(Richard Robinson, 1975)
With this entry, I’m proud to participate again in the 6th Annual White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only, in time for April Fool’s Day. Last year, I got to analyze another “forgotten gem” of the 1970s, featuring Joe Don mother-loving Baker. This year, it’s backwoods blaxploitation with Shelley Winters, Slim Pickens, Lurch from The Addams Family, and an Elvis Presley wannabe. Remind me, why do I do this to myself?
“I don’t care if she farts Shah-nel Number 5. Now I want her outta here, right now, understand?”
That’s a line from two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters in this low-low-budget film of rape, revenge and sleaze. To say it’s not worthy of Winters’ pedigree to be uttering Chanel as “Shah-nel” is an understatement. But it’s also consistent with the recurring quandary in which I viewed this film. On one hand, it’s forgettable trash. On the other hand, to borrow a phrase, there’s just something about Eddie.
Winters portrays an ex-stripper who fears she’s losing her boyfriend, the titular Eddie (Michael Christian), to a young, beautiful singer (Leslie Uggams) who had the poor luck to (1) have her car break down in the middle of a straight-outta-Deliverance burg and (2) be African-American in same. Fact #2 plays an important part in this flick, as Uggams is certainly the smartest and classiest human depicted, but is treated the worst, and it all starts with poor, pretty Eddie.
You see, Winters’ boyfriend, the titular Eddie (Michael Christian), is also a bit of a crooner himself.
To say that he resembles Elvis is one thing, but this film makes no bones about the fact that Eddie is essentially aping Elvis (2 years before his death) and perhaps even going so far as to indicate that those that appreciate his style of music are rednecked and backward. At the time, the former King was slowly spiralling down into what may be called “full Vegas.” And yet, his origins lay in the small-town South, in towns not unlike the one in this film.
The fact that Eddie/Elvis then proceeds to take a shine to the lovely Liz (Uggams) and decides to show his appreciation by forcibly raping her speaks even louder volumes. Oh, we’re not talking graphic, I Spit on Your Grave-level rape, but consider if you will how the scene is presented for the audience – via slow-motion and regularly intercut with a pair of dogs doggy-styling to the amusement of a group of hicks.
What exactly am I watching here?
Is this a terribly racist and/or sexist depiction of non-consensual sex? Or is it filled with dark humor? Should I mention that the song playing over the scene has a repeated refrain of “You don’t have to say/You’ll love me in the morning”?
This is a twisted flick from the get-go, and I haven’t even mentioned Slim Pickens and Dub Taylor, who portray two corrupt officials of hillbilly truth and justice. Pickens, the local sheriff, doubts that Liz was even raped, but asks all sorts of lurid, leading questions such as “Would you like to suck on a tomato?” or more directly, “Did he bite you on the t*tties?” Unswayed, Liz takes her case before Justice of the Peace Floyd (Taylor) in the only appropriate place – the local dance hall. Floyd demands that he see the presumed love bites on Liz’s naughty bits right then and there, as several local boobs and the house band leers on. When she refuses and smacks him across the face, the Justice of the Peace tears off her blouse completely, and compliments her on her impressive bits of evidence.
It’s disturbingly trashy, but also certainly has much to do with race, violence and power. Would I equate this flick’s impact with those of Shaft and Super Fly or the films of Pam Grier? Not on your life. But the message is there.
However Poor Pretty Eddie is intended, I can’t help but find it inflammatory and shocking for the sake of shock. It’s never truly a horror movie, nor is it satisfying as a rape revenge drama.
And yet…. this cast is so very talented. Winters has a heartbreaking scene in which she discusses why she needs Eddie, mostly because she’s past her prime and he’s so young and beautiful and actually cares for her. Pickens and Taylor are crudely funny and Uggams holds her own in a thankless role.
And yet…. director Richard Robinson took some grade-Z material and added a few shocks of his own, as well as some tricky camerawork pulled off with a paltry budget.
And yet…. Ted Cassidy (Lurch from TV’s The Addams Family) is quietly affecting as a local who bucks the local authority in a effort to do right but unfortunately ends up getting shot, but not before Eddie feeds him his own free-loving dog:
Again, I would never say Poor Pretty Eddie is worth your time, and certainly not your money, but after viewing it a second time, I’m still conflicted, and not ready to dismiss it either. There’s just enough going for Eddie to make a viewer think twice. What I guess I’m saying is that your mileage may vary, but it left its hooks in me, and that can’t be all bad.
It doesn’t make me feel any better to say that I rewatched a film prominently featuring dog-on-dog love, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. I hate you, White Elephant, for the things you make me admit publicly.