Monday, September 12, 2011

The Working Girls (1974) review


Sarah Kennedy (Honey), Laurie Rose (Denise), Lynn Guthrie (Jill), Mark Thomas (Nick), Ken Del Conte (Mike), Solomon Sturges (Vernon), Gene Elman (Sidney), Cassandra Peterson (Katya)

Directed by Stephanie Rothman

The Short Version: A witty script and some likable leads enhance this last film from female exploitation extraordinaire, Stephanie Rothman. Her script is an unusual interpretation of the modern feminist slant without an overabundance of the typical misogyny and exploitation of women found in so many similar films. Mixing the salacious with the serious, some fans may be frustrated or even bored that this is more a prat fall-less R rated THREE'S COMPANY episode instead of a wall to wall T&A flick. Nonetheless, it's refreshing to see a movie such as this attempt something different. Still, most will likely find more interest in Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson's bosom bearing burlesque strip dance eighteen minutes into the feature.

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity***

Honey Wholesman (wholesome?), a spunky and liberated young woman, comes to Los Angeles to find work. Totally broke, she ends up meeting two women, Denise and Jill and they end up sharing a place together. Denise, a painter, ends up in a relationship with a street musician Honey had brought home one evening; Jill becomes a stripper and falls for the son of a mafia boss while Honey--who finds she has a knack for the stock market--ends up working for an eccentric and quirky millionaire. Their sexually liberated and free spirited lifestyles bring them troubles, but through resourcefulness and ingenuity, it's just one more day of life in the big city.

Reportedly Stephanie Rothman thinks very little of her days toiling in the down and dirty outer reaches of the exploitation universe. She has nothing to be ashamed of as she was very good at making them. For THE WORKING GIRLS, Rothman also wrote the script which is punctuated with witty lines and a strong feminist slant. While there's plentiful nudity (both male and female), the director was obviously going for something different than the typical T&A being offered up by both Dimension and their bigger rival, New World Pictures. Rothman had previously directed THE STUDENT NURSES (1970) for Roger Corman and THE WORKING GIRLS is structured in much the same way coming off as Dimension Pictures version of the NURSES film, which begat a string of sequels including PRIVATE DUTY NURSES (1971) and CANDY STRIPE NURSES (1974).

Rothman's film is frequently fun and slightly compelling in its depiction of ambitious, smart women during the Sexual Revolution of the 70s era and also of others living in the world around these liberated and head strong females. While it's not as salacious as it could be, the Dimension brass--in typical 70s independent fashion--accentuated the sex aspect of the script in the films trailer and even went as far as to insinuate the three main characters as gold-diggers! Also of note, Rothman personally supervised this transfer taken from the original 35mm archived print.

If nothing else, THE WORKING GIRLS's biggest claim to fame is the appearance of Cassandra Peterson as Katya, a busty stripper at 'The Tiger's Tail'. Prior to cementing herself within the minds and libidos of young men of all ages with her enduring characterization of Elvira, Peterson takes it all off here during a burlesque strip session eighteen minutes into the movie. Almost unrecognizable without her memorable 'Frank's Bride' bouffant, Peterson's voice is unmistakable. Her sultry bump and grind, tit twirl-moneymaker shaker recalls her later high gloss Vegas style teaser-ama showstopper that concluded her underrated big screen version of ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK (1988).

"What's the matter, haven't you ever seen a banana before?"--In the trailer, there's an unused take where you see the actor with a banana in his hand while saying the line.

The score by Michael Andres contains some rollicking cues and melancholic sounds and like so many movies from this decade, there's a croonin' harmonica backed ballad (It All Depends On Me) that echoes the plight of the character(s). Aside from the exploration of strong women struggling in a male dominated world, there's also a hint of the way changing times were viewed by the general populace. Sydney, the owner of the Tiger's Tail, mentions how he's losing business to "today's generation" when people can go and ogle naked bodies on the beach for free instead of paying to watch someone strip. Also, at the end, Denise breaks the news to Honey that they're being kicked out of their apartment as the buildings owner disapproves of the living arrangements between the three girls and one guy. This foreshadows the hit sitcom THREE'S COMPANY (1977-1984), a series based on a popular British sitcom entitled MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE from 1973.

In typical 70s fashion, the advertising promotes these women as anything but sophisticated. However, the characters of Honey, Denise and Jill are anything but dumb, helpless and self-serving. Honey has a degree in math, Jill is working her way through law school with plans to be a lawyer or a judge and Denise is an accomplished painter and apartment manager. The men in their lives are involved in criminal activities or just plain out there. It's interesting how males are perceived here as a bad element, but not without some remnants of a conscious. Some are viewed as cowering to an outside force ie Sidney handing over a chunk of his clubs profits for a mafia protection racket. Not once do these women entertain thoughts of criminality although Honey flirts with it upon getting a "job" from a prospective "employer" that wishes her to kill her husband--"Run him down with a car and then back over him a couple of times to make sure he's had it." Turns out the woman's husband was a wife murderer.

Speaking of Honey, she's the most complex and three dimensional of the three women. Upon first meeting her, you'd expect her to be the stereotypical dumb blonde, which she is not. She has this sort of Betty Boop voice which may annoy some, but it fits her personality like a glove. We never learn much of her background, or where she comes from, but she's definitely a likable soul after the opening scene wherein she gets a meal, but has no money to pay for it. The owner has no work for her but suggests one thing in particular she can do for payment. Knowing full well what that is, Honey proceeds to strip down claiming she can't come back later so they can just get it on right there. The owner freaks out and promptly boots her out of his establishment.

"This is gonna be an artistic first. The first nude with his arm in a sling."

Getting off to a nicely humorous start, you'd think you were about to enjoy a sex comedy of the 'Small Town Girl In the Big City' sub-genre, but you'd be mostly wrong. Watching the film, one can't help but wonder if Rothman were truly attempting something different amidst clashes with the studio to amp up the 'Sugar & Spice' potentiality of the script. The film does often tease this, but rarely goes all out the way other similar movies would have gleefully embraced. On that, THE WORKING GIRLS (1974)--Rothman's last film as a director--is a unique, playfully entertaining semi exploitation picture that doesn't go quite far enough to satiate the sex and sin crowd and contains just enough raunchiness to betray its serious feminist aesthetic. For the serious 70s fan and drive in enthusiasts, THE WORKING GIRLS get the job done.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD

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