Today we tend to primarily (or solely) think of “Roadshow” films as “filler” exploitation films for the pre-television era. However, Wikipedia’s entry on “roadshow releases” is a useful in-depth tool on their history, revealing the initial understanding of the term was as a format, rather than genre. Of course, we’re not interested in “classy” roadshow features like Ben Hur or Cleopatra, but in the sexploitation features that took to the road to show audiences glimpses of forbidden fruit—movies that couldn’t be booked in regular suburban theaters because of their salacious content. The first part of this series dealt with the phenomenon in the repressed Forties; for this installment, we move into the swinging Sixties.
Damaged Goods (1961) introduces us to the archetypal early Sixties couple. They are practically the plot of the Everly boys’ hit “Wake Up Little Susie,” except that she didn’t fall asleep and her name is Judy. Judy’s man meat is Jim, an auto mechanic who likes to take of his shirt while elbow deep in grease. Judy gets lectured by her old man for carousing in one of those nefarious “car clubs.” In addition to listening to the geezer drone on and on and on about how these young whippersnappers are all up to no good, she has to stare at bad parental haircuts and Mormon wallpaper. Poor Judy gets grounded. Jim gets distracted by Kathy, the new brunette in town.
Kathy shows more cleavage and leg than Judy. Poor Judy has to leave town, which opens the door to a weekend of sin for Jim and Kathy , which includes roller coasters and forbidden kisses.
Kathy has a penchant for shoplifting, cigarettes, and ménages à trois. Judy likes to iron. Who is Jim going to pick? Choices, choices! A trip to Tantalizing Bubbles, the local strip joint, should take Jim’s mind off things. Well, that didn’t work well, because it takes Jim straight to weenie roasts and beer with Kathy. Lions, tigers, and bears! Oh my! Judy’s out, and Jim’s breaking Biblical taboos with Kathy.
Jim’s got the clap now, and has to endure a Mormon-styled sex education film. He and Judy survive it. We don’t.
The Hard Road (1970) opens with a dizzy migraine of an edit, honing in on newspaper headlines about sex, hair spray, sex, LSD, sex, tripling illegitimate birth rates, sex, deformed babies, sex, heroin, sex, gun-wielding glue sniffers, sex, pot, VD, sex, the drug called speed, sex, Frisco juveniles, and more sex. That all adds up to a hard road. You know things are going to get bad when we become privy to roadshow mise-en-scène via delinquents with Beatles posters in their rooms.
Seventeen-year-old Pam got knocked up, and has to give the bastard up for adoption. Mum (Liz Renay ofinfamy) and Dad are cold as ice. Being forced to endure animated sex ed films, Pam goes into labor with one of the most howling examples of unconvincing acting imaginable. As the narrator informs us: “Pam is left with emotional scars, realizing she can never be a kid again!”
Director Gary Graver (Al Adamson’s cinematographer) catapults us from one pendulum plot point to another. Graver should have written the playbook on how to make an exploitation film. One brief vignette with Mum and Dad arguing in bed about Pam’s stained reputation and neighborhood gossip should be enshrined forever in amber as the quintessential example of naive art. It is every bit as stylishly shot as anything from. Mom, in a Tammy Faye wig and ultramarine dress, could be a prototype for John Waters’ heroine from A Dirty Shame (2004). Framed in the most garish red and whites (think stuck in white trash hell), the scene may be one of the most beautiful bad taste moments in all of cinema. Dad, in his Ernest Angley toupee and chalky PJs, holding a whiskey glass, contrasted with an eavesdropping Pam adorned in purgatorial pink and pigtails, are the cherries on top of the icing on top of the cake.
Graver takes a groovy right to turtle necks, ankle-long sideburns, Kong-sized belt buckles, pot smokers wearing sunglasses at night, mini-skirted babes, pant suits, leather vests, white tile, kitsch lamps, and black velvet posters.
One gorgeous montage consists of tie-dye hippie girls, wooly beards, a cool cat party, lessons on how to inhale, french kissing through mountains of hair, and a bedded couple doing the nasty (a dizzying overhead camera mimics the old one-two in case we miss the point).
Our heroine fails to lean from life lessons and classroom propaganda. After running away, Pam trades her pigtails for a miniskirt and is reduced to wandering the psychedelic streets, making out in corners, making out in cars, and soiling couches. Yes, Pam has become a sex addict!!! Eye shadow, drop earrings, needles, lava lamps, beads, Chinese lanterns, and Volkswagen vans are not far behind.
Graver’s film is a smorgasbord of everything you expect or hope to see in exploitation. His kinetic editing and camerawork literally takes you to Americana heaven. The Hard Road is replete with delightfully nonsensical moments, such as a screaming druggie fleeing through a street tunnel and an animated film of the syphilis worm!
Defining moments include the resident doctor, clad in orange and white, with a perfectly lopsided pencil-thin mustache, giving a lecture on the dangers of VD in front of his office Rembrandt, followed by a tranny in prison. What more could you ask for?