Welcome back for another round of B-Movie Enema goodness.
This week’s movie, The Working Girls, has a lot of interesting things going for it. First, it’s yet another exploitation film. It’s about a group of liberated women living together in a Los Angeles apartment. They all have different types of jobs and start dating different types of guys. However, the girls each start to have issues in which they are endangered by the men in their lives.
Second, the director, Stephanie Rothman, is quite a figure in exploitation film in the 60s and 70s. She worked with Roger Corman as an associated producer shortly after she finished college. She got the opportunity to make a couple movies under Corman’s tutelage. She did eventually venture out on her own and made another film I’ve written about before – The Velvet Vampire.
What’s most interesting about Rothman, though, is that she never liked being linked to the exploitation subgenre. After making a couple films with Corman, she learned that label was given to her movies. It horrified her. However, after learning more about what that meant, how it worked in film, and what she might be able to do with that, she thought, “Fine, I’ll do the best exploitation movies I could.” It didn’t go unnoticed.
Writers, scholars, and feminists all have given considerable appraisal to Rothman’s films. They all come to the same conclusion – she was an excellent director. She consistently was able to weave feminist ideas into these movies that appealed to mostly men. I kind of feel like she might be compared to Russ Meyer in that sense. It’s just she is more accessible because Meyer usually comes with a layer of sleaze that might not come with a woman director like Rothman.
Sadly, Rothman was never able to continue her directorial career after she decided to leave the exploitation genre. The Working Girls would be her last writing and directing credit under her name. She wrote the movie Starhops under a different name, but never came back to film.
The last point I wanted to make before I got into the movie proper is that this film features the lovely Cassandra Peterson, best known as Elvira, in her first credited film role!
The movie opens with this lovely old style piano and banjo rag. It’s so pleasant. It plays over a nearly animated drawing of a woman posting a sign and her reflection in a series of windows stretches into infinity until it slowly goes from an illustration to a more photo-realistic image. This is charming as hell. We then meet one of our working girls, a short haired blonde cutie pie. She gets lunch at a barbecue joint. She tells him she can’t pay for her food, and, when he says he won’t give her a loan or give her a job, she realizes that she’ll have to put out. He says he gets off at nine and she said she can’t wait around for that, so it’s now or never and begins to strip…
Considering he says “now” ain’t gonna work so it has to be “never” he kicks her out. I like to think that she knew what the hell she was doing to get out of paying for dinner. She does say she won’t let him give her a free meal because the economy is in the dumpers but he tosses her out anyway.
This is Honey, our protagonist. She has a sweet high pitched voice and not a care in the world. She would like to find a job and make her way and find a fun place to live, but she can’t find a job, and the place she inquires about to the friendly brunette who painted that opening illustration, Denise, really can’t suit her because she can’t hang anything on the walls or play her music loud or do any sex acts that don’t meet a certain societal standard. She does get to meet Denise’s model, Roger (played by an overdubbed Bob Schott of Up! and Gymkata fame). By “meet” I should probably say she gets to see his meat.
Honey gets to stay with Denise because it’s either that or Honey is sleeping on the beach. Later that night, Roger’s law school girlfriend, Jill. Jill just got a job as a cocktail waitress. Honey is fairly wowed by this because she just can’t ever seem to get a job. For the most part, she’s been a street urchin for most of her life. There’s such an innocent way this movie’s dialog flows between the characters. I’d say it is a realistic way of speaking, but that wouldn’t be so true. It’s almost like this movie is made up entirely of comic strip dialog from the Sunday funnies. Everyone has something relatively quick-witted to say and they almost say it in a way that if they turned to the camera and shrugged after the punchline, it wouldn’t feel out of place at all.
Honey keeps going to interviews, and keeps getting rejected. Sarah Kennedy is Honey and she’s ridiculously cute. She’s one of those characters that you are supposed to immediately be drawn to. I feel bad for her because it’s not like she isn’t trying to get a job, but as she says to the busking musician she meets in the park, there’s “too many applicants and not enough jobs.” Man, sister, ain’t that the truth. So this musician, Mike, comes takes Honey back to Denise’s place to have a hot fuck sesh. When Denise comes home, she notices Mike is butt nekkid and he wants to see what Denise looks like under her clothes.
Interestingly, I’ve seen two male asses and the closest to female nudity I’ve seen are bra and panties. Good job at reversing that sort of business, Stephanie Rothman! Well, that is until Cassandra Peterson shows up and rectifies the shit out of this oversight. She’s the featured act at the nightclub that Jill works at and… Yeah, yeah she is…
Katya (Peterson) talks to Jill about stripping. She says she doesn’t think about the guys leering at her and just thinks about pretty much everything else. She says if Jill ever decides to be a stripper, she’ll teach her all the best stripper secrets. I… I want to see this.
The next morning, Honey calls the newspaper to put out a classified ad to say she will do anything for money. I’m sure this won’t end at all comedic. Mike has also fallen in love instantly with Denise. When they tell Honey, she storms off after telling them to get fucked. They end up finding her on the beach and bringing her home. Later, Honey realizes her ad went off like gangbusters. Most of them turn out to be lewd requests. She finds one that seems to be legit. She calls the number and talks to Mrs. Borden. Mrs. Borden offers Honey $10,000 to kill her husband.
Honey takes the job.
Honey gets a $5,000 advance. She tells Mrs. Borden that she killed her husband, gets the other half of the money, but she sets up the old black widow. The cops arrest her and Mrs. Borden says that he killed his first wife and was coming after her next. Surely that can’t be the case, but it is. The story on the news gets the attention of Vernon Sudznik IV. He calls Honey but won’t tell Denise over the phone. She meets Vernon and he has her take a meeting with him in the back of his limo.
Vernon is insanely rich. He doesn’t have any friends and simply wants to hire Honey for maximum hours at minimum wage to simply talk to him. He just wants to have a companion to talk about stuff with. However, he’s somewhat demanding. He said he will only ever call her. She is never to call him.
Jill takes Katya up on the offer to become a stripper. She goes out in a nurse’s uniform. Things start off great, but then she suddenly freezes. Thankfully, she remembers the stripper’s secret weapon – picture the audience nude and it all works out. In fact, things are definitely looking up for Jill.
While club owner Sidney is out of town to take care of a personal issue, he leaves Jill to run the place for more than what she’ll make as a dancer. The shady Nick barges into the club and demands to see Sidney. When he doesn’t get Sidney he makes his demands to Jill. He shakes her down for $2000. She refuses. He pulls a gun out and places it on the bar to see if that will change her mind. It doesn’t. She grabs the gun and calls Sidney. He says she has to give him the money because it is protection money. She gives him the money and they then go to the grotto out back and fuck.
Yeah. I guess Jill has an extremely specific kink that she likes Italian men to shake her down for a couple grand (not one penny more or less), pull out a gun, sit it on a bar, and for her to take it only for her to ultimately be ordered to give him the money. That gets her soooo wet.
Oh whatever, let’s see how Denise is doing with Mike. It just so happens that Denise is working on a billboard right above where Mike is busking. She witnesses him doing something shady like possibly scoring some drugs. Later, she nearly catches him in the act of maybe doing a drugs, but he asks her to leave the room. When he comes back out, he gives her a really nice bracelet, but she’s not satisfied that was all he was doing. After he goes to sleep, she looks in his jacket pocket and finds a shit ton of jewelry. The next day, she witnesses him again meeting with a shady character.
Meanwhile, Honey is still in this movie. She is getting bored with just sitting around in Vernon’s car. She says he doesn’t need an employee, he needs a wife. He doesn’t really talk to her. He doesn’t really have her do anything. He says they’ll talk about it over dinner that night. She tells him that he better give her something interesting to do or she’s gonna get a divorce. He picks her up, she’s wearing her best feather boa, and he just takes her to a hot dog stand. The next day, they go bicycling and he tells her that she can make money for him. It turns out, she’s a Wall Street whiz.
She discovers this talent when she reads up on the subject at the library while Vernon spins his wheels looking for an appropriate job for him so she can make him more money. She tells him to buy as many shares as he possibly can in a rope company due to a shortage in hemp. She thinks he will make at least a 100% profit. For her troubles, he fires her.
Nick tells Jill that friends of his are looking for Mike and that when they find him, they’re going to kill him. He tells her this so she can warn them. However, it might be too late as a man steals his guitar to make Mike chase him into an alley where they begin whaling on him. Jill tries to butt in, but Nick slaps her a good one and takes her home. She tells him she’s gonna beat cheeks. After she slaps him, he decides that maybe it’s kinda sexy to have a hot blonde slapping him around. He proposes to her and she turns him down saying she could never be the judge she wants to be if she was married to him.
Mike comes home all beaten to shit. Jill comes home with a shiner and a broken heart. Denise learns that her boss and landlord is planning to split up the property and sell it off so they are out. Sidney comes home and says he wants to take it easy for now on. He’s really proud of how she ran the club and wants her to take over as manager. Vernon sends Honey a whole box of cash. Honey decides to try to track down Vernon to use him to make her more money so she can start up a business to help others make more money. She leaves Jill, Mike, and Denise bags of cash and thumbs it out of town to find her next money making scheme.
This movie is simultaneously charming, interesting, and bad. That’s the most fascinating thing about the movie. It’s charming because you legitimately like the characters in all their Sunday funnies ways. Certainly, Honey is so sweet with her tiny voice and super cute pixie looks. Sure, Jill is smart and beautiful, and Denise is the artsy one, but there’s not much to them really. It’s interesting that the girls are all the powerhouses in their couplings, and they all make various stands to their counterparts.
But… The movie doesn’t really go anywhere. No one really has a sizable arc to hang your hat on. Denise goes really nowhere. Honey blows into town, borrows from everyone, and blows out (but not before leaving her friends a bunch of money). What did Jill do? Well, she went from law student to stripper to club manager to mafioso girlfriend back to club manager. There’s not much there to grab hold of outside the fact that she didn’t throw away anything to just be a girlfriend to a thug.
None of that makes the movie any less charming or diminishes the fact that these women are pretty liberated to make their own choices, but the arc is missing the beginning and the end and, therefore, really causes the movie to miss a lot of its marks. None of the dramatic stuff is really worthy of being worried over and there’s little danger to how the girls live their lives. They have to make room for some not so great guys, but outside that just simply being life, there really aren’t too many interesting things happening around here.
Shit! The “Working Girls” hardly work at all!
Oh well… It’s not a movie to be sorry about seeing. Again, the charm is there. Next week, it’s October and I’m bringing back the Halloween theme month with a whole slate of Exorcist ripoffs. We begin with Mario Bava’s Shock, which has a second title, Beyond the Door II!