277. INDECENT DESIRES (1968)

“[Wishman] seemed genuinely surprised, even skeptical, that anyone could find her work worthy of study, probably because at first glance her films often reveal such trademark low-budget production values as dodgy lighting and interiors resembling rundown motel rooms. Yet behind her economically deprived visuals lie a wealth of imagination: wildly improbable plots, bizarre ‘method’ acting and scripts yielding freely to fantasy.”–“Incredibly Strange Films

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Sharon Kent, Michael Alaimo, Trom Little, Jackie Richards

PLOT: A nebbishy pack rat finds a ring and a blonde doll in a trash can; soon after, he sees secretary Ann walking to work, then sees the image of the doll overlaid on Ann’s body. Returning to his dingy apartment, he puts on the ring and gropes the doll, and Ann feels invisible hands on her as she stands by the water cooler. The stalker follows Ann home after she leaves work, discovers she has a steady boyfriend, and takes out his jealousy on the doll.

Still from Indecent Desires (1968)

BACKGROUND:

  • Doris Wishman, who had worked in film distribution, began her directing career after her husband died at a young age as a way to keep busy. She originally began working in the brief nudist camp genre, movies that rushed to exploit nudity after a New York judge ruled that stories set within the nudist lifestyle were not per se obscene. After the fad for nudist films, and the “nudie cutie” sub-genre that grew out of them, died out, Wishman moved into the production of “roughies,” a sexploitation genre with less actual nudity but more violence and kink. She was one of the only women directing such films at the time. Indecent Desires comes from the middle of this period, which lasted roughly from 1965’s Bad Girls Go to Hell to 1970’s The Amazing Transplant.
  • Wishman’s 1960s movies were mostly shot without sound. Dialogue was dubbed in later. She often directed longtime cameraman C. Davis Smith to focus the camera on ashtrays,  potted plants, or an actress’ feet instead of the person speaking in order to make the sound syncing easier later. This technique initially confused audiences, but later became recognized as a Wishman trademark.
  • Like most of her work of this period, Wishman used “Louis Silverman” as her directing pseudonym and “Dawn Whitman” as her writing pseudonym.
  • Terri McSorley‘s Staff Pick for a Certified Weird movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The image of the blonde trash can doll superimposed over Ann as she walks to work. This sight is the closest thing to a special effect to ever appear in one of Wishman’s movies.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Doll-groping transient; Babs makes out with herself; nude leg lifts

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Doris Wishman made sleazy sexploitation movies marked by their strange camerawork, unsynced sound, grimy settings, amateur acting by curvy models in lingerie, odd plots, burlesque house jazz soundtracks, and a weird, pervasive sense of erotic guilt. Indecent Desires features her usual shenanigans delivered in one of her most inexplicable stories: a tale of a symbiotic relationship between a stalker, a doll, and a beautiful woman that is so context-free it serves as a fill-in-the-blank sexual parable. It’s perhaps her strangest and most disconnected plot, which makes it the perfect item to represent Wishman on the List of the Weirdest Movies of all Time.

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Short clip from Indecent Desires

COMMENTS: Whatever her filmmaking talents, or lack of same, Doris Wishman was undoubtedly a pioneer: a woman directing sex films, the most male-dominated subgenre in a male-dominated industry, at a time when female directors of any sort were few and far between. The grand dame of sexploitation started her career with nudist films, got in hot water with the censors with 1962’s strangely conceived nudie-cutie Nude on the Moon, and made two films with Chesty Morgan (she of the 73-inch bust). Late in life she also dabbled in comedy (the softcore spoof Keyholes Are for Peeping), exploitation documentaries (the sex-change curiosity Let Me Die a Woman) and horror (the flop A Night to Dismember). But her richest, and weirdest, work occurs in the mid-to-late 1960s “roughie” era, when she turned to dark and depraved sexual morality tales like Indecent Desires. The running theme of these movies is women who, usually through no fault of their own, transgress the sexual mores of the time, and suffer bitterly for it. Her heroines are rape victims, adulteresses, prostitutes, or victims of “indecent desires,” all of whom are punished with death or bereavement for sexual activity (whether consensual or not) outside the sanctified bonds of marriage. Still, despite the undeserved, tragic comeuppances her characters suffer, Wishman retains an odd sense of innocence and naïvety she could never rid herself of. No matter how sleazy her subject, no matter the tragedies that befall her heroines, she never delights in cruelty beyond delivering the ironic “moral” lesson demanded by the plot. There’s violence, but Wishman never lingers on it, preferring to focus on her voyeurism on cheesecake shots of actresses lounging about their apartments in (usually black) lingerie.

Wishman’s visuals are noted for their odd angles and tendency to avoid filming the speaker when a conversation is happening. What is less often commented on is her use of music to fill the silences. The anonymous score assembled here, probably selected from a library rather than composed specifically for the film, is surprisingly well-chosen. Mostly vibe-heavy cocktail lounge jazz that supplies a kitschy period flavor, it drifts into dissonance when we see things from the stalker’s point of view, then turns Bernard Hermannesque and amps up the tension with horns and percussion. Although the music typically fits the scene’s mood, it can become humorous when there is a tonal mismatch, like the swinging mid-tempo ballad that accompanies Ann’s frantic pacing as she wonders if she’s going mad, or the happy Mancini-esque theme that plays when the stalker finds his lost ring and can resume torturing his obsession. The variety of music helps enormously, because Wishman’s dialogue is even sparser than usual in Indecent Desires; it’s almost like watching an early talkie from the dawn of the 1930s. (This scarcity of dialogue also means fewer of her trademark cutaways to plants or ashtrays). The villain never utters a word, adding to his creepy outsider persona. Like ‘s 1961 epic The Beast of Yucca Flats, Wishman turns the lack of proper sound from a detriment into an accidental virtue: it makes Indecent Desires more abstract and dreamlike, a psychodrama that is happening inside the character’s heads rather than out here in the real world.

There is not much to the plot. The unnamed (the credits call him “Zeb”) garbage picker finds a magic ring and doll, then fixates his romantic longings on Ann from afar. Is there a connection between Ann and the doll, or was she just the unlucky stacked blonde that happened to be walking into his field of vision at that moment? We will never know. In between the rare plot points, we see Ann and her friend Babs dressing and undressing. The stalker also wanders around the streets to pass time, collecting boxes of junk, at one point lucking out and finding a dime in a public phone booth. While spying on his obsession and her fiancé, the screen goes wavy and he has a fantasy sex scene with her. Babs gets drunk and has a one night stand with her vaguely European date. The vagabond accidentally loses his ring for a brief time and Ann thinks she has found a reprieve, but he finds it again and takes a belt to the doll (Wishman used shots of men beating women with their belts in more than one movie). Babs gets naked and does “ballet exercises.” Finally, Ann relents and tells her fiancé she’s been feeling invisible hands groping her; he’s more understanding than she had feared. Unfortunately, this decision to come clean and abandon her shame displeases her puppet master, who again takes out is romantic frustrations on the doll.

The “indecent desires” of the title may refer as much, if not more, to Ann as to her doll-fondling vagrant tormentor. Why else would her reaction to invisible caresses be shame? Why else would she push away her best friend and her lover in her time of need instead of confiding in them? Why else would she look so despondent and broken after invisible fingers bring her to a climax? Ann otherwise appears to have a normal and healthy sex life with her fiancé. But does she secretly long for bolder, more dangerous erotic adventures—does she harbor other desires which we might call, for lack of a better word, “indecent”? Wishman denied being a feminist[1] ; yet her female characters are always sympathetic victims of male aggression, constantly trying (but failing) to hide their sexuality in an attempt to meet the period’s restrictive standards of female modesty and chastity.

Although there have been some attempts to reassess and rehabilitate Wishman’s oeuvre by film critics, it’s obvious that her work is closer to than (or even the self-aware trash of , a confessed Wishman fan). Her unique style may make her an auteur, but she’s still an outsider artist, an oddity even in the exploitation field. Her bizarre camerawork and editing choices, the decision to focus of random items rather than the actor’s faces as they speak, arise accidentally as her patchy solution to the problem of shooting without sound. It adds a sheen of surrealism and unreality to her films, but an unintentional one. Her shoddy plotting, lack of ability to pace a film, and low production values mark the work of a filmmaker who, while quirkier than most hacks, is still a journeyman primarily focused on churning out exploitation product.

Indecent Desires may Wishman’s strangest story due to the utterly inexplicable doll-ring-woman nexus that forms the spine of the plot. 1965’s slightly more (in)famous Bad Girls Go to Hell, the story of a rape victim who kills her attacker and travels to New York City for more abuse only to discover herself trapped in a Twilight Zone-ish Möbius strip, would be an equally valid pick to represent her. My personal favorite movie from this period is the golden-hearted hooker tale Another Day, Another Man. It unfortunately has no narrative weirdness to recommend it, but it does have some of the finest cleavage and crotch zooms, and lingering shots of houseplants, in Wishman’s entire oeuvre. Another Man also has Wishman’s campiest dialogue, courtesy of a greasy pimp’s narration (“I didn’t have any trouble convincing her that sex was here to stay”; “my day at the bus station really paid off!”). So check out Indecent Desires, but don’t limit yourself. There’s a whole weird, wild world of Wishman out there for the picking, from lunar nudies to busty secret agents who kill with their boobs. Doris is an inexhaustible treasure for lovers of offbeat cinema.

Terri McSorely adds: A female director is a rare bird, and a female exploitation director is rarer still. Doris Wishman was nearly 50 years old when she co-directed her first film, 1960’s nudie-cutie Hideout in the Sun. She would direct 29 more features before her death at the age of 90 in 2002. Indecent Desires is certainly not the only Wishman film to qualify as weird, but I think it is her best. Sleazy degenerates and compromised curvy dames are part of the winning Wishman formula. The supernatural/magic ring thing was an enormously entertaining addition. Weird and wacky, quirky and claustrophobic, insalubrious and sordid; unforgettable images from beginning to end!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… an archetypal Doris Wishman experience. It’s all here. Voices rarely match mouths (or human beings). Any sort of forward movement, whether it be plot-centric (Ann’s botched suicide attempt) or technical (loads of foot shots), is inexplicable, and therefore beautifully surreal… Indecent is brief, unapologetic, and pervertedly abstract.”–Joseph A. Ziemba, Bleeding Skull (DVD)

“…groping a doll without a magic ring on your finger is basically an exercise  in pointlessness. However, with the ring properly attached to one of your fingers, you can transport your (indecent) desires onto anyone you see fit. I think it helps if the person you select bares a slight resemblance to the doll you plan on groping. But then again, I’m fairly new to whole doll groping racket, so I could be wrong in that regard. That being said, thanks to Doris Wishman’s decidedly off-kilter Indecent Desires, I’m one step closer to fully understanding the ins and outs of this frightfully unique and frightfully unusual phenomenon… I’m having a difficult time believing there’s a Doris Wishman film floating around out there that’s better than Indecent Desires.”–Yum-Yum, House of Self-Indulgence

“A pretty non-descript title hides behind it a vastly entertaining and never boring roughie, with supernatural themes and a typical downbeat Wishman ending. Highly recommended!”–Casey Scott, DVD Drive In (DVD)

IMDB LINK: Indecent Desires (1968)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Something Weird Indecent Desires – Not-safe-for-work (nudity) trailer for Indecent Desires

Doris Wishman * Great Director Profile – An excellent introduction to Wishman from Christopher J. Jarmick writing for Senses of Cinema, October 2002 issue, which includes a capsule review of Indecent Desires

Indecent Desires: Goregirl’s Dungeon – Two articles (one on Wishman, one on the Something Weird catalog) from our own Terri McSorley [AKA Goregirl] mentioning Indecent Desires. Also check out her image gallery for the film.

DVD INFO: Something Weird Video put out a couple of double feature Wishman discs; this one pairs Indecent Desires (buy) with the far less memorable adultery morality tale My Brother’s Wife. After watching the features, click on the menu link titled “Explosive! Lurid Stories of Lust” for the extensive extras: 15 Wishman trailers, two nudie shorts (“The Room Mates” and “Music to Strip By”), and a gallery of Wishman poster art accompanied by radio spots (which, unfortunately, are not for Wishman features). Sexploitation fans will consider this disc a near must-purchase.

  1. In an early 1980s interview for RE/Search’s “Incredibly Strange Films” she said that she was”not interested in women’s lib” and she didn’t see how anyone in the audience would be able to tell that her films were directed by a woman. []

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