Hussy 1980 ****

hussy

Post Star Wars, there was a brief period where there remained a vogue for adult film; not pornography, but serious-minded dramas which reflected the seedy side of life. Saint Jack, Atlantic City, Tales of Ordinary Madness are all quality films that followed on from the mainstream success of Emmanuelle, and reflected a desire to see believable characters on the screen depicted with a new sexual frankness. Matthew Chapman’s debut film Hussy, like most of the above mentioned films, was rapidly forgotten about post 1980, but now resurfaces to demonstrate that it’s something of a neglected classic, not least because it features brilliant performances, not just from Helen Mirren in the titular role, but from the whole ensemble cast.

Mirren plays Beaty Simons, a call girl who hangs around a bin-juice encrusted urban nightclub with other prostitutes, oblivious to regular, grand performances by disco pioneer Patti Boulaye, who seems to be previewing material for the Royal Variety Performance. Beaty has a past and a child, but still finds idealism enough to fall for chauffeur Emory (John Shea), who seeks to take her away from the squalor she lives in and share the similar squalor that he lives in. After some fairly raunchy sex scenes, the plot takes over as Emory fends off Max (Murray Salem) an outrageous gay criminal with a plan, while she bristles at the intrusion of her old pimp Alex (Paul Angelis) who moves in with them. Both Salem and Angelis give extraordinary, larger-than-life performances here, barely giving the leads any space to work. Indeed, the second half of the film hardly features Mirren at all, but focuses on a deal gone wrong that leads Max and Alex into a bloody mess.

Hussy is something of a blot in Mirren’s esteemed copybook, regarded by many as a crummy sex-movie that’s borderline exploitation. And yet, if you’re broadminded enough, it’s also a very good film indeed, and catching Chapman on his way up (a descendent of Charles Darwin, he later wrote Color of Night and Runaway Jury) while also giving Salem something substantial to do; he later wrote the screenplay for Kindergarten Cop. Shea has proved to be a dependable actor as well, making Hussy something of a hothouse for talent. If you can ignore the hideous 70’s décor, music and attitudes, it’s a powerful little B movie that’s worth braving the ignominy of having Hussy on your search history.

One More Time 1970 ***

One More Time‘We know what turns you on’ says the opening song in One More Time, but if stars Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Junior actually do know what turns us on, there’s little evidence of it in this slapdash comedy. Writer by the brother of Dr Who’s Jon Pertwee, Bill, and directed by Jerry Lewis, it’s a sequel of sorts to 1968’s Salt and Pepper, but is mainly designed as a showcase of the talents, resistible as displayed here, of Davis Junior.

Davis and Lawford are Charles Salt and Chris Pepper, two hipster nightclub owners who fall foul of the law in some kind of Merrie England as featured in Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. Lawford plays a double role, Pepper and his twin brother Sydney, who is murdered with a deadly dart and replaced by his brother, swapping the dead body for his living one to investigate the crime. Although the two are supposedly best buds and partners in crime, Chris Pepper doesn’t tell Charles Salt, and allows his friend to think that he’d dead.

This means a good hour or so of Sammy Davis Junior wandering around an English country house vaguely synching to some incredibly maudlin tunes; a sequence in which Davis descends a staircase singing Where Do I Go Now? seems to last for weeks. The personable Lawford is stranded with some character comedy, which isn’t his strongest suit; Lawford can barely be bothered playing a thinly veiled version of himself, so playing another variation on the same person is something of a strain to watch. Meanwhile Lewis indulges himself with some strange set-pieces, including snorting snuff and a lengthy parody of the final scenes of Kubrick’s 2001 as Davis reacts to a country-house bedroom with the same awe that Kier Dullea reacts to the Monolith. It’s an odd, vaguely racist scene which fits with the general indignities that Davis goes through here, having drinks thrown over him, called a ‘chocolate dandy’ and generally side-lined in a way that constantly has him breaking the fourth wall to complain.

One More Time is probably best remembered for one single scene, seemingly improvised without reason, in which Salt finds a hidden doorway that leads to a cellar where Dracula (Christopher Lee) and Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) are working; the gag seems to be that Gothic horror lies beneath traditional British values. Otherwise, when the words ‘that’s it’ appear instead of “the end’, One More Time must have had even the most hipster-cat audiences begging for it to stop; with Lewis directing Davis Junior well beyond excess, it’s the audience who must truly have felt mugged. As a side-note, One More Time offers a good argument against smoking; everyone quaffs fags like their lives depend on it, and there’s even huge close-ups of full ashtrays to present bona-fide testimony to the performers’ enthusiasm for cigarettes.

 

Flashpoint 1984 ***

flash1When is a movie not a movie? When it’s made for home entertainment? These are the arguments that no-one was asking when HBO opened up their theatrical release account way back in 1984 with Flashpoint, an adaptation of a novel by George LaFountaine. Truth by told, Flashpoint is a cut above most tv movies and fully deserved to be seen theatrically; it’s also gained a certain post-JFK notoriety by chiming in with the themes of Oliver Stone’s celebrated conspiracy pic.

Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams play Bobby Logan and Ernie Wyatt, two Texas border patrolmen who start to question their roles; there’s a prescient discussion where a dropped-in suit (Kurtwood Smith) suggests that if there wasn’t a migrant problem, it would be necessary to create a crisis in order to justify the US government spending on border fortification. That seems like quite an accurate prediction of 2019’s fake news and national emergency, but such allusions are not Flashpoint’s main line of enquiry. The patrolmen find a jeep buried in the sand with skeletons, a high-powered gun, and a stack of money which they trace back to early 1960’s Dallas; could they have stumbled on part of a cover-up directly related to the assassination of president John F Kennedy?

Director William Tannen’s thriller doesn’t deviate too much from conventional thriller mechanics, but there’s lots for genre fans to enjoy here, starting with another amazing Tangerine Dream score. Smith, Rip Torn and Miguel Ferrer all add gritty support turns, and the film certainly explores border politics in a thorough way.

The zeitgeist moved towards slicker, flashier, Miami Vice-type investigations, leaving Flashpoint high and dry and the box office, but it deserves to gain a little more recognition for packaging politics and thrills together effectively. If nothing else, Williams and Kristofferson are pretty much convincing as the cops, frequently stripped to the waist, tanned, sporting sunglasses, and driving nifty looking jeeps that bounce around the desert with not a drop of CGI in sight.

Love at First Bite 1979 ***

After sampling the reputedly toxic, morally corrosive substances emitted by the Joker movie, the immediate consequences involved watching a short season of George Hamilton comedies, something worth holding the film-makers of Joker directly responsible for. Having followed up on their quote of Zorro The Gay Blade, it seemed natural to look back a couple of years to the film that Hamilton was attempting to recapture the magic of; Love at First Bite.

Stan Dragosi’s comedy was a breakout hit in 1979, but has since fallen by the wayside, partly because of some hideous stereotyping; black characters are little more than cheerful thieves in the Manhattan that Count Dracula visits. Copyright issues involving a featured Alicia Bridges song have also muted re-release plans. Dracula goes disco’ would be a better title for this film, in which the Count faces a fish-out-of-water culture clash as he encounters nightclubs, modelling shoots, psychiatry and various other late 70’s touchstones. Along the way, a shrink who is related to nemesis Van Helsing (Richard Benjamin) gets wind of the count’s plans and a duel of wits follows.

Love at First Bite is a more interesting film that a rather sketchy reputation might suggest; this isn’t quite Bram Stoker’s Dracula in that the count can shoot steam jets from his mouth, bend metal with his stare, transform himself into a dog and control a horse and cart with his mind. The world he encounters is recognisably 1970’s, but it’s odd how some characters recognise the Dracula brand, and others don’t; Love at First Bite is so keen to get laughs it can’t maintain a consistent universe.

That said, Hamilton is a laugh here, playing straight and with great style in the way he’s constantly undercutting of his own gravity. Arte Johnson does well as his cockroach-loving sidekick Renfield, and there’s a few wierdly caustic lines like a psychiatrist saying ‘If you don’t pay for it, it won’t get better’ or a conquest who excuses her messy apartment by saying ‘I hate housework, it killed my mother’. The time-frame jokes are many and varied, but the best scene, a hypnosis duel, is timeless and a great moment; sure, Love at First Bite may have a few regrettable scenes, but there’s plenty of comedy meat on these often gnawed bones.

Zorro The Gay Blade 1981 ***

It is becoming something of a ‘thing’ for film-makers to point out their inspirations by having a movie theatre prominently placed within their work. That’s fine if, as in It Chapter 1, the point is to pin down in time the specific summer that Derry’s local cinema is showing Batman and Lethal Weapon 2.  The device feels a bit more laboured when Zack Snyder pans over a 1981 cinema showing Excalibur in Batman Vs Superman, or Todd Phillips recreates the marquee signage from the same year of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out in Joker.

Equally prominent in the same shot is Peter Medak’s Zorro The Gay Blade, a rather more neglected text that De Palma’s much frothed-over if effective thriller. Given Joker’s rejection of laughter, from clowns to Chaplin, is the suggestion that George Hamilton’s ‘zany, zexy, spectacular’ parody of the much loved swordsman signifies the death of comedy? Or could Arthur Fleck have been diverted from his murderous purpose if he’d just let a little spray-tanned self-deprecation into his life? The bottom line is that while real-world movies seem to exist in both DC and Marvel universes, it’s kind of hard to see how Zorro The Gay Blade exists in the miserablist world of Joker.

Zorro The Gay Blade certainly delivers on its title; Hamilton plays Diego, a athletic ladies man who doubles up as Zorro. An injury causes him to shirk his duties, and his flamboyantly camp brother Bunny Wrigglesworth (also Hamilton)  takes his place. Wrigglesworth prefers a whip to a sword and constructs a suit and cape combo in gold lame rather than black as he attempts to personalise the classic style of the Zorro brand.

Medak, who made The Ruling Class and has been touring with his Ghost of Peter Sellers film, was quite a craftsman, and assembles some great suppor for Hamiltont, from Ron Liebman’s shouty villain to Lauren Hutton and Brenda Vaccarro, plus some well-staged action scenes. The stereotypes are larger than life, but not exactly crude; in fact, for 1981, they’re positively progressive.

Hamilton’s brief period as a bankable movie lead post his big Love At First Bite success ended with the muted reception for this film, but he’s in his element here, sending up his good looks and throwing himself into drag; it’s an anything for a laugh film. At a time when comic-book characters are getting so serious, it’s nice to see such an amiable, lightweight comedy, although what the over-analytical Joker fanboys will make of this as a reference to pore over is anyone’s guess.

Two-Lane Blacktop 1971 *****

two-lane-blacktop-vintage-movie-poster-original-40x60-2989Having a car seems like a full time job in Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop, a road movie that sits neatly in the slipstream of Easy Rider and Vanishing Point. The subject is a cross-country road race, and the film was one of the inspirations for the Cannonball Run race. But we’re not talking celebrity cameos and car crashes here, and although we see several illegal car races, this isn’t franchise material either, although Fast and Furious Presents; Two Lane Blacktop is a title that potentially intrigues. Singer James Taylor and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson are two men who race their souped-up jalopy in one small-town after another; they soon pick up a girl, and get into a rivalry with GTO (Warren Oates). How GTO got his dazzling yellow sports car is never fully explained; the truth is not in him, and yet an odd friendship develops from their rivalry. All the characters are ciphers; as in Walter Hill’s The Driver, they are named for their function; Girl, Driver, Mechanic. GTO functions much like Jack Nicholson’s character in Easy Rider, an emblem of a lifestyle that the protagonists still can’t help but reject, even if he’s still pretty counter-culture. A downbeat line about the life-cycle of cicadas nails the film’s sociological ideas pretty succinctly, and the studied naturalism is something of a joy. Two Lane Blacktop has been tough to find and locate over the last fifty years, but it’s really worth the effort. Wikipedia’s plot summary says, “The film ends abruptly’ but that’s something of a dry understatement; it ends as it begins, in an unconventional style that’s rarely been bettered.

 

Dirty Weekend 1993

dirty 2

Michael Winner was an A-list British director, who made a number of decent 1960’s comedies, then hit big with Death Wish and the sequels. He turned down the chance to make everything from The French Connection to Jaws, including the James Bond franchise. His regular TV appearances made him a household name in the UK; in 2011, David Cameron did a Michael Winner impression during Prime Minister’s question time. And despite his name being synonymous with bad taste, a number of his films (The Jokers, The Sentinel ) are pretty watchable. Dirty Weekend was his second last film, and it’s a bleak reworking of the Death Wish theme, but this time from a female point of view. Adapted with Winner from her own book, Helen Zahavi’s story depicts a young woman Bella (Lia Williams) who finds herself preyed on by various seedy men in the seaside town of Brighton, and takes revenge by killing them. Amongst those she encounters are Rufus Sewell as a Peeping Tom, an Iranian clairvoyant (Star Wars star Ian Richardson in blackface) and a dentist (Man from Uncle and NCIS star David McCallum). It feels like Michael Winner made Dirty Weekend to demonstrate some kind of kinship with feminists, but the result feels like a gross appropriation. It’s hard to recommend this horrid, ill-judged film, and yet it’s unequivocal in his condemnation of misogyny, and that seems to be why it was lambasted on release, and promptly banned by the BBFC for years. It’s no hidden gem, in fact it’s tone deaf to women, but as an example of how feminists are correct to fear men co-opting their arguments, it’s not without some kind of historical interest now that it washes up, briefly one assumes, on the most polluted shores of You Tube.