Monday, April 6, 2009

LADY STREET FIGHTER (1978?/1985): "I don't like this game. It's dumb!"

Honest: this was going to be "Holy Week" here on the blog. I was going to review some of my favorite Bible movies. I still plan to do a few before Easter, but there was this movie in the RareFlix Triple Feature Vol. 3 box set that was begging for me to see it before I turned my mind to higher things. And anything would be a "higher thing" after this.

The place: "Somewhere East of Los Angeles." The time: unclear. IMDB gives 1985 as a video release date for the film, but a British site says it was made in 1978. It looks like a 70s movie, but late enough in the decade to have absorbed the influence of National Lampoon's Animal House, as we'll see later. Things don't look very funny at first, since a naked woman's being tortured to death, beaten with a big stick, slashed with razors, shocked with electrodes, etc. "Where is it?" an inquisitor demands, "Where is the dog?" First she will not answer, then she cannot. Cue the credits and a queasy sounding variation on the music from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

We're at a Hollywood airport now, following a woman carrying a stuffed dog in a shopping bag. She's directed to a parking garage where a helpful driver attempts to run her over. But she's an agile target, leaping to catch an overhang as the car plows under her, and soon she has the drop on the driver, gun in hand. It's like the moment in The Wild Bunch when William Holden says, "If they move, kill them!" except that the words from our heroine are: "I owe you zis one,...Shorty!" as she shoots the driver in the shoulder.

This is Renee Harmon in the role of Linda Allen. Harmon is pushing fifty if we go with the earlier production date, but her accent is more like Leni Riefenstahl in her nineties. It's fingers on the chalkboard practically every time she speaks, and yet director James Bryan would have us take her as a sexy action goddess. We shall see.

The dead woman was Linda's sister, Billie. Linda turns to Len, an unsavory acquaintance, to find out what happened.

Len: Linda, I've been admiring you for a long time.
Linda: Schutt up und talk!
Len: You're a very exciting woman. Just like Billie.
Linda [elbows him in the gut]: Billie's got nothing to do vith it! Now giff!...She's clean, she's clean. Vat sort of game is diss?
Len: A little interoffice politics. You were set up kid.
Well, uhh... This time your cover worked a little too well, get it?
Linda [mournfully]: Billie... Vhy? I vas just a bag man, a runner.
Len: You got the hot stuff, baby. Whatever it is, they think you've got it, and they want it so bad that they'll do just about anything.
Linda: Schutt up!...Gott dammmn you!!!

In spite, Linda tosses Len's prized stiletto ("That's an antique!") into the ocean, but not before he told her to check out the John Verdes Escort Service for more information. Had she bothered to visit, she would have encountered Rick Pollard, who seems to have some interest in her case. We next see Pollard at the local FBI office, where Inspector Haverman has an autographed photo of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. on his desk, if that means anything to any of you. Haverman is easily distracted. He seems preoccupied with a fishing tackle while trying to tell Pollard about the search for Assassins Incorporated master file. "They have a brilliantly masterminded organization," Haverman comments, "--bastards!"

The inspector's phone rings, but it's for Pollard. And it's Linda Allen, writhing about on her bed, licking the telephone in some sort of unspoken phone sex. Haverman seems to be aware of what's going on, since he starts sucking suggestively on a cigar (or is that nerves?), but Pollard seems completely baffled by what he's hearing and seeing. Here I must identify Pollard as Joel D. McCrea Jr., son of the famous actor and best known (as Jody McCrea) for playing characters named Deadhead or Bonehead in AIP beach movies in the 1960s. Neither name would be inappropriate for him here.

The plot of Lady Street Fighter works in mysterious ways. Here's an example. Linda finally tells Pollard to meet her at the Go Go Club that night. While waiting for him to show up, she sees her two assailants from the parking garage getting into a car. Having the apparent capacity for concentration of a gnat, she gets into her car and follows the goons before Pollard even arrives at the club. He's stuck watching a strip act (and so are we, occasionally) as Linda follows Shorty and his knit-cap wearing friend on the road. Here the two thugs talk shop:

Shorty: That guy was so dumb. What a turkey! I beat his head in real good, huh?
Knit-Cap: Nah, you wanna get somebody real good, poke out their eyes, one at a time. Together it don't last long enough.

They park at an old mission building, and Linda follows them inside. They're searching for something before they hear her. A gunfight and a car chase follow, all with the unusual lack of urgency that characterizes this thriller. The sequence ends with Shorty's car going off the road and down a hill. "I can't move my legs!" he cries, "There's gas all around!" He tries these remarks in reverse order, but Linda is merciless. She sets the wreck on fire, an act you must take my word for, since the film's budget didn't allow for a burning or exploding car. Instead, it looks like someone's lit a small campfire in front of the vehicle -- but you're supposed to be distracted from this shortcoming by Shorty's defiant dying display of the Flaming Finger!

Nothing seems to have been accomplished, but please remember the location before we turn to Linda's first shower scene. She's out and dry just in time to catch a prowler about to snatch her stuffed dog. He shocks her by saying that Len sent him to take the dog, but he barely escapes without the toy.

As she takes a second shower, rips open the dogs stitches and discovers a cassette tape inside, we find Pollard musing on a hard mission he must undertake.
Pollard: Well job...[I swear I listened several times to this and he should be saying "swell job" but I heard what I heard]...Congratulations. Well, you are a pro, but your time has come. I'm going to have to kill you. Nothing against you, Linda or Miss Allen or whatever the heck they call you. I'm just doing it to save my partner. You ran into a wall, my girl, the wall of brotherhood....

By the way, that cassette only has Billie's voice on it telling Linda that it was blank except for some random blips before she recorded her own remarks. Whatever. Now Linda finally gets around to visiting John Verdes, catching him in the middle of making out with a topless model. At gunpoint, he tells her about Max Diamond, who's into drugs and even harder stuff -- this guy hires hitmen. Linda makes him arrange for her to attend one of Diamond's famous parties. You know, the kind where people stand in a circle chanting, "Toga, toga, toga" all night while others shoot craps on the floor. It's one of those wild parties.

At least the host livens things up a bit. Provoked by the sight of Linda sucking a celery stalk, Max Diamond confesses to a foot fetish.

Linda: You vant my name?
Max: I want your shoes. I want your feet. I want to feel your heels digging into me.

Linda is only too glad to oblige as Max slurps away at her tootsies, and is just as obliging when Max wants to be whipped. A mesmerizing montage follows as Linda whips Max incessantly, other partygoers strip and fondle a topless woman, champagne corks pop occasionally, and those idiots keep chanting "Toga, toga, toga." The effect is like the pendular swing of the hypnotist's pocket watch: you are getting sleepy, sleepy -- until an exuberant young woman approaches Linda and says, "Hi, I'm Inez. I love you!"

Inez has a stuffed dog, too, much bigger than Linda's and named Bow-Wowie. Instinctually, Linda realizes that Inez doesn't belong (?) in this decadent scene. A woman appears to retrieve Inez, explaining that "She's a child, Mr. Diamond's daughter. She's five years old and always will be."

"Retarded?" Linda asks. "Mm-hmm," the woman answers. "Zis place giffs me der creeps," our heroine concludes. But there's still a game of Murder to be played, and Pollard, a late invitee, to deal with. Somehow they find a real corpse, and the natural response of these clever people is to run like hell out of the place under the eyes of the police. Another car chase follows, ending abruptly in the way a plunging plane halts in a Bugs Bunny cartoon: Linda runs out of gas. So it's up to the rooftops for more daredevil action. Escape is assured, since these are our heroes, and the adventure has gotten them hot and bothered.

Pollard: You look delicious. I think I'll have you for lunch....Hmmm, I wonder if it'll be a morner or a nooner.
Linda: Vat's a morner?
Pollard: It's a nooner, only sooner.
Linda: Vat's a nooner?
Pollard: That's a matinee in the middle of the day.
Linda: I see....

That kind of patter may have been fresh back in vaudeville, but Mr. McCrea utters it with just as much conviction as he did his speech about killing Linda earlier in the picture, which is to say with none whatsoever. Well, he is still planning to kill her, or is he? He says he's falling in love with her because they're both lonely, but his post-coital chatter is pitched at the same level as everything else. The man is one of the worst actors I've ever seen who was allegedly a professional. If IMDB is right that this was McCrea's last film, I can see why.

There are more plot twists to come before the film finishes taking forever to reach the 72 minute mark, but I'll stick with the highlights. These include an epic fight scene between our lovers on McCrea's old turf: the beach. This bit has an interesting twist when Pollard forgets his chivalry after Linda practically breaks a post over his head. Coming up off the sand, he starts throwing haymakers at her. Lady Street Fighter is no match for his relentless attack, screaming teutonically at every blow until she crumples in a heap.

Fire remains this film's weakness. The director wants a big finish with the mission burning down, but doesn't have the means to burn down an actual building. Instead, we get this vivid scene, which suggested to me a grade-schooler's recreation of Corman's Fall of the House of Usher.

Lady Street Fighter (supposedly also released as Run, Coyote, Run[?]) is indisputable crap, but it's sleazy Seventies crap, which gives it at least some anthropological interest. You can glut your soul and feast your eyes on ugly fashions and the all too mature and fleshy people who sometimes wear them. You can look back nostalgically (vicariously or not) to the days when billboards advertised Cutty Sark at $7.99 for a fifth. You can feel justified mocking the ineptitude of everyone involved because they insulted retarded people. We bad movie aficionados like to give credit when creative people try hard, but sometimes a total lack of talent makes it hard for people to try as much as they should, however sincere their intentions. This is one of those occasions. The film never really catches fire, and no one involved really gets into that zone of uninhibited exhibitionist inspiration that usually redeems films like these. If incompetence alone is enough to amuse you, Lady Street Fighter may suffice for an evening. Renee Harmon's sheer oddity gives it a little extra freak show value, but I suspect that a little of her goes quite a long way.

As you can see, while the print source for the DVD could use some care, the film is quite nicely letterboxed and otherwise looks as good as it probably can. RareFlix Triple Feature Vol. 3 is a decent package that also boasts Revenge of the Bushido Blade (aka The Last Reunion), a Leo Fong action vehicle with an audio commentary by Fong, and an all-star martial arts show, The Ninja Strikes Back, with Bruce Le, Bolo Yeung and Harold "Oddjob" Sakata. Both those titles are also letterboxed, and all three films have generous helpings of trailers from 70s grindhouse fodder to recent Japanese gorefests. You don't get as many films for your money compared to Grindhouse Experience or Mill Creek Entertainment, but these are obscurities straight from the rights holders in remarkable good condition. I can't vouch for previous sets, but this looks like a series to watch. Meanwhile, here are a few more clips to give you a better sense of the artistry of Lady Street Fighter.


Rev. Fred Phantom said...

This sounds more entertaining than I thought. I've heard about the film before, but never gave it a second thought. I certainly sounds worthy of checking out after that review. You know how I love 70's trash.

Samuel Wilson said...

Rev., the common disclaimers about most 70s trash apply here. By any objective standard this is a poor film, but it is just bad enough to have more character than the typical mediocre film.