Vinegar Syndrome has been quite busy this month.
No less than four DVDs (no Blu this time around, though I suspect this would have been the one if there were), containing 8 films (9 if you count different versions of the same picture) – it’s like a motherlode of goodies to dive into. And hey, I see Anthony Spinelli and China de Sade herself, Ms. Linda Wong waiting in the pile, so you know I’m looking forward to that…
So why in God’s name did I pick Game Show Models to start with?
Some fat guy (“Roger”, Gilbert DeRush) who looks like he’s wearing lipstick laying there in bed) makes nasty comments to a real cutie with one hell of a body. Apparently she has to ball him to take the Janice Pennington/Marianna Hill/Vanna White role of game show bimbo…I mean “model”. He makes her put on a noh mask straight out of Onibaba and choke him, but still can’t get off. Eventually he storms out.
What the hell am I watching, and is this really courtesy of Al Adamson producer/writer Sam Sherman?!?
A 1970s variant of Davy Vain (“Stu”, John Vickery) stares down a group of cholo kids (literally, they couldn’t be more than 10) who are tagging his porch for some ungodly reason. The one flicks a knife at him, only for the four of them to run off like a bunch of TP’ers on Cabbage Night when he steps outside.
This apparently motivates him to dump his homely ladyfriend on the spot, cut his hair and try to go into the business world. Yeah, just like that, from hippie to corporate raider. Times sure were different back then…
We crawl through minute after endless minute as our man gets shown around the ad agency (the label notes it as a “record company”, but it’s just a PR firm that happens to have music folks as clients).
Look, there’s 50’s and 60’s TV regular Sid Melton (as boss “Mr. Schmitt”). And hey, there’s Hank Tuttle, “our token black” (that line delivered complete with hunching jive impersonation). And “that bitch” who’s working a contract with a kung fu film director (cue another politically incorrect impression from the same moron – “Arnold”, TV bit player Nick Pellegrino). Don’t forget Jimmy Ross, head of their music department, who winds up on the receiving end of this classy addendum: “…and he’s queer.” Wow. Don’t blame me, I’m just reviewing this crap.
Well, we’re 20 minutes in and finally to a game show and some pretty girls again. And look who the host is: Corman standby Dick Miller (oh, joy.) Sadly enough, Miller’s actually too seedy to be believable as a game show host (already a profession notable for its slick and smarmy used car salesman types)! Apparently the whole gimmick is for the pretty “game show models” to get fed the answers Jack Barry style, to keep audience attention when the legitimate contestant is proving to be too much of a drag on ratings.
Eventually, soul superstar Thelma Houston shows up for an effective cameo with her “little sister” Cici in tow (the very sexy Diane Sommerfield). In extremely short order, Cici is getting quite conjugal with “honky Casanova” Stu…surprisingly so, in fact. Things do lean very much towards “hard R” territory in this sequence, which is much appreciated – she’s certainly got the body for it and is clearly digging what she’s doing.
Arnold, who turns out to be a closet case, takes Stu out on a bike ride through the Hollywood hills and comes on to him with some silly line about how this is like an Ibsen play. Well…I get what he’s trying to say here, but no, not really.
Oh, the drama! Torn between two lovers? Will Stu stick with Cici, or be tempted away by Arnold’s secret revelation? Nah, not at all – this is a film without any apparent point. It doesn’t get much more into Georgia, Georgia territory either, despite Thelma Houston spouting Panther-style polemic when Stu tries to visit Cici for a little comfort later in the film.
Oh, well, back to the game show, pretty girls and a bit of nudie business. Since when do game shows have glory holes (much less straight ones?) About the craziest they get was the short lived if amusing Dick Martin venture The Cheap Show back in 1978…did I mention Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith shows up for all of 8 seconds?
Aside from the nude scenes, this is pretty much one of those Mad Men things, but without the comedy. Well, OK, someone thinks they’re being funny here (particularly at the ad agency and on the game show), but it really doesn’t play outside the borscht belt (and likely not even there – Shecky Greene and Buddy Hackett had both better delivery and an astronomically higher line-to-laugh ratio).
My understanding is that this was originally intended as an art film called The Seventh Dwarf (as in “Snow White and the” – a none too apropos reference to the ad men), but spruced up by Sherman to include the nudie bits. And thank God for Sam’s good instincts there, because those scenes are pretty much the only thing saving this otherwise sigh-inducing hunk of celluloid junk*.
*For those with a distinct masochistic streak, the original pre-Sherman version of the film is included on a second disc. I’ll beg off on that one, thanks…
The picture, while on some level an ersatz take on a drama, seems to be tapping more into the same awkward, dated “humor” zeitgeist responsible for films like The Groove Tube, Gosh! Alice Goodbody, Can I Do It Till I Need Glasses or The Telephone Book. Maybe they were trying for an ad agency variant of Hollywood Boulevard, I don’t know.
On the plus side, director David Gottlieb went on to primarily direct documentaries thereafter, with a number of production credits to his name as well. So he seems to have done OK for himself despite having this one on his resume…
Essentially, it’s the early Saturday Night Live all over again: insider hipster humor with strong ties to some long lost subculture – the New York underground of Warhol and company, the 70’s drug scene, etc. etc. It’s really got no relevance to the world today, and if you weren’t stoned out of your mind at the time, probably wasn’t all that hilarious or wonderful at the time of release either.
Vinegar Syndrome is without question a great company, who’ve saved some really cool films from obscurity, significantly cleaned up some comparatively patchy previous releases from other labels to hi-def quality and even rescued a few holy grails from apparent oblivion along the way.
While a few choices have been a bit questionable or seemed to be a bit out of left field, there are really only one or two that just didn’t come together, gel, say anything significant or honestly, just plain work on any appreciable level.
Unfortunately, Game Show Models falls into the latter category. Even a truly great poster and DVD cover can’t save a product like this. A nice package of a genuine 70’s game show – particularly an oddity like the aforementioned Cheap Show or Rip Taylor’s $1.98 Beauty Contest – would have been a much better choice for release. Hint, hint.