Saturday, October 13, 2012

Life is Such a Drag: "She-Man" (1967)

Don't you hate when you are not only the victim of blackmail, but when the blackmailer also insists you change your gender? Come on, who's with me?

Albert Rose (Leslie Marlowe) is a spoiled rich young man with a domineering U.S. Senator father and a submissive mother (you know, like a Kennedy). Albert fought in Korea, and now spends his days laying around a pool trying to score with bikini-clad floozies (you know, like a Kennedy).

Albert receives a mysterious letter concerning a secret from his past. He is quickly flown to a dark hotel room in Florida. There, he is played audiotape recordings from fellow soldiers in Korea. The soldiers swear Albert is a deserting coward, a secret that could destroy his father's career. The blackmailer demands twenty thousand dollars and one year of servitude from Albert. The soldiers who made the statements mysteriously died and cannot be proven wrong, so Albert signs a fake letter to his father stating he will be in South America for a year and reports for his slavery.

Albert's blackmailer is Dominitra (Dorian Wayne), who bares a striking resemblance to Barbara Eden. Dominitra's home is staffed with "transformed" blackmail victims- men must dress and act like women, and women must dress and act like men. Quicker than you can say "Chi Chi LaRue," Albert Rose is shaved, plucked, and stuck in a dress, with his name changed to Rose Albert. Albert also falls for another servant, Ruth (Wendy Roberts), and the two team up to try and stop Dominitra, whose blackmailing schemes grow by leaps and bounds.

This is a very early film from the late director Bob Clark, who also co-wrote the silly screenplay. The film has elements of Ed Wood and Doris Wishman, and is often unintentionally hilarious when dealing with such "daring and provocative" subject matter. We even get a real live medical doctor to book end the movie, pleading for understanding of transvestites and other maladjusted social misfits who seem to be all over the place ruining everyone else's swinging mid-60's good times.

While the big surprise ending is no surprise, and the musical score serves only to test your tolerance of bongo drums and the xylophone, Clark's direction is top notch for such silliness. The most notable scene is the dark hotel room where Dominitra first plays the soldiers' tape recordings for Albert. There is just one light in the room, we barely see anything, but it is the closest the film ever comes to generating any suspense. The black and white photography is clear, the hair and makeup convince, and Clark makes the most of his low budget (the unmarked Mercedes-Benz "taxi," Dominitra's huge yet sparsely attended birthday party).

"She-Man" is trapped in a netherworld. Homosexuality and lesbianism are barely touched on. Nudity is obscured and fleeting, the violence is mild, and even the profanity consists of a few hells and damns. Yet, the film tries so hard to be a shocker of the grindhouse variety, when in fact its tepidness is almost cute. Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video, I don't know where you find this stuff, but keep it coming! (* * *) out of five stars.