08 September, 2017

THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN (Flint Holloway/Edward D, Wood Jr., 1970)

This 53m 40s wonderment is the only surviving record of Ed Wood's 1970 foray into the soft-core feature film realm. I first became aware of this title via Rudolph Grey's essential Wood biography, NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY. *   Grey lists it in his chronological filmography as 1971 production which followed NECROMANIA (also 1971), quoting cinematographer Ted Gorley as describing it as "inferior" to NECROMANIA, lacking the supernatural elements found in that film and that it was filmed in three days "probably on a budget lower than NECROMANIA". Well, after seeing the film on the fatwvideo DVD, sporting a 2009 Films Around The World, All Rights Reserved onscreen logo and DVD stamp, I can report that much of Grey's notes are incorrect.

Grey lists it as a Cinema Classics Production, Released by Stacey Films, as was NECROMANIA. This much seems correct. But THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN (onscreen title) was not an aka for THE YOUNG MARRIEDS, which as we now know is a completely separate, later production, and has now had its own DVD release. Copyright 1971 The Professionals appears on the main title card "THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN", but that company is nowhere mentioned in Grey's book.

In fact, THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN is superior, in my view at least, to THE YOUNG MARRIEDS, while not being as entertaining, well shot, atmospheric or humorously scripted as NECROMANIA. It also lacks NECROMANIA's engaging couple of Renee Bond and Rick Lutze as the leads. They give good performances as quick witted, likable characters, an endlessly bickering married couple, a Nick and Nora Charles in an all nudie haunted world. That film had something approaching a well-written script. THE ONLY HOUSE... appears to have not had a full script at all, or perhaps only a brief treatment containing several key scenes. 

According to informed sources** THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN was made after Wood's 1970 soft-core detective noir TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE, which featured Ed himself in gloriously unapologetic drag. Both TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE and THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN marked Wood's return to feature film making since writing and directing THE SINISTER URGE in 1960. What can be said, after sampling the SWV outtakes from TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE, is that THE ONLY HOUSE... does not have that film's colorful stylistic flair. TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE is a candy colored neo-noir with a horny PI getting it on with an endless stream of female informants in lurid settings. The international settings are telegraphed with an almost Godard-like minimalism, primary colored travel posters stand in for locations, the editing is in-your-face and sometimes avant-garde. 

THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN does have Uschi Digard, either nude or wearing a floppy hate and high black leather boots, as our hostess at the only brothel in a 19th Century town which now seems to be haunted by the spirits of the horny dead. Or does it emit a weird electromagnetic field which makes everyone who enters uncontrollably lustful to the point of... ?  Rape is always an ugly word and deed but this film opens with a gang rape of a scantily clad brunette, who seems the only inhabitant. A group of six, three men and three women, led by a bearded man with a cigarette in his mouth, quietly mount a staircase in an old, disheveled house. The bearded man snaps his fingers, motioning the group, some of whom are also smoking cigarettes, toward a thick oak door on the second floor. They force open the door to reveal the brunette, clad only in a short lemon colored bathrobe, gasping and looking terrified. She flees the group who pursue her as turbulent piano music is heard on the soundtrack. Finally they all pin her down, lift her up and carry her down the stairs to the lower level. The looks of lust on the male and female attackers are obvious and priceless. The entire idea of gang rape conducted by both sexes was somewhat unique and it's never explained why they are there or how they knew a victim would be waiting. One wonders if the way this opens, in media res, was a deliberate decision or the result of the film being either unfinished or this being an incomplete print. 

The feeling of watching fragments of a film continues even though the film does have its own beginning, middle and ending. After a long groping of the rape victim, who is now moaning "Fuck me', making it all the more disturbing, the second part opens with Uschi, now fully dressed, introducing herself and welcoming the viewer. Facing the camera, standing in front of a large bed, Uschi will be our narrator in this interactive piece of soft core cinema. She introduces several short stories which are acted out by the previously seen six cast members, all of which feature Uschi totally nude and very involved in the hot and heavy action. Also breaking the fourth wall are the constant comments and instructions to the cast shouted out by an off-screen voice, "Move back a little, that's good", "Back off from her, let's see more of her" (referring to Uschi), "Lay down, just move around, don't be so tight". Is this Ed Woods' voice, or an assistant's, or the cameraman's? Was it planned as part of the final film or just left in because of an incomplete final sound mix. The latter is most likely, but it does fit in with the film's interactive structure, making it Wood's most self reflexive work. What would seem merely technically deficient/sloppy in normal production values, becomes a fascinating element in this context. 

The first story features a man Uschi calls "Peter Lewin", played by actor who was the bearded leader of the group in the opening. Rape once again rears its ugly head as Peter forces his way into the room occupied by Wendy (Uschi) accompanied by dire instrumental music, and then forces himself onto her. Later, flighty instrumental music is heard over the scene as the victim becomes compliant. In another story in the omnibus a stripper named "Bouncing Beulah" has a lesbian interlude with Uschi, which ends with them both discussing how much they like each other's breasts. A gritty Blues song sung by a female singer is heard over this segment. Further off-screen directorial comments heard (helpful English subtitles make them understandable amid the muddled sound mix) "Do that again. I really dig it", "All right, get in a group, like that", and "Rub her naked". At one point a naked group sex participant suddenly stands up, shouting "It was me who tipped the cops off". Since no cops arrive at any point in the film, this line is particularly baffling while adding to the general amusement level. There's even a classic Ed Wood cat fight, symphonic music and a Hawaiian guitar interlude. 

The most interesting stylistic element is the way the camera repeatedly floats upward, away from the group sex play, to examine a painting or outside foliage seen through an open window. The painting gets the most attention, one of those large format, cheap looking imitations of 19th Century neo classic style, depicting a nude woman holding up her arms in the foreground as soldiers in what looks like Ancient Roman military armor and helmets are seen in the background near a horse drawn chariot, In the far background ancient wooden ships at sea are seen. Why are we suddenly looking at this dollar store canvas? It seems to be yet another example of Wood's recurrent personal directorial matrix  what the French term "mise-en abyme/mise-en abime", the image within the image, the scene within the scene which the auteur (Wood) encapsulates/contrasts with the action on the main canvas. One thinks of the numerous cheap paintings, posters, photos which decorate the dingy, impoverished mise-en-scene of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, NIGHT OF THE GHOULS, THE SINISTER URGE and other Wood-directed items. The man had an eye for something beyond the obvious, which is why his films still are collected, viewed and examined decades after his sordid passing. And this goes along with the authorial cast directions heard off-screen making this a totally personal work in a totally impossible creative/technical set-up.

It all concludes with Uschi bidding the viewer farewell before she is engulfed  by several nude cast members, only to struggle out of the impending orgy to add, "You still here, people? Get out and let us have some fun!" The End. 

*NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY, The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., by Rudolph Grey, Feral House, 1992, pp. 210-212.

** Thanks to Kieth Crocker for additional information

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

02 September, 2017


Directed by Dan Simon (Jess Franco)

Strippers Cecile (Lina Romay) and Brigitte (Nadine Pascal) are taken in handcuffs to a sleazy nightclub. They have recently been released from a Brazilian prison where they were serving sentences for prostitution and lewd dancing. It's daytime, when strip clubs are usually closed, so the girls suspect something is up when the are confronted by U.S. Senator Connolly (Franco regular Olivier Mathot) and a Canary Island's police official who force them to perform a strip tease before offering them a chance at getting their prostitution sentences reduced if they go on a secret mission to Las Palmas. Cecile, who is experienced in photography, is ordered to photograph everyone who enters or leaves a suspicion villa which is adjacent to the hotel where they will be staying.

BELOW: Joelle Le Clair in OPALO DE FUEGO
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This film resides in Franco's Women In Peril bin, which includes such titles as THE SLAVES, FRAUEN OHNE UNSCHULD, BLUE RITA (1977), MADCHEN IM NACHTVERKEHR (1976), JE BRULE DE PARTOUT (1978), LINDA/ORGIA DE NINFOMANAS (1980), among many othrs, all of which involve similar scenarios dealing with women forced to work as prostitutes in sleazy nightclubs. It can also be viewed as another entry into his occasional Red Lips adventures, featuring a duo of female nightclub performers who are secretly private investigators, the best of these films was the first, the moody, black and white Film Noir, LABIOS ROJOS (1960). Later entries include TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS/ROTE LIPPEN, KISS ME MONSTER (1967). Unofficial variations on the Red Lips films include LES GRANDES EMMERDEUSES (1974), which TWO FEMALE SPIES.... most closely resembles in style, story and spirit. 

The dangerous assignment here involves the women showing up for an arranged job at a Las Palmas nightclub run by the Mr. Forbes (Yul Sanders/Claude Boisson) and his wife (Joelle L'Quement=Joelle Leclair). Mr and Mrs. Forbes have a rather odd relationship. He sexually assaults women whom he helps kidnap to be sold as private sex slaves to millionaires. She has turned sexually frigid toward him due her the stress of running the day to day affairs of the nightclub. They are operatives of a large, shadowy international crime syndicate which orders the kidnappings and close the sales to clients living in the Canary Islands. This all seems sanctioned by local authorities. The film opens with one such kidnapping involving the international sex star Adriana Rinaldi (Susan Hemingway), carried out by Forbes, aided by a female in large sunglasses (Muriel Montossey, whom would go onto appear as the lead actress in Franco's 1982, THE INCONFESSABLE ORGIES OF EMMANUELLE, as Vicky Adams). The victim is chained to a bed and brutally raped by Forbes, a particularly shocking scene even in this s exploitative context.

When our two female spies arrive in Las Palmas they are greeted by the joyously gay Milton (Mel Rodrigo) the DJ at the Flamingo club. He fills the ladies in on the job and the Forbes observe the two performers as they do their first show. Later both dancers are abducted after Mr. Forbes learns of their mission and true identities. They are both brutally tortured, which results in the death of Brigitte. Cecile is hypnotized by the strange opal ring worn by Mrs. Forbes so that she will become a future mindless slave. But Cecile escapes and is pursued by helicopter, piloted by Mrs. Forbes, only to escape to a local hippie colony living in desert caves. Meanwhile another club employee is set-up as the fall guy for the murder of Connolly and the illegal operations of the nightclub. Will she be able to eventually escape from the island and the agents of the kidnapping ring? 

TWO FEMALE SPIES IN FLOWERED PANTIES has a ridiculous title and an unusually complicated, action filled plot, at least for a Jess Franco film. It contains humor (at least in the French version), exotic/erotic dancing, mind control sessions, sexual torture, rape, machine guns battles, an anarchist uprising, and a political back story. The villains are agents of an international organization said to control world terrorism and have been responsible for the JFK and Martin Luther King assassinations in the U.S.. The local Federal Police and Washington DC politicians are under their command. When Senator Connolly is told about all this he is judged a security threat and gunned down. Given the amount of action, nightclub performances and information which needed to be telegraphed, Franco manages to wrap it all up in his usual personal style, albeit resulting in a technically uneven presentation in which every other shot seems out of focus or misfired. It looks as if, as usual, time and money were in short supply and the director had to rush through a series of complex scenes in order to get them all on film.

The most effective scenes are the amusingly low-tech helicopter pursuit of a bikini clad Lina Romay (credited as Line Castel on the French print and Candy Coster on the Spanish version) and two very character driven scenes between Mr. and Mrs. Forbes in which their erotic relationship is illustrated as their evolving emotional detachment is revealed.  These scenes involving the couple are totally missing from the Spanish version, available as an SD DVD in this package, OPALO DE FUEGO. They were inserted after-the-fact for the French release version by Eurocine when they acquired it from the Spanish producers, Joaquin Dominguez's Triton Films PC, Madrid, who co-produced in association with Studio 8, Lisbon, Portugal. Eurocine also added a different extended opening scene, lasting about 15 minutes, in which the kidnapping of Ms. Hemingway is carried out. Neither Ms. Hemingway or Montossey appear or are credited in the Spanish version. Whether of not Jess Franco filmed these scenes is not clear, but since they involve actors he was working with on other projects at the time, his involvement was likely.

Eurocine also removed one of the absolute best, and most Franconian episodes, the Salome 2000 exotic dance performed by Ms. L'Quiment with what is meant to represent the severed head of John the Baptist. The blasphemous, Bunuelian qualities of this scene are quite obvious and 100 percent Jess Franco. Also removed were two key scenes which explained the exact agendas of Milton, who is revealed as not being gay and as a fellow US government operative,  and nightclub associate Mr Morales (Canary Island native Albino Graziani, who would show up as a character actor in other Franco films shot there including OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD, TREASURE OF THE BLOND GODDESS, and BANGKOK, CITY OF THE DEAD). Cecile's discovery of a murdered man hanging in her closet is yet another scene removed from the Eurocine cut. This scene is an exact copy of an episode in Franco's 1966 CARTES SUR TABLE/Attack of the Robots, where Eddie Constantine, as secret agent Al Pereira, made the discovery. It's played for laughs in both films. Considering all this, it's likely the Spanish version was Franco's preferred director's cut, but that he went along with the Eurocine revisions. The torture scenes include the burning of Lina Romay's naked flesh with lit cigarettes, producing ugly burns. This torture method was also prominently used, administered by Jess Franco himself, in th 1976 Women In Peril-White Slavery sexploitationer, THE SLAVES, another Dietrich production.

All this results in two very different versions of a film with the same actors, plot and setting. The Spanish version plays like a much more sober,  intense, cynical, downbeat variation, opening with Mrs. Forbes putting a new hire under the mental control of her opal of fire. Not only does this opening have a more moody atmosphere, set to Daniel White's jazz score (the music is credited to Franco alone on the Spanish print), it sets the tone for the rest of the film, where the mind control aspects recalls such previous Franco films as CARTES SUR TABLE (1966), MISS MUERTE/THE DIABOLICAL DR.Z (1965) and NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (1970)., among many others, as a favorite Jess Franco conceit.  Eurocine also re-filmed one key scene, where Connolly is briefed on the political agenda behind the Las Palmas organiztion, setting it in a seedy office rather than the more elegantly staged scene and attractive setting in the Spanish version.

Both versions are very absorbing and entertaining action thrillers with strong erotic overtones and feature pretty graphic scenes of blood spattered torture.  Daniel White's sometimes moody jazz styling add a lot to the atmosphere, although the main drawback is the sometimes shaky cinematography, credited to Gerard Brissaud and, in some sources, Ramon Zaldia and Lionel Efe, but it actually may have been lit by Jess Franco himself, just in order to get it done.

Severin includes both versions on separate discs. TWO FEMALE SPIES IN FLOWERED PANTIES is presented in 1080p Full HD resolution, both versions are pillar-boxed and look properly framed with no image missing from the frame. The HD version is much brighter and more colorful than the SD presentation of OPALO DE FUEGO, naturally. Daniel White is properly credited for the music on the French version, which credits Dan Simon as the director and Evelyn Deher with the original story. The English LCPM Stereo track is noticeably more dynamic then the French language track. Both the BD and SD have English subtitles available for the original French and Spanish tracks, respectively. This marks the debut of this title of US home video. There have been no previous official North American video or digital releases. The only previous release of which I have been aware is the Dutch VHS release. This is probably the best this rather obscure Franco entry ever has looked or will look, theatrical presentations included.

The special features includes a 10 minute interview with Franco in which he discusses the Canary Island locations such as the prehistoric desert caves where the hippie  sequences were shot. He also reveals his script was influenced by the SAS spy-action novels of Gerard De Villiers. He also discusses how he enjoys mixing light comedy with violence, drama,  tragedy and confirms the films of George Cukor (especially THE MARRYING KIND) as a guiding influence. Since Cukor directed many musicals (MY FAIR LADY) and Franco always places musical performances upfront in his films, that influence is very enlightening. There is also an unprecedented interview, shot in the mid 1990s, with frequent Franco composer-actor Daniel J. White, who discusses his many collaborations (he lists 40) with the director and his admiration for Franco's abilities as a total filmmaker who can write, direct, act, edit, score and complete a film. He also reveals his awareness the bad producers often let him and Franco down by paying them with bad checks and cutting off funding for films or making damaging additions/subtractions to Franco's director's cuts.

Stephen Thrower helpfully places the film in the busy Franco timeline as a breather between his more reasonably budgeted Erwin C. Dietrich productions, his final Robert De Nesle oddities (COCKTAIL SPECIAL) and his later, much more personal Spanish films. Time-coded and VHS outtakes from the Spanish version and a 3 minute theatrical trailer are included. By combining two very different versions of one film, this package makes an interesting collector's item for those seeking to understand the complete filmography of the director and the conditions of his employment at that time.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017