You don't see it much anymore. When it does arrive, it's usually an event based in evangelical preaching or infomercial hard selling. Back in the day through, it announced the arrival of a media experience unrivaled in the history of the locale. The limited engagement would set itself up within a theater or drive-in. Banners and flyers would adorn the city streets. Interviews and publicity stunts were staged. And when it was all over, when the singular production was completed and the last of the receipts tallied, the ballyhoo would be repacked and stored away in the trunk of a car or truck, ready to move on to the next venue. From the 1930s to 1970s, the traveling roadshow movie was a foundation of the exploitation market. Usually offering a tame film with "live child birth" or "sexual hygiene" (or a combination of both) footage inserted into it, the combination con man/carnival barker movie promoter scoured the back water burgs of American looking for a location and lineup of fresh pigeons to pluck. The huckster would weave his way from town to town, territory to territory setting up his shop, preparing his "medically approved" hygiene and sex ed "books" for sale and publicizing the production with cheap but effective advertising campaigns, complete with sidewalk displays and in-theater gimmicks. Every movie guaranteed graphic scenes of actual childbirth and/or cases of venereal disease. And at a particular point during the film's running time, the projector would be stopped so that an "expert" in the movie's field could pitch a product for sale. Sadly, over time, the traveling theatrical exhibit has fallen by the wayside and simply died out. But thanks to Something Weird Video and their collection of DVD titles Street Corner / Because of Eve and Damaged Goods / The Hard Road, we can again revisit those days of social engineering via the city-by-city traveling scare tactic.
Facts of the Case
In typical SWV fashion, the two DVDs reviewed here each offer a double feature of decidedly bizarre classic exploitation films surrounded by a wealth of bonus material. In the case of Street Corner / Because of Eve, each film tells its own tale of misplaced virtue and the gruesome horrors of nature's biological functions.
Street Corner (1948): Poor Lois Marsh. She's got one mixed up teenage
life. Graduation is just around the corner and she can't decide whether to go
Because of Eve (1948): Sally and Bob have been married for about a year, so naturally the social order demands they procreate. When our gal Sal feels the morning need to upchuck her Special-K, she and hubby run to kindly Dr. Revealasecret, who recalls the first time the couple came to visit his all-inclusive medical practice. Back then, our happy couple was merely looking to get a simple blood test to consummate their impending marriage. But the illuminating MD congratulates Sally for getting her childbearing brooder back in shape after the birth of her first, bastard baby. He then blurts out at Bob that, unlike the bill for this in-office visit, he can forget all about that bad case of chapped hips he had a while back. The mutual moralizing shock that, at one time, each had wandered wantonly down the path of premarital partying without inviting the other, nixes the upcoming nuptials. But our bomb-dropping Doc has a way to save the ceremony. After long confessions of the soul, it turns out the same guy who knocked up Sally saved Bob's life in WWII. This coincidental comrade threw his fertile loins on a live grenade. Common bond established, our medical mensch tops off this round of revelations with a triple feature of grotesque graphic V.D. and baby birthing films. The biological superiority of America is preserved.
The second DVD, which offers the movies Damaged Goods and The Hard Road, focuses mainly on the "social" disease side of sin and sluttishness, with a sampling of drug addiction horrors thrown in to cover all the illegal good time bases.
Damaged Goods (1961): Future female Fanny Farmer of America Judy just loves the dickens out of her surfing, mechanically minded hunky meat Jim. Their pre-Pomp and Circumstance days are spent making cow eyes at each other, cruising the boulevards, and longing for the day when they can express their love physically. But when new girl in town, the dark and moody Kathy, shows up a few days before commencements, Jude's suddenly got competition for Jim's jollies. Still, everything seems to be going just swell for our teenage lovebirds. That is, until Judy heads out of town for the weekend and Jim slinks over to the seedy side of town to taste the pollen of the local B-girls. Several "Coolie Cups," one non-healing sore and a weenie roast confession later and Jim is dumped by Judy, humped by Kathy and is visiting his track coach to ask about the facts of life. A trip to the clinic confirms the bad news: Jim's got genital rabies. And worse, he has to watch an educational film about just how funky his case of love lumps can get.
The Hard Road (1970): Poor Pam wins the award for being pretty pathetic when it comes to picking friends and associates. After some member of the Hitler Youth knocks her up, she is sent to a home for wayward young girls until the bun in the oven is baked, boxed, and black marketed. She then immediately goes out and gets a raging case of gonorrhea, requiring a trip to an overflowing to capacity clinic (not to mention a scene of Liz Renay attempting startled reaction shots). Next on her list of dimwitted liaisons is a roommate arrangement with Gina and her abusive, heroin addicted man slab Jim. Pam falls for the dragon chaser, and before you know it, she has to turn tricks for the needle jockey to provide him with a daily dose of slack enhancer. And it seems that every time our tawdry teen queen (oh yes…she's supposedly 17 through all of this!) gets into another fine mess, some overly Vitalis-ed spokesman has to show up onscreen and show us graphic footage of private part pustules. Eventually Jimmy learns the joys of the county jail's padded cell and Pam licks a sugar cube and runs out into traffic. The last hard road our ho has to tow is the one that crushes her skull.
Many of us carry the trauma of school based sex education, either from the classroom or the playground, like a semi-permanent blemish, the kind of abrasion that only a few hundred trips to a therapist or a dozen or so viewings of Talk Sex with Sue Johansen can cure. Probably it was our best friends who first introduced us to the lurid, non-animalistic world of the birds and the bees. Usually it was with a dirty joke ("Forty-nine nuns went 'oh my.' One went 'he he he'…") or a randomly overheard snippet of genital hearsay ("When you 'touch it' too much, you use up all your baby juice"). Other times it was unclean hours spent perusing a copy of >National Geographic or Mad Magazine. Then there were those rare life-altering moments of shame that you'd never admit to outside the realm of open court. Like when you paid $1 to sneak into the boy's bathroom at lunch and witness the unveiling of the weird slow kid's newly sprouted pubic hairs. Or the time you spied in a neighbor girl's bedroom window to watch her adjust her bra straps! [Editor's Note: Anyone getting the impression Bill's not just talking hypothetically? Me too.] The only thing that kept most of us out of serial killing was the equally wanton disregard for our tender psyches by the school system itself. Most of us had the evils of the world, from acne to reefer, forced down and out of our fears by the notorious educational film and/or filmstrip; those 14 to 20 minutes exercises in scared straight squeamishness. Who can forget the acid freak jumping off the building, pretending he was a stupor Superman? Or the young lady who failed to wash her face three times daily with the sponsor's scrub and ended up with a mug so filled with oozy whiteheads that she resembled Jupiter's volcanic moon Io? Among the many layers of Hell in Dante's den is a special stratum for the horrors of Health Class.
Let's face it: those hygiene films were nasty. A veritable fest of nappiness. They obviously referred to Janet as Ms. Jackson. When faced with the social stigma stain of venereal disease or the poor career choice of unwed parenthood, the makers of these motivational movies decided that a pus-warts-and-all/vaginal fountains of goo/actual cesarean surgery brow-beating was the way to go. Nothing was left to the imagination or the examination. John Bender's invitation to see visuals of a man with elephantitis of the nuts had nothing on these actual moving pictures of people with diseased, infected, swollen, slimy, jaundiced, jerked, folded, spindled, and mutilated privates. Just imagine episodes of TLC's The Operation with the added attraction of neo-primitive 1940s medical techniques, and you start to get an idea of just how unnerving these shorts were. Parents always glow about how "amazing" the actual birth of their baby was. They keep videotape mementos of the moment and even secure the placenta for some future holistic hoo-ha. But in the hands of exploitation filmmakers and over-moralizing madmen like Sid Fields, the educational sex hygiene film took on a quality of queasiness unmatched in the annals of awfulness. Even the military made less sensationalized versions of these tainted tell and show alls. Now, there is no doubting the potential effectiveness of these films, since they definitely affected your decision about having tainted nuts. These were purposefully painful movies made of images so foul, so bereft of relief that the only thing that kept them from converting an entire juvenile nation to self-immolation was their usual monochrome make-up. Imagine the insidious impact of seeing it in color!
So as part of Something Weird Video's celebration of the road show flim flam, we get to revisit those glory gory days of Human Sexual Reproduction 101. Lucky viewers that we are, we get to take a ride down the river Sycks and meet the Scylla and Carbides of freak mythology, Syphilis and her hideous strep sister Gonorrhea in all their spirocheted and impure glory. It's easy to see why these films were used as part of the shuck and jive of the traveling movie marketer. After all, an exploitation movie was supposed to give the audience something they'd never seen before, and unless they were stationed in the South Pacific during the majority of the Axis/Allied aggression, most in attendance probably had limited opportunities to witness disgustingly swollen vaginas. And in the heavily censored Hays days, these full frontal vulgarities guaranteed an audience ripe for something ribald, a little bare (if sanguinely soiled) bodkin. Some of the old time exhibitors were convinced that many of the male movie patrons were so hard up for easily accessible shots of female genitalia that they would gladly witness the biological blood passing baby blight just to surrender the pink. Thanks to the puritanical nature of our more moral than Mormons social mindset, all those interested in some cinematic slap and tickle had to have theirs served up gory, flowing, and filled with disease.
There were four famous road show movies that made their money providing straitlaced tales of good girls gone ghastly and best boys branded bad inter-cut with a book or product pitch and the aforementioned sanitation propaganda. Mom & Dad and Bob & Sally, along with two of the films offered by Something Weird on these DVDs, Street Corner and Because of Eve set the standard for the whole con man craven carnival circuit. The films each had a similar set up. Young ingénue finds herself in a family way and seeks guidance from a friend or confidant. This leads to an abortion or an adoption. When eventually the medical and/or legal profession are called in to mop up the drippings, there would be a mandatory intermission, at which time an imminent health or sex expert would take the theater stage—live!—and work his verbal magic hoping that you'd buy his $1 guidebooks. Once the pitch was hurled and the scratch collected, the movie would return, and the onscreen officials roped into dealing with the carnal carnage would show "educational" films warning of the atrocious symptomology of V.D. or the real life bloody bedlam of a baby's birth. Then the film would end and the public would be sent away, deeply scarred but more than satisfied dollar and cents wise. And they even had a hastily put together product to plus size the experience. So what if the movies were little more than bookends for the disturbingly graphic short subjects, it was those inserts from whence the satisfaction, salaciousness, and serious dinero flowed.
So, what are these discs like, individually? Are they really that graphic? Are the films just boring filler for the festering flesh fiesta to come? Taking them individually and as part of the SWV disc offered, we can see that each has their flaws and mistakes, but overall, they are tepid reminders of a time when there wasn't a Dr. Ruth around to growl about the G-spot in her Slavic slang.
Street Corner: Lois March just may be the archetypical vice victim of facts-of-life-failing in this hyper-melodramatic tale of Murphy's Law run amuck. Seems the minute she accepts her doomed bo-hunk's advances and parts her sugar walls, she sets in motion a karmic chain of events that won't rest until everything she touched is either dead, diseased, or deeply embarrassed. Boyfriend wrapped around a tree and umbilical cord working its way toward the newborn's neck, loose Lois need answers and needs them fast. And where does she get them? At the same place she gets a Peanut Buster Parfait. This film does have some interesting things to say about the staff of your local diner. Apparently, when one wants a quick loan or the name of an illegal abortionist, Mavis behind the counter not only slings the hash, but can provide you some shady connections as well (this explains a lot about Denny's and Waffle House, huh?). As a movie, Street Corner is overheated in its didactic diatribes and legal pettiness, but it more than makes up for it in the sickening closing sequences that show the ravages of sin and sex in action.
Because of Eve: You have to love a movie that absolutely humiliates its main characters within the first 15 minutes of plot time. The scene where Bob discovers Sally's previous puppy push and in which our gal Sal learns that Robbie once sported sin blossoms is priceless in its indignity and indignation on the part of the couple. Here each one has danced with the devil in the pale moonlight and yet is determined to set the moral benchmark when the other confesses to contracting cooties. While it's all a little pat that the same guy who knocked up Sally was also Bob's best friend in college, a theoretical pal who got an unconscious Robert date raped, at least we get a quick resolution to the whole he sinned / she sinned stuff and cut right to the endless educational hygiene footage. Sure, Sally and Bob's courtship and coupling make for mostly interesting cinema, but how can they compete with a series of full frontal demi-gods exposing their idealized body for a crowd eager to develop body issues or a cartoon reconstruction of creation, complete with spunky tailed sperm shooting toward the ovum? And let's not forget the 24" mini-human prodding through the 4" feminine pathway.
The SWV Disc Presentation: In one word—fan-freaking-fatasmagorically-tastic! Knowing that most people will wonder why they should invest in fifty year old films that show their age, along with explicit depictions of disease and childbirth, the experts at Something Weird have turned this DVD into an in-depth history of the road show. Yes, both prints have seen better days and are full of scratches and damaged patches in all their full frame glory, but the mediocre transfer is compensated for by some of the best extras SWV has put out. They begin by having the unofficial spokesman for exploitation's rebirth—Mighty Monarch Dave Friedman—introduce Street Corner with a few words about the whole traveling movie ideal. Once the movie starts, Dave is also on hand to play imminent sexologist Curtis Hayes. While not as good as, say, the expert who appears on the SWV disc of Just for the Hell of It / Blast Off Girls, Freidman is still very convincing as the combination pitch man/sideshow barker. And as if that wasn't enough, Friedman provides an aural history commentary track on Corner to round out his part of the presentation with hilarious personal recollections and interesting anecdotes about life on the circuit (the legend got his start working with the epic Kroger Babb roadshowing Mom and Dad).
But that's not all. Along with Dave, we get two additional audio tracks for Corner that feature long interviews with exploitation entrepreneur Dan Sonney and road show veteran Claude Alexander. Sonny is as personable as Freidman and equally adept at story telling. One of his major claims to fame was using a real mummy, the corpse of turn of the century outlaw Elmer McCurdy, in his theatrical presentations. The story of how Sonny's father purchased the cadaver and where it ended up is just one of the many fascinating and funny stories in this wonderful Q&A session with Something Weird Video's Mike Vraney. Claude Alexander is much more matter of fact about how he became involved in roadshowing (he begged for a job) and his interview reflects this. He is a little lax on details and dates, but he can point out the reasons for Kroger Babb's eventual downfall and why the traveling movie experience is now as dead as dirt. Between the commentary and interviews we get a thorough, if far too brief, overview of this one time film business mainstay. To wrap things up in typical SWV style, there are several trailers for more of these cautionary chokeholds and wonderful galleries illuminating all aspects of the game, from advertising to just what was inside those highly questionable "books" on "hygiene and health." And as a grand finale, we get to see, in super saturated living red color, the grisly live delivery footage all over again in a wince inducing short entitled The Wondrous Story of Birth. Street Corner / Because of Eve is one of the best DVD sets SWV has put out, not only for its questionable entertainment factors, but also as a lesson in one of the forgotten aspects of motion picture exhibition.
Damaged Goods: This is more of an actual motion picture than an educational film-framing device (which is really how Street Corner and Because of Eve play). It sets up characters and takes time to develop their rather dim dimensions before plunging us headlong into a world of wanton desires and body sores. Sid Davis, famous educational film magnate, was often considered the king of the cinematic scare tactic. Some of his more notorious works include the child abduction short subject The Dangerous Stranger and anti-marijuana rant Seduction of the Innocent. Here his work is more subdued, if not any less sensationalized or silly. Judy and Jim are a seemingly perfect couple, even if sweet moody James seems always perched on the verge of tears. And Judy, well, she's too pie faced to be all that interesting. It's only when Elizabeth Taylor wannabe Dolores Faith shows up to do her Audrey Horne-iest best to land our lame lad Jimmy that we find an almost three dimensional character. The sudden inclusion of the trip to Sweetwater and the appallingly overplayed prostitutes (they all look like refugees from a bad Tennessee hair salon) turn a stupid sort of story about bad judgment into a teeming trailer trash heap. The hideous VD footage is just a cruel jock joke on an already disgruntled audience.
The Hard Road: You have to say one thing about director/photographer/editor Gary Graver. This is one cinematic savant that truly loves his jump cuts. Like one of those South of the Border leaping legumes that can't seem to keep its kidney shape stuck to the ground, The Hard Road is an extended exercise of rapid fire editing as an excuse for forward motion. Seems every time Graver wants his plot or scene to mosey along, he merely hurdles from shot to shot, angle to angle in hopes that by pure inertia, the cautionary tale he is telling will finally find its moral. But almost as much as he likes to leap frog between setups, our frantic filmmaker loves his elongated suffering set pieces. Our junkie Jim goes through a ten-minute withdrawal in jail, complete with shower scene and extended vomiting. Pam has a near nine-minute LSD trip that plays like she's starring in Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Acid Flashbacks. These two elements alone make The Hard Road a weird, warped movie experience. Now add the non-acting of stripper Liz Renay and the insertion of even more of that mighty tasty diseased genital footage, and you've got yet another prime example of alarmist dread-ucation to add to your DVD collection.
The SWV Disc Presentation: Again, Something Weird goes all out to try and wrap these movies in as much instructional content as possible. Sure, some of it overlaps with Street Corner / Because of Eve (especially in the galleries and radio spot/lecture materials), but since we are dealing with the more sordid side of sexual exploration, there is not quite the clinical approach to the subject as we got with the previous disc's chronological record. Both Damaged Goods and The Hard Road are presented in full frame color transfers that suffer from some bad color correction and age defects. Damaged looks like it was washed in old tea bags before being mastered, and Road still bears the scratches from the emulsion it was dragged through. Still, they look better than films of their age and rarity deserve to. As for bonus material, sadly we get no additional commentary tracks (drat!), interviews (rats), or full color baby birth canal close-ups with their cascades of claret (yeah!). But SWV hasn't forgotten the main purpose of these presentations and gives us more STD traumas in the form of short subjects V.D.! and The Innocent Party. Both take tasteless tales of the unexpected outbreak of social disease to new, nasty heights. While not as "educational" as the other DVD offered here, Damaged Goods / The Hard Road is still a welcome addition to any exploitation fan's library of mandatory roadshow reels.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Hygiene Footage In General: All one can say here is OUCH! Any human whose not immediately dousing their privates in pints of sulphuric acid and reconsidering the messy miracle of nativity after witnessing the short films and interludes added to the movies and DVDs offered needs to register themselves as a potential sex offender ASAP. These films are a truly tough, tender row to hoe. Most of the time, the footage is foul in its depictions of the ravages of venereal disease. But every once in a while the material can throw you a creepy curve that actually has you second-guessing the very existence of nature itself. While the word "spirochete" may seem goofy every time it's mentioned (it sounds like the name for a Spirograph's baby), the damage it and its butt buddy gonorrhea can extol on a human body are mind-bogglingly disgusting. But it's the birth of a baby footage that is probably the most disturbing thing about these discs. From the geyser-like gush of infant broth from between the legs of the mother to the sub-human stretching of a held in close-up crotch, the arrival of the infant's head (and the ham fisted manner in which these old fashioned doctors manhandle the newborns) seems like excerpts from a medical malpractice dossier. Once the huge metal "turning" forceps come out and the paddle like prods are carefully inserted into a waiting womb, all bets are off for a good night's rest. True to their intent, these cinematic panic campaigns will convince you never to have unprotected sex ever again.
Oddly enough, it didn't take much to replace the roadshow. Movies themselves became their own three rings circuses of over the top theatrics. The blockbuster mega-plex extravaganza with its multi-million dollar special effects and superstar names are in reality nothing more than gussied up examples of these traveling tricks, maximized. In this case, however, the hard sell shill comes before you enter the parking lot and continues as long as the merchandising machine can push their manufacturing into maximum overdrive. Who needs live birth of a baby footage when you've got the human zygote in regression antics of Jim Carrey or Robin Williams, each so in tune with their own inner embryo as to raise the distinct possibility of child abuse charges against themselves. And nothing spells social disease like the craven sexism of a McG Charlie's Angels movie, its main selling point being the mindless bumps and the rumps of its opinion poll mandated attractive female stars. So what if the evil abortionist in Street Corner is a ethnic slur on all foreign women with faces like fright masks, and the entire cast of The Hard Road make the residents of Spawn Ranch seem like socialites at a health spa, at least these films and their makers were honest and somewhat noble in their objectives. True, they wanted to cheat some change out of the wallets and purses of the panting, paying public. But they never tried to substitute computer generated "stunt men" for actual effects in order to prove their point. They just showed contaminated testicles and ballooning wombs. Street Corner / Because of Eve and Damaged Goods / The Hard Road may be relics from a bygone era, but at least they disgusted us for the right reasons.
Street Corner / Because of Eve and Damaged Goods / The Hard Road are hereby acquitted of all charges and are free to go and spread their horrific message to the masses. Something Weird Video is again commended for highlighting a lost aspect of the motion picture business that would not have been preserved for future generations if not for their good works. Case closed.
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