Overnight may make you man and wife
Shugfoot Rainey, besides being saddled with a name that only Mammy Yokum could envy, is aging rather poorly. Actually, since he owns many Texas tea pumping petrol platforms, his financial status is well within Metropolitan's actuary tables. But this crocked near-corpse has issues. He no longer loves his live-in shrew, the worn out waitress Linda. He wants some fresh flesh in the form of his niece (?) Jonelle, otherwise known as "Babydoll." This bitchy Betsy Wetsy left her miserable mark on the small southwestern town she escaped from five years earlier. She wooed and wounded the local police chief. She rebuffed a portly swamp swine that now sells moonshine made of muskrat mash. And when the mottled old man simply ups and kicks the slop jar, she will inherit his festering fortune without ever once having to "fluff" his pillows. But there is one thing standing in her way, besides being as dense as a dead donkey and constantly under sexual assault. Turns out that five years of personal humiliation for a homestead have made Linda, Shug's discontented concubine, his legally binding Common Law Wife. And unless this stupid stripper can find a way of removing those marital rights, Babydoll is destined to be the punchline for all future gold diggers in training.
Meanwhile, over at the Peckinpaw place, there's a whole other May to December dilemma going on. Seems almost upon his autumn years Albert has up and married Jennie, a rather antiquated looking twenty year old. Problem is, she is not completely comfortable with this whole child bride thing. She especially hates Al's afternoon "naps," which consist of the two of them playing bedpost pocket pool. In reality, Jennie would rather fondle the fetlocks of stable man/boy Mario, the kind of readily available, slow-witted beefcake the agricultural community is overrun with. So while my prissy pony and her ready to ride jockey make monkey noises in the manger, angry Al schemes to imprison and then inter the devious duo into their own family field plots. Jennie has other plans, though. Give her a nominal nest egg and some of Mario's manly manipulations, and she's ready to cut bait and cut out. But just like everything else on the Peckinpaw Plantation, the best laid plans of vice and sin are thwarted by incompetence and heart palpitations. It's up to a local loose lady named Lulu to teach everyone a lesson in the fine art of freedom through fornication, especially the jittery Jennie: Wife/Child.
Get ready to meet the most mean-spirited, ornery as an abused mule Miss ever to lie and cheat her way to a few dozens bullets in the backbone. Jonelle, duplicitous center of Common Law Wife, is one ticked off traveling tartlet. Like Rosa Moline mixed with a mudbug, this livid longshorewomen in an ill-fitting corset makes David Lynch's Angriest Dog in the World seem genuinely jovial by comparison. In the litany of firebrand babes, she's Nero's Rome, Mrs. O'Leary's Chicago, and Andre Rison's Atlanta love nest all rolled into one. Refer to her as Madam seX. Call her The Bad Really Gone to Seed. But make no mistake—this is one exotic dancer who would sooner boogie on your grave than in your lap. And why shouldn't she be—she's actually two totally different actresses essaying the same role for the sake of a motion picture mongrel. One of the wild revelations we experience watching Common Law Wife is that it is one great big cinematic Certs, offering two totally divergent, separately made movies melded into one off the wall offering. Director Larry "The Eye Creature" Buchanan originally set out to make a quagmire saga about moonshiners and water moccasins. He even called it Swamp Rose. Well, along came the backers with a far more salacious title and exploitable idea—common law marriage and an old man's incestual lust for his slutty kinfolk—and somehow, like a rude Reeses, they managed to get marsh into their malefactors and visa versa. You can tell where the footage fluctuates; Larry B. shot his sputum in color and it is poorly turned monochrome here. And yet, it doesn't distract from enjoying this kitchen sink meets kinescope high drama. Thanks to the two brazen baby dolls, there is a gratifyingly cruel and cranky core to this awkward amalgamation.
But you ain't seen nothing until you've seen Jennie: Wife/Child. Scratch that, you ain't "heard" nothing, since Jennie is a strange exploitation experiment: a movie that cuts back on the curvaceous body count as it adds story and plot point specific rockabilly music. That's right, like a countrified Chanticleer or a Boggy Creek Greek chorus, the action onscreen is explained and interpreted by such wacky, wonderful tunes as "My Birthday Suit," "Revenge," and, a personal favorite, "Tender Grass." The notion of having some artificial articulate be-boppin' while the characters recreate Tennessee Williams by way of Ernie Ford is just too original to not be instantly ingratiating. Just when things threaten to go belly up, another noxious novelty tune comes crawling off of the soundtrack, and before you know it, you could not care less if the storyline makes a lick of sense. You're too busy gyrating in your gym shorts. In actuality, there are some strange visual aids that pop up every now and again like leftover directives from a debauched silent film to help move this mess along (since the narrative and acting sure fails to do so). About every five minutes, old fashioned title cards appear, warning characters and winking at the audience as they prod the production forward to its stogy ending. Honestly, Jennie is from the Postman Always Sings Nice school of double dork indemnity. While our overheated honey is busy with the farm hand in the hayloft, the supposedly wealthy wiseguy is off in the woods digging graves. But a funny thing happens on the way to the double cross. The crotchety Albert Peckinpaw is born again and forgives Jennie for all her transgressions. And it's all thanks to local town tramp Lulu, who shows the old coot the healing powers of hot barn sex. Jennie: Wife/Child makes it very clear that, unless you give your underage spouse a silk dress every now and again, you're bound to find her fleecing the hired help.
Something Weird does something, well, unusual with the presentation of these titles on DVD. Instead of offering trailers and shorts, they determine that another dose of hillbilly oriented heinousness is in order. So out goes the normal bonus bonanza and in comes stumbling Moonshine Love, an incredibly over-plotted piece of pseudo porn that starts off as a bank heist, twists into a tale of an amnesiac and a distiller's carrot caressing daughter, and ends up recalling the criminals for a little tributary cash grab. All the while, overly long sequences of bumpkins bumping uglies are inserted into the narrative to dramatize the absolute depths of despair these characters exist in. As the sole major extra, it's way too much of a yucky thing. As for the rest of the disc, we witness the wild world of print preservation in all its scattershot simplicity. When it wants to, the neutral scheme of Common Law Wife can look very good. Remember though, this is a mixed bag of mediums, and every time Buchanan's decolorized sequences come onscreen, it's like watching a stag film starring Uncle Milty. Jennie looks more consistently clear, but has continuous scratches flashing through its entire running time. But at least Something Weird bolsters the bargain by giving us a commentary track, even if it stars the rather confused creator of the brackish part of Wife. Director Larry Buchanan, spouse feeding him information off mic, marvels at how his once spectacular swamp footage was destroyed and integrated into someone else's idea of a school for scandal. He also obsesses a little too much on the "natural beauty" of star Lacey Kelly, even when he is confusing her with the ditzy double. It's an entertaining, if sparse, narrative and aids a helpless audience in understanding the mindset behind films of this backwoods bent.
Common Law Wife / Jennie: Wife/Child may seem like sordid sagas of matrimony gone mad. But in reality, they're just an excuse for intense marriage counseling.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
• Audio Commentary on Common Law Wife by Director Larry Buchanan
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