Judge Brett Cullum valiantly descends into the depths of an exploitation flick starring Cher. Will he emerge unscathed from the morass of bad dialogue and false eyelashes?
Man in car: Hey, you wanna do a thing, honey?
Chastity is a rare glimpse of pre-plastic-surgery Cher (circa 1969) and an intriguing if baffling adventure best viewed well after midnight. Written, produced, and allegedly directed by Sonny Bono (although the film credits Alessio de Paola as the director), it's Cher's less successful equivalent of Purple Rain—a semi-autobiographical piece allowing her to simply be in a film that references her youth and struggles. It's smarmy camp at best, and it will probably find little interest outside of the Cher faithful.
Facts of the Case
It starts with a shot of girl running on a beach and then being picked up in the rain by a trucker. Cher (Moonstruck) plays Chastity, a hippie sociopath running away from something (which is not revealed until the film's final sequence). For some inexplicable reason she is afraid to let people touch her, and she constantly talks to herself in a painful neverending monologue. She spends time conning men out of money without letting them touch her (which makes me wonder why they put up with her). Chastity ends up meeting a nice Christian parking attendant and law school student named Eddie (Stephen Whittaker, To Sir With Love). She runs away from Eddie after one night at his house, however, saying she is going out for groceries. Her trip to the local store amounts to stealing a car, driving down to Mexico, and deciding to apply for a position at a Mexican whorehouse.
Instead of working there, Chastity becomes the love interest of the whorehouse's madam, Diana Midnight (Barbara London, The Biz). The madam makes her wear a yellow nightgown and ride amusement park rides, but otherwise she seems to care for her and never makes her work at the brothel. Yet Chastity finds herself drawn back to Phoenix to see if she could be happy as Eddie's wife. She has a revelation in the film's final sequences that seem to clear everything up…well, almost. It ends with another trucker trying to pick her up. He obviously did not hear the warnings on his CB radio about a girl named Chastity.
I've been subjected to many exploitation films of every genre, yet here is an exploitation film a husband made starring his wife. Is it a first? Certainly John Derek seemed to make a living exploiting Bo Derek, but Chastity predates their efforts by a good decade. 23-year-old Cher is treated like a fetish in every single frame of the film. There are many edits of this film out there—some with nudity and some without. Here we get a couple of fleeting shots of nude and nubile Cher, but there is never a sex scene. We're asked to ride along with her and try to love this spunky, sassy drifter who seems to have a heart made of brass to match her balls. The film was financed exclusively by Sonny and Cher, and history says they sank every last dime into this effort to make Cher a viable screen star. It bombed horribly in theaters and was regarded as laughable and excruciatingly bad. Chastity's reception forced the couple into playing small clubs, where they honed the henpecked husband and smart-mouthed wife routine that would make them into the megastars they became in the years to follow.
The tone of the film is morose and somber, and Cher seems incapable of doing much more than blankly stare at people through pounds of fake eyelashes in between making derisive quips at them. There are flashes of talent here and there, especially when she launches into the too-infrequent joke. She does have some spark that lets you know this girl is going somewhere, and she's impossible not to watch. She became pregnant with her daughter on the set and named her after the project. Chastity Bono grew up to be a very outspoken and political lesbian, which creates irony since the character of Chastity flirts with this lifestyle in the movie. Add to that the irony that Cher would later break into movies again with her lesbian role in Silkwood—and would still freak out when Chastity outed herself.
Chastity's got camp value of the truest kind (it's a bad movie that has no idea it is being bad). Elizabeth Berkley may have found her inspiration for Nomi Malone in Showgirls from the character of Chastity. The end of the film is supposed to make you understand why Cher plays all of her scenes as a standoffish confrontational emotional wreck: She wraps herself around a telephone pole and weeps and wails at her childhood when a trucker offers her a lift. Now don't get me wrong…I do that all the time (as I'm sure we all do [snicker]), but it seems a tad unbelievable. The acting is often stiff and wooden, and sometimes absolutely petrified. It's not easy to like the character of Chastity, and I would have given her $40 to get away from me, as many of the men in the movie do. Inexplicable things happen throughout the film, like when Cher renames Eddie "Andre Tayir" after a dancer in West Side Story. Maybe I missed something, but that didn't seem to make any connection with me. And the whole "I want to be a whore" theme seems daffy when she doesn't like men touching her. She justifies her occupation by saying "I can fish on Mondays and Tuesdays," which makes some kind of sense, I guess. Best reason for being a whore I've heard in a while. Somebody was smoking some weed somewhere when he was writing this. And sadly enough, somewhere a young Joe Eszterhas was taking notes. Sonny Bono wrote the script, so for a female character Chastity often sounds like a man's fantasy rather than a true woman in her thoughts and speech.
MGM gives Chastity a decent release with a good transfer for its age and independent roots. The opticals in the source print were never clean or pristine, so it's no surprise when in the opening shots of Cher running along a beach it looks like a large fake eyelash has affixed itself to the lens. All the problems seem to originate with the source; in general the transfer is artifact free, and there is very little enhancement on the edges. You get a flipper disc that offers Chastity in a widescreen 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer or a fullscreen pan-and-scan version. The soundtrack is a remastered Dolby mono mix available only in English. There are no extras to speak of apart from a dirty and grainy teaser trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Somehow this MGM release will be a source of excitement for many a Cher fan who has been clamoring for this release for years. Ever been to a Cher show? Picture the sight of a woman near sixty being suspended over the stage looking like a Vegas drag queen (all sequins, feathers, and glitter) while singing a U2 hit song, with thousands of screaming gay men adoring every minute. Cher has outsider appeal, and she somehow managed to become a gay icon of epic proportions. This fan base may champion Chastity because…well…she talks like a man and has all the sass and quick wit of a drag queen. That may be a good thing, since many women will find it misogynistic.
Cher is a talented woman, and you can see that here through the heaps of eyelashes, the inane dialogue, and the insane script developments. Chastity falls into the realm of camp classic. It entertains and baffles simultaneously, and I can see how some will find that appealing (chalk another one up to a wish list for MST3K treatment).
Chastity is lugubrious, ill-conceived camp. It's so bad it's funny at points. Still, I can't recommend it in good conscience, but I know some Cher fans out there will hurt me if I trash it any more—or worse, drag me to yet another stop in her neverending farewell tour. If you're a fan you need to see this. If you are not a fan you need to rent or buy something else (literally anything else), unless you view the whole mess as a significant archeological find—a pre-surgical-alterations snapshot of Cher. You have been warned.
Sonny loved Cher, so I can't fault him for making a movie to share his wife with all of us (no matter how ghastly it is). And thank goodness Cher had the sense to come back later in better films. The original distributor of the film is broke and out of business, and MGM gave this execrable title loving care in the transfer department. Nobody gets fined or any jail time. The victims are those who aren't Cher fans but have to watch Chastity. For them I offer a court-ordered "Share about Cher" support group who are baffled by her legions of fans. Unfortunately the court has no jurisdiction over "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves."
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