getting "additional sequences". It's hard to tell what was added later, though an irrelevant and lengthy nightclub belly dancing sequence starring one of my favorite pin-ups of the period (Diane Webber of MERMAIDS OF TIBURON fame) seems tacked on.
As porn, admittedly of the softcore persuasion, the film fails utterly and is so tame in its nude scenes that it was probably filmed 2 or 3 years earlier than its 1971 copyright suggests. Untalented but buxom leading lady Anne Chapman starred in Russ Meyer's excellent FINDERS KEEPERS, LOVERS WEEPERS released in 1968, which is probably the time frame of this project's principal photography.
Convoluted storyline (not helped at all by the pointless flashbacks structure) has Chapman unconvincingly portraying Tania, a beautiful Greek girl who is frequently abused by both would-be rapists (including her uncle back on a Greek island) and what appears to be cult star Mary Beth Hughes as a stereotypical Hollywood exploiter of young girls. Corny plot used in hundreds of sexploitation exercises has her falling into bad company in L.A., forced to be groped by sleazeballs in a strictly '60s job of photo model (guys using Brownie cameras as an excuse to get private time with a disrobing girl).
Film opens with over 6 minutes of credits, which are repeated exactly for 2 minutes of more padding at film's end but fail to identify any of the actors with the characters portrayed. Present-day story has Tania romping in the surf with her handsome hubby (softcore regular Ed Blessington), who is an architect with laudable city planning objectives. An interesting scene of him expounding on ecological matters to an enthusiastic investor is the screenplay's highlight -quickly abandoned in favor of melodrama.
When Tania isn't being assaulted (in flashbacks) by evil men she is alternately seducing them - the usual misogynistic gimmick of many a porn script. She imagines that she has killed several of these would-be aggressors and those nightmarish memories keep surfacing much to Blessington's dismay.
Silliest plot line has her falling in love with a handsome young Greek priest who's styled a la Michael Gothard's "hippie exorcist" of Ken Russell's THE DEVILS (only coincidentally, not a ripoff). In this subplot he rejects (or at least tries to reject) Tania's advances rather than the other way around.
Oddest touch has Chapman playing many scenes as if she were a mute - probably a directorial decision to minimize the damage of her poor line readings.
Bottom line is that the film doesn't deliver the goods in the sex department, especially since hardcore porn features were already knocking 'em dead at the box office by the time it was ready for release in 1971. This might have been a barely watchable co-feature for adult drive-ins, but only barely.
Vinegar Syndrome is the new-kid-on-the-block DVD and Blu-Ray purveyor of porn responsible for unearthing THE BLUE HOUR. Its honchos earn my respect for emphasizing quality prints and transfers (even for drek like the worst of Herschell Gordon Lewis's output in a recent 3-fer).
God's Pocket (2014)
Actor turned director John Slattery brings his trademark black humor and cynicism from his MAD MEN role (and effective helming of occasional episodes) to the big screen with the successfully offbeat GOD'S POCKET, a faithful adaptation of Pete Dexter's 1983 novel about the Lower Depths of a Philly neighborhood. Clearly not for all tastes, the film appealed to my love of against the grain, anti-trendy cinema (more about that later).
The late Philip Seymour Hoffman clearly admired this material too, taking on a producer credit, as did the film's cinematographer. His role is reminiscent of his work in Sidney Lumet's final movie BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, portraying a ne'er-do-well criminal trying to survive in a hostile environment. It's not a showy role, and Hoffman consistently underplays while Slattery gives many supporting players the flashy, show-stopping scenes.
Slattery shows great confidence in never explicitly referring to the film's time frame ('80s) -there are no superimposed Time Cards, no narration, just the period clothing, cars and old rotary telephones to indicate we're watching a period piece. Hoffman is cast as an outsider in the Philadelphia slum cynically known as God's Pocket, married to the glamorous Christina Hendricks (a Slattery good luck charm from his lengthy stint opposite her on MAD MEN), living with her nutty and self- destructive son (flamboyant and talented young actor Caleb Landry Jones).
Hoffman's partner in crime is skillfully etched by John Turturro, who like Hoffman is a gambling addict. They are more in danger from The Mob than the police due to their inevitable debts arising from playing the ponies, and Turturro's pipe dreams of owning a race horse some day.
The ensuing comedy of errors gives Slattery the opportunity to distract and surprise the viewer with unexpected turns of events and shocks which I won't spoil here. Character actress Joyce Van Patten, whom I have admired since first being impressed by her '60s TV appearances and choice role over 40 years back in the forgotten 20th Century Fox youth picture MAKING IT, highlights the movie's most memorable scene as Turturro's sister running a flower shop and dealing with a couple of armed and dangerous Mob goons.
Themes of the story, personal to author Dexter and drawn from his stint as a reporter in Philly, are brought out by the nearly washed-up columnist effortlessly played by Richard Jenkins. His adulterous romance with Hendricks' character is unbelievable, but Hendricks (still awaiting the breakthrough movie role she deserves a la Sophia Loren's career-making opportunity in TWO WOMEN) does lend her ambiguity and nuance known to her legion of fans from MAD MEN's Joan to almost make it work.
Dealing with the venal undertaker Eddie Marsan (a standout here on loan from Mike Leigh's stock company), Hoffman descends into strange and uncomfortable black comedy dealing with the "body removal" antics involving his stepson, treated by Slattery using a flashback structure that may or may not have been the best choice for storytelling. Various violent outbursts lead to a coda which almost parodies happy endings.
Besides the Hitchcockian morbid black humor involving the stepson's corpse, the climactic moment of mob violence (not Mob but lowercase mob) in which the insular denizens of God's Pocket unite against outsiders recalls the Master of Suspense's power to deliver the coup de grace, notably in LIFEBOAT.
Critics generally dismissing GOD'S POCKET are clearly entitled to their opinions, but miss the point. Like the great B movies of the '40s and '50s (including films noirs), many of which have lived on to entertain future generations of movie buffs who have little time or patience for the big-budget blockbusters (and Oscar-bait) of that era, Slattery has crafted a character-driven, idiosyncratic entertainment that is out of step with current trends.
It is easy to criticize and lampoon the mainstream sellouts of the Michael Bay persuasion, but as a long-time film fanatic and former professional critic I am more militantly opposed to the recent wave of all-flash/no-substance "visionaries" (I truly hate that trailer cliché) dominant today. Bloated junk like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET = big box office and mindless raves/Oscar noms, but is embarrassing and nearly unwatchable. How can a film historian like Scorsese ignore the famous warnings of Frank Capra's autobiography (where he explained why he retired from directing after suffering at the hands of overly powerful actors in charge like Glenn Ford and Frank Sinatra) and end up grinding out padded and tiresome Leonardo DiCaprio vehicles? Could it be the almighty dollar, or does the maestro merely fancy himself as an American Visconti?
At any rate, I hope Slattery does not go this route (Scorsese's decline from gritty, effective early films to elephantine latter-day projects repeats the great Otto Preminger's similar career missteps), and instead maintains his personal approach. The man's talented and perfectly capable of making an Eastwood-esque transition from actor to successful director.
Mr. Angel (1966)
For structuralists only
Never-released films like "Mr. Angel" are curious beasties, since many years later it is a challenge to try and figure out what went wrong - why they didn't pass minimal muster in an industry where so much trash DOES see the light of day. I lost patience, however, leaving the heavy lifting of making some sense of "Mr. Angel" to some other structurally- minded film critic.
It's basically a would-be action film shot in Florida (Bahamas is also listed) with a handsome hero and heroine killing time in a non-story. What passes for plot and a couple of plot twists is execrable, and I find it hard to imagine sitting in a theater nearly 50 years ago for its entire duration. Presumably potential buyers and distributors back in the '60s auditioning this indie production stopped watching after a couple of reels.
Structurally, "Mr. Angel" is more aptly described as mere footage rather than a feature film. Many scenes, especially in the first half, are so aimless, padded and failing to move the narrative forward that I felt like I was watching assembled rushes, not an edited final product. The heroine ambles around killing time and threatening (alas, unrealized) to show the fans some actual skin, but this is strictly G-rated (before the ratings were instituted).
Both she and our untalented title hero are blond, Aryan types, giving the overall effort almost a heimat-feel: it's strictly about the scenery. Ultimately it fails even on the level of a travelogue.
Inventive segment with nod to Irwin Allen
For such a new series, this offbeat episode was a surprise -reminding me at times of the late-in-the-day rethinking/revivifying gimmicks dating back to Irwin Allen's VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. I enjoyed the twists and trendy out-of-sequence ("3 hours before...") structure anyway.
Loyal fans will recall how VTTBOTS went into a strange and nearly campy mode several years into its run by having the crew go crazy each week, stepping out of character and becoming villains for an hour. Here we had Scott Speedman & company doing the same thing, under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug, which kept me guessing. The only truly predictable twist is when he got very romantic with his wife back home (who wasn't there) - we knew it was in reality the French girl getting the fantasized attention, all the better to build up steam for future liaisons.
The show's mix of action, tense confrontations and timely political intrigue is a winning combination. My only question is why it hasn't stuck to a more orderly, linear plot development, building brick by brick on its novel nuclear gamesmanship premise. The writers seem a bit desperate to plunge off the deep end, perhaps hoping for a LOST style cementing of die-hard fans. Too many cockamamie twists and departures from the central conflicts is a pitfall to be avoided -I remember how the short-lived (and never resolved) series VANISHED fell victim to this syndrome not too many seasons ago.
Sympathetic & informative view of the original Angry Young Man
As a fan, I was thrilled with Tony Palmer's sensitive portrait of playwright John Osborne, made a decade after his death. It puts into perspective his achievements and personality, after evidently many years in which the man, like so many other precocious artists (Orson Welles perhaps the archetype), was written off by the establishment.
Since Palmer is best known for his Ken Russell-ian appreciations of classical composers, he not surprisingly includes moving pastoral scenes set at Osborne's country estate, accompanied by appropriate score, but the guts of this documentary consists of interviews with his collaborators, friends and admirers. Many of them have passed on (notably Tony Richardson), but older interviews provide a who's who of theater talent.
The most emotional moments are provided by Helen Osborne, his widow, who touchingly wraps up the show, and the late Natasha Richardson with her warm & funny reminiscences of Osborne's days hanging out with her dad. Other wives, the incomparable actress Mary Ure as well as Jill Bennett, are shown in clips acting opposite (respectively) Richard Burton in Richardson's film version of Osborne's greatest work LOOK BACK IN ANGER and latter opposite Osborne on stage.
The sister of another wife Penelope Gilliatt, is perhaps the most outspoken interviewee, recounting John's tempestuous relationship with Penelope.
My favorite contributor is Nicol Williamson, giving great insight into Osborne's work and temperament, and featured in explosive performance in a tape of the play (rather than the movie) of INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE (I was privileged to see him revive it at the Roundabout Theatre in Manhattan in the '80s).
An interesting roster of fellow playwrights, including Christopher Hampton, David Hare, Charles Wood and Peter Nichols pay tribute to Osborne's trail-blazing efforts.
Perhaps Olivier's classic performance as Archie Rice in Osborne's THE ENTERTAINER (put into context with the character's real-life role model, Max Miller) is the most vivid demonstration of the writer's success. His clips, from a tape of the original play rather than Richardson's film, demonstrate John's rage channeled into an overwhelmingly entertaining and poignant format, contrasting with the bitterness and bile of his other works, among which 1972's A SENSE OF DETACHMENT still seems fresh and ready to outrage 30 years on.
Teachers and Cream (1973)
Silly ad-lib porn satire
Shaun Costello's tongue-in-cheek antics are merely silly in TEACHERS AND CREAM, clearly one of his lesser efforts.
Film opens with Shaun as Mr. Boynton ready to jump off a bridge, a "Goodbye" anonymous suicide note pinned to his chest, while wearing a silly false nose with glasses. He's rescued by a fellow teacher Ms. Crabtree (Erica Eaton) and one of his students (overage Helen Madigan), who insist he tell them his story.
He reveals that he's changed from being an English teacher to making porno movies, and takes the duo to his editing room for a show and tell. The women have sex with Shaun, inter-cut with a foppishly dressed pornographer (hambone Arturo Millhouse) shooting a scene starring Georgina Spelvin and Levi Richards.
Boynton brings the girls over to help the pornographer who's in need of new talent, and they're happy to oblige. Unfortunately for the pornographer, an orgy erupts and the sex unfolds with no one photographing it, as his d.p. Laszlo (Ashley Moore) joins in.
Via clumsy ad lib dialog and even clumsier sex scenes this all adds up to an unfunny, overlong skit, hardly the expected behind-the-scenes satire of a porno shoot. Silliest moment comes early on when Spelvin takes the concept "stick it in your ear" a bit to literally in looking for a novel sexual position with Levi.
Extremely boring, half-hearted nudie cutie
For the small subset of porn fans addicted to the tame "Nudie Cuties" of the early '60s, SEXTET is one of the dullest of the lot. It's of academic interest only.
Hopefully no master's thesis will dwell on this lame effort, in which soft porn comic Pauly Dash makes faces while girls parade topless across the screen. Much of the action concerns his daydreaming or fully unconscious fantasies of being served (lots of food) hand and foot by six lightly clad beauties, hence the title. Instead of exotic dancing, they dance the Twist.
His wife Thelma, also a beauty but styled as "plain" with curlers in her hair, goes about household chores and deals with the lunk in what passes for plot.
This junk would have made a serviceable one-reel loop, the kind that Barry Mahon cranked out on numerous occasions, but stretched to feature length (almost an hour long) it seems interminable. The busty girls display attractive nipples, so the fans apparently got their money's worth.
Sweet Secrets (1977)
Interesting storyline & new talent, but sub-par porn
I admired the anonymous SWEET SECRETS filmmakers for trying to be different, but lack of technique lets them down.
There's an honest attempt here at storyline porn, as film noir styled antihero Martin Owens (one-shot Jack Benson, a young Tommy Lee Jones type) sets up a safe-cracking job in tandem with inside man Blake (Jeremy Slade in a non-sex role).
He gets a job as a handicrafts man at Miss Amy Foster's mansion/antique emporium. As Foster, Astrid Larsson is styled as a cold, severe woman, but she gets off masturbating while peeping at Martin servicing her other employee Shirley (played by the lovely Violette Wilde, who deserved a career).
Larsson gets out a phallic object d'art (solid gold penis) from her safe to pleasure herself with, and it is this item that Martin is out to steal.
There are several plot twists, notably a contrived and ultimately quite silly series of events involving Martin with two beautiful lesbians (the great Laurien Dominique and newcomer Victoria Taylor). The gals ultimately make off with the golden phallus, after Slade tries to double cross Martin and make him a fall guy.
Ending is happy for Martin (two-timing Miss Foster beds him and invites him to move in with her, rather than turning him over to the police) and silly rather than ironic as the gals discard the valuable phallus after getting some XXX mileage out of it.
Camera-work is poor, as many scenes are severely under-lit, and the crew seems to be more interested in shooting a real film (which this is not) rather than porn. The Gothic atmosphere of the mansion, plus Larsson's intriguing performance, belong in another film genre altogether.
Other than Dominique and guest star Joey Silvera, the cast of unknowns provides a refreshing change from the overworked talent one finds in late '70s porn, whether made on the West Coast or in NYC.
Arousing hardcore feature: a throwback to loops
During the so-called "Porno Chic" period of the mid-1970s (think Radley Metzger=Henry Paris), XXX films became more and more elaborate. In 1980 STORMY turns out to be a successful throwback: why not make a feature-length film that resembles the hot loops of a decade earlier? John Holmes stars as a brothel owner in Frisco, who deigns to come to work every Friday to pick up his ill-gotten gains and literally check out (and test drive) any new whores on the payroll.
Film gets underway energetically, with ad lib dialog, as girl friend Linda Wong convinces John to service her before "going to the office".
He's driving a sleek, vintage Rolls Royce (with right-side steering wheel, no less). Film's format is a bit unusual in that we don't see customers with hookers, but rather the female talent servicing the brothel staff, not just Holmes but also his pimps/recruiters like Joey Silvera, Don Fernando and Billy Dee.
John Seeman is surprisingly convincing as the brothel's shy accountant, who reluctantly is seduced by two of the hookers (including Chris Cassidy) and comes out of his shell with an ample money shot. Cassidy even gives the fans a momentary shot of milk in lactating mode.
Much of the talent is familiar from their successful careers in loops (Holmes included), especially Connie Peterson who is styled beautifully as she takes on Fernando and Ken Scudder for a patented d.p. scene, even wearing her Swedish Erotica alumna scarf. Suzannah French as Irma is beautiful in a threesome with Billy Dee, bringing back memories of her all-time classic mixed-combo loop "14-Inch Root".
Final reel is a letdown as an unidentified "strawberry blonde" does a d.p. with Holmes and guest star Silvera, in the most mechanical fashion -she is expressionless and zombie-like throughout. Final three minutes of the film is padding: highlights of archival scenes in which Holmes serviced various beauties, notably Virginia Winter (perhaps made when they teamed up for TEENAGE FANTASIES: PART II).
Photography is excellent, a model for how to shoot explicit porn. And thankfully it was shot on film, made a couple years before video took over.