Sunday, January 19, 2003


A vaguely feminist B-melodrama that seems to have served as an influence for later films like BLUE VELVET that point out the hypocrisy of some elements of mainstream American society. It's cheaply made and poorly edited, but it's still great slam-bang entertainment from Samuel Fuller, even better than his earlier SHOCK CORRIDOR. In one of the best movie openings ever, Constance Towers plays a hooker who is beating the hell out of her pimp with her purse. Even more startlingly, her wig comes off to reveal that she's totally bald (a relatively minor plot point that crops up again later). She finishes kicking ass, takes the money owed her, and leaves. Two years later, she gets off the bus in the small Midwestern town of Grantville, ostensibly selling champagne (Angel Foam) but actually selling herself. Her first customer is Anthony Eisley, the hypocritical town sheriff. After sex, he warns her to take her trade to a neighboring town--he'll buy from her, but he doesn't want her to taint his own town. But Towers, realizing she's not getting any younger or healthier, decides to go into a legitimate job, as a nurse's aide at a local hospital for handicapped kids. The kids and nurses love her, and the local rich guy (Michael Dante), whose philanthropy is responsible for the hospital, falls for Towers. Just when she thinks that her life is on track, it turns out that almost everyone in town except the handicapped kids is horribly two-faced and/or hiding some kind of secret, and Towers winds up accused of murder.

Towers' character is almost too good to be true. Her scenes with the kids are pretty close to being over-the-top sappy. Griff, the cop, is really the most interesting character; he winds up as in some ways both the hero and the villain of the movie. In the end, he comes through for Towers, but it's touch and go for most of the film, and I don't thing we're intended to see him as fully redeemed. Despite the low budget and the erratic range of acting, many individual scenes stand out. In addition to beating up her pimp (a scene that does eventually tie in to the main action of the movie), Towers also smacks the hell out of the local madam (Virginia Grey, a starlet from the 30's who does a nice job here) and winds up stuffing her mouth full of cash. A scene where Dante is seducing Towers by showing her film of his trip to Venice is interesting--the couch on which they are necking turns into a gondola and the whole thing feels like a tacky romance cover fantasy, which I think is the intention. In addition to prostitution, abortion and pedophilia crop up as plot points. Many critics of the film hate the sappy song about the Bluebird of Happiness that Towers sings with the kids (and which itself becomes an important plot point), but I liked it--it has that sad, minor-key sound of 60's songs like "Those Were the Days," or "I Will Wait for You" from THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG. Technically, the movie is often a mess, with several scenes that consist of a fade-in, two lines of dialogue, and a fade-out. Still, this is raw and exciting filmmaking. It's not violent, but I can imagine Fuller being considered the Tarentino of his day for his idiosyncratic and energetic style.

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