Sex Madness! June 5, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
A very early morning and, after Beach finished his drudge work surprisingly quickly, he found himself dragged by a link (from a book of sermons by Bernard of Siena…) to a 1938 film entitled ‘Sex Madness!’ The adolescent in Beach got antsy and he wasted the next 51.58 seconds watching this tawdry but fascinating and exquisitely badly acted ‘morality’ exploitation flick about the dangers of syphilis. These pseudo-documentaries were quite common in the 1930s, probably because it was the only way that film producers could get this kind of sexual content past the powers that be. In fact, Hollywood got inventive with the absolutely crackling sexuality of films like It Happened One Night or Bringing up Baby and the coarse but clever humour of the Thin Man films. In all these cases invention worked. In the case of Sex Madness it failed. But we must thank the gods of celluloid that this particular gem survived.
So what is Sex Madness about? Well the story begins with sex insinuation after sex insinuation as couples watch a chorus girl line up: ‘you can phone [parents] and say you are staying with friends’, ‘you’ll stay at my place tonight won’t you’, a couple of girls begin to stroke each other, the man you see at the head of this post is transported by the bottoms of said dancers and later rapes a poor innocent working girl out on the mean streets. And all this in grainy black and white… It is like seeing World War II footage in colour. It is just wrong. The film then becomes a melodrama as a chorus girl recounts how she got syphilis on the casting couch after a slimy Italian seduced her in return for a role on Broadway. She wants nothing more than to go home and get married but, of course, she can’t. A good doctor tries to help her but she falls instead into the hands of a quack, believes she is cured, gets married, has a baby and then kills, with syphilis, both her husband and baby. Tears were streaming down Beach’s face by the end of the film: she is a very likeable girl and the Italian was a cad. Reminded me, in fact, of the immortal line of George Orwell on watching Mrs Minerva: ‘worst film I’ve ever seen, cried all evening’. Perhaps the most misguided aspect of Sex Madness is the extraordinarily inappropriate use of classical music tropes. Never before has this blogger felt sorry for Sibelius.
Apparently this was a well-established genre, a sex equivalent of Reefer Madness: both films were produced by Dwain Esper. But Beach has so far been frustrated in his attempts to find other examples. They must be out there: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com One potential classic, where we have not unfortunately found a full version, was entitled How to Undress in Front of Your Husband. This one is actually rather witty. Though, honestly, what were our parents and grandparents thinking?
30 June 2013: Bast points out several of these are to be found on archive.org. Meanwhile, the Count has knowledge: Concerning outrageous B-movies warning teenagers not to do certain things, everyone’s heard of Reefer Madness, but the second-silliest film along those lines is The Cool And The Crazy, another outrageously daft movie which automatically assumes that cannabis is more addictive than heroin, drives you insane instantly, and is basically the most dangerous substance on Earth. A particularly notable sequence involves a stoned person attempting to drive between the headlights of what, in his befuddled state, he assumes to be two oncoming motorcycles rather than one oncoming car. Another one which I haven’t seen which is supposed to be good is the awesomely titled Marijuana – The With Roots In Hell. There’s even one, simply called Marijuana, in which John Wayne battles the evil weed! Actually, strictly speaking, he doesn’t. It was originally shot with him fighting smugglers of booze or guns or something, but in a re-dubbed foreign version, it was tweaked so that drugs were involved to make it more spicy. But for the ultimate examples you need to skip ahead a decade and watch movies about LSD. By that stage things had loosened up a great deal, but it was still usually necessary for the film to demonstrate that taking this stuff, or indeed anything illegal, would somehow or other cause you to die. Notable examples include The Trip (in which the protagonist actually survives, though there’s very little evidence that anyone involved with the script had ever dropped acid), and Psych-Out, which is quite good in a trashy kind of way. Bruce Dern’s in both of them, and Peter Fonda crops up in most such efforts, probably because they were two of the most spaced-out actors in Hollywood (along with Jack Nicholson, who co-wrote the script for Head, in which the Monkees have to pretend that the movie isn’t about drugs at all but aren’t fooling anyone – especially during the psychedelic mermaid scene, or the bit there they dress up as Victor Mature’s dandruff, or – well, the whole film, actually). Of course, returning to the initial subject, you have to include Glen Or Glenda? Tim Burton almost made the premiere of that movie the culmination of his Ed Wood biopic, because it’s so much more heartfelt than Plan Nine From Outer Space, but decided not to because he would have had to rewrite history too much, even though it would have been a more satisfying ending. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll be surprised by how good an actor Ed Wood is. He’s not great, but he’s far better than you’ll expect. And he clearly means everything very sincerely indeed. And then Bela Lugosi pops up and spouts absolute nonsense for no reason at all, accompanied by stock footage of stampeding buffaloes… Because the producer, who had a very vague idea what a transvestite was, had already printed posters advertising a film called I Changed My Sex in the belief that this movie would cash in on the recent surgery to create the world’s first transsexual, a 15-minute mini-documentary about an ambiguously-gendered person who lives as a man before having surgery to become the woman she technically is was tacked on at the end. The producer also added a lot of utterly irrelevant footage in which slightly past-it burlesque dancers are flogged by Satan to satisfy patrons expecting something sexy. No explanation whatsoever exists for who Bela Lugosi’s character is. The best guess is that God is not dead, just mad, and for some reason, Hungarian. Moving on to something tangential but not completely unrelated, here’s a name which, if you don’t know it (which you probably won’t because he’s pretty obscure), you’ll thank me for. Larry Blamire. This guy started out writing plays, one of the more successful of which was about a talentless but eternally optimistic director in the 1950s trying to raise cash to make the worst B-movie ever. It eventually occurred to him that it might be even better to make the actual movie! Which he did in 2000 – it’s called The Lost Skeleton Of Cadavera, and it’s a genuinely affectionate tribute to no-budget 1950s B-movies that is in every detail indistinguishable from a real one – there are no anachronisms, and the genuinely competent actors were instructed to pretend to be terrible actors honestly doing their best. It did very well at a handful of festivals, but poorly on general release because the trailer was so authentic that people assumed it was a joke because this movie couldn’t possibly exist in the 21stcentury. Still, it cost less than $100,000 so they got their money back, and went on to make more films. Dark And Stormy Night is a perfect recreation of a thirties Old Dark House movie, with some of the silliest dialogue ever committed to celluloid (actually Larry Blamire isn’t a pedant, and embraces the digital medium because it’s so much cheaper). They had to do a lot of retakes because the entire cast cracked up every time Mrs. Cupcuboard opened her mouth – she’s a spirit medium who is genuine, but too bonkers to be the slightest bit useful. And I still can’t believe that The Manhattan Transfer (remember them?) were persuaded to sing the theme-song for The Trail Of The Screaming Forehead. Unlike you, I don’t like Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes. To my way of thinking, there’s something not quite right about deliberately making a bad film because you have neither the money nor the talent to make a good one. But Larry Blamire takes it to the next level and creates a true homage, not a cynical parody. One of the greatest cinematic missed opportunities ever is that the Finlanders responsible forIron Sky didn’t call up Larry Blamire and say: “Hey! We’re making an outrageous B-movie pastiche about Moon Nazis, but since we’re trying to write a comedy in a language we don’t speak too well, could you possibly help us out with the script?”Thanks Count and Bast!