70s Drive-In

Titles Reviewed: Hollywood Boulevard (1976), Private Duty Nurses (1971), The Single Girls (1974) Starhops (1978)

Hollywood Boulevard

(USA, 1976) DIR: Joe Dante, Allan Arkush. SCR: Danny Opatoshu. PROD: Jon Davison. CAST: Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Tara Strohmeier, Candice Rialson, Dick Miller, Rita George, Jeffrey Kramer.


The Player: Roger Corman style. Once upon a time in the New World Pictures editing room, Allan Arkush and Joe Dante, tired of cutting trailers for a living, convinced their boss Roger Corman to let them direct their own picture. Always one to recognize new talent (just ask Coppola, Scorsese or Jack Nicholson), Corman gave the green light to this project, albeit with a minimum amount of cash, some excerpts from previous New World films, and a stock company of drive-in regulars, where these men proved to their boss that they could be on a par with that studio's blend of fast-moving, tongue-in-cheek T&A with gobs of gore. The result is this enjoyable romp which is a treat for anyone who grew up watching Roger Corman's cinema, especially his 70s output. This is a time capsule of what was fashionable that moment in exploitation fare: bad girl movies, good ole boy romps, and Filipino jungle flicks. Candy Hope (Candice Rialson) is yet another country bumpkin who has dreams of making it big in Hollywood. Of course, everyone either exploits her or tows a big line of crap. Somehow she ends up in a robbery getaway car, and eventually gets an agent who promotes her in the lowest denominator of filth, by egocentric director Erich Von Leppe (Paul Bartel), who thinks his exploitation gutter trash is all ART. The film is really a pastiche of vignettes, as Candy blurs from one gag to the next, until the underlying "plot", of all her gal pals mysteriously dying on set, takes centre stage. Candy is the next intended victim of a mad starlet out to (literally) eliminate all her competition.

There is a persistent theme of "reel life" and "real life" blurring, not least in the deja vu derived from its cut-outs of other films (the backdrop of Death Race 2000 serves as the futuristic car movie in which Candy stars). Most amusingly, Walter Paisley, played by Dick Miller, watches himself in The Terror (a sly duality used with the same film and Targets, with Boris Karloff). When Candy has sex on the Hollywood hills, suddenly the hilariously crass song on the soundtrack is played live to camera by Commando Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. They jam right next to the young couple rolling around on a blanket! (Compare to Arkush-Dante's Rock N Roll High School, where The Ramones sing "I Want You Around" in P.J. Soles' bathroom.)

And yet, this duality is pushed too far, especially when viewed in these PC times. One could supposedly give a pass to the scene where the actors playing soldiers in the Filipino war movie, stay in character with their raping and pillaging even after the director yells "Cut!", as it's at least consistent with that theme. But is there really any reason for the interminable segment where Candy is assaulted by a suburban dad at the drive-in? Even if this is an intended comment of how "reel violence" begets "real violence", its point is made long before the scene ends.

The performances also make this micro-budget effort enjoyable. Honey-haired Candice Rialson (who left his earth far too young at age 54) had promise. This bright-eyed engaging screen presence had a gift for comedy. And as Erich Von Leppe, Paul Bartel ("coincidentally" the director of Death Race 2000) is a treat in what seems his patented, prissy intellectual role. However, Dick Miller positively steals the film as "anything for a buck" talent agent Walter Paisley (which, as most film buffs know, is a character name that everyone's favourite bit player has used repeatedly, especially in future films of Joe Dante), who is very funny in a colourful role-- in one scene he even chats up Robby the Robot!

Hollywood Boulevard is a "Hollywood success story", both before and behind the camera (Dante and Arkush did advance to successful directing careers), and yet with a backdrop of drive-in cinema, circa mid-1970s. The era's carefree, sometimes irresponsible tones are captured on celluloid with the merry mayhem, hopeful starlets, and fun on a budget... everything Corman. One needn't be a film buff to enjoy this movie, but would have a head start, with its many in-jokes (one of the actresses is named Jill McBain!), and unbilled cameos by Barbara Peeters, Charles B. Griffith, Forrest J. Ackerman (of course), Arkush, Dante, William Malone and Lewis Teague. In 1990, a sequel, Hollywood Boulevard II, was released from Corman's next studio empire, Concorde New Horizons.

Private Duty Nurses

(USA, 1971) DIR-SCR-PROD: George Armitage. CAST: Katherine Cannon, Joyce Williams, Pegi Boucher, Joseph Kaufmann, Dennis Redfield, Robert F. Simon, Herbert Jefferson Jr., Paul Hampton, Paul Gleason.


"Wow, is that a waterbed?" This line is uttered in an early scene, when the brunette Lynn (Pegi Boucher) has a fling with her landlord (Paul Hampton). Not only is he a 60-second man with clothes back on and out the door in equal time, he is also a possessive jerk. This moment is indicative of the entire film: at once revelling in 70s hedonism, and unapologetically depicting the prices paid for bad decisions. The second of Roger Corman's Nurse films (following 1970's successful The Student Nurses), Private Duty Nurses continues the winning formula with a trio of nurses (blonde, brunette, ethnic) learning about love and life, but is the ugliest of the five films, as the dark side of counterculture becomes forthright. At first this is a lovely time capsule of southern California circa 1971, with the breezy atmosphere being punctuated by music from the rock group Sky, while we watch these young nurses in their free-loving ways after hours. But writer and first-time director George Armitage has the girls grow up real fast. Perhaps the lightest story of the three is the blonde nurse Spring (Katherine Cannon) and her involvement with a rebellious patient named Domino (Dennis Redfield), who lives recklessly after his experiences in Vietnam. But even this subplot is bittersweet, as he is resentful of the hippie idealism that she embraces. Most interesting are the vignettes surrounding Lola (Joyce Williams, an African American actress who had promise), who volunteers at a clinic in the projects. The doctor (Herb Jefferson, later of TV's Battlestar Galactica) is a militant man who constantly challenges the hospital for the absence of black doctors on its staff. Eventually, he stages a sit-in, (where he and his supporters are dressed in black surgical outfits) forcing the medical staff to reconsider. Lynn and a young doctor get involved in the case of a body washed up on show. At first, their concern is that of ecology, as this apparent drowning victim is covered in oil. But then his death opens up a caper involving drugs, rape and murder. This episode is held with the least amount of taste and sensitivity, but it stumbles along to provide a hilarious shootout: the much-needed action sequence to end the picture. Perhaps this film is the most tonally consistent, as it does not attempt to juggle comedy and drama in equal measure. All of these subplots get darker as they progress. It is like watching the end of the era, as the freewheeling lifestyle of youth is thrust into the very adult world. The party is definitely over. But not "over" for the series of NURSE films: this was followed by Night Call Nurses (1972), The Young Nurses (1973), and Candy Stripe Nurses (1974).

The Single Girls

(USA, 1974) DIR-PROD: Beverly Sebastian, Ferd Sebastian. SCR: Ann Cawthorne. CAST: Claudia Jennings, Jean Marie Ingels, Cheri Howell, Joan Prather, Greg Mullavey, Victor Izay, Albert Popwell.


Now here's an unusual concept: members of an encounter group have their sexcapades at a weekend retreat interrupted by a mysterious killer. This sarcastic thriller is perhaps the most interesting picture by the filmmaking couple of Ferd and Beverly Sebastian (who made some curios like On The Air With Captain Midnight and Delta Fox). Of their work, it is perhaps also the most 'of-its-time', painting a less-than-flattering portrait of swinging singles in that excessive decade. Despite the thriller trimmings and the expected doses of sex, this is largely a character study of despair in which nymphos and celibates alike have sexual hangups. Most of the male characters are such socially displaced souls -oh, like those who only come out of their apartments to attend memorabilia fairs or small press shows- that one wonders how they ever hooked up with these babes in the first place. The only male who seems confident and personable is played by Albert Popwell (best remembered in the "six shots or only five" scene in the first Dirty Harry, but would play different roles in the three subsequent films). It is interesting to see Claudia Jennings (who also appears in the Sebastians' Gator Bait), cast against type as an ingenue. For the most part, this is a fascinating blend of murder mystery, sexploitation and psychoanalysis. Interesting too are the excellent "fly on the wall", documentary-like scenes full of stuttering overlapping dialogue where the characters discuss their feelings in encounter meetings- these moments don't feel like a movie at all. The Single Girls is a curio to remember.

Starhops

(USA, 1978) DIR: Barbara Peeters. SCR: Stephanie Rothman. PROD: John B. Kelly, Robert D. Krintzman, Teri Schwartz. Dorothy Buhrman, Sterling Frazier, Jillian Kenser, Anthony Mannino, Dick Miller, Al Hopson, Paul Ryan.


This is an interesting product of 1970s "feminist" drive-in fare, in which this film's director Barbara Peeters (Bury Me An Angel) and screenwriter Stephanie Rothman (The Velvet Vampire) cornered the market. Female protagonists in "male-centric" genres produce a reverse stereotype. In other words, they're still exploitation films, but it's okay if the women take their clothes off, as long as they're directed by women. Starhops is pure corny sex fluff (but with little sex). Enterprising waitresses -get a load of these names- Angel (Kesner) and Cupcake (Frazier) use their feminine wiles to get a business loan to take over their fledgling drive-in restaurant once boss Jerry (Dick Miller!) flips his lid. This film however gives its female characters more empowerment, as they take advantage of their sexuality to get their way in a corporate man's world... always on their terms, yet still don't go all the way, if you know what I mean. With the help of chef Danielle (Buhrman), who can make cheeseburgers into French gourmet, they are in business, until... man-child millionaire Carter Axe (Al Hopson) wants to take over the property. He even gets his spoiled son Norman (Paul Ryan) to work there to sabotage the place. Despite the insane overacting (watch Dick Miller's meltdown), this is still however lightweight fare with sitcom-level screenwriting. It is more enjoyable if viewed as a product of its time. Because it is the 1970s, these girls miraculously know kung fu, the opening credits crawl a la Star Wars, scenes transition with star-shaped lap dissolves, the score is countrified "wah-wah pedal" porn music (so I'm told -ahem), the floors are those cheap panelling in the Home Depot ads, and there is even a cheesy "Also Sprach Zarathustra" as the girls learn to roller skate! Plus, what is this film without a three-minute sequence taking place in a discotheque which has no relation to the plot whatsoever? Ah, the 70s. Music by Don Hulette (They Saved Hitler's Brain). Cinematography by Eric Saarinen (The Hills Have Eyes; FTA; Fillmore). Edited by Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List; Searching For Bobby Fischer). This innocuous fluff was distributed by First American Films, and released to VHS via Majestic Video. As of this writing, it still has yet to see a DVD release: knowing me though, I'd still buy the darn thing tomorrow if a boutique company like Vinegar Syndrome released it.