DIRECTED BY: Richard Robinson
FEATURING: Leslie Uggams, Michael Christian, Shelley Winters, Ted Cassidy, Slim Pickens, Dub Taylor
PLOT: Traveling alone in the Deep South, a black singer’s car breaks down and she finds
herself the “guest” of an obsessive wannabe country singer and a town full of redneck oddballs.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This drive-in “hicksploitation” movie features eccentric characters, one or two moments of deliberate surrealism, and a few other scenes that may be unintentionally surreal, but ultimately it doesn’t rate as much more than a curiosity. Those who like their 1970s exploitation movies on the sleazy and offbeat side will want to take a flyer on Poor Pretty Eddie, but it’s not quite the lost cult classic it’s being advertised as.
COMMENTS: In its opinion of Southern hospitality, Poor Pretty Eddie falls somewhere between Deliverance and 2000 Maniacs. The flick plays on urban prejudices about backwards bumpkins, and on fears of being a stranger in a strange land with inscrutable customs where tribal loyalties are more important than justice. An interesting, colorful cast adds flavor to the sordid (but not graphic) scenario, which revolves around rape and racism. As Liz Weatherly, future TV actress Leslie Uggams is, unfortunately, about as appealing as her last name. In the beginning she projects the persona of an urban snob rather than a harried celebrity seeking privacy; by looking down her nose at the hicks, she threatens to move our sympathies towards her future tormentors. When she turns victim she becomes unforgivably passive, becoming a symbol of oppression rather than someone we identify with. Michael Christian, who also found steady work as a TV character actor, does a fine job as the deluded Eddie, dressing like Elvis in a powder-blue leisure suit with rhinestone spangles for an awkward “audition” for an unappreciative Uggams. Acting as a foil to Eddie is hulking handyman and dog breeder Ted Cassidy (“Lurch” from the Addams Family); he’s smarter than he appears and, since he fights back, he becomes more sympathetic and easier to root for than the violated singer. Slim Pickens hams it up as the local sheriff , pushing his Southern accent and mannerisms to the outer limits of yokeldom; you spend every scene just waiting for him to take his hat off his head, slap it against his thigh and holler, “Yee-haw!” (Pickens features in one of the more memorable and absurdly creepy scenes, when his salacious interests trump his police professionalism as he interviews Uggams on her rape accusations). Of all the talents slumming in this sleaze pit, however, it’s Shelly Winters who rates the biggest guilty pleasure as an aging, drunken ex-“entertainer” desperate to keep boy-toy Eddie doting on her for her final few years of fertility. The jousting of this gang of characters was bound to produce a quirky dynamic; at times, directorial choices push it into the realm of the decidedly weird. The standout scene is one of the oddest rapes ever put on film: it’s intercut with footage of dogs mating, and scored to a one-night-stand ballad with a country chanteuse singing “you won’t have to say you love me in the morning…” The tone of the scene is so jarringly inappropriate and delusional that it puts you on edge for the rest of the film. Other strange scenes include what might be a second rape, filmed in a deliberately surreal style (Eddie appears in a rear view mirror), and a kangaroo court trial held at VFW Post 7430. Although Poor Pretty Eddie won’t ever be confused with an art film, it is sort of “serious exploitation.” While the acting’s campy and uneven, some of the audiovisual techniques are effective, as when the sound is eerily slowed down when Uggams clicks her camera clicks until it sounds like a gunshot. And the film’s depiction of rural racism isn’t overplayed, and actually rings true for the time and place; not everyone in the film is a bigot, and those who are don’t advertise it in public. Yet that threatening subtext is always in the background even at the beginning, as the white characters stare at Uggams like she’s been beamed down from another planet. (Her complete lack of concern as a black woman traveling alone in the rural South in the early 1970s makes her seem simultaneously arrogant and naïve, adding to our difficulty empathizing with her). Overall, Poor Pretty Eddie‘s mix of serious themes, drive-in sleaze, absurdly exaggerated characters, dissonant bluegrass music, and stabs at arty surrealism results in a feature that, while no classic, is more interesting and singular than it had any right to be. Recommended for specialized tastes.
So deep in the back catalog that it’s a bewildering choice for a Blu-ray release (canonical classics like Taxi Driver only recently debuted in the format, after all), Poor Pretty Eddie nonetheless receives a complete restoration and special edition treatment, including a commentary track from cinematographer David Worth. (This review was based on an earlier, bare-bones DVD release).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: