Thursday, January 24, 2013

Come And Get It! Dishing Up Some More Southern Fried Cinema

Back by popular demand, it's Southern Fried Cinema, a light hearted look at the lives, loves and sheer lunacy of the folks down south.

Today's entry is dished up by one of the giants of Junk Cinema, Roger Corman. The undisputed king of bargain basement film making, Mr. C never met a budget he couldn't stretch, a shooting schedule he found too short, a foreign film he couldn't re-dub or re-edit or an idea too nutty to make into a movie. Where else but from the Roger Corman film factory would you find flicks about murderous house plants ("The Little Shop of Horrors"), adolescent cavemen ("Teenage Caveman", actually the 30 year old Robert Vaughn), king-sized worms ("Attack of the Giant Leeches"), Grimault warriors ("The Viking Women vs. The Sea Serpent"), bizarre chicken/parrot monsters from outer space ("Night of the Blood Beast") and today's feature, "Swamp Women" (1955)? How can we ever thank him?

If you were hoping a flick titled "Swamp Women" would be about a race of man crazed female mutants up to no good in the Louisiana bayou, your prayers have been answered. The swamp women are actually the molls of the notorious Nardo Gang, a trio of lady convicts who (according to the film's promotional posters, anyway) "invaded the bayou with guns, scanty clothes and one man between them!" As to who that lucky fellow is, he's none other than Touch Connors, making his film debut as Bob Matthews, an up-and-coming oilman. If the name Touch Connors doesn't ring a bell, it might be because Touch is better known today as Mike Connors, star of the '70's detective series "Mannix". Back in '55, he was just one of many Hollywood newcomers who began their career working for Roger Corman and lived to tell the tale.

The fun begins with Bob getting all kissy-face with his cuddlemate Marie (Susan Cummings) during the annual Mardi Gras celebrations. Even though everyone around them is whooping it up, Marie only has eyes for Bob.

"Oh, Bob, honey," Marie gushes once they come up for air, "you're so strong and big and brave! I don't know what I'd do without you!"

Bob doesn't know what Marie would do without him, either. When he suggests she's "too pretty" to take on a trip down the bayou to scout out some promising oil sites, Marie declares, "I could do anything as long as I'm with you!"

Marie's worshipful adoration of Bob ("I love you so much! I could stay with you forever and ever!") is about to be severely tested, however. While the cuddlemates are motoring through the Louisiana swamp, little do they know the Nardo Gang is just around the bend, ready to strike. See, the gals have escaped from prison with the help of their new friend, Lee (Carol Matthews). What they don't know is that Lee is actually an undercover cop sent to find the diamonds the Nardo Gang has hidden in the swamp. The ladies wave the couple over, shoot their guide, drag Marie out of the boat and knock Touch out with one slap--so much for him being "so big and brave"! Connors spends the rest of the movie tied up and really seems to enjoy it. Marie, on the other hand, whimpers and cries so much the Nardo women are forever telling her to shut up--when they aren't screaming threats like, "If you don't stop crying, I'll give you something to cry about!"

As you can probably guess, the Nardo Gang are a bunch of tough cookies with little of Marie's refined gentility (being sent up the river for three years will do that to a gal). The leader of the pack is Josie (Marie Windsor), a mannish broad with a ponytail who bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Joan Crawford. Then there is Billie (Jill Jarmyn), a bleached blonde flirt who goes for anything in pants--especially Touch's pants. Last is Vera (Beverly Garland, one of Corman's regular leading ladies), a red headed bad girl who is always picking fights, dropping insults and waving her gun around. Because these fems have been without male companionship for so long, Touch is the recipient of their increasingly aggressive advances--not that he minds. Most of these PDAs involve the Nardo ladies pretending to check on Touch's restraints, talking suggestively to him, trying to kiss him when they think the others aren't looking and then slapping the big lug for being fresh when they get caught. The most blatant is Billie, who, seconds after dragging the unconscious Touch onto dry land, proclaims, "I could really go for him!"

Later, she slinks over to Touch in the middle of the night with a lascivious look in her eye.

"What can I do for you?" Touch asks.

"Anything you like," purrs Billie.

"What if I don't like?" Touch inquires.

"You will," Billie promises.

Before things get X-rated, Vera suddenly lunges at Billie screaming, "You dirty dumb broad!" A cat fight ensues, which Josie breaks up. In case you're wondering how Marie is taking all of this, she's not in much of a position to complain: the first chance she gets, she ditches Bob and tries to paddle away to safety, only to be knocked into the water by Vera. While Marie flails around wailing, "I can't swim! I can't swim!", an alligator waddles over and quickly gobbles her up. Touch mourns his ladylove very briefly and then turns his attentions to Lee.

Meanwhile, the audience is treated to endless shots of Spanish Moss as the Nardo girls journey down the swamp to uncover their diamond stash. Their boat trip becoming as tedious for the female hoodlums as it is for the viewers, director Corman decides to spice things up a bit. Since the ads promised patrons that "Swamp Women" "strips down to naked fury!", the ladies decide to go skinny dipping. Strangely enough, when Touch wanders by, Billie is overcome with modesty and orders him away. Lee, on the other hand, just smiles demurely.

During another break in the action, the quartet gets drunk and decides to cut their jeans into short-shorts. "The Nardo girls never run around in pants like a bunch of boys!" the stewed Billie insists. But all this female bonding comes to an abrupt halt when the diamonds are finally found. Suddenly the Nardo girls are trying to cut each other out of their share. During the night while everyone else is asleep, bad girl Vera absconds with Touch and the loot. She ties him to a tree and then hides high up in its branches, gun at the ready, so she can pick off her companions like a sniper. However, the remaining Nardo gals have a plan of their own. Josie makes a spear and hurls it into Vera's side. As she falls to her death, Vera manages to fire a round into the rattler that was menacing Touch. Whew!

But it ain't over yet. The dust has barely settled from this little episode than Josie decides Lee and Touch have gotten too chummy. She insist Lee kill Touch, which Lee refuses to do. This sets off another cat fight, only this time Touch enters the fray. Lee and Touch beat Josie and Billie into submission and, as luck would have it, the cops suddenly appear on the horizon. Their swampy ordeal over, Touch and Lee get all kissy-face and will no doubt live happily ever after.

"Swamp Women" (also known as "Swamp Diamonds" and "Cruel Swamp") was Corman's first film. It was shot in 22 days and made endless use of stock footage of Spanish Moss. If the fights between the gals seem especially realistic, it's because they didn't use stunt doubles. However, the scene where poor Marie was eaten by an alligator was shot in a swimming pool--you can even make out the edge of the pool from the shot.

I have to admit, the relationship between Lee and Bob/Touch is a bit confusing. Although the flick begins with Marie and Bob making out, the interplay between Lee and Bob suggests they already know each other. Is Bob actually an under cover cop? Was he just pretending to be an oilman so he had an excuse to go joyriding in the swamp? Was being kidnapped by the Nardo Gang part of the plan all along? This is never explained.

 Touch is also strangely unaffected by Marie's death. Is that because he and Lee were already a couple and poor Marie was just an unknowing "beard"? It seems unethical to use Marie like that; yes, she was a sap, but saps have rights, too.

Of course, Roger Corman was more interested in getting his films shot and in the can than fleshing out tricky plot points. The real draw of "Swamp Women" was the promise of seeing gals behaving badly. To that end, the film shamelessly promoted itself with tag lines like "Scarlett Women Out to Get Every Thrill They Could Steal!" and "Man Crazed Women...They Were All Bad Company!" Unfortunately, most of the heavy breathing in the flick derives from the characters having to push their boat through weed-choked swamp water than any sexy hanky-panky.

At point Billie, waist deep in fetid swamp water, declares, "This stinking swamp water stinks!"

To which I would add, "Just like the movie!"

Until next time, keep a song in your heart and a bad movie in your VCR/DVD player.

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