Pornographers often emulate Cecil B. DeMille's classic silent films, which took a high moral ground against immorality and promiscuity while proceeding to wallow in salacious content for commercial purposes. John Hayes in THE HANG UP doesn't merely try to have it both ways - he tries to have it three or four different ways in a mixed-up drama of corruption and redemption.
Miscasting is the other culprit in making this a poor film. Tony Vorno, whose stage name Sebastian Gregory is the one that sticks with me, is a lousy choice for chief protagonist, meant to be a character lead (not unlike Robert Duvall in a similarly failed movie of this time period, BADGE 373) or Gene Hackman (the great FRENCH CONNECTION) but overdoes his acting as is miserably unsuited to the character's romantic side.
Vorno plays Vice Squad Sgt. Bob Walsh, a mean-spirited cop whose partner Richards (Erik Stern) emulates his tactics, a fact that very cornily will lead to conflict after Walsh turns over a new leaf mid-film. Incident that changes his life is when he & Richards in drag (very unconvincing as women, but they fool the other characters in B-movie fashion) who pull a sting operation that entraps among other johns a high-level politician Tilden.
In the first example of Hayes' convoluted-morals screenplay, the sting is not to get Tilden or the johns but rather to put behind bars a brutal con-man team who impersonate officers in order to blackmail guys who frequent male prostitutes. Walsh of course refers to the johns as "faggots", even while dressed up in wig and dress. Walsh is kind of like Archie Bunker - you like the guy even though he is an equal-opportunity bigot.
Tilden tries to get Walsh to let him off -no charge, no publicity, as a victim of the con men/blackmailers (as well as a victim of the sting -a more subtle moral issue not addressed here) but our hero is 100% unsympathetic and makes Tilden take the fall along with everyone else. This will haunt him, as the rest of the film details an elaborate (and thoroughly unconvincing) plot to get back at Walsh, orchestrated by the lavishly successful pimp/entrepreneur Pyrano, well-played by future porn director Ted Roter in a style befitting a "Batman" villain, weird makeup and all.
That plot has a central figure, 17-year-old prostitute Laurie aka Angel, who is a beautiful young actress Sharon Matt. All of Matt's credits stem from 1969, and she worked for a variety of directors including Herschel Gordon Lewis and Carlos Tobalina, but in each case, especially HANG UP, one's first reaction is: how did such a beautiful talent as she is get mixed up in such trashy projects?
Though Walsh at first questions her age (she lies and says she's older), the obvious jail-bait look is overlooked and gets him in trouble when Pyrano frames him for rape in order to blackmail Walsh. How he frames him is ludicrous; after befriending the girl, taking her home to live in his disheveled pad, and falling in love with her, Walsh goes with Laurie to visit her friends living by the beach, where they have a hippie-styled outdoor group sex session in which he's humping Laurie -everybody's in the mood. Photos are snapped and all the hippies are now potential witnesses of the statutory rape.
Meanwhile, Walsh's new behavior of Mr. Nice Guy coddling what he used to dismiss as criminals, especially in the case of Laurie, raises the hackles of partner Richards, whose idol is now perceived as a wimp, or corrupt, whichever one considers worse. Climax has a poorly staged car crash following a car chase of Richards pursuing Walsh who's driving Laurie & Pyrano in his car after a busted drug deal. Pretentious finale which looks cribbed from some Abby Mann/Stanley Kramer serious "problem" drama or TV show has Laurie dying in Walsh's arms from the crash, exonerating him of rape with her last breath; Pyrano yards away screaming how Walsh is a rapist ("I've got witnesses!") and a corrupt cop working for him (true thanks to blackmail) and Walsh forlorn, ready for a freeze frame, his world turned upside down.
Before this we had to endure a poor scene of poorly-dubbed Tilden getting his own back: confronting Walsh with evidence of the rape and ordering him to testify in court exonerating Tilden of any involvement with the prostitutes, namely to lie and say that Tilden was an integral part of the sting in the first place, not a john.
On the Vinegar Syndrome DVD release it is paired with Hayes' SWEET TRASH in which Vorno has a bit part lasting perhaps five seconds as a thug shot by the hero near the climax of that film. Giving him an entire movie to carry was a big mistake, and Vorno did an even worse job pulling an Anthony Newley (SEE: his CAN MERCY HUMPPE... disaster) writing, directing and starring in the awful porn comedy COME ONE, COME ALL. The HANG UP poster says Rated X, but the film is soft-R featuring only topless footage of the many girls in the cast, unlike SWEET TRASH where full frontal nudity was prevalent. An actual rape scene of Tony humping an unwilling Laurie is not very explicit, but made powerful not for the sex but rather the danger because she is hanging out of an upper story window as he shtups her.
For current audiences, the assumptions of Hayes & crew (circa 1969) regarding homosexuals and other non-mainstream individuals as "deviants" may be taken as quaint by some, but already there was a consciousness (later promulgated by Norman Lear in his "All in the Family" TV series) that such bigoted thinking was out-of-step. HANG UP's stance of only pretending that it is enlightened when in fact it is all about rubber-stamping the male porn audience's assumed attitudes (hate women, love rape), makes it simply nauseating to watch. flaw.
3 out of 8 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.