Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger has something in common with lesbians. No, not that...it's the white mohair rug and martini glasses.
How far will a girl go to satisfy her needs?
That Tender Touch is part of a one-two punch of "dykesploitation" being released on Tuesday by Wolfe Video (see also Just the Two of Us reviewed by Judge Becker). Was the late sixties a more tender, accepting time where lesbians were in—as long as they could throw a decent cocktail party? Or was the era a harsh nightmare for ladies who loved other ladies? Put on your hot pants, relax in the lime green settee, and let's find out.
Facts of the Case
Older Marsha (Bea Tompkins, Heaven with a Gun) and younger Terri (Sue Bernard, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! ) have an unspecified relationship that finds them living alone together in a condo. Terri is spooked by men when a cad tries to force himself upon her on a secluded beach; in a fever dream, she wanders into Marsha's room and their physical relationship commences. The pair lives in lesbian idyll until Ken (Rick Cooper, Tora! Tora! Tora!) enters the picture. One of the women will cope, and one will not.
That Tender Touch has the most average love triangle plot ever. The only twist is that Marsha is jealous of Ken, not of Terri. Otherwise, it is your standard "Girl meets girl, girl loses girl to boy, girl becomes a desperate third wheel and goes crazy" story. In fact, if you substitute Marsha for Adria, 1969 for '70s, and nix the miniature golf, That Tender Touch is indistinguishable from Judge Becker's summary of Just the Two of Us: After a sleepover turns Sapphic, our ladies are lonely no more, and they begin doing things that all lesbians do, like riding merry-go-rounds and playing miniature golf. Unfortunately, Adria's lust becomes wanderlust when she meets a hunky (in that '70's way) actor. But the dour Denise still has a thirst that needs to be quenched.
That Tender Touch is presented in the scratchiest transfer you'll ever see, features mediocre acting, almost no plot, and no recognizable actors (unless you picked up the December 1966 issue of Playboy and caught Miss Bernard in the centerfold). So why the DVD release now, almost 40 years after the release of this completely average film? Because camp and lesbians are both red hot right now. You probably already know about the lesbian thing, but camp is also on the upswing. Warner Brothers has just released four Cult Camp Classics boxed sets, which is a pretty strong litmus test for what's in.
In that regard, That Tender Touch has it all. Bea Tompkins is so overwrought that I thought she was going to wring moisture out of herself. Sue Bernard is centerfold worthy, has some brief nude scenes, and spends the rest of the time posing in mod frocks and animal costumes with little pointy ears. The English Maid outfits have to be seen to be believed; how do those skirts defy gravity so effortlessly and yet not show too much? How many slinky, predatory female neighbors can move in on Marsha in one brief film? If you're thinking single digits, you're right, but only barely. Throw in the fever dream that kicked the whole thing off and the final goodbye written in lipstick on the mirror, you've got yourself a genuine hoot. Because That Tender Touch takes itself so seriously and misses the mark so widely, all that's left is to laugh with bemusement and marvel at the '60s decor.
If you put up a disclaimer that the video quality sucks, does that absolve you for having sucky video quality? Wolfe seems to think so, and maybe they're right, but this is one wretched looking print. A thick green line runs down the middle of the screen for much of the run time, and there are pervasive white scratches and black spots. There is literally not a clear frame in the transfer. Colors are washed out and values fluctuate widely. That Tender Touch is not important enough to warrant a restoration, but if you're going to take the trouble to release it to DVD, how about a nod to the format? Chapter stops or an extra feature, perhaps? To their credit, Wolfe provides a great looking cover and a miniature press booklet that showed how the film was marketed.
Despite the brief nudity by Miss December and some French maid fetishism (or English maid, whatever), That Tender Touch is not an erotic film. It isn't a complicated film either, nor does it feature a great plot. It's strengths are lesbian innuendo that has to be seen to be believed and an 8.6 reading on the Camp Scale. Appreciators of That Tender Touch will probably be disappointed by this DVD, as it presents the film in its least favorable light and has no extras. Even so, fans of the weird, wonderful sixties might want to pay it a glance anyway. If Radley Metzger had a sense of humor and toned down the aesthete angle, he might have directed something like this. Sure his career would've been over, but we'd all get a good laugh out of it.
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