Code Red // 1976 // 160 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // March 4th, 2011
Not everything that's undiscovered is a gem.
It really pains me to criticize good intentions, and as far as obscure exploitation DVDs go, Code Red's double feature of How to Score with Girls/White Rat might be the best intended release of the year. The company has gone so far as to run a notice on its website warning consumers about the poor technical quality -- film prints were long ago lost for both films, and the disc transfer is sourced from tape masters. While I've seen worse transfers, both films do look pretty terrible, particularly White Rat, which the site claims is sourced from a VHS dub and contains all the earmarks of an old tape, including creases, rolls, a few tracking problems, and at least one scene that seems to get stuck for a few seconds, reminiscent of a vinyl LP.
While the roughness of the transfers might be distracting, it's not the biggest problem here. Whatever goodwill Code Red might have engendered by tracking down these thought-to-be-lost grinders is mitigated by the fact that, while How to Score with Girls is silly fun, White Rat is downright awful.
A dull and confusing half-assed effort, White Rat opens with a narrator getting us up to speed on the various characters we'll be subjected to for the next 74 minutes. It's as gracefully done as those "Previously on" recaps from night-time soaps, only since we've never seen these people before, it doesn't make as much sense.
After our all-inclusive intro, we're dumped into the story of private dick Mike Capon -- yes, "Capon," as in "castrated rooster," the quirky name perhaps the most clever thing about the film. Anyway, Capon is married to Cindy, but he's having an affair with Alice, even though Mike was hired by Alice's wealthy boyfriend Alexander to protect her. Afte a blandly bitter argument with Mike, Alice goes into her low-rent building, only to emerge seconds later with what appears to be strawberry jam on her white sweater. Mike helps her back into the building but doesn't think to ask her who smeared the jam on her sweater -- an especially boneheaded miss, since it's not jam at all, but a badly rendered bullet wound.
The rest of the film gives us Mike trying to solve this uninspired killing. He does this by driving around a horrendously shot early '70s New York City and yelling at people. He yells at Alexander who, despite his fabulous wealth, maintains a shoebox office in the pre-Big Apple. He yells at one of Alexander's associates. He yells at sultry singer. He yells at his wife. What he doesn't do is assemble clues. He just kind of decides near the end who the killer is, and since he has nothing to really back it up, we just have to take his word for it. Along the way, we get a cock fight, a visit to a whorehouse, a couple of domestic squabbles, and some weird, discordant scenes of the pre-mortem Alice jabbering some deep thoughts on what life is like for a good-time girl.
White Rat is a horribly inept film. Horribly inept. Horribly. Inept. The story is so pointless, it's not even good for a distraction. Apparently realizing the lameness of the plot, director Steve Mullin tries to jazz things up with odd sequences like the one in the whorehouse (an excuse to introduce bare breasts and an agitated pimp) and some bizarreness such as a scene in which Mike has a conversation with two people that is intercut with him having a conversation with one of the people a little later -- though since neither of the conversations is especially interesting or relevant, it's just an off-putting technique that goes nowhere. Add to that cinematography that probably looked poor before this was transferred to VHS, the inconsistent and pointless narration, along with amateur night-level continuity atrocities -- it's day! it's night! it's raining! it's sunny! (they credited a script girl; she should have smeared jam on them) -- and you have a dismal non-noir that would have been better off remaining "lost."
How to Score with Girls isn't as irritatingly wretched as White Rat; as a matter-of-fact, while it's no found classic, this story of soldiers on leave in New York City trying to get "lucky" is a silly, sometimes sweet sex comedy that's a bit more charming than most of its ilk. The film is presented here under its original title, Cry Your Purple Heart Out -- because nothing says "sexcom" like war wounds -- and while it's also sourced from a less-than stellar tape master, the transfer is infinitely better than White Rat.
With its shots of mid-'70s New York -- including a pre-Disney Times Square -- along with a groovy, disco-heavy score that sounds like it was lifted from a porn movie -- How to Score with Girls works well as a nostalgia item. The long-defunct Screw magazine even plays a prominent role here, as does an audio clip from Let's Make a Deal.
The film itself isn't half bad as far as these things go. Ogden Lowell, who wrote and directed and produced and whatever else this indie, offers up a few pretty clever scenes, including a riff on foreign erotic "art" films that's pretty spot-on. The guys playing the soldiers are credible, there's a reasonable amount of nudity, and the script is far better than most current sex comedies. Even though the situations run the usual gamut of raunch, this is a good-natured, fun film that's a pleasant time-passer.
The only extra is a trailer for How to Score with Girls, also under the Cry Your Purple Heart Out title -- makes you wonder why Code Red didn't just market the disc under that name.
How to Score with Girls is a funny little nostalgia item that should have been paired with a better film. If Code Red had done that, and perhaps added a few supplements -- they mention on their blog that they'd been in touch with Ogden Lowell -- this disc would be an easy recommend. Unfortunately, the wretched Rat drags the whole enterprise down.
Split decision: Girls walk, Rats drown.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Code Red
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 160 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: How to Score with Girls
* IMDb: White Rat