Cage Aux Folles, La (1979)

Cage Aux Folles, La (1979)

“We have to marry her off in great splendor. You’ll be the symbol of tradition once again.”

Synopsis:
When his son (Remy Laurent) announces he’s getting married to the daughter (Lisa Maneri) of a conservative couple (Carmen Scarpitta and Michel Galabru), the owner (Ugo Tognazzi) of a nightclub featuring transvestite dancers realizes he’ll have to send his long-time partner (Michel Serrault) away and invite his son’s estranged mother (Claire Maurier) to dinner that night — but Serrault, appropriately indignant, refuses to leave. How will the situation turn out?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • French Films
  • Gender Bending
  • Homosexuality
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Morality Police
  • Nightclubs
  • Play Adaptation

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is clearly no fan of this “French farce” which “became the most successful foreign film ever to play in the U.S., raking in more than $40 million and playing in some theaters for more than a year.” He notes that given how “it caused so much excitement among those who loved it or despised it”, it’s “startling how innocuous it is;” he goes on to refer to it as a “dishonest film” that is “so timid it suggests that this gay couple could raise a heterosexual son — and a boring son at that” (?!?). He’s right to point out that the film “plays it [too] safe, catering to straight audiences” to the extent that the only “lovemaking scene” we see “involves [Tognazzi] with a female, his ex-wife”. He also points out that much of the film’s “humor comes at the gay characters’ expense; repeatedly we are supposed to laugh at how effeminate [Serrault] and butler Jacob [Benny Luke] are, at how exaggerated their mannerisms are, at how awkward they look when walking or gesturing, at how affected their voices are … , and how they whine or scream in surprise over everything.”

Unfortunately, “director-co-writer Edouard Molinaro never bothers to explore the subtleties of his characters or accentuate their endearing idiosyncrasies”: Tognazzi “tolerates [Serrault] in [a] conventional movie fashion — like a husband who accepts the childish activities and personality of his wife because she is female and is supposed to act that way;” and “there are surprisingly few funny moments in the major sequence in which [Tognazzi] and [Serrault] try to clean up their act when [Tognazzi’s] son brings home for dinner his fiancee, her mother, and her father… who is the secretary for the Union of Moral Order.” Peary argues that while “there’s potential for fireworks”, “Molinaro forgot the matches”. He rags further on the film in his Cult Movies book, where he states that “Molinaro has no flare for comedy and never lets a scene run long enough for the gags to develop sufficiently.”

Peary does concede that there are at least “several amusing moments in the picture”, including “when [Tognazzi] toasts [Maneri] over the phone by breaking a glass on the receiver;” “when [Tognazzi] instructs [Serrault] how to butter his toast and stir his tea in a masculine manner;” and “when [Scarpitta] and [Serrault] quibble over whether the nude figures on the dinner dishes are all boys, as [Scarpitta] insists, or are male and female, as [Serrault] fibs.” Ultimately, however, Peary dismisses this film as “a family comedy that never rises above a level of mediocrity” — as “rollicksome as the most tired French bedroom farce but not as risque, as stupid a Laura Antonelli sex comedy but not as arousing, and as ‘controversial’ and ‘relevant’ as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) is today.”

While I enjoyed this “innocuous” cult comedy more than Peary, I agree with many of his assessments. It’s weird — though perhaps not surprising, given the intended audience — that Tognazzi allows himself to be “seduced” by Maurier (perhaps this was done to “prove” that Laurent could have been conceived once upon a long time ago?), and much of the humor-at-the-expense-of-homosexuality comes across as terribly dated these days. How much you laugh may depend on how much you can simply giggle uncomfortably — something that’s NOT possible in any way with Luke’s portrayal of a servile black “maid” (everything about how his character is presented and treated rings distasteful). With that said, I think all film fanatics should watch this film once to become familiar with it, though it likely won’t become a repeat favorite.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Michel Serrault as Albin

Must See?
Yes, once, for its cult status.

Categories

Links:

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

“They’re just a bunch of small-town car freaks, that’s all they are.”

Synopsis:
As the driver (James Taylor) and the mechanic (Dennis Wilson) of a souped up ’55 Chevy drive across the country looking for opportunities to race, they pick up a young hitchhiker (Laurie Bird) and eventually meet the middle-aged owner (Warren Oates) of a GTO who’s willing to race them cross-country for high stakes.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Car Racing
  • Monte Hellman Films
  • Road Trip
  • Warren Oates Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while “Monte Hellman’s film” — predicted to be “the movie of the year” and “turn the youth market as only Easy Rider had” — “never lived up to its pre-release publicity”, it remains “a unique, thematically interesting film that has deservedly become a cult favorite.” He describes it as an existential film in which The Driver (Taylor) and The Mechanic (Wilson) “race their car… back and forth across America’s highways and byways — going fast but going nowhere on the metaphorical endless highway of meaningless life.” Given how much loving attention is paid (by Hellman) to The Car, Peary notes that “we learn more about [it] than about the zombielike men who ride in it,” whose rare conversation are “only about cars and racing.” Indeed, even when The Girl (Bird) “enters their life” and “swims nude in front of them, they reminisce about old cars, not old flames.”

Peary points out that “The Driver and the Mechanic epitomize the sad products of a frustration-making D.C. bureaucracy, specifically a Nixon government which is conducting a controversial war that makes complete apathy as inviting as a warm cozy bed.” He notes that “while other films were about the alienation of the drug culture and war protesters, Hellman’s pessimistic film is about the alienation of everyone else: both those who race around the desolate, poor, conservative country and all those people inside the cubicles they pass who are just as withdrawn and isolated from the problems/horrors of their world.”

Peary discusses Two-Lane Blacktop at greater length in his Cult Movies book, where he notes that he finds it “so much more honest and less exploitative than the similarly plotted box office smash Easy Rider, another film about a routeless odyssey across America undertaken by society’s dropouts.” He describes Oates as, “as usual, a standout, showing the wide range of emotions of a troubled man” and providing “much wit to the film”. He adds that “most amusing, and pathetic, is how he keeps picking up the worst brand of hitchhikers… but keeps trying to find ideal companionship.” Peary asserts that while he likes this movie — “its characters, and its premise” — he finds the “beginning of the film… compelling” but “toward the end it becomes a bit tiresome and fizzles — just like the race.” I think that’s exactly the point, however. As The Girl makes yet another random decision near the end of the film about who she’ll hang out and travel with, we see that nothing’s really changed — life will continue to be about distraction, alienation, and thwarted attempts to connect; Two-Lane Blacktop is remarkably effective at portraying those still-enduring challenges of existence.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Warren Oates as GTO
  • Many memorable moments
  • An authentic sense of time and place

  • Fine cinematography


Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens (1979)

Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens (1979)

“The dawn’s early light comes to Small Town every day — and with it, the events of the night before are forgotten.”

Synopsis:
A woman (Kitten Navidad) whose sexual appetites can’t be fulfilled by her husband (Ken Kerr) tries everything she can to help him learn how to have sex the “right way”.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Adult Films
  • Marital Problems
  • Russ Meyer Films
  • Satires and Spoofs
  • Sexuality
  • Small Town America

Review:
Russ Meyer’s final feature was this satirical take (scripted under a pen name by Roger Ebert) on Our Town, in which an earnest narrator (Stuart Lancaster) tells us about the strange sex lives — both fulfilling and otherwise — of various residents in Smalltown. It’s as close as Meyer ever came to making an actual hardcore film, and I’m categorizing it as such here (it received an X rating) — but once/if you get beyond the relentless sex scenes, it’s possible to reflect on the humor and absurdity of the situation, in which Kerr nearly loses his job working for a female dump station owner (June Mack) because of his preferences, and only an ultra-busty evangelical radio announcer (Ann Marie) can potentially “save” Kerr from his own impulses. Homosexuality is most definitely mocked and denigrated, with a dentist/counselor named “Dr. Lavender” (Robert E. Pearson) attempting to force Kerr “out of the closer” using a chainsaw — but is that any more ridiculous or offensive than the many other sex-based scenarios taking place? Not really.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A sometimes humorous take on “Our Town”

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Meyer completists.

Links:

Supervixens (1975)

Supervixens (1975)

“Not ready, with my beautiful body? You’ve gotta lot of nerve, buster!”

Synopsis:
A gas station attendant (Charles Pitts) called back home by his sexually aggressive girlfriend Supervixen (Shari Eubank) ends up in a domestic violence brawl that’s broken up by a psychopathic cop (Charles Napier). When Napier is sexually humiliated by Supervixen, he kills her and Pitts flees, knowing he’ll be blamed for the murder. During his “road trip”, Pitts is relentlessly seduced and harrassed by busty females who won’t take no for an answer — until he finally meets and falls in love with a kind cafe owner named SuperAngel (also Shari Eubank); but Napier is not yet done torturing Pitts and Eubank…

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Falsely Accused
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Police
  • Psychopaths
  • Russ Meyer Films

Review:
Russ Meyer’s return to a more independent style of “adult entertainment” after Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) resulted in a reiteration of his key preoccupations — busty, sexually voracious, emasculating dames and uber-violent, insecure men — but kicked up a notch, with an early bathtub murder scene especially graphic and misogynistic. It’s somewhat humorous seeing how “poor” Pitts simply can’t catch a break when it comes to horny women (he really is a basically good guy), and Napier seems to be delighting in the devilish extremes he’s allowed to go to with his Bad Cop Extraordinaire. (It’s interesting knowing that Meyer’s absentee dad was a policeman…) The notion of casting Eubank in dual roles works nicely; she does a decent acting job, and one wonders why she left the industry after starring in just one more Meyer flick. The violent ending hearkens back to Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! (1968), Cherry, Harry & Raquel! (1969), and BTVOTD — albeit with a (literally) cartoonish twist.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Charles Napier’s unhinged performance as Harry Sledge

  • Shari Eubank as SuperVixen and SuperAngel

Must See?
No, though of course it’s must-see for Meyer fans.

Links:

Cherry, Harry & Raquel! (1969)

Cherry, Harry & Raquel! (1969)

“Nevertheless, pity the poor potheads.”

Synopsis:
While a busty Swede (Uschi Digard) runs naked across the desert, a corrupt sheriff (Charles Napier) working in collusion with a marijuana dealer (Franklin Bolger) and a Chicano deputy (Bert Santos) tries to track down an elusive competitor known as “The Apache”. Meanwhile, Napier sleeps with both a busy prostitute named Raquel (Larissa Ely) and his nurse-girlfriend Cherry (Linda Ashton), who eventually fall for each other as well.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Drug Dealers
  • Sheriffs and Marshalls
  • Russ Meyer Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “compact Russ Meyer film” features a “tried-and-true combination of sex, violence, and humor”, with the injection of “intentionally silly footage of superstacked Uschi Digard romping naked (but for an Indian warbonnet) around [the] desert.” He asserts that while it’s “somewhat dated”, it “remains one of Meyer’s best films” given that it “has wit, sharp editing, several Don Siegel-like action sequences, and a solid lead in square-jawed Napier”. I can understand why Meyer fans would be enamored with this flick, which shows ample evidence of the gonzo-surreal sensibilities and rapid-fire editing that would infuse Meyer’s first major studio film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). However, it’s really not for all tastes; my favorite moments came early on, during his laughably earnest opening voiceover: “The evil of marijuana caresses all it comes in contact with.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine location shooting
  • Skillful editing

Must See?
No, though I’m sure some film fanatics will be curious to check it out.

Links:

Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! (1968)

Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! (1968)

“You try any funny stuff on me, buster, and I’ll slice you up like a jigsaw puzzle.”

Synopsis:
As two ex-cons (Duncan McLeod and Robert Rudelson) wait until closing time to rob the safe of a topless dancing club, the club’s owner (Paul Lockwood) is lured to the home of a madam (Lavelle Roby), where he’s seduced by an Amish woman (Jan Sinclair) as well as Roby herself. Meanwhile, Lockwood’s sexually unsatisfied wife (Anne Chapman) has a guilty affair with the club’s bartender (Gordon Wescourt), and all three end up unwittingly involved in the heist back at the club.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Heists
  • Infidelity
  • Russ Meyer Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “piggy Russ Meyer film… probably won’t please even his diehard fans”, given that it “has none of the typical Meyer humor” and “even has a cruel edge to it.” He adds the unnecessary comment that “of course, the women have large chests; but they’re not particularly pretty — they’re the types who show up in stag films” (!!!). Vincent Canby’s review for the NY Times is a bit more delicately worded, if similarly dismissive: “Meyer’s sole preoccupation with extraordinarily well-developed female breasts, usually photographed from a low angle and while they’re in some sort of motion, is no longer particularly erotic.” (And kudos to Canby for introducing me to the new term “satyriasis.”) To Meyer’s credit, he perfectly captures the essence of the “male gaze” in the creatively shot and edited opening sequence of this film, which remains its artistic highlight.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The cleverly filmed opening sequence


Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Meyer fans.

Links:

Common Law Cabin / How Much Loving Does a Normal Couple Need? (1967)

Common Law Cabin / How Much Loving Does a Normal Couple Need? (1967)

“How’s your motor working?”

Synopsis:
An alcoholic boat captain (Frank Bolger) brings three new clients — a man with a briefcase (Ken Swofford), a spineless doctor (John Furlong), and the doctor’s lustful wife (Alaina Capri) — to a broken-down tourist destination where the owner (Jackie Moran), his busty French housekeeper (Babette Bardot), and his pubescent daughter (Adele Rein) are ready to entertain.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deep South
  • Incest and Incestuous Undertones
  • Infidelity
  • Russ Meyer Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this memorably-titled exploitation flick — set in “an out-of-the-way tourist trap on a little-traveled Colorado River tributary” — as “one of Russ Meyer’s ‘sweat’ films”. He notes that it “drags in spots, but holds interest due to sexy women… , smutty lines by [the] doctor’s wife(!!!), and [the] gathering of [a] strange group in a strange location.” He argues that the “existential aspects of the story would have made it an ideal project for some European director; in fact… if it were left intact, and made in a foreign language, it could pass as a masterpiece (that would be a suitable second feature to a film like Knife in the Water).” Oh, Peary — not quite. I actually gave this a try (playing portions of the film without any soundtrack), and was hard pressed to think about how any of these scenes, for instance:



might be perceived in an “existential” fashion as part of a “masterpiece”.

Note: Swofford (see still below) looks remarkably like a combination of Burt Lancaster and Damian Lewis.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Reasonably creative direction

Must See?
No; you can skip this one.

Links:

Mud Honey / Rope of Flesh (1965)

Mud Honey / Rope of Flesh (1965)

“I always wondered if you was any kind of a man at all.”

Synopsis:
An ex-con (John Furlong) takes a job working for an aging farmer (Stu Lancaster) whose niece (Antoinette Cristiani) is married to a sadistic, alcoholic psychopath (Hal Hopper). As Furlong realizes he’s falling for Cristiani, he tries to distract himself by going to visit two local prostitutes (Rena Horton and Lorna Maitland) and their madam (Princess Livingston) — but Hopper’s rage and jealousy know no bounds, and when a local preacher (Frank Bolger) and his wife (Lee Ballard) treat Hopper like a “poor sinner”, he takes this designation and runs with it.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deep South
  • Ex-Cons
  • Infidelity
  • Russ Meyer Films
  • Spousal Abuse

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “tawdry tale” may be director “Russ Meyer’s best film” — a dubious designation I can’t agree with, given that Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) remains his most memorably oddball flick. Peary describes Mud Honey — what exactly does this (or the alternate title, Rope of Flesh) refer to? — as being “set in a small town in Missouri that’s full of stupid but shrewd, sweaty, hypocritical men and stupid, big-breasted women” (an unfair assessment, given that Cristiani is overly loyal rather than stupid), where “everyone is driven by lust, hatred and greed” (again, not entirely accurate — what about Cristiani and Lancaster?).

In his review, Peary reveals a major spoiler that doesn’t occur until the last 15 minutes of the film (unusual for him), thus making it hard for me to quote too much more of his assessment. However, I’ll cite and agree with his statement that this “sleazy fake morality play is surprisingly well made”, with “Meyer’s camera work… fairly creative”, the acting “satisfactory”, and the dialogue “flavorful”; we really are made to “believe that the characters live in this hellish version of Tobacco Road” — a place we’re oh-so-eager to say goodbye to once the dramatic, violent denouement comes to an end.

Note: Viewers will surely notice the distinctive presence of cackling “Princess Livingston” (what a name!), whose red-wigged, middle-aged dancing in Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) stands out in a veritable sea of surreal, bombarding imagery.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Strong direction and cinematography

Must See?
No — though naturally, Russ Meyer fans will want to check it out.

Links:

Lorna (1964)

Lorna (1964)

“I’m married, sure — but we never REALLY married, like now.”

Synopsis:
The sexually dissatisfied wife (Lorna Maitland) of a kind salt mine worker (James Rucker) is raped by a violent ex-convict (Mark Bradley), who she then desires as a lover and brings home — but when Bradley and his two co-workers (Hal Hopper and Doc Scortt) come home early that day after Rucker has fought Bradley on behalf of Maitland’s honor, they’re in for an unpleasant surprise.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deep South
  • Ex-Cons
  • Infidelity
  • Russ Meyer Films
  • Sexuality

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “Russ Meyer potboiler” — “his first attempt to make a serious film with a plot and theme” — “recalls those independently made, sleazy, sex-filled fake social dramas of the thirties (i.e., Child Bride).” He notes that “Meyer mixed Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck, and [a] phony morality tale to pretty good effective”, “impressively creat[ing] the sweaty, puritanical backwoods environment” and establishing “how a young woman could go crazy trying to repress her sexual impulses in such a ‘hot’ environment”. He points out that “Lorna’s character goes through much of what Hedy Lamarr does in Ecstasy; like Lamarr, she must be punished — according to a male filmmaker — for fulfilling her fantasies.” Given that the film opens with a near-rape — Hopper follows a drunk woman (Althea Currier) home and savagely beats her after she refuses his advances — then Lorna later “gets turned on by a rapist”, this film is clearly made from and for a certain perspective, and is really only must-see for Meyer enthusiasts.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric b&w cinematography

Must See?
No, though of course Russ Meyer fans will certainly want to check it out.

Links:

Tarzan the Magnificent (1960)

Tarzan the Magnificent (1960)

“I can’t understand a man who would rather live in fear than fight it — no matter the cost!”

Synopsis:
Tarzan (Gordon Scott) escorts cop-killer Coy Banton (Jock Mahoney) to the town of “Kairobi” in order to get reward money to give to the wife of the slain policeman (John Sullivan). He is accompanied in his dangerous overland trek by a group of individuals whose boat has been destroyed by Mahoney’s vengeful family, and are also eager to make it to Kairobi — including the boat’s shipmate (Earl Cameron); an arrogant businessman (Lionel Jeffries) and his wife (Betta St. John); a one-time doctor (Charles Tingwell); and a young woman (Alexandra Stewart). Along the way, the travelers must contend not only with wily Mahoney, but with his determined father Abel (John Carradine) as well as his three brothers — Ethan (Ron McDonnell), Johnny (Gary Cockrell), and Martin (Al Mulock) — who will stop at nothing to free Mahoney.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Africa
  • Cat-and-Mouse
  • John Carradine Films
  • Jungles
  • Road Trip
  • Tarzan Films

Review:
This follow-up to Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959) more closely resembles a western than a traditional Tarzan flick in its narrative style, given the presence of the murderous Banton clan, with Tarzan functioning essentially as a sheriff for a terrorized settlement which is unwilling (or unable) to provide sufficient support. Mahoney is highly effective as psychopathic Coy Banton; it’s interesting to know that he took over playing Tarzan in the very next film of the series (!). Overall, this remains an exciting and well-filmed flick, with many adventures (and gruesome deaths) along the way. Also of note is the refreshing humanization of local black Africans — though it’s distressing that a village chief was played in blackface by a white man (why??).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jock Mahoney as Coy Banton
  • Numerous exciting sequences

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.

Links: