It’s all the nudists’ fault. When sun worshipers challenged the illegality of baring it all back in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s, the resulting court decisions gave exploitation purveyors, and smut peddlers in general, an opportunity to use (and in some cases, abuse) the naked female form. You see, those in love with nature argued that the medical benefits and curative properties of nudism blunted any consideration of carnal knowledge. As a result, considering it illegal was actually denying practitioners their individual right to health. The family-oriented elements within the lifestyle proved successful within the Puritan US legal system. Still, it took entrepreneurs like Kroger Babb and David F. Friedman to hold down the prosecutorial fort, while businessmen like Harry Novak and Bob Cresse tried to keep the motion picture pulchritude flowing.
And helping them was genre maverick R. L. “Lee” Frost. Born in Arizona and raised in both California and Hawaii, the future exploitation expert got his start in television. After a string of successful commercials, he went on to make the nudie spoofs Surftide 77 and the infamous House on Bare Mountain. It was during the later where he first worked with a man who would change his career forever. Bob Cresse was an equally energetic idealist, bouncing around within the medium to make as much money - and monkey business - as possible. Together, the duo would create sleazoid classics such as Hollywood’s World of Flesh, Hot Spur, and the notorious Love Camp 7. One of their earliest collaborations was Love is a Four Letter Word. Retitled The Love Girls during its roadshow run, it stands as an excellent illustration of how the men perfectly complemented each other.
The basic premise of the film focuses on the then novel fetish of voyeurism. It was standard operating procedure for producers to review medical publications, scouring the burgeoning science of psychology to come up with unusual twists on the old naked lady routine. Sun worshipping and nudism had provided an ample commercial proving ground, while the Mondo movies of Europe would soon take over the framework. In the meantime, Cresse and Frost concocted a live action men’s magazine out of the story of Jerry, his lady love Shelia, his uncontrollable urges, and the various women more than happy to indulge his desire to peep.
Over the course of 61 meandering minutes, our hero spends inordinately large quantities of time giving gals the big eye. He sits back and studies their bra wearing routines, their daily showers, their after school frolicking, and the general desire to be nubile, nude, and natural. Without much of a narrative to hang onto, we watch as Jerry tries to conquer his abnormal cravings. All throughout the film, we follow the character through a series of psychological lectures and doctor visits, each one cementing his status as a first rate perv. It’s only at the end, when Jerry discovers his icy gal pal’s secret, do things go from nutty to numbing. With suicide implied and a weird last minute suggestion of redemption, the Love Girls loses little of its decades old potency.
Unlike your standard grindhouse chauvinist, Jerry is constantly chastised for his urges. It’s this seedy subtext which accents The Love Girls’ taboo busting conceits. This is a film that proposes to show us what goes on behind the walls of your typical college town, and what we see initially seems innocent enough - gals undressing, babes taking bare-ass excursions from one room to another. Frost’s camerawork is excellent, amplifying the surveillance-like sliminess of Jerry’s actions. One memorable sequence in particular has our hopped up hero hanging out during a sorority ritual. While the ladies look a little too old for rush week, their lewd lingerie party is worth the price of admission alone.
And it’s important to remember why these movies were made in the first place. Cresse and Frost knew that the burgeoning sexual revolution was peaking the interest of suppressed males everywhere. They also recognized the undeniable dollar value in such forbidden pleasures. So in order to satisfy both concepts, while hoping to keep the censors at bay, they introduced a small amount of ethics into their narratives.
Of course, Cresse had to satisfy his own fetishes a bit. He was notorious for putting his own peculiar passions up on the screen for everyone to see. During the opening credits (imaginatively scrawled across some vertical blinds) we get basic bondage action. On a trip down to Tijuana, Jerry and his pals experience a lewd lesbian floorshow. During the aforementioned all girl initiation, there is spanking and some implied torture. But it’s not just the honeys that experience humiliation. Jerry is always the laughing stock of someone in roundabout knowledge of his needs. He’s never celebrated for being a voyeur. Instead, the story moralizes his quirk into something akin to criminality. Obviously, Cresse and Frost were hoping such a message would mean less time spent defending their film in court.
In retrospect, one of the most memorable things about The Love Girls is how it demonizes men for their uncontrollable, crotch-driven lusts. Most exploitation is unapologetic in how degrading and piglike its leads can be. Women are seen as body-pleasing properties traded like salacious stock on a sin-strew exchange. But in the case of Jerry, we have someone so strung out on femininity and his raging need to peep that he can barely exist. While the audience gets the vicarious thrill of witnessing his “torment”, the character is all but doomed.
It’s an interesting angle in a film that follows many of the genre’s more recognizable attributes. Sure, the voice over opening narration sounds like a poet gone potty, and the ending makes little or no sense, but thanks to the provocative input of Bob Cresse and Lee Frost, what could have been your standard issue softcore becomes something distinctly disturbed and consistently crude. Under either name, The Love Girls/Love is a Four Letter Word succeeds in showing why R. L. Lee Frost remains one of the genre’s giants.