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Case Number 17193: Small Claims Court

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Skin In The '70s

Blue Summer
1972 // 79 Minutes // Rated R
Teenage Divorcee
1972 // 79 Minutes // Not Rated
Summer School Teachers
1974 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Sometime Sweet Susan
1975 // 76 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Secret Key Motion Pictures
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // September 4th, 2009

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker was delighted this did not turn out to be about septuagenarians at a nudist camp.

The Charge

Enjoy the grindhouse experience!

The Case

Again.

Four drive-in/grindhouse-ish treats.

• Blue Summer (1973)
Young bodies on the prowl…they pay by the mile!

It's the summer before college, and Tracy (Darcey Hollingsworth, a.k.a. Davey Jones, The Collegiates) and Gene (Bo White, A Very Natural Thing) decide to sow a week's worth of wild oats before the business of real life encroaches on their good times. So they pimp out a Dodge bus with pastel press-apply flowers, a bitchin' eight-track stereo, and the words "Meat Wagon" on the sides and head out to smoke, drink, and wench away the waning days. Will they find a few willing women to satisfy their adolescent lust or return blue from this summer adventure?

• Sometime Sweet Susan (1975)
X the way you want it to be.

A young psychiatrist (Harry Reems, Every Inch a Lady) is fascinated by his new patient, a schizophrenic girl (Shawn Harris). Sometimes, she's quiet and sweet Susan; then, without warning, her personality changes and she's slutty Sandra. Can he penetrate her inner workings and get to the bottom of her troubles before his interest crosses professional bounds?

• Summer School Teachers (1974)
The student body always scores with Summer School Teachers!

Three buxom honeys from the sticks decide to travel cross-country to California and become Summer School Teachers. There's athletic Conklin (Candice Rialson, Chatterbox), who ends up forming a girls' football team. Photography teacher Sally (Pat Anderson, Angel of H.E.A.T.) is a free spirit who wants to hook up with a movie star. Denise (Rhonda Lee Hopkins, Cover Girl Models, a chemistry teacher, takes a decidedly un-teacher-like interest in a long-in-the-tooth JD (Will Carney). Will these corn-fed cuties make their mark as educators, or will they be the ones getting schooled?

• Teenage Divorcee (1972)
Where everybody gets it on!

It's San Diego, 1966, and Josie (Holly Mascott), Leonard (Tom Fielding, A Walk in the Spring Rain), and Ken (George Takei—yes, that George Takei) leave their spouses and move into a funky pad. They find communal living at first idyllic—lots of picnics and scenic rides on a tandem bike—then horrific—sex, drugs, and the rest. Can three divorced hippies share an apartment without driving each other crazy?

The Alternative Cinema family, including Secret Key, After Hours Cinema, and Retro-Seduction, puts out the best obscure sleaze DVDs, and Skin in the '70s is no exception. While not classics in any sense of the word, these four films are very cool finds, fun and oddly nostalgic. The films are spread over two discs, with Blue Summer and Sometime Sweet Susan on one and Summer School Teachers and Teenage Divorcee on the other, with a six-page foldout offering whatever background was available.

Both Blue Summer and Sometime Sweet Susan apparently started out as hardcore porn films that were re-edited for softcore releases. A quick glance at the casts would bear this out. Besides its leads, Blue Summer boasts multi-X stalwarts Eric Edwards, Chris Jordan, and Amy Mathieu, and was directed by porn auteur Chuck Vincent. Deep Throat star Harry Reems co-stars in Sometime Sweet Susan alongside old-school porn heavyweights Jamie Gillis and Jennifer Jordan. Both films were made in the early- to mid-70s, when the boundaries of "mainstream" were being re-zoned.

While Susan reveals its hardcore heart in its opening moments, Blue Summer plays more like a typical teen buddy film. The movie begins with a couple of funny scenes of the boys—in their matching striped shirts and bellbottoms—getting "The Meat Wagon" ready and interacting with their parents then taking to the road with a cooler of beer, endless smokes, and cheery '70s tunes. Both White and Hollingsworth make believable teens and turn in genuinely charming performances and play off each nicely, like longtime friends. The road trip vignettes run the gamut from dopey to endearing, complemented by a poppy original soundtrack by "Sleepy Hollow." Blue Summer nicely conveys what feels like to be a footloose, if not aimless, post-high school teen boy and seems a pretty authentic representation of its times, as well.

The production values are very high for a film of this type, with solid cinematography from Stephen Colwell. The first sex scene doesn't happen until 20 minutes in. There's a fair amount of sex, and the scenes are more graphic than you'd normally find in a teen comedy, but they are not the sum and total of the film. Even if the hardcore stuff were re-inserted, it's hard to imagine this well-made, amiable, and occasionally poignant movie playing the raincoat circuit.

While better than most of its contemporaries, Sometime Sweet Susan still comes off more like a traditional porn film than Blue Summer. The film opens with a fairly explicit sex scene that turns out to be a hallucination, and there are several softened up hardcore-ish scenes throughout.

One of the things that separates Susan from much of the rest of the smut bunch is that it's not a sex comedy but a sex drama, a psychological study/puzzler, though the actual psychological sleuthing on display here is less profound than you'd find on, say, an episode of Matlock. Still, it's reasonably ambitious for an originally X-rated film, and the sex scenes are integrated naturally into the story. You might or might not figure it all out early on, what with Susan's constant flashing back to memories of abuse from her parents and a couple of strange men, but the ending is impressively downbeat and affecting, and not in that "cautionary tale" way that lower-level grinders used to tack on.

Shawn Harris, who contributed a soundtrack of songs that comment on the characters and the action, is very good as Susan/Sandra. Reems is an ingratiating presence, bushy '70's porn star 'stache and all, and he's a decent actor. He might have actually done alright in the mainstream had Deep Throat not been such a scandal and sensation. Sometime Sweet Susan is a surprisingly well made porno drama and worth a look even for those not into "skin flicks."

The second disc in this set reminds me of a double bill I reviewed a couple of years ago: Welcome to the Grindhouse: The Teacher/Pick-up. Like that earlier set, this one features a low-rent drive-in movie about teachers from a "name" exploitation producer (Crown International for The Teacher, Roger Corman's New World for Summer School Teachers) paired with a ridiculously obscure hippie sex flick.

Summer School Teachers was produced by Corman's wife, Julie, and written and directed by Barbara Peeters, who gave us the lesbian soaper Just the Two of Us and the appalling but compelling trash classic Humanoids from the Deep. Summer School Teachers is trashally delicious, but it's no classic. A veritable compendium of drive-in clichés, it's more mix tape than movie, with plot strands woven in and out as needed, and conflicts introduced and resolved in less time than it would take to visit the snack bar.

Each of our teachers gets a brief nude scene, but overall, there's not a lot of sex or flesh on display here. Mostly, it's high jinks and suggestion, including a bizarre scene of a pair of old women eavesdropping on teacher Sally's date with a flamboyant Hollywood star. Perhaps the best thing about Summer School Teachers is its roster of cult favorites; besides Rialson, we get bits from Michael Greer (Fortune and Men's Eyes), Vince Barnett (Crazy Mama), and Corman perennial Dick Miller. It's not bad as far as these things go, just typical and pretty forgettable.

By far the weakest entry here is Teenage Divorcee, a ponderous happy hippie celebration that starts like a travelogue, slides into softcore, then goes full-bore soap opera to the end. Mascott, Fielding, and Takei strain to act free-spirited while the soundtrack cranks out aural-candy folk-rock. At one point, the trio hosts an orgy where everyone shows up dressed for a Renaissance fair but ends up naked and intertwined. Josie takes up with Fielding's Leonard, but things go bad when he starts dealing drugs and she suspects he prefers the kimono-wearing Ken. Tempers flare, tears flow, and the audience snoozes as the film lurches toward its conclusion.

Teenage Divorcee was originally released as Josie's Castle, which makes more sense since no one here is a teenager. This one's clearly been re-edited and re-released a few times; it's listed as being made in 1972, but the characters go to a drive-in to see The Arena, which wasn't released until 1974. Again, the cast here is a little interesting. Besides future Star Trek regular Takei, there's Fielding who, as Tom Holland, went on to a successful career as a director, with Child's Play his biggest hit.

The transfers for these films vary from acceptable to atrocious, with Teenage Divorcee generally looking the worst. All feature streaks and speckles, though they are not unwatchable. Audio is a simple mono track.

For this drive-in/grindhouse quadruple feature, we have the option to watch in Secret Key GRIND-IT. What is Secret Key GRIND-IT? It's an option that allows you to watch both films on the disc as well as trailers before and between. The same option was offered on the Welcome to the Grindhouse disc as "Relive the Grindhouse Experience," and Something Weird has a similarly interactive feature, "Let's Go to the Drive-in," on some of their discs. Unfortunately, of the three, Secret Key GRIND-IT is the weakest, since they aren't offering authentic trailers, concession stand ads, or shorts. They are just promos for compilation DVDs. Contrary to what the box copy would like you to believe, this is not the way to "enjoy the Grindhouse experience right in the comfort of [your] home." The six-page foldout, however, is typically great, with lots of well-researched info and trivia.

The Verdict

This is a very cool set of obscure oddities. Teenage Divorcee is a bit of a waste, and Summer School Teachers is Corman comfort food, but mainstreamed hardcore rarities Sometime Sweet Susan and especially Blue Summer make this worth seeking out.

Not guilty.

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Genres

• Comedy
• Drama
• Erotic
• Exploitation

Scales of Justice, Blue Summer

Judgment: 82

Perp Profile, Blue Summer

Studio: Secret Key Motion Pictures
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Blue Summer

• Liner Notes

Scales of Justice, Teenage Divorcee

Judgment: 50

Perp Profile, Teenage Divorcee

Studio: Secret Key Motion Pictures
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Teenage Divorcee

• Liner Notes

Scales of Justice, Summer School Teachers

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Summer School Teachers

Studio: Secret Key Motion Pictures
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Summer School Teachers

• Liner Notes

Scales of Justice, Sometime Sweet Susan

Judgment: 78

Perp Profile, Sometime Sweet Susan

Studio: Secret Key Motion Pictures
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Sometime Sweet Susan

• Liner Notes








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