There are men with careers. Filmmakers, lawyers, publicists, journalists, etc etc. Then there was Albert Zugsmith. A renaissance man who both imploded and exploded the term, Zugsmith trademarked the phrase “Beat Generation” before any of the legitimate beats could, represented Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster back his lawyer days in their 1948 lawsuit against DC Comics and produced such auteurs like Douglas Sirk (1956's WRITTEN ON THE WIND) and Orson Welles (1958's incredible TOUCH OF EVIL.) All of that alone is fairly impressive, but there was much more to Zugsmith's legacy. Here lies the tale of a man with one foot in the world of respectable culture and another one in pure, beautiful and unabashed cult cinema. Some might call it exploitation, but when compared to some of the more infamous (and striking names) in the game, like Roberta and Michael Findlay or Doris Wishman, Zugsmith's films seem more tame and yet equally fascinating. There's a cross pollination of a higher gloss coupled with tales of partner swapping, predatory males and females and parental-sexual fixations. In short, the times were a-changing and provided the perfect fodder for cinematic tales bent towards tawdry pseudo-subversiveness. These are the things a man like Albert Zugsmith was all too happy to capitalize on.
Ever the savvy one, Zugsmith rode that train around the world and back, with 1965's THE INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION and the following year's PSYCHEDELIC SEXUALIS aka ON HER BED OF ROSES. Luckily for us, the hard working folks over at Vinegar Syndrome have released these two titles on one helluva double feature. THE INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION, with its majestic sounding title promising a 1960's veritable fireworks explosion of hormonal rush, ends up being a slightly different animal than one would intially expect.
The film has one swank-tastic opening, right down to the pseudo-jazz music, beautiful nighttime shots of now-long gone hotel and no-tell motel signs and a good looking, well dressed couple driving around in a top down convertible. Nervous smiles and anticipatory thrills are the undercurrent. We are informed that everything we are about to have unfurl in front of our eyes is based on “THE DR. GLADDEN STUDY on Changing Sex Mores in Our Modern Civilization.” Now this may shock you, oh intrepid reader, that the only reference I could find online for this incredibly official sounding medical piece of cultural writing was related to other reviews of THE INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION. Not to cast any aspersions on the “Doctor”, who actually appears in both films and is credited as “Dr. Lee Gladden,” but the odds of him being a real doctor are about as good as Elmer Gantry being a man of Christian faith and devotion. He states to us that “I'm not an actor” and then lists a number of vague sounding credentials. Adding to the beautiful white-coater hucksterism of it all, he then further assures us that “some of the scenes may even turn your stomach.” That? Is a mighty big promise. Can it be delivered is the logical next question.
In THE INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION (a title that feels like a loud, brash jazz horn should burst through the wall every time I type or say it out loud), Dr. Gladden serves as one part Greek chorus and one part therapist to Margaret “Peggy” Bardot (Lovey Song). Peggy is a very pretty young woman who has had one heck of a ride in her short life. There are references to her struggles as a child, including having a father who died young (because if you're a woman with sexual issues, all roads lead to daddy) and, barely out of her teens, ends up married to a total dud. Even worse, he complains about her constantly, whenever he is not repeatedly trying to pressure her into wife swapping, despite her very visible and vocal discomfort about it. (Not that Mr. Sensitive even registers any of this.)
One bright spot in poor Peggy's boring and sad life is her burgeoning friendship with one Theresa Morton aka Tessy the Terrible (Sharon Cintron.) Tessy is blonde and brassy and in short, pretty fantastic. However, things grow curiouser and more complex for Peggy, as she discovers how Tessy earned her nickname, then begins to develop growing feelings for another man and on top of all that, has to come to terms with a hideous childhood incident that has forever marked her psyche as damaged.
THE INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION is entertaining despite it really not coming anywhere near the vicinity of the ballyhoo promised. But the tameness of the sex itself is strangely cute, coupled with a genuinely likable performance from Ms. Song as the emotionally wrought Peggy. Former 1963 Playboy Playmate Cintron is fun as the comely Tessy, as is early-mid 60's Zugsmith semi-regular, character actor Alexander D'Arcy, who also appeared in the Zugsmith-Russ Meyer collaboration, FANNY HILL: MEMOIRS OF A WOMAN OF PLEASURE (1964). D'Arcy, whose wide-shark grin, jocular frame and thin, dark mustache all lent well to him playing joyfully sleazy, continental types, hence he is always a delight to see. All to the extent where you keep hoping Peggy will just say “screw it” and leave her dud-hubby for Pierre. On a brief but interesting side note, keep your peepers peeled for cult starlet Pat Barrington (ORGY OF THE DEAD, LILAH) as a topless dancer in one of the swinging dance sequences.
Given the levels of boundary pushing that the sexploitation genre was about to experience, between the flush of borderline explicit sensuality of Joe Sarno and the free jazz meets crime hell of the Findlays, THE INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION is borderline quaint but in a fun way. Not unlike finding an old deck of nudie playing cards or a dirty Uncle's old shot glass of a bikini girl whose clothes disappears along with the Old Crow. A little naughty but more naive than anything.
A mere year later, Zugsmith made PSYCHEDELIC SEXUALIS (an obvious play on Richard von Krafft-Ebing's infamous 1886 tome that covered over 200 cases of human sexual behavior) aka ON HER BED OF ROSES. While sharing some similarities with THE INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION (cue obnoxious brass horns), including yet another appearance by the good “Dr” Gladden, who doesn't come into the picture until a little bit later but is credited as “technical adviser”), ON HER BED OF ROSES is a striking, slightly high-strung work. For starters, the first fifteen minutes of the film are without any dialogue. It begins with a disturbed looking young man, who wakes up in a daze and alone. He stumbles over to a rose bush and picks one, his hand gripping its thorny stem until blood is running down his skin. His grip will never loosen.
Walking straight through the outdoor pool as borderline ethereal music plays, he ends up in a white room and finds a guitar case. Briefly cradling it like a warm body, he grabs it with his free hand and throws it in his car. Bloody rose still in hand, he speeds off and has all the earmarks of a man who should never be behind the wheel, especially given the weird and cryptic state he is in. After he nearly causes multiple vehicular homicides, the soundtrack starts to get deliriously good. Post-auto-mayhem, he walks up a rocky hill, sanguine rose and guitar case both in hand. Opening the latter, he pulls out a huge rifle and starts randomly shooting and killing several people. As the police finally arrive, he puts the barrel in his mouth and ends his young, strange life.
Cut to a pretty blonde, Melissa (Sandra Lynn), entering a doctor's office. She is greeted by non other than our very own Dr. Gladden, who is happy to see her and presents her with a “one year merit badge” as a “token of progress.” Instead of being giddy, she screams, passes out and then has a strange dream sequence where, the grown form of herself is in pig tails and going to her “Daddy.” (Who has taken the form of Gladden in her vision.) Sitting on his lap, Melissa smiles as he gives her a peck on the lips. That's not enough though and she demands him “Kiss me on the lips like you kiss Mommy!!” Daddy issues a-go-go and before you can reach for a fresh glass of brain bleach, Melissa awakes and is suddenly more testy with the kindly doctor.
As we get to learn more about Melissa, it turns out that the young lass has a veritable Whitman's sampler of issues. There's the aftorementioned weird sexually-tinged obsession with her father, which does inspire some soap-tastic moments, including her getting into a physical altercation with a friend after catching her kissing daddy dearest and Melissa's cougar mother making a bitchy comment about her own daughter sleeping with every middle-aged man in town. (That is when she is not trying to actively seduce any boy Melissa attempts to date.)
A flower in the suburban-sin cesspool of Melissa's life comes in the form of sweet but awkward Stephen (Ronald Warren), the next door neighbor whose house is surrounded by fragrant rose bushes and an overbearing mother. Stephen has his own demons though and the end result is a sad la ronde twist that solidifies the film's chic look but bleak-ish tones.
ON HER BED OF ROSES is a striking creature of its time. On one hand, it was not the best, sexiest or certainly most outre of the mid 60's sexploitation era. Not by a long shot, but that said, it has a professional sheen, a strong and impressively dark intro and a surprisingly solid lead performance by Sandra Lynn. There's enough sleazy-camp moments to appease the cult film crowd but the film has enough serious and surreal touches to give it some borderline art-film shade.
Keeping up their high quality of work, Vinegar Syndrome have done another wonderful job with this double feature, with both films looking better than ever and special features including the “cool” aka non-nudity laden versions of some of the more pulchritudinous scenes in both films. Both features are a fascinating cultural peek into a time where naivete started to slowly but surely get chipped away to reveal human curiosity and what would become the sexual revolution. Though one cannot help wonder, whatever happened to Dr. Gladden? Is he the head of a moneyed psych clinic in Glendale? Prison? Buried under one of New Jersey's finer overpasses? Selling swampland to timeshares? Will we ever know?
2015 Copyright Heather Drain