We have been remiss in failing to cover the weird movie saint, W. Merle Connell (1905-1963). Do not judge us too harshly. Since Connell didn’t have an angora fetish (like Ed Wood) and failed to live out one of his seedy plot lines by actually getting himself murdered (a la Al Adamson), there is no colorful biography to help promote him. Rather, what he did leave behind is a jaw-dropping body of work, comparable to cinema’s most memorable hacks. Many of Connell’s films are deadly dull, failing to live up to their colorful titles (The Devil’s Sleep, and Untamed Women). However, Connell managed to bring us two dreadful gems that belong in the cult movie annals, which is enough to qualify him for 366 beatification.
Test Tube Babies (1948) was distributed by Screen Classics and produced by George Weiss (yes, that’s the same guy and same hole-in-the-wall outfit that brought us Glen or Glenda). Cathy (Dorothy Duke in picnic dress) and George (William Thomason in white shirt and tie) wish they could stay out in the country forever. But George doesn’t make “the big money” as a junior architect.
“You make more than enough to support a family,” Cathy replies, assuring him of his manhood, in idyllic harmony with chirping birds.
George and Cathy really want to have sex, so they get married, buy a suburban cookie-cutter house, and run through the beach with sand caressing their young lover toes. Are those dark clouds on the horizon?
Wearing her short, frilly, white nightie, Cathy serves George strawberries and cream. George is so happy that he gives Cathy a husbandly smack on the rump. The wallpaper blushes. George is worried. His buddy Frank Grover is making eyes at Cathy.
Frank is taking George to work, but Frank had too much lemonade last night. Later, when Frank and Cathy are alone, he calls her “sugar” and slips her some tongue, but Cathy won’t tell! She’ll just do a little strip tease for hubby and invite him to bed.
Gee, all of George and Cathy’s friends are having babies and baby showers. So what do George and Cathy do? They ain’t go no babies, so they can’t have a baby party. Cathy opts for a swinger party. Yup, we now become privy to one of those parties, where everyone drinks too much “lemonade” and starts necking and wife swappin’ (sort of). A bleached blonde shows up (?) and does a burlesque dance (?!?). Shore ’nuff—someone gets jealous. It all ends with a catfight and some half-nekkid tramp losin’ her top while wrasslin’ on the floor (take that, Will Hays!) Cathy waxes perplexed and, just so you know, with all that going on, Connell still manages to make it all boring, which is no easy accomplishment.
Cathy is all mixed up. Everybody else has babies. Her marriage just ain’t what it should be without a baby.
“Yeah, you’re right Cathy. These parties ain’t no fun. We need a baby, NOW!”
But see, George and Cathy have been married a year now, and she still ain’t knocked up!
“Well, something shoulda happened by now. Maybe we need to go to a—whatta ya call it?”
“Yeah, one of them.”
“Yeah. Forget these dumb parties. We’re gonna go see the gynecologist!!!”
That gynecologist (Timothy Farrell, who also payed the sex-changing Doc, in Glen Or Glenda) shockingly tells Cathy to get undressed for the examination. Shortly afterward, Cathy asks:
“How does it look to you Doc?”
“I see no reason to worry about your physical condition, dear. You can bear children. I think we better look at George now.”
“It can’t be George, can it Doc? I, mean, it can’t be the man’s fault?’
George is dumbfounded.
“George,” says Doc, “it is common for someone not normal, like you, to have a normal sex reaction and still be sterile. In each drop of reproductive fluid, known as seamen, there are as many as 15 million tiny sperms capable of inducing pregnancy. Enough of them could be housed in a thimble to father the entire world ten times over, but not you, cuz’ your sperms are completely dead.”
No, Cathy, afraid to tell ya, George just can’t man up. George looks at the carpet a lot.
“I don’t want no adopted babies. I want one of my own,” cries Cathy. “What is this artificial insemination?”
“George,” says Doc, “why don’t you sit down and have a cigarette?”
George buys a whole carton. He even buys Doc a pack.
Doc takes Cathy into the back room. Shortly after, the two emerge.
“Why don’t you have a cigarette, dear,” Doc tells Cathy. Doc gives Cathy a smokey treat. Hmm. Just how artificial was this insemination? This is drama, Georgie!
Bring out the chips, dips, cigarettes (sanctioned by Doc. Thank you Doc!) and acid to find out if Cathy is gonna have a… Test Tube Baby! What does Frank have to do with any of it? What do test tube babies have to do with artificial insemination? The world may never know, but perhaps a gifted 366 reader has more insight (or acid) than I do. But, know this—George Weiss says we all need to avoid parties and start havin’ babies to make even the dourest, dullest marriage work! America has been blessed by Screen Classics for bringing family values to our homes. Hallelujah! Make America Great Again.
Drum roll, please…. next up: The Flesh Merchant (1956, aka The Wild And The Wicked)! Yes, 8 years have passed now since Test Tube Babies, and Connell still can’t direct actors worth a damn.
Paula (Lisa Rack) answers the door only wearing a shirt. It’s her sis, Nancy (Joy Reynolds) come to live with Paula (uninvited) in Hollywood. Paula is a successful fashion model, so Nancy’s gonna be one too. Nancy shows Paula her hourglass figure:
“How do you think I’ll do?”
“Kid, go back home. I wish I could… be married, have a couple o’ kids. Why aren’t you married to what’s-his-name?”
“Johnny? He’s a nice guy, but how much can ya take of hangin’ around the drug store on Saturday night? All that place has got is a linoleum floor. They never heard of upholstery. I bet you get to go to places with carpet.”
What Nancy doesn’t know is Paula ain’t no fashion model, she’s a …Flesh Merchant! Nancy takes a detour from the bus stop straight into a studio of… artists ! She don’t know about those painting types (although I don’t recall any models that voluptuous from my art school days). Or maybe she does, cuz’ she instinctively strips down . Throw in some stag music, a little peek-a-boo, and Nancy seems a natural posing in the buff. Bernie invites her to “the Colony” (aka “Merchants of Sin”). Bernie gives Nancy some money for a bathing suit and calls Vito:
“Vito, no rough stuff.”
See Vito’s henchman do a Z-grade Chico Marx impersonation. See Mr. Barker trying to get fresh with Nancy. See Nancy Run. See Vito get rough. See Nancy learning real quick how to cooperate. See Nancy get nice jewelry and clothes real easy. See the G-Men get wise on this Colony racket. See Vito headin’ for a comeuppance. See Paula get really mad. See Paula’s Flesh Merchant speech. See some hearts change.
Yes, it zips that fast. Try to keep up. Have buddies and hot wings ready. Tell someone to bring the ranch dip (you’ll need it to cool off.)