Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mill Creek comedy classics #74: "Bowery Blitzkrieg" (1941)

Don't these posters make Bowery Blitzkrieg look exciting?

"The noisier the better is the rule when ballyhooing any East Side Kid picture. For Bowery Blitzkrieg get a bunch of rascals dressed as carelessly as the East Siders themselves and send them parading through town with instructions to create as much noise as possible. Have them carry placards with slogans similar to the scorehead teasers suggested in another column of this exploitation section. Supply the youngsters with any noisemakers available -- tin pans, horns, drums . . . and if it's at all possible get them some firecrackers which will take the town by storm when set off out of season."
-excerpt from a vintage Bowery Blitzkrieg pressbook

Charlotte Henry

The flick: Bowery Blitzkrieg (Banner Productions/Monogram Pictures, 1941) [buy the set]

Current IMDb rating: 6.9

Director: Wallace Fox (Million Dollar Kid)

Series regulars: Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan, Huntz Hall, Ernest Morrison, Bobby Stone, David Gorcey (all in Mr. Wise Guy), Donald Haines (Pride of the Bowery)

Other actors of note: Keye Luke (The Gang's All Here), Warren Hull (A Bride for Henry), Charlotte Henry (Murders in the Rue Morgue, Laurel & Hardy's Babes in Toyland), Martha Wentworth (Clancy Street Boys), Jack Mulhall (Mr. Wise Guy), Eddie Foster (Buster Keaton's The General, Hitchcock's Saboteur), Dennis Moore (East Side Kids), Pat Costello (Lou Costello's brother; worked as an actor, stuntman, and producer on many Abbott & Costello movies as well as their TV show), Dick Ryan (Mr. Wise Guy), Minerva Urecal (Boys of the City), Tony Carson (John Ford's They Were Expendable)


The gist of it: Danny (Jordan) has split with the East Side Kids due to personal differences with his ex-best-friend Muggs (Gorcey). Danny's now palling around with local hoodlum Monk (Stone), who dupes naive Danny into helping him commit robberies and sets up Muggs to be arrested and thrown into reform school. Fortunately, local beat cop Tom Brady (Hull), who is also dating Danny's sister Mary (Henry), sees potential in Muggs as a boxer and takes him into his own apartment. The former juvenile delinquent proves him right and is a success in the ring. But Mary mistakenly thinks of Muggs as a bad influence on Danny, which throws a monkey wrench into her relationship with Tom. Things get worse when gangster Slats Morrison (Foster) tries to bribe Muggs to take a dive in a Golden Gloves title bout. Muggs turns it down, but Slats plants the money on him anyway to make him look like he's cooperating.

Everyone is suspicious of Muggs, even true believer Tom, who tells Muggs that he'd better put up a good fight to prove he's on the level. But there's a twist, you see! During a post-robbery shootout, Monk is fatally wounded and Danny badly injured. Danny's only hope is a blood transfusion, which he gets from Muggs just hours before the fight. Danny recovers, but Muggs is in no condition to box. And yet, for obvious reasons, he cannot afford to lose this match.

In training... again: Huntz Hall with Pat Costello.
My take: To the best of my knowledge, Bowery Blitzkrieg is the second-to-last East Side Kids movie in this collection. The last one, Spooks Run Wild, doesn't show up until almost the very end of this set (#98 of 100) and it features Bela Lugosi, so I'm actually kind of looking forward to it. I can't say I'm exactly sorry to see the East Siders go. Their movies are formulaic as hell, indifferently made, and generally not that funny. Plus their annoyance factor is pretty darned high, with the Kids talking in those exaggerated Noo Yawk accents and loading nearly every sentence with "dem," "dese," and "dose," plus all that obscure 1940s street slang that I'm not sure anyone ever really used.

But I must have developed some kind of Stockholm syndrome with this series, because I actually started to care what happened in Bowery Blitzkrieg by the time it reached its dramatic apex with poor, depleted Muggs fighting for his life and his reputation in the boxing ring. Blitzkrieg isn't especially good in any noticeable way, though, and it contains many of the elements I've seen in previous ESK comedies. Muggs is trying to make it as a boxer again, so there are plenty of scenes set in a gymnasium. But the East Siders spend their time in gyms in every movie no matter what the plot is about. Hell, even the vaguely pedophilic philanthropist in Million Dollar Kid had a suspiciously-elaborate workout room in his house!

Come to think of it, none of these young men ever display more than a fleeting interest in the opposite sex, and they spend almost all their time cloistered together (often with their shirts off) in basements and back rooms. I think I've spotted them hanging out by the docks a lot, too, and they're forever being hauled off to jail or reform school. Maybe this series is the softest gay porn ever. But how, then, to explain the Kids' atrocious clothing and sloppy hairdos? (Leo Gorcey's hair, in particular, is an absolute disgrace throughout Bowery Blitzkrieg.) Well, maybe they're going for a punky "anti-fashion" thing. Modern day bohemians could learn a few things from these palookas.

A complex guy: Muggs with "Ma" Brady
Anyway, like I was saying, this movie has a lot of stuff I've already seen in other ESK flicks. These boys are always landing in the hospital, for instance, waiting for last-second miracles as their very lives hang in the balance. How often was Monogram planning to play that particular card, I wonder? And why don't these kids ever wise up and steer clear of the unctuous sharpies who are always trying to steer them down the wrong path? I swear, these morons fall for every smooth-talking con artist with a pencil mustache, a cool nickname and a pinstriped suit.

Maybe they're so easily led astray because the good-guy cops in these flicks are total weenies. Warren Hull's Tom Brady might just be the weeniest of them all. He lives with his doting mother (Wentworth) in a very old-lady-ish apartment and has a passionless, sexless relationship with Charlotte Henry's pure, virginal character, who is (not coincidentally) named Mary. The other major cop character, a police lieutenant who spends all his time behind a desk, is played by the cadaverous Dick Ryan, who was much more believable as the sadistic guard in Mr.Wise Guy but is supposed to be one of the heroes here.

Speaking of casting choices, this was apparently the first East Side Kids movie to feature Huntz Hall. (He gets an "introducing" before his name in the credits.) He wasn't exactly a newcomer. He'd been a part of the franchise since at least 1937's Dead End, in which he appeared alongside Leo Gorcey and Bobby Jordan. But this was technically the first of Monogram's East Side Kids films to feature Hall. (If you'll think back, he was absent from Boys of the City and Flying Wild.) He does the same "slow-witted sidekick" routine I've already witnessed several times before, so his supposed debut did not make much of an impact on me.

If there's a reason to watch Bowery Blitzkrieg, it's Gorcey. When I first started watching these movies, I found him extremely irritating, and I'm still not ready to call myself a "fan," exactly. But he brings a real intensity to his role and gives this movie a much-needed shot of adrenaline, even though Muggs McGinnis would never be able to correctly pronounce either "intensity" or "adrenaline." Gorcey's the most complex of the Kids: essentially decent and principled but also deeply insecure and vulnerable. He puts up a tough front, defending himself with sarcastic wisecracks and his fists if necessary. But there's a sad little man behind the bluster and bravado, and that comes through in Gorcey's performance in Bowery Blitzkrieg.

Is it funny: It's not totally unfunny. I'll go that far, but no further. I've run hot and cold on Leo Gorcey's confrontational, aggressive brand of humor. Sometimes I find it winning, other times just irksome. This time around, though I would have advised him to rein it in a little, Muggs is easily the movie's funniest character, especially when he refuses to take life seriously or show the tiniest bit of respect to those in power. One good though underused foil for Muggs is Minerva Urecal's dour reform school matron, whom he playfully nicknames "Picklepuss." The best comedic moment in the movie is the one in which Muggs (newly arrived at the reformatory) pretends to flirt with this humorless woman, to her utter horror: "Oh, Picklepuss, you an' me wuz made fer each udda! We c'd do t'ings! We c'd go places!" It's made all the funnier by the fact that uniformed cop Tom Brady is standing about a foot away from them, watching in total non-comprehension. Like some other early ESK movies, Bowery Blitzkrieg takes its story pretty seriously but pauses occasionally for moments of levity, as in a self-contained vaudeville-type skit in which Pat Costello and Huntz Hall (both playing dum-dums) discuss how to tend to a boxer's injuries properly during a fight. It's very obvious from this scene that Pat was aping the mannerisms of his younger brother, Lou, but without much success.

My grade: C+

Clancy's shirt
P.S. - Scruno is in this one, so there's the expected racial humor at his expense. Same old, same old. He's a shoeshine boy and as lazy, larcenous, and cowardly as ever, liable to bolt from a room at the mere sight of a cop. There's nothing particularly vicious about the portrayal of his character, but he's still a poor role model. More interesting is the treatment of Clancy, an Asian-American man who runs the pool hall where the East Side Kids hang out. Just like in The Gang's All Here, Keye Luke gives a dignified, positive, non-stereotyped portrayal. His ethnicity, for most of the film, is not an issue. But there's one weird scene in which Clancy shows up with a t-shirt with Muggs' name on the back and Chinese characters on the front. Muggs thinks the writing must be "propaganda," but Clancy claims he doesn't know what the characters mean. ("I got it off a Chinese calendar.") Muggs demands that he read it anyway, and... well, not speaking the language myself, I can't be sure if what Keye Luke says is real or not. But it's an off-putting, gratuitous moment either way.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Mill Creek comedy classics #73: "Million Dollar Kid" (1944)

Adjusting for inflation, this would be The $13.2 Million Kid today.

The flick: Million Dollar Kid (Monogram Pictures, 1944) [buy the set]

Current IMDb rating: 7.1

Director: Wallace Fox (Smart Alecks)

Character man Robert Grieg
Series regulars: Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, Bobby Stone (all in Smart Alecks), Billy Benedict (Clancy Street Boys), Jimmy Strand (cameoed in Clancy Street Boys and stayed with the series from 1943-1944; non-ESK films include Faces in the Fog and Are These Our Parents?), Buddy Gorman (this is the first of his ESK films I've reviewed; he was with the series from 1943-1951; he also appeared in White Heat and Meet Me In St. Louis), David Durand (did three ESK films at the end of his career; had previously appeared in Angels with Dirty Faces and Bob Hope's The Ghostbreakers, plus a series of "Terry Kelly" short films at Columbia), Bernard Gorcey (Leo's dad; appeared in quite a few ESK/Bowery Boys movies, including Clancy Street Boys; other films include The Picture of Dorian Gray and Chaplin's The Great Dictator)

Other actors of note: Noah Beery, Sr. (Clancy Street Boys), Iris Adrian (The Stork Club, I'm from Arkansas), Herbert Heyes (Miracle on 34th Street, The Ten Commandments), Robert Grieg (Hollywood and Vine; the Marx Brothers' Horse Feathers and Animal Crackers; Preston Sturges' The Palm Beach Story, Unfaithfully Yours, Sullivan's Travels, and The Lady Eve), Johnny Duncan (Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space, Kubrick's Spartacus), Mary Gordon (James Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man), Patsy Moran (a Monogram stock player; worked on TV and in films with Lucille Ball, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields, Bob Hope, and more), Stan Brown (Only Angels Have Wings, You Can't Take It With You), Al Stone (nothing else; this was his first and last movie), Louise Curry (Citizen Kane, The Reluctant Dragon)


Funny lady Iris Adrian
The gist of it: Muggs (Gorcey) is upset about a string of muggings that have been giving the East Side a bad rep and nearly as upset that dimwitted Glimpy (Hall) has invited his even-more-dimwitted cousin Herbie (Stone) to join the East Side Kids. One night, the Kids save wealthy Mr. Courtland (Heyes) from being mugged by some tough gangsters. Courtland is grateful and gives the Kids his card. Later, Glimpy and Herbie find Courtland's wallet and the money inside it, leading Police Captain Matthews (Beery) to believe that the East Side Kids themselves are the muggers.

At the police station, Courtland exonerates the Kids and invites them to his home to use his elaborate gymnasium. The Kids get along surprisingly well with Courtland, but they soon notice that not all is well with the rich man's children. His older son is away, flying for Uncle Sam in WWII. His lovely daughter Louise (Curry) is engaged to charming conman Andre (Brown) who claims to be a French military officer but is actually an American phony whose "uniform" came from a costume shop. After tailing him, Muggs and Glimpy discover that Andre is two-timing Louise with a floozy nightclub singer named Mazie Dunbar (Adrian).

This little conundrum is pretty easily (and cleverly) solved when Muggs brings the outraged Mazie to Andre and Louise's engagement party, but there's a more serious issue with Courtland's younger son, Roy (Duncan). You see, Roy is part of the gang of muggers that's been terrorizing the neighborhood -- not because he needs money, but just because he's bored and looking for kicks. When the Kids learn that Courtland's older son has been tragically shot down in combat overseas, they do everything they can to bring the real muggers to justice without incriminating Roy so that nice Mr. Courtland won't lose both of his sons. Things get complicated, though, when the crooks kidnap one of the Kids, Skinny (Benedict).

Perry juxtaposes silly and serious.
My take: Since the unexpected success of Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005), critics have complained about writer-director-star Tyler Perry combining deadly serious issues with broad, silly comedy in a clumsy and artless fashion, i.e. juxtaposing domestic violence with the sketch-comedy buffoonery of "Madea." But Million Dollar Kid proves that this is nothing new. Yet again, an East Side Kids movie takes an entirely unwanted detour into heavy melodrama, then still tries to keep the Three Stooges-type wackiness going. I get emotional whiplash from these movies.

As Danny Peary points out in his book Cult Movie Stars, the Dead End/East Side movies are liberal sermons at heart. The point is that uneducated, lower-class youths are not inherently bad; they just need kindly benefactors, including policemen and wealthy philanthropists, to set them on the right path. His level of moral turpitude varies from film to film, but Leo Gorcey is usually a goody-two-shoes in these movies, despite his tough talk. Huntz Hall is weak-willed and therefore more fallible. He always ends up doing the right thing, but it's because Gorcey slaps him around if he doesn't.

The writers and directors at Monogram had apparently stopped trying to give any of the other Kids individual personalities by 1944. Other than Muggs and Glimpy, the other gang members are interchangeable. Obviously, Monogram was trying to switch things up a little by bringing in the new character Herbie, who manages to be even dumber than Glimpy. But just as obviously, that little experiment didn't work and the character (and the actor) disappeared forever. Frankly, though, all this is moot.

When Mr. Courtland gets that most-dreaded telegram from the War Department, Million Dollar Kid stops being a goofball comedy, and no amount of pratfalls or malapropisms can bring it back. Oh, and I couldn't help but notice that this movie yet again took the East Side Kids out of their natural environment. In this case, Muggs and the boys spend virtually all their time at the ritzy home of the Courtlands. I felt really badly for the butler (Grieg) who gets fired for being slightly snooty to the rude, destructive Kids. The movie forgets about this character, and I shudder to think what must have happened to him after losing his job. Damn those East Side Kids!

Leo and Bernard Gorcey
Is it funny: Nah, not really. If there's humor here, it's in the subplot about the fake Frenchie and his bottle-blonde bimbo girlfriend. I would have made this the main focus of the movie and completely left out the "prodigal son" story, which only serves to drag the movie down.

For me, the funniest moment of the movie is when Stan Brown tries to keep his pathetic charade going after the jig is clearly up. There was some real potential with these characters, but they don't get enough screen time. "New guy" Herbie, on the other hand, gets way too much screen time. While all of the East Side Kids are overaged to one degree or another, Al Stone looks like a middle-aged man. Muggs cracks wise about this very topic, but that only makes the situation worse by calling attention to it.

For these reasons and more, Million Dollar Kid just didn't do it for me. Leo Gorcey does have a funny little scene with his dad, Bernard, who looks like a shrunken, older version of his son. However, Bernard plays a delivery man who arrives at the Courtland house to bring the fateful telegram. Therefore, it's monstrously inappropriate to have these two engage in vaudeville-type banter at this point in the movie. What could the makers of this film have been thinking?

My grade: C



P.S. - Scruno had dropped out of the East Side Kids by this point -- Ernest Morrison fought for real in WWII, then got out of acting altogether -- but Million Dollar Kid still manages to sneak in a little bit of old-timey racism when Muggs makes a crack about "Ubangis" and Glimpy responds by grabbing his lips and stretching them out. This is a reference to a cultural misnomer about Ubangi tribeswomen wearing lip plates. Hey, folks, don't blame me. I didn't write these movies.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

See ya after Christmas, folks!

Let's remember the reason for the season.

I'll be out of town visiting relatives for the next couple of days. So that means you'll just have to go somewhere else for reviews of East Side Kids movies and perversely-detailed articles about Edward D. Wood, Jr. But just so you won't feel that I've abandoned you, I'm posting this clip which reminds us what the holiday season is all about: fighting the frizzies. At eleven. And with that, I'll wave goodbye saying, "Don't you cry. I'll be back again some day. Probably Friday. Saturday at the latest." Frosty didn't offer that kind of specificity. Thumpity-thump-thump. Look at that blogger go.

And if you get really bored over the next two days, here's some reading material. Have you read them all yet?


Monday, December 23, 2013

Mill Creek comedy classics #72: "Mr. Wise Guy" (1942)

Fun fact: Mr. Wise Guy is #398,346 of the 800,000 movies made by The East Side Kids.

The flick: Mr. Wise Guy (Monogram Pictures, 1942) [buy the set]

Current IMDb rating: 6.8

Director: William Nigh (Zis Boom Bah, A Bride for Henry; sadly, not Bill Nye the Science Guy)

"Big Boy" Williams
Series regulars: Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan, Huntz Hall (all in Clancy Street Boys), David Gorcey, Gabriel Dell, Bobby Stone, Ernest Morrison (all in Smart Alecks)

Other actors of note: Billy Gilbert (Peck's Bad Boy with the Circus, The Villain Still Pursued Her), Douglas Fowley (Money Means Nothing), Joan Barclay (Flying Wild), Guinn "Big Boy" Williams (perennial sidekick in westerns; Errol Flynn's best friend; nicknamed "the Babe Ruth of polo"; appeared in The Alamo, The Comancheros, A Star is Born, etc.), Warren Hymer (Capra's Meet John Doe and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), Ann Doran (Rebel Without a Cause, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, His Girl Friday; dozens of TV credits ranging from Bewitched to The A-Team ), Jack Mulhall (first actor to ever play a dual role in a talking picture; also appeared in Around the World in 80 Days, The Man with the Golden Arm, much more), Benny Rubin (Zis Boom Bah), Joe Kirk (Smart Alecks), Dick Ryan (ex-vaudevillian; appeared in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train; guested on The Andy Griffith Show, Ozzie & Harriet, Rawhide, and more)

Bad girl Ann Doran
The gist of it: Dock worker Bill Collins (Fowley) has been drafted into the Army, but he's worried that his younger brother, Danny (Jordan), might get into trouble and wind up in reform school without supervision. But Danny and the rest of the East Side Kids are then framed for a truck hijacking and wind up in the very same hellish reformatory where Bill had once served as a guard. Visiting the old place, Bill is happy to see that some improvements have been made under the new warden (Mulhall), and he begins a romance with one of the institution's kinder employees, Ann (Barclay).

But an abusive guard named Miller (Ryan) still works there and takes an immediate dislike to the boys, especially the nervy, confrontational Muggs (Gorcey), whom he calls "Mr. Wise Guy." Then Bill himself is framed for a murder actually committed by the same group of crooks responsible for the earlier hijacking: ringleader and escaped con Luke Manning (Williams), gun moll Dorothy (Doran), and fumbling sidekick Knobby (Gilbert). As Bill waits in the death house, Muggs and the gang cross paths with tough fellow inmate Chalky (Stone) and the sadistic Miller, who is eventually fired for his violent treatment of the kids. On the day of Bill's execution, Bobby miraculously spots a bit of evidence in a newsreel which exonerates both his brother and the East Side Kids, too. So the boys break out of the institution and confront Knobby and Dorothy, who had  been secretly conspiring against Manning and were planning to sneak off with his lottery winnings.

See that second headline? That hasn't happened in the movie yet.
My take: The justice system in the East Side Kids universe is an absolute disgrace. From the earliest moments of Mr. Wise Guy, the Kids are being hassled by the cops and accused of crimes they didn't commit. Whenever characters in these movies avoid arrest, it's by pure luck. And when they are arrested, their so-called trials by jury are mere formalities. The verdict is always guilty, though I can't imagine what evidence beyond that of the circumstantial variety is available. We never get to see the inside of a courtroom in an ESK movie, just the screaming headlines in the newspapers. Monogram is too cheap and lazy to even spin the papers (which might take an extra 20 seconds); they just zoom in on the articles.

Pretty early on in Mr. Wise Guy, you can see an obvious cost-cutting measure when the same prop newspaper is used to cover two different plot developments. That would be fine, if the second crucial headline didn't give away an upcoming plot point. Because of that phony paper, I knew the Kids were going to be sent up the river for hijacking a truck wayyyyy before that actually happens in the movie.

By the way, I must point out that this is the third "truck hijacking" movie I've reviewed in this series, and they've all been from Monogram Pictures. The others, in case you were interested, are Money Means Nothing (1934) and The Gang's All Here (1941). Must've been a specialty of the house. None of these flicks have been especially interesting or involving, and Money Means Nothing in particular was a chore to sit through.

Mr. Wise Guy is about average for an ESK flick. I can only assume it was made very quickly and very cheaply, rushed into theaters and then quickly forgotten. It moves along at a good clip and never gets too bogged down in any particular plot points to become boring. Yet again, the Kids spend only the first few minutes of the film on their home turf before the script transplants them to another surrounding.

Is it funny: I can't remember laughing too much during Mr. Wise Guy. I'm kind of back-and-forth on the humor of the East Side Kids, though. I guess if you're in the mood for them, Leo Gorcey's wisecracks and Huntz Hall's stupidity might really strike you as being hilarious. If you're not, watching them is like being cornered by clowns at a birthday party who caper and frolic for you whether you want them to or not. The weird thing about this movie is that the plot is actually kind of heavy and depressing, what with poor Danny worried sick that his brother's going to the electric chair. This material sits uneasily with the Bazooka Joe-esque shenanigans and puns of the East Side Kids. In culinary terms, this film is a peanut butter and tuna fish sandwich.

My grade: C

P.S. - Ernest "Scruno" Morrison is back and brings with him the usual assortment of racial/racist schtick. It starts early, too, with Muggs referring to Scruno as "our blackout warden" in the opening scene (a really weird, extended monologue in which Muggs flirts with a store mannequin). And there are chicken and watermelon jokes, too, plus a scene in which Morrison runs wide-eyed with fear at the very sight of a gun. Still not as bad as Boys of the City, though.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mill Creek comedy classics #71: "Smart Alecks" (1942)

I'm gonna get through every last one of these East Side Kids movies if it puts me in the hospital!

The flick: Smart Alecks (Banner Productions/Monogram Pictures, 1942) [buy the set]

Current IMDb rating: 6.5

Director: Wallace Fox (The Corpse Vanishes; The Bowery at Midnight starring Bela Lugosi; episodes of TV's Ramar of the Jungle and The Gene Autry Show)

"Slapsie Maxie" Rosenbloom
Series regulars: Leo Gorcey (Clancy Street Boys), Bobby Jordan (Clancy Street Boys), Huntz Hall (Clancy Street Boys), Ernest Morrison (Clancy Street Boys), Bobby Stone (Pride of the Bowery), David Gorcey (Pride of the Bowery), Stanley Clements (this is the first of his ESK movies I've covered so far; he eventually replaced Leo Gorcey in the series; his non-Bowery/East Side Kids films include Going My Way and The More the Merrier), Gabriel Dell (When the Girls Take Over)

Other actors of note: "Slapsie Maxie" Rosenbloom (Nothing Sacred, The Perils of Pauline), Gale Storm (Freckles Comes Home), Herbert Rawlinson (Ed Wood's Jail Bait; Flying Wild), Joe Kirk (Lou Costello's brother-in-law; appeared in House of Frankenstein, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, etc.), Marie Windsor (Kubrick's The Killing; TV's Salem's Lot; SAG director for 25 years), Walter Woolf King (baritone singer in operettas; appeared in The Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera and Go West; lots of TV work, including The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, The Virginian, The Munsters, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, much more), Roger Pryor ("the poor man's Clark Gable"; appeared in Belle of the Nineties, The Man They Could Not Hang, etc.)

Walter Woolf King, normally a villain, plays a surgeon here.
The gist of it: While the rest of the East Side Kids (including Morrison, Hall, Clements, et al.) try in vain to raise money for new baseball uniforms, Hank (Dell) is flush with cash and wearing fancy suits. That's because he's working for a crook named Butch Broccoli (Rosenbloom). The Kids' leader, Muggs (Gorcey) doesn't want any of Hank's "dirty" money and tosses him out of the group's basement headquarters. Later Hank is arrested by patrolman Joe (Pryor) while acting as a lookout during one of Broccoli's bank robberies. While the thief gets away, Hank is sent up for a three-year bid because he won't fink on his bosses. Nurse Ruth Stevens (Storm), Joe's girlfriend, reluctantly testifies against Hank in court, even though her own brother Danny (Jordan) is a member of the East Side Kids with Hank. Later, Danny manages to apprehend Broccoli and is awarded $200 by Police Captain Bronson (Rawlinson). The other Kids think they're entitled to equal shares of the dough, but Danny's secretly planning to spend it on those baseball uniforms.

Unaware of this, Muggs and the Kids enter Danny's place through an open window, take the money, and buy a jalopy with it. Ruth calls the cops on them, but Danny doesn't press charges. Muggs, still resentful, kicks Danny out of the gang. Then Hank breaks out of jail and informs Muggs that Broccoli has also broken loose and is after Danny. Danny is badly beaten to the point that only famed surgeon Dr. Ormsby (King) can save him. The Kids rally to Danny's bedside, and Joe tells them what Danny was really going to do with the $200. In the prerequisite big action climax, Broccoli takes Ruth hostage, and Hank, Joe, Muggs, and the others come to her rescue.

Good times: Muggs and the Kids visit Hank in the slammer.
My take: It's a weird world the East Side Kids inhabit. They're surrounded on all sides by poverty, crime, and violence, and yet their movies manage to work in slapstick (Muggs is always clobbering Huntz Hall's Glimpy), corny puns (Muggs lectures the gang about "optimists and pacifists"), and absurd cartoon-type gags (Muggs puts alum in Butch Broccoli's tea so that the crook's mouth will pucker uncontrollably). The characters, too, are often portrayed as wildly exaggerated stereotypes with silly voices and mannerisms, but they're occasionally supposed to be sympathetic and relatable human beings as well. In one scene, Huntz Hall accidentally swallows a harmonica and then emits musical tones every time he exhales. In another, a tearful Muggs prays -- maybe for the first time in his life -- so that God will spare poor Danny. You see what I mean? Reality is on a sliding scale here. These films are part comedy, part tragedy, and part crime flick. It's a delicate balance, and the makers of these movies don't always get it right.

Smart Alecks is by no means terrible. It's watchable and goes by pretty easily. But by the same token, there's nothing especially strong about this one to set it apart. I can't think of any scenes which are real clunkers, but nothing here feels terribly inspired either. The most entertaining sequence is the one in which Butch Broccoli, who is pretty good-natured and oafish for such a ruthless criminal, invites himself into Ruth's apartment and immediately takes a huge piece of the cake Ruth has specially prepared for the Kids in order to smooth things over after Hank's trial. But this scene puzzled me, too, since it comes not long after the fateful bank robbery. Broccoli should really get out of town or at least lay low for a while, but instead he struts around the neighborhood like a king, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he could be in any kind of trouble. Just about every East Side Kids movie has a sharp-dressed Fagin-type gangster, but none are as childishly naive as Butch Broccoli (who doesn't even flinch when Muggs serves him a cake frosted with soap). It's therefore believable that he's caught so easily, but it's highly unlikely that he could have busted out of jail after only a short while.

And I wasn't cool with Muggs and the gang taking Danny's money as if they were entitled to it. For all his faults, Muggs seems to be a guy with some high ideals when it comes to stealing, so that plot point didn't seem at all believable for his character. At one point in the middle of the movie, understanding Nurse Ruth tells Joe the Cop that the Kids aren't nearly so bad as he thinks they are; they've just had to fight all their lives for everything they have. Okay, fair enough, but none of that excuses strong-arming poor Danny out of his rightfully-earned reward. Being tough is one thing; being a selfish bully is another.

Minor historical notes: this was made during WWII, so listen for fleeting references to Hitler and to the scarcity of nails. Also, the credits make a big point of introducing Stanley Clements to the ESK fold. He seems like a miniaturized Leo Gorcey wannabe -- the Scrappy-Doo to Leo's Scooby-Doo. And Clements' hatred and fear of women is creepy rather than endearing. (In an utterly bizarre moment, he tells Hank that the one advantage to being in prison is that at least there are no lousy dames around. Yikes.)

Is it funny: Oh, some of the jokes connect every once in a while, but I wouldn't call this a laugh riot. The darkest, funniest scene in the movie has kind of a sick twist to it. Butch Broccoli doesn't beat Danny up personally but has a thug do it for him. The beating occurs off-camera, and we hear Danny's moans and groans. Broccoli is mildly bothered by this and sticks tissue paper in his ears to muffle the sound. After that, he's back to being his old cheerful self. As I mentioned previously, I liked the whole sequence in which Broccoli shows up at Ruth's doorstep and basically invades her apartment while she stands by, too dumbfounded to even protest. But not all the humor worked for me this time. Huntz Hall, a delight in Clancy Street Boys, just got on my nerves here with his cowardice, greed, and stupidity. Muggs was right to smack him around.

My grade: B- (barely)

P.S. - Yes, Scruno is back, so there's some built-in racism to deal with here. The racial humor is kept to a merciful minimum, though. One of the Kids brags that he'll get a tan as dark as Scruno's. And Scruno himself informs us that his mother has just given birth to her twelfth child. (Maybe it was thirteen, counting Scruno, but I'm not going to go back and check.)  Also, one of the Kids' money-making schemes involves Scruno tap dancing in the street in order to solicit handouts from the nice white folks who walk by. Ernest Morrison is a hell of a good dancer, but it's difficult not to see this as a group of white kids (led by Leo Gorcey) exploiting their one black friend.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mill Creek comedy classics #70: "Pride of the Bowery" (1940)

Leo Gorcey, unusually pensive and pink, on the VHS cover for Pride of the Bowery. Huntz Hall actually isn't in this one.


Carleton Young
The flick: Pride of the Bowery (Monogram Pictures, 1940) [buy the set]

Current IMDb rating: 6.4

Director: Joseph H. Lewis (Boys of the City)

Series regulars: Leo Gorcey (Boys of the City), Bobby Jordan (Boys of the City), Ernest "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison (Boys of the City), Donald Haines (Boys of the City), David Gorcey (Flying Wild), Bobby Stone (Flying Wild)

Other actors of note: Kenneth Howell (played "Jack Jones" in a series of films from 1936-1940; his homosexuality ended his marriage in '45; died by his own hand in 1966), Mary Ainslee (appeared in several Three Stooges shorts, including He Cooked His Goose), Kenneth Harlan (Meet John Doe, Topper), Carleton Young (A Bride for Henry)

Kenneth Howell
The gist of it: Muggs (Gorcey) is practicing to be a boxer, but he doesn't want to sweat it out in some crummy gym all summer. Danny (Jordan) fixes it so the whole gang can go to what he promises is a training camp. Actually, Danny has volunteered them all for the Civilian Conservation Corp, where they will work and live in military-type conditions for half a year, earning $20 a month for their families. Muggs is the last to learn about this, and he immediately starts breaking rules and challenging authority.

For some reason, he picks a fight with the very bland and innocuous Allen (Howell), and the two become rivals. Once he understands his situation, Muggs calms down somewhat and even saves Allen's life. Captain Jim White (Harlan) is so impressed with this that he grants Muggs a special request. And what does Muggs want? A boxing match with Allen! The fight goes off well, even catching the eye of local boxing promoter Mr. Norton (Young), but Muggs is incensed when Capt. White stops the match before it's finished. He refuses to shake Allen's hand and becomes a pariah in the camp for his poor sportsmanship. He also becomes enamored of blonde Elaine (Ainslee) before realizing she's the Captain's wife.

Trouble arises when Willie (Stone) steals $100 from White's office, then tells Muggs he needed the money to send to his aunt and brother. Muggs goes to Norton and agrees to fight for six rounds to earn back the hundred bucks for Willie. He takes a beating in the ring but manages to go the distance. While replacing the money, Muggs is caught by Captain White, who threatens him with a dishonorable discharge. But Muggs isn't about to fink on Willie. Luckily, Danny figures out who the real thief is and begins to set things right.

This movie is Leo Gorcey's Raging Bull, more or less.
My take: As I've now learned, early 1940s East Side Kids movies are like those mystery bags you sometimes find at gift shops. Before you pop one into the DVD player, you never quite know who's going to be in the lineup this time or how serious the movie will be. In this flick, the cast is basically the same as that of Boys of the City (1940), but the tone is more serious, like that of East Side Kids (1940).

I hated Boys of the City and was lukewarm on East Side Kids, but Pride of the Bowery is not half bad. It's part-boxing movie, part-military movie, and the focus is clearly on Leo Gorcey as Muggs. He's as ornery as ever and still an incurable smart-aleck, but he doesn't do any of his trademark malapropisms, mispronunciations, or Moe Howard-esque slaps in this one. I didn't really miss those traits, and I didn't miss the Kids' crowded, noisy, poverty-stricken neighborhood either.

Just as Boys of the City took place almost entirely in the country, Pride of the Bowery strays far away from the Bowery. It's possible that the creative minds behind the ESK series got bored with the urban setting and decided to transplant the main characters to a more pastoral locale just for the sake of variety. So in this movie, we get to see Bobby Jordan and Leo Gorcey in an area where there are lakes and trees and fresh air.

The story is very simple and corny, but I still got surprisingly involved in what was happening -- the stolen money, the pivotal boxing matches, etc. A lot of that is due to Gorcey, whom I'd underestimated as an actor. He even shows some dramatic chops, as when Muggs gets dressed up, buys a bouquet from Scruno (Morrison), and visits Elaine (who has flirted with him), only to be crestfallen when she emerges from her house with Captain White. It's a melancholy, wordless moment as Muggs registers what has happened and reacts to it. You really get a sense of the sad little man behind the gruff exterior. Of course, this being a comedy, there's a funny little tag to the scene in which Muggs tries to get a refund on the flowers.

I was glad that the boxing scenes were played fairly seriously, too, and not for slapstick as they easily could have been. Considering that this is an East Side Kids movie, I thought for sure that Norton was going to turn out to be a crook trying to lead Muggs astray, but he's on the level. I'm always grateful when an ESK movie deviates from the series' rigid formula.

Is it funny: Eh, only somewhat, but this is a movie in which the comedy exists to ease the tension. Clancy Street Boys was an out-and-out farce, and a fairly decent one at that, but Pride of the Bowery is a drama with comic relief.

Of course, Muggs has to be the consummate wisenheimer and make with the zingers wherever he goes. But he also has to be believable as a guy who would risk his life and his reputation to save others, so his wilder comedic traits are dialed back in this film. His silliest moments are near the beginning, when he walks around the camp like a king, bossing everyone around (especially his superiors), not realizing that he's signed on to be a lowly laborer. When he's shown his bunk in the barracks, for instance, he says he was promised a private room with a bath. Danny, Muggs' dim but loyal sidekick, is allowed to be a little goofier, and of course Scruno is a completely comedic character. Generally, though, this movie is pretty straight-laced for an ESK flick.

My grade: B

P.S. - Weirdly, in this movie, Scruno is not one of the usual gang. He's just one of the kids at the CCC camp.  His portrayal is mildly racist, I'd say, but nowhere near as bad as Boys in the City. For some reason, when Muggs and his pals arrive, Scruno is the one tasked with carrying their luggage and delivering it to the barracks like a clumsy bellhop. Later, when he's selling flowers on the street, Scruno tells Muggs that he stole his merchandise from a neighbor's yard and says that he'll be selling watermelons tomorrow. And in another scene, he complains that he worked until he was "black in the face." So, yeah, not one for the Wall of Fame. But overall, Scruno is not ill-treated in this film.

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 24: "The Snow Bunnies" (1972)

A moment sorta like this but not really happens in A.C. Stephens' The Ski Bunnies (1972).

Sybil: Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton were telling me about California. You can swim in the morning, and then in the afternoon, you can drive up into the mountains and ski. 
Basil: Must be rather tiring.
-Fawlty Towers ("Waldorf Salad," March 1979)

Filmmakers took Dracula out of Bram Stoker's
time and quite rudely dragged him into ours.
Irrelevance. It was breathing down Ed Wood's neck in 1972. If the world had ever needed his services in the past, it certainly didn't now. The old school Universal horror and science fiction films he favored were distinctly out of fashion, except as filler on late-night television. Ed's biggest career coup had been getting Bela Lugosi -- Count Dracula himself -- to star in a string of low-budget films back in the 1950s.

But 1972 was the year that William Crain's Blacula distinctly and unmistakably politicized the Bram Stoker tale by depicting the famed count (Charles Macaulay) as a racist who refuses to help a proud African nobleman, Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall), in his quest to end the slave trade. Instead, Dracula cruelly transforms Mamuwalde into a vampire, glibly renames him Blacula, and seals him in a coffin where he slumbers for nearly 200 years before emerging to wreak havoc in 1970s Los Angeles. Never before had the screen witnessed a black vampire. Never before had Dracula's race even been an issue.

It's interesting to note that the men who unwittingly unleash Mamuwalde upon LA are two fey homosexual decorators, Billy and Bobby, who end up as the African vampire's first victims. These characters are not unlike the limp-wristed, lavender-scented sissies who turned up in Love Feast (1969) and Take it Out in Trade (1970). We were ready to accept a vampire as a symbol of racial pride by 1972, but "fags" were still acceptable hors d'oeuvres for a movie monster.

Nevertheless, a gauntlet had been thrown down: the Dracula story had been dragged out of its 18th Century dreamland and deposited forcefully in the Here and Now. To audiences of 1931, Bela Lugosi's character may have been a darkly romantic antihero. To audiences of 1972, he was just another old white man in a big house on the hill, a symbol of racial oppression. Paul Morrissey's Blood for Dracula aka Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974), further politicized the Stoker story but concentrated on class struggle instead of racial warfare. Here, Count Dracula (Udo Kier) was an enfeebled aristocrat who met his doom at the hands of a virile Bolshevik laborer (Joe Dallesandro) in 1920s Italy. Meanwhile, England's Hammer Studios, who had been Dracula's most faithful cinematic caretakers since Universal, were trying to keep their franchise alive by transporting Drac to swinging modern-day London in the tellingly-titled Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972).

Even the Duke bites the dust.
Eddie might have taken some consolation in the fact that one of the biggest grossing films of '72 was a John Wayne starrer called The Cowboys. In all probability, horse operas were closer to Ed's heart than flying saucers, vampires, and zombies combined. He preferred the term "cowboy pictures" to "westerns" and liked the black-and-white moral certainty of the cheap, primitive morality tales he'd grown up with. None of this "revisionist western" or "adult western" nonsense for Ed Wood. No, sir. He liked his cowboy movies straight up, no chaser. He assayed the form frequently, mightily, and without success in the first few years of his career and kept casting old Hollywood cowhands like Bud Osborne, Tom Keene, Johnny Carpenter, and of course Kenne Duncan in his movies for years, regardless of genre. Poor Kenne intentionally overdosed on barbiturates in '72, thus depriving Ed of another close longtime friend.

As late as 1973, after all hope for becoming the next Zane Grey was long extinguished, Eddie wrote the wistful, fact-based short story "Pearl Hart and the Last Stage" for his buddy Charles D. Anderson's anthology, Outlaws of the Old West. History does not record whether Ed Wood ever saw The Cowboys, but if he had, he might have been appalled by the picture's infidelity to its own heritage by killing off John Wayne's character in an unsatisfactory way. In a January 1972 review, Roger Ebert explained:
The Cowboys has violated a Western convention. It is a sacred belief of the genre that good guys never miss, and bad guys never hit. The bad guys can pour a rain of lead into a besieged position and hit nothing more than a lantern or a whisky bottle, even by accident. But then all a good guy has to do is pop up and squeeze the trigger, and a villain bites the dust at 200 yards. The Cowboys tries to get around the convention by depriving Wayne of a chance to shoot at all, and disarming his dozen or so teenaged sidekicks. He's killed while he's unarmed (and after having already beaten the daylights out of a man thirty-five years his junior).
Last Tango: An offer Marlon Brando couldn't refuse.
With Dracula being co-opted by the counterculture and unarmed cowboys being gunned down on movie screens across America, Ed Wood can be excused for feeling a little woozy in 1972. By then, the only sector of the film industry that would still have him was porn. The last refuge of a filmic fuck-up. And wouldn't you know it? Even that was under siege! Sure, this was the era when it was temporarily okay, even fashionable, to take your wife to a movie theater and watch a thirty-foot-tall Linda Lovelace deep throat Harry Reems on the silver screen. "Porno chic," they called it, and for a hot second it looked like it might even seep into the mainstream. Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial and widely-discussed Last Tango in Paris (1972) was a non-porn film whose sex scenes were still sufficiently believable to warrant an X rating. It starred Marlon Brando, who was then reconquering America in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972). Was Tango the future of motion pictures? Real sex or real-enough sex in movie houses everywhere? Would more "big name" stars follow Brando's lead? Nobody seemed to know.

Eddie had made a hardcore feature of his own a year before anyone had heard of Linda Lovelace, but there wasn't anything particularly chic about Necromania. With its Dracula-inspired Gothic trappings, it was proudly unfashionable, even somewhat sweetly nostalgic. Besides, Ed was a day tripper in the hardcore scene. It was a mere avocation. His true vocation was softcore, a subgenre which had not quite breathed its last in '72 but was certainly coughing and wheezing by then. Thanks to cable and VCRs and their bottomless appetite for topless girls, softcore would make a Dracula-esque reemergence in the 1980s, but Eddie wouldn't be around to see it. In 1972, making a feature-length "nudie cutie," especially one with no apparent topical or social relevance, was just about the least hip career move you could make.

Yet that's just what Ed Wood did, penning another script for his old cohort, Stephen C. Apostolof aka "A.C. Stephen." I picture the two men clinging to each other for warmth on the deck of the Titanic, possibly hoping to use the buoyant Marsha Jordan as a flotation device, as they made this week's film...

THE SNOW BUNNIES (1972)

A vintage newspaper ad from The Snow Bunnies' run on the Pussycat Theatre circuit.

Alternate titles: Since "ski bunny" is an American slang term, the film was called Coming Together in Australia and The Lustful Bed Bunny in Germany. The French title was Snow Dolls, and the Dutch title was Snowmen. (Those last three are translated into English, of course.)

Availability: Like several other Apostolof films, The Snow Bunnies was released on VHS in the 1990s by Something Weird Video as part of its series, The Erotic World of A.C. Stephen. The best way to get the film currently is as part of the DVD collection Big Box of Wood (S'more Entertainment, 2011).

AIP goes slaloming in 1965.
The backstory: One might say that the making of The Snow Bunnies began some 57,000 years ago when, according to geologists, a series of volcanic eruptions created California's majestic Mammoth Mountain. Or perhaps it started in 1953, when hydrographer-turned-developer Dave McCoy received a permit from the United States Forest Service to operate a ski area on the snowy peak of the 11,0059 ft landform, ushering in a tourism tradition that continues to this day.

But let's jump forward another decade. In 1963, American International Pictures had tremendous success with the low-budget, highly profitable teenage musical comedy Beach Party starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Frankie and Annette then starred in a whole slew of "beach" comedies over the next two years. By 1965, the formula must have been getting a little stale because AIP decided to switch things up a little by taking the series away from the shore and up into the mountains with Ski Party, with guest appearances by James Brown and Lesley Gore. (New mom Funicello was reduced to a cameo, while Avalon would price himself out of the series within the year. The franchise continued two more years without either of them.)

Though ski-sploitation was never the cultural phenomenon that beach-sploitation had been, Ski Party gave independent filmmakers a viable second option: snow instead of sand. Both sub-genres became coarser, cruder, and more sexually explicit as the decades wore on. From the 1970s onward, lusty young surfers and skiers alike were expected to lose their clothing and their inhibitions for the benefit of drive-in audiences. The last significant outburst of ski-based comedies appeared in the 1980s and early 1990s, including such video store rental classics as Hot Dog... The Movie (1984), Ski Patrol (1990) and Ski School (1991). More recently, writer-director Chris Seaver's obscure Ski Wolf (2008) attempted to revive the form by adding a werewolf element.

Mammoth Mountain Inn as it appears today.
The Snow Bunnies was Steve Apostolof's predictably skewed attempt at a ski flick. As is typical of the director's 1970s output, this film takes place in the bleary-eyed, booze-soaked world of jaded, neurotic adults. Normally such films are more lighthearted and involve happy-go-lucky high schoolers and college kids. That wasn't quite Steve's style, and it definitely wasn't Ed Wood's. Eddie would have been about 47 or 48 when he penned this script, and his middle-aged desperation is all over it. The cast is almost exactly identical to that of  The Class Reunion, a Wood-Apostolof collaboration released the same year. The subject matter is the same, too: restless, dissatisfied twenty- and thirty-somethings who try to drink and fuck their problems away for a brief spell.

Reunion contrasted the refreshing and inviting natural world, represented by a scenic, serene public park, with the dank and sleazy man-made world, represented by tacky bars, dreary lounges, and grotesque hotel rooms. Bunnies does pretty much the same thing, only with more cheerful outdoor footage (all of it shot in bright sunlight, complete with lens flares) to offset the sleazy indoor footage (seemingly shot on studio sets, complete with boom mic shadows). There is ample location footage of happy skiers slaloming down the mountain, riding the chair lift, and relaxing at the ski chalet. Among the revelers seen in the film are Steve Apostolof himself and his third wife, Shelly, suggesting that perhaps the director's true motivation in making this film was to justify a swell vacation getaway for himself and his family.

Although the movie is ostensibly set in Canada, The Snow Bunnies' location footage was shot at California's picturesque (and suggestively named) Mammoth Mountain Inn, about a five-hour drive Eastward from Los Angeles. The fact that California's distinctive state flag (featuring Monarch the grizzly bear) is included among the Flags of All Nations at the hotel's entrance is the viewer's first hint that Apostolof didn't take a film crew across the Canadian border to make this thing. Moviegoers who had already been to Mammoth would certainly recognize the Yodler Haus, a restaurant and bier garten which figures prominently in the film.

By the way, I reached out to the staff of the Mammoth Mountain Inn to see if they had any particular memories of The Snow Bunnies being made at their resort. They were very nice, but unfortunately no one currently on the payroll was working there back in '72. The hotel has apparently changed hands a few times over the years. Here, though, was their official statement on the issue:
We didn’t actually take over the ownership of the MMI until late in 1978 from Getty Resorts, who only owned the property between 1975 and 1978. MMI does have a colorful history with the film industry over the years, hosting many crews that included Steven Spielberg’s Temple of Doom and Golden Child with Eddie Murphy. Tom Cruise also stayed at the Inn during one of his movies. Jim Vanko was working as MSSA’s Location Services manager during this time period and may remember many more of the different movies and production companies who shot segments of movies at Mammoth.
(Thanks to Joani Lynch and Tom Smith at Mammoth Mountain for their help in researching this article.)

Disco Stu strikes out at the ski lodge.
If the Sixties were all about love, the Seventies were all about sex -- where to get it, how to get it, and who was getting it. And the dirtier the better. As Edy Williams would memorably put it in Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970): "Take away the guilt, and who'd wanna get laid?" One major development of the so-called Sexual Revolution was that it was now more socially acceptable for women to have sex with men to whom they were not married and whom they had no intention of marrying. Obviously, this kind of thing was happening before the 1970s, but it had never been more out in the open. Even Mary Richards was doing it on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977). Young, unattached men and women "on the make" began to seek out meeting places other than bars. By the end of the decade, of course, the discotheque would be serving this function.

Somewhere along the line, though, ski resorts became known as hot spots for singles on the prowl. They never totally lost their unwholesome reputation, as handily illustrated by a  2000 episode of The Simpsons entitled "Little Big Mom." In this installment of the long-running series, the Simpsons take a family vacation to a ski resort called Mount Embolism (which looks very much like Mammoth Mountain and any number of other such tourist destinations), but overly-cautious Marge won't go near the slopes and instead spends her time drinking cocoa in the cozy, rustic-looking lodge. Here, though, she attracts the unwanted attention of Disco Stu, a sleazy would-be swinger whose musical and fashion tastes are permanently stuck in the 1970s. While sitting at the bar drinking brandy, Stu sees Marge and goes in for the kill, softly singing Johnnie Taylor's 1976 hit, "Disco Lady."
Stu: (to self) Snow fox at five o'clock. (singing to self as he walks toward Marge) Movin' in, shoot it out, Disco Lady. (to Marge, as he sits down on the armrest of her chair) Is this seat taken? 
Marge: Uh, I think that's an armrest. 
Stu: So, do you party? 
Marge: You mean like a hats and noisemakers kind of party? 
Stu: Sure, baby, whatever your trip is. Disco Stu wants you to be comfortable while he does his thing. 
Marge: Who's Disco Stu? 
(Bart and Lisa enter the room and come running toward their mother. Stu regards them with horror as he stands up and takes a step away from Marge.) 
Bart  & Lisa: Hey, Mom! 
Marge: (hugging her kids) Hi, pumpkins. 
Stu: Kids? (singing to self as he walks backwards toward the bar) Back away, not today, Disco Lady.
Stu's revulsion at the sight of children is typical for someone accustomed to the no-strings-attached promiscuity of the 1970s. Like many of his generation, Disco Stu treats the ski resort not as a destination for wholesome family fun but as an adult playground where the usual moral standards of society do not apply. The characters in The Snow Bunnies do the same thing. Mammoth Mountain Inn is a place where they expect to -- and do -- hook up with willing semi-strangers for some harmless, meaningless fornication. A vacation there is a sexual safari only occasionally interrupted by skiing. These folks are not in the market for long-term relationships and say so. Surprisingly, Ed Wood makes an issue of this in his script, thus exposing the sexual gamesmanship in the film as the sad and soulless ritual it truly is.

Belgian poster for the film.
The viewing experience: As dense and baffling as any of the SCA Distrubutors movies Steve Apostolof did with Ed Wood. If I'd been tasked with writing a movie called The Snow Bunnies about four sexy young ladies who go to a sexy ski resort in search of sexy adventures, I'm pretty sure I would have kept my script very light and just a bit naughty. Ed Wood went in a different direction. At least the movie starts out in comfortable, familiar territory. Extremely familiar territory for me, in fact.

The Snow Bunnies' first scene is an extended shower sequence nearly identical to that which opened The Class Reunion. Once again, the very first image is of Marsha Jordan's boobs as she lathers them prodigiously. Then, as before, the camera pans upward to show Ms. Jordan is wearing heavy lipstick and eye shadow. A side-by-side comparison of the two movies shows that this is indeed new footage, just shot from slightly different angles. The mood is darker and more sensual, too, with suggestive saxophone music on the soundtrack instead of the cheerful strings which opened Reunion. Anatomy students will want to note that this movie contains a rather lengthy close-up of Ms. Jordan's ass. Having seen it, I can say that Steve Apostolof needn't have bothered. It's not her best feature... or maybe it's just not being filmed attractively.

Marsha Jordan
Instead of being summoned by a doorbell, as she was in the previous movie, Marsha's character in The Snow Bunnies -- a nurse named Joan Bradford -- is summoned by a telephone call. In Reunion, Jordan's husband was away on a 72-hour business trip. Here, Joan is on vacation from work but spending that time in her own apartment. A fellow nurse named "Miss Pastor" (sitting in what is clearly someone's bedroom being pitifully passed off as a hospital) tries to summon her back to work. Their conversation is priceless. Brusque, foul-tempered Marsha Jordan comes off like a character from a John Waters movie.
Joan: (angrily) What is it? 
Miss Pastor: (stiffly, awkwardly) Miss Bradford? This is Miss Pastor at the hospital. There's been somewhat of an emergency here, and the supervising nurse would appreciate if you would cancel your vacation and report for duty. 
Joan: Like hell I will! You tell that supervising nurse to go to hell! I've worked too long and too hard for this stinking vacation to give it up! You've got 200 broads on duty there right now, and you sure as hell don't need me! Take that! (slams down the phone)
Joan's apoplectic anger is highly reminiscent of James Craig's odd behavior at the beginning of Venus Flytrap (1970). Like his character, burned-out NASA scientist Dr. Bragan, Nurse Bradford is in sore need of a vacation. She picks up a very convenient Air Canada brochure on a coffee table near the phone and decides right then and there to take a skiing trip with three of her (noticeably younger) female friends. Let's see now. There's...
Terri Johnson
  • Brenda (Terri Johnson from The Class Reunion and Drop Out Wife) - A teacher who is obviously a serious intellectual because she's wearing horned-rim glasses when we first see her. Though she has term papers to grade, she decides to go with Joan because, in her words, "maybe an old maid school teacher might get male-connected!" With each passing movie, I try to figure out whom Terri Johnson reminds me of. I think I've settled on a combination of Jan Brady and Alfred E. Neuman. Brenda's designated sex partner for the film is overaged, vest-loving college student James Eldridge (Harvey "Forman" Shane), who's paying his way through school by working at the pro shop. Between sex sessions, they engage in absolutely incoherent political debates. But he wants her to know that he's not into, like, the whole commitment bag. You dig? Towards the end of the film, for no reason whatsoever, Brenda dances completely nude in front of a bunch of tourists at a cocktail lounge. I guess this is supposed to illustrate that the once-sterm schoolmarm has really loosened up on this vacation.
Sandy Carey
  • Tammy (Sandy Carey aka "Fluff" from The Class Reunion) - A promiscuous, fun-loving model who gives up a cover shoot for Teen Magazine (yeah, right) to go on the trip. At the lodge, she'll be the only one to spend any time on the slopes, cutely trying and failing to ski. (Oh, you gals! Always trying to do stuff!) She's paired up with fair-haired boy Chris (Chris Geoffries), who at first seems like an ideal lover... even though, just like in The Class Reunion, he can't keep up with her in bed. Later, Chris reveals that he has some dark ulterior motives for getting involved with Tammy. In short, he wants her to start pimping him out to rich women. She, as you might guess, is not too thrilled with this idea. So that's the end of their relationship. Chris Geoffries is another untrustworthy scumbag almost as vile as his character from Drop Out Wife
Starline Comb
  • Carrol (Starline Comb from The Class Reunion) - A troubled, hard-drinking single gal who's been "drowneding" her sorrows in martinis since being dumped by her (married) boyfriend, Herbie. Just as Terri Johnson and Sandy Carey are playing variations on their characters from The Class Reunion, Carrol is typecast as the total downer. Sure, she's ready to get naked and sweaty with some random dude she just met, but she isn't taking this trip lightly. "I came here to get a man, and that's what I'm gonna do," she says with a total lack of humor. It doesn't work out so hot, though. Carrol's temporary boyfriend is a real-life Disco Stu type named Fred (overly-tan Ron Darby, with his pasty white ass, unruly 'fro, and melted-candlewax facial features), who seduces her by surreptitiously getting her drunk and then tries to make their relationship "a permanent thing." Carrol wisely says no to this offer. So she doesn't get a man out of this, but that's probably for the best.
After making the Manos-esque car trip to the ski lodge, the four ladies spend virtually the entire movie apart in their individual storylines, which mainly consist of drawn-out and not-terribly-interesting lovemaking sessions with Bachelors #1, #2, and #3. Joan disappears for a long, long stretch in the middle, and for a while I figured that she, like Marsha Jordan's previous character in The Class Reunion, was just there for the pre-credit sequence. But, lo and behold, Joan makes a major reappearance in the movie's last third, when her story intersects with that of the film's fifth (and most surprising) major female character
Rene Bond
  • Madie (Rene Bond) - A scantily-clad waitress at the Yodler Haus. Her jerky boss, Cappy (Orgy of the Dead choreographer Marc Desmond), says he'll fire her from her high-paying position if he catches her hitting on any of the male clientele. But she does so anyway, aggressively coming on to well-dressed young skier Paul (Ric Lutze, Rene's soon-to-be-ex-husband), who at first insists that he's not interested. But she gives him a handy under the table, which changes his mind. They go back to his room and attempt to make love. But he just can't maintain an erection, which causes Madie to accuse him of being gay. This obviously trips an alarm in his brain, and he smacks her. Later (perhaps having been beaten more severely) she awakens to find herself alone, traumatized and injured. She staggers around the hotel, soon running into Nurse Joan, who tends to her wounds... then seduces her in the movie's most mind-meltingly inappropriate scene.
Apart from one unmemorable, passionless sauna scene between Chris Geoffries and Sandy Carey, the sexual shenanigans in this movie are mostly filmed in the characters' cheaply-furnished, tacky-looking hotel rooms where art director Mike McCloskey (who worked on such cult classics as Please Don't Eat My Mother!, Loose Shoes, and The Undertaker and His Pals) tries to establish the "winter sports" atmosphere by plastering the walls with ski equipment posters, mainly hawking Scott USA, and travel ads which invite us to "Ski Colorado." Why a ski resort supposedly in Canada would be exhorting us to go to Colorado is beyond me. Apostolof does not skimp on the downhill action, however. I'd say that this movie is about 85% screwing and 15% skiing. Steve's "court composer" Jaime Mendoza-Nava is back again, and his music gives the outdoor scenes the feel of a jaunty, upbeat travelogue.

In addition to looking for Steve and Shelly's big cameo, you'll want to check out how many "long-haired freaky people" were going skiing back then. Clearly, the Woodstock Generation had left the communes in the rearview mirrors of their VWs. (And, yes, there are some VWs in the Mammoth Mountain parking lot.)

Speaking of the counterculture, the first conversation between teacher Brenda and student James is so ridiculous and unfollowable that it deserves to be transcribed for the ages. It's a typical Wood-ian mixture of sexual come-ons and world philosophy. James is working in the pro shop when Brenda comes in to browse the merchandise:
James: Hi! I guess we got about the largest selection of merchandise and equipment in the mountains! 
Brenda: Yeah. I was just looking. 
James: (nodding slyly) Well, most people come in here looking for something. 
Brenda: Well, I guess most people are looking for something
James: (chuckles) You alone? 
Brenda: Is that important? 
James: (laughs) It is if I'm gonna proposition ya. 
Brenda: You're a fast one, aren't you? 
James: Life's very short. We should take advantage of every moment, every hour. 
(They both laugh.) 
James: Did I say something funny? 
Brenda: No. It's just that I heard something similar to that remark before. 
James: Oh. I suppose there's somebody somewhere with the same philosophy as my own. Hey, you know, life's what you make of it. Who's got time for wars, drafts, dictates of the establishment? 
Brenda: One of those kind, huh? 
James: Yeah, one of those kind, if you want to phrase it that way. I'm just a student. 
Brenda: Well, hello, student. I'm a teacher: 
(James laughs.)
SCA leading man Forman Shane aka Harvey Shane
Here, Harvey Shane does what most actors are unable to do: make Ed Wood's stilted dialogue sound natural and conversational. Terri Johnson takes just the opposite approach, reading her lines as if she's a kid forced to perform in a school pageant. Meanwhile, in one of the movie's most depressing scenes, Carrol the lush makes a beeline for the bar, where she's immediately seized upon by icky, sweater-wearing insurance salesman Fred. Fred tells her he's been watching her and that the slow pace at which she's been drinking indicates her level of boredom. This is obviously something Ed Wood would know, having spent plenty of time in barrooms.

Carrol, who looks utterly defeated and miserable, tells Fred she needs "assurance, not insurance." She then practically chokes on her drink, leading Fred to confess: "I told the bartender to double whatever you were drinking." Nice guy, eh? They debate whether alcohol is "assurance" or "insurance," then go back to Fred's room to sample some of his booze, which he says is better than the "rotgut" the bar is serving. There's a great inadvertent (?) little moment at the very end of this scene when the camera lingers for a second after Fred and Carrol leave, and you can see the reflection of the bartender who's been watching this horrendous couple.

"Work is the curse of the modern system," says James.
Now, we spend some quality time with Tammy and Chris, who discuss whether a woman can make love more times in a row than a man. Chris insists that men and women are built differently in that respect. "Oh, don't get clinical on me!" Tammy protests. "It's physical, not clinical!" Chris retorts. After they put this theory to the test for a few minutes in bed, we hop over to Brenda and James, who are still discussing politics and "the future" (where you and I will spend the rest of our lives) over dinner. Liberal James says that he and (relatively) conservative (by the standards of this movie) Brenda are part of the same "breed." She doesn't think so. He elaborates: "We're two separate people, two different opinions, but part of the same generation gap. Kinda, sorta focusing in on one future." Talking about his job at the pro shop, which he needs for college tuition, James takes a swipe at capitalism: "Work is the curse of the modern system. You work or you don't eat. So we're forced to work right from the cradle to the grave."

As Brenda and James admit their mutual admiration for one another, cinematographer Allen Stone (whose only other credit is, you guessed it, The Class Reunion) clumsily zooms in on their clasped hands. If having the screen go blurry was the visual hallmark of Drop Out Wife, haphazard zooms are the calling card of The Snow Bunnies. This is just one of literally dozens in the film. In fact, a totally unmotivated and unnecessary zoom in on the Yodler Haus is used as a transition to Brenda and James' big love scene. Brenda is reluctant ("We shouldn't be doing this!"), but James uses some pseudo-philosophical double-talk on her: "We believe we should, so I guess that makes it right!"

As the lovers undressed on screen, I made this observation: the girls in Steve Apostolof's 1970s movies wear panties but not bras. That's very consistent from scene to scene and movie to movie.

When they start making love, the only real point of interest is that Terri Johnson manages to climb on top of Harvey Shane. Normally, Steve Apostolof prefers to depict his onscreen lovers having sex in the male-superior missionary position. By putting Brenda in a female-superior position, this gives the cameraman the opportunity to do a sort of POV shot of her riding atop James. Unfortunately, that also gives us the opportunity to see the room's not-too-exciting stucco ceiling, air vent, and pea-soup-colored walls behind her. Other angles don't help either, as they bring into focus the room's sickly-looking green couch and irradiated orange carpeting. You had to ignore a lot to have sex in the '70s.

"He's a scotch drinker.": Ric Lutze and Rene Bond.
The film then cuts to two characters we have never seen before: waitress Madie and customer Paul, in a dimly-lit restaurant, perhaps the same one Brenda and James had visited earlier. (The lamps on the tables look about the same.) Madie, as I mentioned earlier, is throwing herself at Paul, but he's not interested. "What's so all-fired hellish about me?" she asks him. These characters are played by real-life couple Rene Bond and Ric Lutze, aka Shirley and Danny from Ed Wood's Necromania. Rene'd had her boobs done since that movie, but otherwise she and her then-hubby look pretty much the same. Their offscreen marriage failed, and it's interesting to watch this movie and look for signs of trouble. These are not difficult to find. Madie and Paul are at odds for most of the movie, and the anger, annoyance, and resentment between them feels uncomfortably real.

Early on, Madie asks bartender Cappy for some crucial info about her man: what's his drink. Cappy scoffs, "You've been eyeballing him for the last two days, yet you don't know what he's drinking?" After she tells him to "cut the crap," he responds, "He's a scotch drinker. The good stuff." I have a hunch Eddie Wood was not drinking "the good stuff" by 1972 and had to make due with the "rotgut" (a term I've most often heard applied to Ed's booze of choice, whiskey) that Fred and Carrol were drinking earlier. Madie ignores Cappy's warning to stay away from the guests ("When I'm on my own time, I an't nobody's help!" she reasons) and makes another desperate play for Paul. Though she had taken offense to being called a "bar girl", i.e. a woman employed by a bar to hustle drinks, the next scene reveals that this is exactly what she is, since she purchases drinks for both Paul and herself on his tab but without his permission. He's not too put off by this, though, as he seems to regard her as a quaint amusement and even toys with her a little.

Again, Ed Wood's dialogue mixes flirtation and philosophy, and there is something more than a little tragic about Rene Bond's character, who obliquely reveals that she's a prostitute.
Paul: What are you like? 
Madie: Oh, I don't know. Happy-go-lucky, I guess. Live today, tomorrow we die. All that sort of thing. I like men. Men like me. I like you. 
(Paul scoffs.) 
Madie: Most men like me right off. 
(She starts rubbing his crotch.) 
Paul: I guess I can see the reason for that... for some men! 
Madie: For all men, honey. 
(She sticks her hand into his pants.) 
Paul: Why don't you just admit you found one you can't reach? Finish your drink and get on outta here. 
Madie: Oh... 
Paul: Hey, look, there's something I've always wanted to ask a broad like you. 
Madie: A broad like me? Whaddya mean by that? 
Paul: Just like it sounds. 
Madie: Look, I'll have you know I'm a legitimate cocktail waitress. (looks away, bashfully) Among other things. 
Paul: Well, it's the other things I'm referring to. 
Madie: You don't know a thing about me. 
Paul: I don't? 
Madie: No. (She takes a drink.) Just what was it you wanted to ask a broad like me? 
Paul: Do you really enjoy what you're doing? 
Madie: Sure! I meet a lot of interesting people! A cocktail waitress at a resort like this makes good pay! Top pay! And good tips! It's a big living! 
Paul: Screw the cocktail waitress bit! I mean the other things, like what you're doing now. 
(Her hand is all the way inside his pants. She rubs his penis.) 
Madie: Maybe we oughtta go to your room before I answer that one! 
Paul: That sounds like a good idea. You any good in bed? 
Madie: Your room, Mr. Trent.
Carrol and Fred romp beneath the Scott USA posters.
As we will soon see, this is anything but a "good idea" for Madie. First though, is a sexual interlude between Fred and Carrol. This is of less interest to Ed Wood fans, as the actors seem to disregard the script, at least somewhat, and ad lib their way through the scene. But in the middle of the giggly, semi-improvised lovefest, Steve Apostolof cuts to one of the movie's most interesting scenes, the post-coital moment between Chris and Tammy in which he makes an extremely indecent proposal to her: "When the season's over, why don't I come to Los Angeles and visit you? You could introduce me to some of your rich friends ... Hey, there's a lotta rich broads who would love to be serviced by a young stud like me! ... C'mon, honey, I'll give you a cut!" Tammy's devastated. She thought her fling with Chris might turn into something substantial. Guess not!

Meanwhile, there's more disappointment in the Fred/Carrol coupling. "Listen," he says in a moment of tenderness, "why don't you and I get a place back in the city and make it a permanent thing?" Carrol's response demonstrates how vacation spots like this were used as consequence-free sexual playgrounds, disconnected entirely from decent society: "A ski lodge is one thing. An apartment back in the city is something completely different, and never shall the twain meet." So says the woman who came here with the express purpose of finding "a man." Fred is kind of pathetic here as he whimpers, "Never?" Instead of making their vacation fling "a permanent thing," they make love one more time on the ugly green couch (I think the same one seen in Terri Johnson and Forman Shane's scene) in front of the ugly brick wall with the ugly Scott USA posters.

The truly dark stuff, though, is coming up. In yet another room with the same exact paneling and the same ski posters, Madie and Paul try and fail to make love. At first, he is apologetic. ("I'm sorry.") But then Madie becomes fed up with her flaccid lover, as she did during Necromania, and they begin to argue. There is a sharp edge to their words here, as if Ric Lutze and Rene Bond are truly fighting on camera and we are listening in on what should be a private conversation between them. These are two people using their words to hurt one another. When Paul runs out of words, he resorts to physical violence. Keep in mind, this is all part of a movie that's supposed to be a sexual stimulant for horny men. Two of Ed Wood's career-long motifs, homosexuality and transvestism, become part of the discussion:
Madie: What in the hell's the matter with you? I've been working on you for nearly an hour, and you're still not with it! Aw, I tried anything a woman can! 
Paul: Maybe you haven't tried hard enough! 
Madie: I've tried everything there is to be tried! 
Paul: Well, it's not me! It's gotta be you! 
Madie: Oh, yeah, sure. The male vanity. It's always gotta be the girl! 
Paul: Not all girls... just you! 
Madie: Oh, yeah, Buster. Tell me something. Have you ever made it with a girl? 
Paul: Shut up! 
Madie: I won't shut up! You're putting me out on a limb! I bet that's it! You've never made it with a girl! 
Paul: I told you to lay off! 
Madie: I won't! No guy's ever been that weak with me after I got working on him. There's gotta be something wrong with you! I bet I know what it is! You can't make it with a girl! (getting up from the bed) You need something else, right? You just can't make it with a girl! (picking up her canary-yellow panties) Is this what you need? Here! (She tosses them at him.) Go ahead. Put 'em on. I'll call Richard the bellboy. He likes to make it with men! Is that what you need? Boys? 
(Paul gets up from the bed.) 
Paul: You goddamn bitch! 
(He slaps her hard across the face.) 
Madie: Ow!
Together at last: Rene Bond and Marsha Jordan!
Back to James the student and Brenda the teacher, who have gotten their clothes back on. Like Carrol before him, James is not interested in a long-term relationship and just wants to make his few remaining days with Brenda "feel like an eternity." Joan, long absent from the film, walks into the room and is cold and unfriendly toward James. When he invites her to accompany him and Brenda to the bar, Joan says, sternly, "I just came from there." This might be our first indication that Joan is a lesbian.

The real proof comes a few minutes later when a (slightly) bruised-up and Madie wakes up in Paul's now-deserted hotel room, puts her bright red vinyl-looking outfit back on, and staggers into Joan's room, distraught and seemingly in pain from head to toe. Being a nurse, the matronly Joan at first treats Madie like a patient and asks her what happened. Madie is unusually forthcoming: "I was hooking on the side, and I picked up this guy in the bar, and he couldn't make it with me, so he beat me up."  "That bastard! I'm gonna have him arrested and put in jail!" declares Joan. But poor Madie can't report Paul to the cops, since she's not allowed to fraternize with guests and could lose her job. "The bruises that show," Madie explains, "I'll just say I got 'em skiing." This made me think of domestic abuse and the kind of excuses battered wives and girlfriends make out of social necessity. That's not exactly the kind of thing you want to hear or think about during a porn flick, but it's another example of how Ed Wood was sneaking feminist themes into his scripts for Steve Apostolof.

Joan gets Madie to one of the room's twin beds and starts tenderly daubing her forehead with a washcloth. Here, though, the movie makes a deeply weird left turn. After agreeing not to call the cops, Joan makes a pass at the battered, nearly unconscious girl:
Joan: Sure, I'll help you. Just put yourself completely in my hands. I'll take care of you. Listen, why don't we get these clothes off? (Joan starts undressing Madie.) You can put on one of my nightgowns if you feel like it later. 
Madie: No. Forget the nightie. I don't think I could stand anything against my skin right now. 
Joan: Well, what I had in mind was something soft. (Joan discards Madie's shirt and starts daubing the now-topless girl with the washcloth.) You would like something soft against your skin, wouldn't you? It wouldn't hurt. It would just enhance your senses. You do like soft things, don't you? 
Madie: I always liked soft things. 
Joan: Of course you do. 
(Joan has set the washcloth aside and starts to pull down Madie's hot pants.) 
Madie: Oh, be careful! That hurts! 
(Once the hot pants are off, Joan rubs Madie's upper leg.) 
Madie: Oh, your hands are so soft! 
Joan: I know. Doesn't that feel good? 
(Joan starts to pull off Madie's yellow panties.) 
Madie: Feels as soft and warm as anything I've ever felt. 
Joan: That's what they mean to do. (Joan discards Madie's panties, leaving her completely naked.) Doesn't it feel heavenly? Like you might go into orbit? Why don't you turn over, dear? (Madie rolls over on her side. Joan rubs her back.) Some of the hurt gone? 
(Madie rolls onto her back. Joan rubs her abdomen.) 
Madie: It's going fast. It feels nice. 
Joan: (starting to remove her own, floor-length red dress) Well, don't let it go too fast. 
Madie: No, no. Not with you. Not with you. Take it nice and easy, Miss Berg*. 
Joan: Joan. Call me Joan. 
(Joan finishes pulling her own dress off.) 
Madie: I don't think I'll have to call you anything. Or say anything. 
(Joan pulls her own panties off. She is now nude as well. She climbs onto the bed next to Madie, and they begin to kiss and caress.)
*Yes, Joan's character has changed last names by this point in the movie.

Ed Wood's template?
Once again, a woman who has been treated badly by a man decides to take refuge in the arms of another woman, who is more sensitive and understanding than a piggish man could ever be. And unlike the characters in The Class Reunion and Drop Out Wife, Madie is not recruited back into heterosexuality by the end of the movie. All this is admirable. But it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that Joan is taking incredible advantage of Madie, who seems very out-of-it during this scene. But this dialogue gives us a few more of Ed Wood's particular fetishes, i.e. his love of "soft" things, especially nightgowns.

In considering Madie's story in this movie, I was reminded of another beach-related movie from the 1960s, namely Henry Levin's Where the Boys Are (1960). Perhaps this is the film which helped provide the template for The Snow Bunnies (1960). That movie was about four female college students (led by Dolores Hart's brainy character Merrit Stone) who go to Ft. Lauderdale over spring break in search of sun, sand, and, as the title indicates, boys. Just like in The Snow Bunnies, all four girls share a single room and are paired up with guys during the movie. Where the Boys Are is a more thoughtful, substantial film than the later Beach Party (1963) and includes a serious, depressing subplot in which one of the girls, Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) is raped by a young man named Dill (John Brennan), who falsely claims to be from Yale. Assuming a caretaker role, like Joan, Merrit volunteers to stay in Florida with Melanie until the latter is ready to return to school. Viewers accustomed to the lighthearted shenanigans of Frankie and Annette might be shocked by Henry Levin's film, which also contains a great deal of bold-for-the-time debate about whether women should have sex before marriage. The Snow Bunnies did remind me a lot of Where the Boys Are in its attempts to balance a featherweight sex-on-vacation comedy with some darker, weightier themes.

Together again for the first time: all four girls.
After Brenda's ridiculous, totally context-less nude dancing routine (which goes on quite a long while and is more anatomically explicit than the rest of the film), Steve gives us a few more minutes of skiing footage, then one big farewell scene which gathers Joan, Brenda, Tammy, and Carrol in the same hotel room for the only time in the movie. We've had scenes with two or three of them, but never all four at once. This is a good opportunity for the characters to reflect on their experiences over the last few days and tell us what they've learned from them. As usual, though, Ed Wood's dialogue is cryptic with its characteristic speculation about the future:
(The four women are packing for home.) 
Joan: So how'd you enjoy it? 
Brenda: I know I had a wonderful time these two days. 
Carrol: Aw, I wonder if I'll ever be able to forget this place. 
Tammy: (disgruntled) I'm gonna forget this place just as fast as I can. 
Brenda: Well, what's eatin' her? 
Joan: Too much sun maybe. 
Brenda: Yeah. If you're not in the sauna bath around here, you're not getting the real sex in the sun! 
Carrol: And there's certainly a lot of those around! (laughs) 
Joan: Hey, you sound like you got rid of your woes! 
Carrol: You better believe it! (laughs) 
Joan: Aha! 
Brenda: (rubbing the couch) I think I'll be taking a little bit of this place with me. 
Joan: Oh? I might be leaving a little behind. There's always the future, and there's always a new signpost in my future. 
Brenda: You got me fogged on that one! 
Joan: Never mind! You know, it is a long way home. So... let's go, snow bunnies! 
(They exit, all giggling except maybe Tammy.)
This is followed by another Manos-esque driving montage which goes on for many minutes, as the four ladies make their way back through the snowy, pine-tree-covered terrain until finally, finally the camera tilts up toward the sky and the end credits can roll. I like Brenda's line about being "fogged," not only because it recalls a famous line from Glen or Glenda? ("My mind's in a muddle, like in a thick fog!") but also because it expresses my own feelings after watching The Snow Bunnies.

What did Brenda mean when she rubbed her hand on the couch and said she was taking a little something away from the ski lodge? Did she possibly get pregnant from her tryst with James? Is she planning to steal an ashtray? And when Joan says she's "leaving a little behind," does she mean the behind belonging to Rene Bond, thus making a sly pun on "a piece of ass?" I'm glad the script remembered that at least one of these ladies, fun-loving Tammy, wound up having a lousy time and is in a grouchy mood right up to the end. And let's give either Steve or Ed credit for waiting until the last possible moment to work the title into the dialogue.
In two weeks: I'm going to be out of town for Christmas, so there will be no new installment of Ed Wood Wednesdays next week. As devastating as this might be, consider it an opportunity. Instead of reading about the declining years of a thwarted filmmaker, spend some quality time with your family and friends on that special day. You can rest assured that this insane project of mine will be back on January 1, 2014! As it happens, the first film I'll be covering in the New Year is very appropriate for the occasion, revolving as it does around alcohol. Yes, it's another Stephen C. Apostolof movie, this time starring our old pal Rene Bond. Mosey back here in 14 days for an undiluted examination of The Cocktail Hostesses (1973).