As part of a new feature here at SE&L, we will be looking at the classic exploitation films of the ‘40s - ‘70s. Many film fans don’t recognize the importance of the genre, and often miss the connection between the post-modern movements like French New Wave and Italian Neo-Realism and the nudist/roughie/softcore efforts of the era. Without the work of directors like Herschell Gordon Lewis, Joe Sarno and Doris Wishman, along with producers such as David F. Friedman and Harry Novak, many of the subjects that set the benchmark for cinema’s startling transformation in the Me Decade would have been impossible to broach. Sure, there are a few dull, derivative drive-in labors to be waded through, movies that barely deserve to stand alongside the mangled masterworks by the format’s addled artists. But they too represent an important element in the overall development of the medium. So grab your trusty raincoat, pull up a chair, and discover what the grindhouse was really all about as we introduce The Beginner’s Guide to Exploitation.
There’s no more perplexing combination in all of exploitation than Barry Mahon and James Bond. No, the infamous grindhouse director had nothing to do with Ian Fleming’s classic spy, but when Dr. No became the genre redefining action thriller that every espionage fan went ga-ga over, he, like the rest of the men responsible for the raincoat crowd’s entertainment, stood up and took notice. In fact, no one embraced the genre more often than this flesh peddling “M”. Before you knew it, the careful plotting and shoot ‘em up violence of these calling cards of cinematic cool were being stripped down – literally – to their sexy swagger, with bare bodkin replacing bald bravado in the secret agent’s arsenal of efforts. Instead of putting the kibosh on international terrorism and ridiculously rampant communism, it was nothing but nookie for our ‘undercover’ experts.
Case in point – Something Weird Video’s Mahon double feature release for July: 1967’s Run Swinger Run and Sex Club International. In fact, if you include the truncated version of 1964’s The Adventures of Busty Brown (included as part of the DVD presentation’s added features), you’ve got three evocative examples of conspiracy as carnality with private dicks and slinky chicks smack dab in the middle of it all. Run is a regressive romp featuring a callgirl who ends up working for a UN approved ‘escort’ service. She learns a few diabolic details that were better left undiscovered. As for the partner picture, seedy PI Lucky Bang Bang (an investigator so unctuous he comes in Regular, High Test, and Ethel) stumbles upon some ‘legitimate’ brothels that decide to get into the blackmail racket. He must protect certain clients from having their perversions exposed, less the rest of the reprobate think badly of them. Along with our double D detectives attempt to rescue a kidnapped Asian gal, we’ve got a trio of tripe that stinks like a stopped up septic tank. And better yet, they’re all helmed by big bad Barry himself, a filmmaker not known for his subtlety or tact.
Run Swinger Run
Laura’s life really sucks. One night, while in a typical adolescent repose, she’s mauled by some freeloader living in her mama’s boarding house. This leads, naturally, to a stint as a runaway. Hoping to seek solace and shelter from an old family friend, our heroine soon learns that her pal pushes dope to school kids – and she’s planning on using Laura as her newest drug selling jailbait. On the move again, our leading lady winds up part of a high class hooker syndicate, providing favors for important politicians and world leaders. When she beds a shady general from Korea, she soon discovers that the bastard is buying arms from the US – and then selling them to Vietnam! We’re helping kill our own troops! Outraged, Laura contacts the FBI, who laughs in her face. But they soon stop chuckling when a sniper tries to take her out. Landing in the lap of a hapless passerby, our marked maiden spills the beans to her shocked chauffer. No wonder she has to Run, Swinger Run! She’s more dangerous than the Black Panthers and the Yippies combined!
If you like your ‘good girls gone bad’ movies on the sleep inducing side, you’ll absolutely adore Run Swinger Run. Overloaded with plot and purposefully tied into the politics of the day (who knew Mahon was such an anarchist), this undeniably bizarre road picture starts out skuzzy and just gets scummier from there. Let’s face it; any narrative that begins with a pedo-defiling is really ratcheting up the raunch. Of course, what makes matters even worse is that we learn that Laura…liked it (EW!WWWW!!!). After that slog through the cinematic cesspool, director Mahon has a lot to live up to, and for a while he maintains Swinger’s seedy designs. When actress Elizabeth Bing (whose a lox as Laura) wanders into her supposed friend’s house, only to discover their desire to make her into a middle school mule, your eyebrows raise once again. Offering recreational pharmaceuticals to the pre-pubescent set? How shocking? Since we know our heroine is running for her life (the assassination attempt – while she’s bathing topless – happens before the opening credits), our curiosity is peaked. With everything that’s already happened, it must have taken a real risqué riot to get her in this much Dutch. Sadly, the reason is more Saigon than sin based.
Indeed, Run Swinger Run decides to put a damper on the squalid stuff the rest of the way through the movie. After Laura hooks up with the comfort for cash enterprise, we get lots of standard Mahon moments – read: women sitting around, chewing the fat, naked bustline blowing in the wind. Instead of focusing on the psychological scarring they’ll suffer the rest of their lives, or the unmentionable reality that they’ll probably never leave said employment ‘alive’, these girls go on about making money, servicing the swarthy, and handling the kinkier clientele. It’s like listening to Heidi Fleiss and Sydney Biddle Barrows exchanging trade secrets. By the time we get to the last act car chase, complete with a stop over at a local roadside motel for necessary thriller ambience, we openly wonder how our star skank will get out of this mess. Turns out, Mahon believes in a slight variation on the whole Deus Ex Machina ideal – let’s just call it a last minute “cop” out and leave it at that. In fact, forgetting most of what you see as part of Run Swinger Run may be a very good idea. It’s a delightfully dopey mess, making its points with sledgehammer like precision. But unless you like your skin flicks dripping with unnecessary exposition and espionage, you’ll consider making a break for it as well.
Sex Club International
Carol Kane is an enterprising young lass. Recognizing the obvious need amongst wealthy industrialists, high ranking cultural attachés, and similarly well to do gentlemen for readily available strings free fornication, she decides to open up a few selective social organizations. At first, she’s happy with the $5,000 franchise fee and the occasional perks of being a professional prostitute shill. But when low level gangster Dan Gray discovers the pure profit enterprise, he reacts how every good racketeer does – he tries to horn in on the action. At first, Ms. Kane is not interested. But the lure of more money gets the best of her, and almost overnight, each and every one of her exclusive erotica guilds are installing surveillance equipment and blackmailing the befuddled customers. That’s when hunk for hire Lucky Bang Bang steps in. Working for an undisclosed country, he must infiltrate the local Sex Club International and regain some in flagrante delicto footage before these VIPs experience something they’re not used to – public scrutiny and embarrassment.
There are two things that keep the amazingly dopey Sex Club International from falling completely apart – and neither have to do with supposed star Lucky Kargo (brother Clutch must be so embarrassed). No, our lumbering lead, a man with more bourbon and bankruptcy miles on his cracked kisser than an entire suburb full of insurance middle managers, is supposed to represent the suave and debonair element of our otherwise all girl gawk fest. A stuntman by trade and actor by apparent accident, this Vitalis fueled fool tries his damnedest to be the schlock cinema version of Sean Connery. Sadly, he’s barely his hack brother Neil (star of Operation Double 007). Whether it’s reading his dialogue – rather poorly, mind you – from noticeable off camera cue cards, to bopping around like a shaved ape on uppers during the fight scenes, he’s incompetence complicated by a total lack of charisma. Mahon tries to make him into something special, starting the film with a title card that reads “The Adventurous Lucky Bang Bang in…”, but all the audience can do is imagine other “A” adjectives that better suit this ersatz-spy-stud: anemic, awkward, and/or appalling. And since he spends the first 50 minutes of this one hour nude-a-thon sitting on a couch and yakking his head off (he tells us the entire story until his turn to bust things up), we recognize his action adventure ineptness right off the bat.
No, what saves Sex Club International, turning it from a lazy man’s Lazenby to a goofy pseudo-spoof is the character of Carol. Looking like a much more world weary Kathy Griffin (the D-list was never this nasty), bleached blond hair buttressing a ‘surely has seen better days’ face, our notable non-actress has a singular talent that makes all other exploitation queens quake with fear – she’s amazingly proficient at taking off her top for absolutely no good reason whatsoever. Let’s say she’s a little tired and needs a nap. Off comes the blouse. Some of her franchisees need retraining on the fine art of selling sex. Down comes the dress. Whether it’s explaining the finer points of seduction (“slowly, and more serious”) or taking a much needed exercise break (complete with free weights!) this is one carnal entrepreneur who really ‘backs up’ and exposes her product. And the other selling point? Mahon’s demented decision to offer an entire overlong sequence on a rule-less game which could best be described as “Pin the Bra on the Bimbo”. Various anonymous cast members take turns being blindfolded, undergarment in hand. They then roam around aimlessly until they stumble into someone else. As punishment – or pleasure??? – the loser gets to wear the lingerie. Then it’s their turn. All one can say after that is – HUH?!?! Indeed, that’s the perfect reaction to much of Sex Club International. It’s corporeal confusion offset by copious amounts of nudity. In Mahon’s world, that’s all that matters.
Of course, Something Weird wouldn’t let us walk away after only two hours of Barry badness. No, they add in an edited version of The Adventures of Busty Brown (along with a selection of trailers and Mahon nudies loops) to keep the cinematic sludge flowing. Nothing more than Mr. Bang Bang’s boorishness heaped on a gal with gignormous lungs, this softcore search and rescue is regressive in its race baiting (some of the action takes place in a decidedly celluloid version of Chinatown) and hilarious in its haplessness. Laurie Dane is uninspired as the private eye, her only viable asset being her ‘above the gut’ reactions. Since the narrative is sliced and diced into sequences of needless plotpointing and topless go-go dancing, all we can hope is that Mahon manages to pull it all together. As usual, he doesn’t even try. At least James Bond got narratives that attempted to tie up all its loose ends. In the wacky world of Barry Mahon, spies don’t need explaining. That’s why he will always be more 1967’s Casino Royale vs. the sleek slick 2006 type. And the grindhouse wouldn’t want it any other way.