Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Risque Business

This one is dedicated to Chris (Angelman), a fellow blogger, who has inspired me to check out more than a few movies I might never have watched otherwise.

***Note to the Fainthearted:  Both of these movies are VERY adult-oriented.  The movies herein were originally rated X and, although they have been since retroactively rated R, they could be construed as very offensive to some of my more conservative readers.  I don't intend to intentionally try to glorify either one, just make some comments on the background and the content of the movies themselves, but they are graphic in their content.  It goes without saying, if you decide to watch either one, the kids should be put to  bed early first.  You have been warned.***

In the early years of cinema, pretty much "anything goes" (within reason) was the adage that movie producers followed.  In retrospect, even the most audacious and prurient aspects of the movies in the "pre-Code" days are pretty tame, if you watch movies today.  But there was an outcry over the violence and sex as it was portrayed, and "glorified", in the eyes of its detractors  in the movies ca. 1930.  Hollywood chose to be pro-active on the outcry and created a set of rules (known as the Hays Code, after its writer,  Will Hays, then president of the MPAA).

These rules addressed many issues that were being expressed by concerned citizens about the way things were presented in the theaters.  Some of the concerns were how violence and the lawbreakers in movies seemed to be glorified (in the eyes of the detractors).  Sex was another issue.  Moral decency in general was what was wanted by the opposition.  So in 1934, there began to be enforced a code of decency designed to appease these people.  And you had to abide by these rules or your movie wouldn't get released in a manner that would guarantee you a wide release to the public.

But by the early 60's, this began to be a problem for some in Hollywood.  Some directors would push the envelope so to speak, trying to get things in their movies that the code prevented, but they felt compromised their artistic integrity by leaving out.  (It's up to you to decide whether anything they left in was "artistic".)  Eventually, Hollywood and the MPAA had to abandon the Code altogether, and instituted instead a ratings system.

Originally these ratings consisted of four: G, M (later replaced by GP, then PG), R and X (later replaced by NC-17).  PG-13 was added in the 80's in response to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which was considered to graphic, violence-wise,  for PG, but not entirely worth pushing it into an R-rating.

X (or NC-17) originally did not mean, entirely, a movie of a provocative sexual nature.  In fact, X was never really an officially recognized rating in the beginning.  It was what movies which did not receive official MPAA ratings or its "Seal of Approval"  were rated (signified by one of the three tamer ratings).  Although this eventually came to mean sexual content, other things might push the Ratings Board to not approve the movie for  recognition, including language, drug use and aberrational behavior.  But if you are of a certain age, say 40 or over, you couldn't be faulted for thinking X was strictly for sex movies.

 ***Confession: In the early 1980's I went to a drive-in to see a horror movie that had been rated X, thinking I'd get to see zombies having sex.  The only thing I got was an upset stomach, as it was pretty graphic, but not for any sex (of which there was none)  It still remains the ONLY movie I ever left in mid-showing.***

Myra Breckinridge (1970)

My first impression on viewing this movie, which I checked out from my local library, was that the library must have no idea what they got.  I'm not easily shocked.  After all, I have seen and even  liked A Clockwork Orange, and truth be told, that one is probably even raunchier on some levels than this movie (it was originally rated X, too.).  I can't even imagine what went through the executives minds when they saw the final output.  If the commentary on my DVD can be believed, however, there was a cloud of smoke over the entire production, and I don't mean cigarette smoke... it would explain a lot of the bizarrenes that floats throughout the movie.

In the beginning we have Myron Breckinridge (Rex Reed),  a gay man who is undergoing a sex change operation.  John Carradine plays the surgeon performing the operation.

The surgeon extraordinaire

And he must be one HELL of a good surgeon, and it must one HELL of a good job, because Myron comes out the other side as... Raquel Welch???

Myron and Myra

Now called "Myra", (although Reed as Myron makes quite a few appearances, which will confuse you, unless you realize that it is the inner self of Myra coming to the least, I THINK that's what its supposed to be), she starts out on her goal.

Myra (again)

What's her goal?  That's a good question.  I'll let Myra (Myron) herself state it:

"My goal is the destruction of the last vestigial traces of manhood, in order to realign the sexes, while decreasing the population, thus increasing human happiness and preparing humanity for its next stage"

In other words, pervert what is considered normal, and make normality a perversion.... or something like that.  (Hey, don't blame me.  I haven't smoked pot in many years, and I doubt I could figure it out even if I was stoned.)

Myra goes to the Buck Loner Studios in Hollywood where she tells Uncle Buck (John Huston), a former cowboy star and owner of his own studio, that she is Myron's widow.  She claims that through that marriage she is privileged to half of the Buck Loner empire, by virtue of being married to the son of Buck's sister, Gertrude.  Since Buck knows that Myron was not into women, he immediately disbelieves her and sets out to prove it.  But in the meantime he gives her a job in his acting studio, teaching "posture and empathy".  (If you have to ask what those two subjects have to do with each other, you aren't paying attention.  Go back up to the last sentence of the  first paragraph of this movie review...)

Buck Loner doing his impression of the Flying Nun

Myra goes about trying to achieve her goal, which includes seducing both halves of a straight couple in one of her classes, Rusty and Mary Ann (played by Roger Herren and then newcomer Farrah Fawcett).  Meanwhile she still has to keep old Uncle Buck on his toes, who keeps trying to discredit her claim to half of his empire.

Sweet innocent Rusty

Sweet innocent Mary Ann

Also included in the cast is Mae West who, by this time in her life, looked like a badly made kewpie doll, but she still has the acting chops that got her started in the industry 50 years earlier  (At least that's what I'm calling them.).  She plays Leticia Van Allen, a casting agent, but she only deals with men, if you get the idea.  Tom Selleck made one of his first appearances (sans mustache) as one of her stable of actors. ("stable"... Gives a whole new meaning to the word "stud" doesn't it?)

Leticia and her stud of the moment

Along the way in this confusing romp West gets to sing a song (it was in the contract).  Otherwise he appearance in the movie only seems to serve as an excuse for backbiting between Myra and Leticia (and according to the rumor mill, West and Welch did more than a little backbiting behind the scenes.)

I won't give away how the movie ends.  (For one thing, I'm not entirely sure it DOES end...maybe its still running on my DVD player and I just don't know it.)  In case you couldn't tell, this movie is ranked as one of the worst movies ever made.  I can't say anything to that, because many of the other movies on lists I've seen are just plain bad.  Bad acting, bad script, bad directing (think anything done by Ed Wood...)  No one's work in this movie is really worthy of being rated as "bad acting" (except MAYBE Mae West who is basically a caricature of her persona from years before).  Bad script?  Well, I never read the book, so I have no idea how it was originally written, although I have a great deal of respect for what I HAVE read by Gore Vidal (the author of the original novel).  Bad directing?  Now there you could make a case.  It is relevant that Michael Sarne never was asked to direct another Hollywood movie, as much for the fact that this movie bombed and lost a bucket full of money as anything else.

It garnered a lot of bad reviews at the time.  My favorite quote is from Time magazine which says the movie, supposedly a comedy, is "about as funny as a child molester".  And, truth be told, I didn't get half of what was probably supposed to be considered "comedic" in the movie.

There was a lot of controversy upon the release of the movie, including a couple of lawsuits.  See, the director interspersed the movie with cuts from older films, the point being to emphasize the emotions in the scene, I guess.  But some of the real people (older actors and actresses) in those clips took great offense to the use of their images in such a film and sued.   Loretta Young and Shirley Temple's images were the issue, and I guess they didn't take too kindly to the film content and how their images were being used in the context of the film.

Its a wonder some of the actual stars didn't sue over the use of their images in the movie.  Then again none of the major names in the movie is really surprising, considering their output in the same time period.  John Huston in particular stands out.  He seems to be a slimy character, but then you have to remember he was also a VERY slimy character in Chinatown.  

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is a young man with stars in his eyes of going to New York City and becoming rich, doing the only thing at which he thinks he has any skill; being a sexual escort (male hooker).  .Joe is a very naive individual.  And from the start he has no real idea what he is doing.  His first few attempts are colossal failures.

The wide-eyed newcomer

The first time he actually thinks he's picked up a potential client (Sylvia Miles) it actually turns out she is in the same line of work.  One of the rare funny scenes in the movie is when both are trying to surreptitiously bring up the subject of payment.  She goes off on a tear, berating him for asking for money from her.  (She tells him she is 28 years old.  Miles was actually in her late 30's at the time of this movie, and she looks like she's in her middle 40's in this scene, so if she is 28, I'm a recent 18 year old high school graduate...)  Joe, embarrassed, pays her and leaves.

The old hooker with delusions of youth

 While at a bar, Joe meets Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a street hustler, who gives him some advice that he should get a go-between (pimp).

Ratso and Joe meet

 He takes $20 of Joe's money, promising him to hook him up with a person (John McGiver) to help him.  But it turns out that the guy is a street preacher who seeks to convert Joe.  Joe leaves and goes looking for Ratso.

Saving Joe's soul

After several days of wandering the streets looking for Ratso and sitting alone in his hotel room, not making any money, Joe is locked out of his room, due to his delinquency in paying his bill. Eventually Joe runs across Ratso, but Ratso is broke.  He offers Joe to let him stay at his place, which turns out to be an abandoned building.

Life in the desolate side of town

You can't help but feel for these two characters, despite the seediness of their existence.  Joe scrounges money any way he can, including selling blood, while Ratso shows him how to steal stuff.  The two develop a relationship, and because deep down Joe is really a caring person, he is concerned for the gradual deterioration of Ratso's health.  Ratso's dream is to get out of New York and go to Florida, where he believes his health will improve.  Meanwhile Ratso struggles to carry on, and does so in the best fashion he can.

"I'm walking here.  I'm WALKING here!"

Like the previous movie, there are several intercut scenes, some showing Joe's life as a kid, and some seeming to be drug-influenced intercuts which have nothing to do with the movie other than emphasizing the emotion of the scene.  Jennifer Salt, daughter of the screenwriter, shows up as the girlfriend of Joe in some of the scenes in his earlier life. Joe is more or less shown to be a product of his upbringing.  He was raised by a grandmother. The grandmother was either a slut or a kept woman herself.

You don't really get too much of the background of Ratso, since the focus is on Joe, but we do find out that his father was an uneducated immigrant.  The two visit his grave during one scene.  As Ratso's health gradually worsens, Joe's friendship becomes stronger and eventually he does what he has to do to get Ratso and himself to Florida.

On the way

Spoiler Alert! Jump to the next paragraph if you don't want to know how it ends: This movie is stark all the way through and if you are expecting a happy ending, you are doomed to disappointment.  Although Joe and Ratso do arrive in Florida, it is ultimately too late for Ratso as he dies on the bus just as they arrive in Miami.  You can see the sadness in Joe's eyes as he closes his friend's eyes so people will think he is just asleep.

The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture (the only X-rated movie to achieve that accomplishment).  It also won for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Both Voight and Hoffman got nominated for Best Actor, but lost to John Wayne who finally got a long deserved Oscar for True Grit.  And believe it or not, 40+ year old trying to pass for 28 Sylvia Miles got nominated for Best Supporting Actress (although, personally, I think the Academy was off its rocker for that one. Fortunately Goldie Hawn took home the trophy, however.)

This movie still holds up, even after almost 50 years. But don't take that warning at the header too lightly.  Like a previously reviewed movie here, A Clockwork Orange, it is not a movie for the average family-oriented person.  Exercise caution!

Time to fire up the old Plymouth and head home.  After these two movies, I think I'll avoid Hollywood and New York City and just stay in the relatively saner part of small-town Texas.



  1. Awesome, one of the all-time great double features! Glad my post about Myra inspired is indeed so clever and insightful to pair these two very different films, both rated X with sexual themes, and made the same year, yet one is a masterpiece and the other is a mess (I know you know which is which! LOL).

    Beautifully done, my friend!!

  2. Thanks, Chris. I enjoyed writing it. It does my heart good to be a little controversial once in a while. Thanks for reading.


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