In a round table meeting with a couple of editors, I was discussing a proposed documentary (which we abandoned). As we were dialoguing, I mentioned a scene which would require green screen. One of the editors stopped me short and said: “This is a documentary. You do not do green screen shots in a documentary.” When I explained that the scene was meant to be poetic and dream-like, which did pertain to the subject at hand, my editor persisted: “You still cannot do that. That’s against all the rules of documentary filmmaking.” I ended that with: “So who made these rules?” If I had thought that argument through, I probably would have tied the editor down and shown him two documentary films, which break “THE rules.” One would be Guy Maddin‘s My Winnipeg (2007) and the other would be Doris Wishman‘s Let Me Die A Woman (1978).
Doris Wishman‘s Deadly Weapons (1973) and Double Agent 73 (1974), both starring 73FF(!)-32-36 Chesty Morgan, makes for a bizarre double feature, and a bizarre Something Weird Blu-ray release. This set (entitled “Chesty Morgan’s Bosom Buddies”) also includes a third feature The Immoral Three (1975), which does not include Morgan (who had, remarkably, taken the star bit between her teeth and was promptly sacked by Wishman). We focus on the first two features starring Chesty.
John Waters had the incomparable Divine. Wishman had the incomparable Chesty Morgan. The big difference is that Divine could actually act. Morgan, an exploitation freak of nature, was the energizer bunny rabbit to Wishman’s directorial enthusiasm.
Of course, Doris Wishman, the self-taught, innovative grand dame of sexploitation and grindhouse films, personally stamped everything she did. Wishman’s repeated focus on inanimate objects is her most infamous trademark. Hideous wallpaper, repeated shots of feet, and dirty floor tiles were favorite concentrations in some of the most outrageous compositions ever filtered through a lens. All of those abound in The Amazing Transplant (1970), but there is an additional focal point here: a giant moose head hanging on the wall. I have no idea what the hell it means, if anything. It is tempting to say that, perhaps, it’s a symbolic joke at the expense of male testosterone, except that this may also be Wishman’s most misogynistic film—which is saying quite a lot.
The Hands of Orlac (1924), Mad Love (1935), The Beast With Five Fingers (1946) and The Hand (1981), all dealt with with hand transplants resulting in murderous hands. Most of these films at least had an iota of style, and two of them starred the iconic character actor Peter Lorre. In this film, Doris Wishman gives us her take on a transplanted member. Naturally, no Wishman film would dare to tackle something so acceptable as a hand. No, Wishman’s raving lunatic has a newly-grafted penis. Lest one be tempted to conjure up the image of David Cronenberg’s vampire phallus growing from the armpit of the late porn star Marilyn Chmbers (Rabid-1977), I lament to report that The Amazing Transplant is nowhere near as anatomically outrageous. That is simply because we never see the Edward Hyde anaconda of poor Arthur (Juan Fernandez)—which is probably a good thing. Perhaps the hanging moose head is a sufficient avatar for all things phallic after all.
To the alternative cineaste, Doris Wishman is somewhat akin to what Mary, the Mother of Christ, is to Catholics. She was a considerable influence on luminaries such as John Waters, Roger Corman, and Quentin Tarantino. Like them, Wishman approached genre films with an idiosyncratic enthusiasm for the art and the business. Her films are sexploitation roughies, nudie-cuties, and precursors to the grindhouse films. Therefore, she also has her detractors, who compare to her to the likes of Ed Wood. Wishman was a true, self-taught outsider artist. And like most outsider artists, being a maverick had its advantages and disadvantages (she never had the budget she needed). Wishman was as tenebrous and quirky as her films. She often told elaborate lies about herself and remained defiant to the end, mocking conventional attitudes. “I’ll continue making films in Hell” she said, terminally ill, only days before her passing at age 90. If that anecdote doesn’t endear her to you, well, you may have come to the wrong film site.
It’s 1962. You are a producer/director who, admittedly, makes films for the primary purpose of turning a profit. Now, you only have a budget of about fifty bucks. So, what’s the best way to turn a profit? Skin, of course. There is, however, a bit of an obstacle. The obscenity laws prohibit nudity. Of course, that is hardly an obstacle if your name is Doirs Wishman. Doris was well aware of THE BIG LOOPHOLE. Nudity on film was permissible IF it was confined to a nudist colony, because we all know there is, indeed, educational value in filming naturists. And if you really want to double your potential profit, you take that nudist colony and put it on the moon for the sic-fi kids. Amazing, but true!
Today we tend to primarily (or solely) think of “Roadshow” films as “filler” exploitation films for the pre-television era. However,Wikipedia’s entry on ‘Roadshow Releases,” is a useful in-depth tool on their history, revealing the initial understanding of the term was as a format, rather than genre. Of course, we’re not interested in “classy” roadshow features like Ben Hur or Cleopatra, but in the sexploitation features that took to the road to show audiences glimpses of forbidden fruit—movies that couldn’t be booked in regular suburban theaters because of their salacious content. Thefirst part of the series dealt with the phenomenon in the repressed Forties; for this installment, we move into the swinging Sixties.
Possibly nothing sums up Western hypocrisy more than its attitudes toward sex. Over twenty years ago, I worked for an unnamed video store chain during the Pee Wee Herman scandal. Being a family values corporation, we received a memo to remove all Pee Wee videos from the stores immediately.
A few years later, when O.J.Simpson made the news, our office ordered every video they could get their hands on starring the former football hero. Recalling the company’s family values policy towards Pee Wee in our next managers’ meeting, I was uncouth enough to say: “Where, in our mindset, is it worse for someone to have allegedly pleasured himself in an adult theater than it is for someone to have allegedly slaughtered two human beings?” After said meeting, my superior issued me a written verbal warning for “inciting negativity” in my comment regarding comparison between Pee Wee and O.J. I think, for him the most provocative thing was the unsaid agreement, registered through laughter from fellow managers, that my comment generated.
It is, alas, easier for us to laugh at previous generations’ attitudes towards sex than our own. Roadside Show films from yesteryear are now considered archaic camp, while certain unnamed masses rally to show support for contemporary sexual constipation propagated by the likes of Duck Dynasty and Chick-fil-a.
“Elmer Gantry (1960) with a dose of The Intruder (1962) on a 75 cent budget.”
There is the one-sentence synopsis for Shanty Tramp (1967), written and directed by Joseph P. Mawra. Mawra was a lesser-known director of numerous grindhouse films (such as 1964-1965’sOlga trilogy, produced by Glen Or Glenda‘s George Weiss). Movies from this sadosexual school of filmmaking were often referred to as “roughies,” and here the lighting alone justifies that moniker.
Common Law Wife (1963) is a hoot, as most period exploitation films are. This film, directed by the infamous schlockmeister Larry Buchanan and Eric Sayers, gets a lot of mileage out of the white trash melodrama genre.
Nasty old oil miser Uncle (love the name) Shugfoot Rainey (George Edgley) is bored with his worn out, tired-looking, live-in waitress girlfriend Linda (Anne MacAdams). Still, Linda is no pushover and proves it when she refuses to flinch while that mean old Uncle Shug throws darts at her head. But, after five years, Uncle Shug wants new tail, which he plans to get through his niece (!) Baby Doll (Lacey Kelly). Baby Doll is built like a French brick house and Linda, feeling like yesterday’s washrag, ain’t havin’ none o’ that!
Baby Doll, fresh from her job as a New Orleans stripper, is plenty willing to put out for some of her uncle’s assets, but she meets a road block in the rejected Linda. That heifer Linda has went and gotten herself a lawyer! Linda’s found out that she don’t haveta go nowhere, cause according to the law, she’s a… COMMON LAW WIFE! What is Shugfoot gonna do? “She’s lived with ya for five years, Shugfoot! That makes her your common law life according to the law!” “Well, gosh darn it, then change the law!” “You can’t change the law Shugfoot, no matter how much money ya got!”
Do not be alarmed! The loud thud you are getting to hear is merely the sound of your jaw dropping to the floor while watching Child Bride (1938). And before the credits roll, you will know that you have truly entered a twilight zone from the gutter cinema of yesteryear.
Of course, in 1938 movies were deep in the law of the Hays Code, and the only films which managed to subvert Will Hays’ dos-and-don’ts-list were the exploitation features. That is because they contained an “educational, moral message” for the masses.
Child Bride was a government funded film which begins it’s sermon with: “These child marriages must be stopped!” Predictably, the film then wallows in its own tawdry agenda. Written and directed by the rightfully forgotten hack, Harry Reiver, Child Bride is a ripe candidate for one to the most disturbing examples of unintentional weirdness.
“Here is a page from the Book of Life… in Thunderhead Mountain. We do not aim to ridicule the back yonder folk, but if our story abolishes their child marriages, then it will have served its purpose.” If the music from Deliverance (1972) starts coming to mind, then take it as a warning: Be afraid. Be very afraid. The only thing missing is the horror horn and fear flasher from Chamber of Horrors (1966). Continue reading “CHILD BRIDE (1938): YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE TWILIGHT ZONE OF YESTERYEAR EXPLOITATION”