Judge Bill Gibron used to be ignorant about birthing babies. Now, thanks to these sleazy examples of road show shilling, he understands the miracle of reproduction in all its blood-soaked, biological glory.
You May Faint…But You'll Never Forget!
It's ultra-conservative America post-World War II and our heroine, high school dropout Sally Kelton, enjoys carrying on like a 'tween in the midst of a boy-band bender. While taking in the act of miserable pianist Steve Ryan, she is instantly smitten. She pines for the cranky keyboardist while the only interest he returns to her derives directly from below his waist. When he prepares to leave for a gig in Capital City, Sally gets desperate. She gives up her virtue in a veiled attempt to keep her musician man. He leaves anyway and, when Sally is caught coming in late by her prudish parents, she decides to leave home. An overnight bus trip to her lover's lair leads to heartache and Sally is left relying on a kindhearted wounded war vet/gas station owner named Drew Baxter for support. Our petrol pumper gives Sally a job, treats her like a queen, and uses that most seductive of '40s/'50s aphrodisiacs—the model railroad setup—to win her over. Soon, though, the pangs of pregnancy hit, and Sally senses she'll eventually become another "with child" outcast. She ends up in a home for unwed mothers and decides to give up the kid for adoption. When Drew finds out, he is taken aback. Sally spirals into a world of maternal mental illness, eventually attempting to baby-nap a toddler. Sadly it seems that she'll be trapped in The Wrong Rut forever.
Soggy son of the soil John lives with his wife and her old crone parents on the only chicken farm in the entire star of Georgia that kills more hens than it harvests. No matter how hard they try, these pullets keep pushing up the daisies. Everyone points to big dumb dork John as the reason for the dwindling chick populace. Sick and tired of being pegged a cold-blooded capon killer, our angst-ridden agriculturalist heads into town and gets good and liquored up at the local diner. A wicked waitress with a garter of gold shows him the slightest bit of empathy, decides to pick him up, takes him home, and, in a single fade-out, gives the lunkheaded Lloyd a super-sized case of rural chapped hips—also known as syphilis. Asymptomatic most of the time, John finds out about his genital jaundice during a citywide campaign for VD awareness. Upon learning of his sullied loins, our hero tries to break the news to his bloated better half, but she's a country gal and can't cotton to things like doctorin'. Eventually she gives in and, after treatment, worries that she'll give birth to some monstrous flipper kid. Even worse, John goes into a deep malaise, dead convinced that he's given his baby a Birthright founded in deformed DNA.
The Wrong Rut—actually a renaming of the 1949 novelty Not Wanted—has quite a complicated past. Unlike other road show attractions, this film didn't start out as a sex hygiene extravaganza. Indeed, famed B-movie maker Elmer Clifton (he was responsible for Assassin of Youth and several journeyman Westerns) had hoped to forge a dramatic diatribe on the evils of premarital passion. Unfortunately, he never got to see the fruit of his labored labors. Struck down by a cerebral hemorrhage during filming, it was up to his famous friend, actress Ida Lupino, to finish the film. It was her first foray into mainstream moviemaking and it's fairly easy to tell where one auteur exited and another amateur arrived. Lupino was always acknowledged as a student of the Method and it's interesting to watch her cast careen between emotion and excess. Sometimes they are merely icons in a studio system storyline. At other instances, however, they seethe with an inner angst that clearly carries over to the audience. At the center of this scattered soap opera is poor sad Sally, played by the like-named nobody Sally Forrest. She is sensational here, playing pie-eyed and pissed on with equal poignancy. With her fragile china-doll features and glamour-gal-gone-to-seed persona, we truly identify with this little lewd girl lost. That's why it's so sad that road show hack Jack Lake got his hands on the film and befouled it by intercutting some pointless surgical shenanigans (what did the raincoat crowd want with a non-private-parts delivery of a child?) and playing it in drive-ins for decades. What was surely an attempt at a decent, controversial drama became just another part of the exploitation freakfest, along with the photocopied sex manual and the "visiting doctor" giving the mandatory intermission sales pitch.
At least Birthright makes no bones about its "education via exposé" ideals. A creation of the Georgia Department of Health, this hour-long example of personal preaching has real-life citizens of a backwater burg reenacting a particularly prickly bit of sexual scare tactics. Everyone here, from real-life farmer Boyce Brown (as John) to Mr. and Mrs. W. O. Jarrett (as the elderly in-laws) adds an air of realism to the rube-based narrative. Sadly, no one here can maneuver above a monotone…both verbally AND physically. The plot is peppered with innuendo and suggestion, but the realities are always drenched in rational moralizing. As the scenes stumble along, delivering their kitchen-sink situations with standard sudser subtlety, we wonder what all this has to do with live birth footage. Indeed, it seems the more suitable approach would be to discuss social diseases and their visually vile symptomology. But no, Birthright is another retrofitted release, a film befouled by the insertion of a delivery room dynamic. Originally, baby-birthing footage was incorporated into exploitation films to—believe it or not—give the grindhouse gang a shot of genitalia without having to worry about censorship laws. Oh, sure, the moral watchdogs wailed when they learned that full-frontal female nudity was being featured in a film. The excuse here was kind of clever. Since it was footage of a medical procedure, and since science was not pornographic, offering up such material avoided the onus of offensiveness. Soon producers were piling on the pregnancies, using the births of twins, triplets, and other biological variables to differentiate their drama from all the others.
As they did with their previous DVD presentations of these exploitation rarities, Something Weird Video tries its best to provide the most consistent transfers possible. In the case of The Wrong Rut, the movie looks amazing, nicely monochromatic and lacking substantial scratches or defects. Certainly, when the OBGYN elements enter into the mix, the 1.33:1 image goes goofy, jumping and skipping in badly-edited obviousness. Still, compared to the dull and faded façade of Birthright, The Wrong Rut looks great. When taking into consideration the overall scarcity of Birthright, though, the full-frame transfer of the regressive rural cautionary tale is pretty good. In both cases, the Dolby Digital Mono is a mess. Flat, tinny, and drowning in distortion, the sad state of the source material means SWV can only provide aurally insufficient mixes.
As for bonus features, the differing elements of the road show experience are spelled out in the excellent added content featured on this disc. There are three additional short subjects, each one dealing with the depressing truth about how gosh-darned gruesome the birth of a baby actually is. With "Life and Its Secrecies," "Life Begins," and the sex-manual pitch for "The Art of Love," we witness firsthand what it must have been like to sit in on one of these perplexing presentations. The footage is quite foul (the doctors all wear long black gloves that give their limbs a kind of horror-film fiendishness) and the experts espousing on life's randy realities sound like they're shilling stereo equipment, not guides to Eros explained. Along with some amazing trailers, the typical gallery to the gratuitous, and a couple of excellent road show-only extras (including a complete program pitch and an interview with "hygienist" E.J. Shaefer), this DVD does its best to dramatize the truth about the tawdry tent revivals of the era, a time when the science of sex was used to front for a more perverted purpose.
So what if The Wrong Rut ruins a perfectly playable drama with a lot of bilious bodily fluids or Birthright rambles on like a hick hung over on homemade apple wine. 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. Still, people got what they paid for—surgical wounds and ballooning wombs. The Wrong Rut and Birthright may be relics from a bygone era, but at least they disgusted us for the proper, biological reasons.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
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