They're barely legal but fully dangerous.
The promo poster for Teenage Doll is iconic, at least in our opinion. Has ever a lightbulb looked so sizzlingly ominous? The film, which has an amazing opening credit sequence, deals with a girl gang called the Black Widows who lose a member to a killer and vow to exact revenge on the perpetrator, a square named Barbara who had the misfortune to leave identifying evidence behind. The killing was actually an accident but the Widows don't know that and doubtless wouldn't care. They're going to hunt down Barbara—who's played by June Kenney—wherever she runs. She doesn't run far—just to her parents' house to steal a gun, even as the Widows lay their hands on a firearm of their own. There's gonna be a showdown.
IMDB.com calls Teenage Doll a film noir but it isn't. That website really needs to clean up its act—the internet was supposed to increase knowledge, not mangle it. This movie is a juvenile delinquent flick, directed by b-movie legend Roger Corman, and it's one of a truckload of girl gang pictures that came out during the late 1950s. All the action takes place at night, but to paraphrase what we wrote just a couple of weeks ago, night falls in all kinds of movies, including comedies and pornos, but that doesn't make them film noir. The best place online to find proper film categories is at the American Film Institute website, and there Teenage Doll is classified correctly—as a drama.
In fact, it even verges on melodrama, the way it drips with tragedy. But its primary characteristic is that it's amazingly earnest and in so being transforms via cinematic alchemy from cheap celluloid into pure comedy gold. This one has it all—longsuffering parents, hypergrim cops, obnoxious gang boys, psychopathic lackeys, and most importantly Fay Spain, who as the top gang girl Helen chews the scenery with thirty-six teeth and even claws it with ten fingernails. We know adults normally have thirty-two teeth, but Spain has extras to help her get through plywood and nails. Ultimately, we learn that the entire murder snafu is, at its root, a man's fault, which is the only part of the movie that's realistic. We recommend this one highly—or lowly. It premiered today in 1957.
Voltage schmoltage. I failed English. And science.
You know, Vandalettes has a sort of girl-group ring to it. Can anybody sing?
The only rehabilitation going on here is by the poster artist.
Above you see a striking color poster for the Roger Corman produced women-in-prison flick Women in Cages, one of the many sexploitation epics filmed in the Philippines during the 1970s. For an entertaining ninety minutes on that subject, by the way, you should watch the documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed. It's the final word on the chaos of Philippine movie production and covers everything from Savage! to Apocalypse Now. Women in Cages is one of the earlier Philippine women-in-prison flicks, coming after The Big Doll House.
Despite the fact that the poster is signed R. Engel and dated '72, it's actually a piece of modern pulp made within the last several years. The person behind it is German artist Rainer Engel, who put it together borrowing the DVD box cover art from Subkultur-Entertainment's 2013 re-issue of the movie, which in Germany was called Frauen hinter Zuchthausmauern. We ran across the re-styled poster on the artist's website, decided his mock-up beats the hell out of the 1971 original art, and thought it was worth sharing.
When we wrote about the film a while ago we said we thought it was a bit much. Specifically, it's relentlessly grim. Of the trilogy that includes The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage this middle entry is the one that forgot the first rule of the 1970s women-in-prison genre—the movie should be absurd and fun. When it isn't—i.e. when it shades into depressing realism—you come away wondering if there's something wrong with you for having watched it in the first place. You can read our post on the film here, and you can visit the artist's website here.
Woman in critical condition after accidentally swallowing ice pick.
Eunice Sudak was a prolific author, but one whose bibliography is padded by numerous film novelizations, including X—The Man with the X-Ray Eyes and The Raven, after Roger Corman's tongue-in-cheek version of the Poe tale. One of her original pieces of fiction was 1966's The Ice Pick in Ollie Birk, a comedic romp about a widow forced to become a prostitute to survive. That concept is just ripe for humor, right? Almost writes itself. Anyway, the widow discovers the eponymous Ollie Birk dead on her living room sofa with her ice pick in his ear, and of course must extricate herself from this sticky situation. Who did it? Perhaps the rowdy Russians down the hall. The novel is notable for its beat slang, if not its technical merit, and the Lancer Books paperback is notable for its unusual cover art of the lead character Leona Trafalgar dancing with an ice pick in her mouth. We love this image, but it's uncredited, sadly.
Her touch turned a fish into a pile of money.
Above is a poster for a Japanese film called Caress with Poison. It starred Hisako Tsukuba, who made nearly fifty films beginning in 1957 and recorded some music before becoming Chako van Leeuwen and shifting into movie production in the U.S. She’s put together eight movies as a producer, but her prized property is the Piranha franchise. You know the ones—Piranha, Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, Piranha 3D, Piranha 3DD. Our kind of producer, especially since she apprenticed under none other than Roger Corman. Her first Piranha movie was made in 1978 for $800,000 and grossed $30 million worldwide. Hah hah—who’s smirking now? Piranha launched the careers of Joe Dante and John Sayles, and the sequel was James Cameron’s first turn behind the camera. Clearly, van Leeuwen knows how to make low budget films. True, she’s no Jeffrey Bloom, but she possesses a similar genius. Caress with Poison premiered in Japan this month in 1963.
Screen legend receives overdue honor.
Screen icon Lauren Bacall, circa 1952. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave her an honorary Academy Award yesterday during a private ceremony at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Other deserving honorees included B-movie legend Roger Corman, and cinematographer Gordon Willis.
Women on the verge of a nervous breakout.
When Pam Grier goes bad, she goes all the way bad. In the Roger Corman produced Women in Cages, she’s the head matron of a hellhole prison somewhere in the Philippines and spends the movie permanently covered in a sheen of sweat as she sneeringly tortures her beautiful female convicts. The girls endure every manner of humiliation—the rack, rats, snakes, the hole, leeches, electric shocks, and some really harsh words. Oh, and the whole prison is basically a racket to sell the women into sexual slavery, so there’s that problem too.
After enough of this treatment the jailbirds finally decide it’s time to escape into the jungle, but unforeseen circumstances result in them taking Grier hostage, leading directly to her death via gang rape and strangulation. The audience is supposed to feel she’s gotten what she deserved, but all we felt was our lunch coming up. Such are the vicissitudes of '70s b-cinema.
Women in prison movies are misogynist by definition, but there is still a line somewhere and, though it’s difficult to know exactly where it is, it isn’t difficult to know when it’s been crossed. Anyway, once Grier has been disturbingly dispatched, the escape takes a few more turns which we won’t give away. We’ll just sum up by voting thumbs down on this one, and footnote by adding that we’re glad Pam went on kill so many men in her later movies. Women in Cages premiered in the U.S. today in 1971.
Never has a writer of such quality suffered so many bad adaptations of his work.
Thirty-eight years ago today in Hollywood, sexploitation producer Roger Corman premiered a film based on H.P. Lovecraft’s macabre story The Dunwich Horror, and it was almost good. Wait, did we really just say that?
Not to get all self-pitying here, but us Lovecraft fans have been so desperate for so long for a truly great HPL movie, we’ll see merit in virtually any lame attempt. But when we are honest with ourselves—really truly brutally honest—we have to admit this movie is a stinkbomb. Lovecraft is simply difficult to adapt. So difficult, in fact, that if you remove Stuart Gordon from the discussion, virtually all the movies based on his material have been awful.
But even if The Dunwich Horror disappoints, the poster is rather interesting, with its implied violation by a hydra-like monstrosity. Incidentally, of special note here is the presence of writer Curtis Hanson, who would go on to direct the great L.A. Confidential. Nice comeback, Curtis. As for us, we’ll just plan on seeing the low budget Dunwich remake slated for release later this year, and hope Guillermo del Toro’s big budget At The Mountains of Madness actually films sometime this century.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
1962—Cuban Missile Crisis Begins
A U-2 spy plane flight over the island of Cuba produces photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed. Though American missiles have been installed near Russia, the U.S. decides that no such weapons will be tolerated in Cuba. The resultant standoff brings the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. The crisis finally ends with a secret deal in which the U.S. removes its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing the Cuban weapons.
1970—Angela Davis Arrested
After two months of evading police and federal authorities, Angela Davis is arrested in New York City by the FBI. She had been sought in connection with a kidnapping and murder because one of the guns used in the crime had been bought under her name. But after a trial a jury agreed that owning the weapon did not automatically make her complicit in the crimes.
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