Sunday, February 3, 2013

If You Think Your Life Sucks, Then Please Watch...

So, movie lovers, how is 2013 treating you thus far? Not good? I'm sorry to hear that. Money troubles? Work hit a snag? That spring wedding you so diligently planned to Mr. Perfect still hasn't materialized?

Relax. No matter how bad your life seems right now, please remember this: someone, somewhere has it much, much worse.

Don't believe me? Well, then, pull up a chair, pour yourself a soft drink and pop these two made-for-TV-movies (from The Golden Age of Gunk) into your VCR/DVR contraption and let the magic of Junk Cinema chase those blues away!

Yes, its our regular feature If You Think Your Life Sucks, Then Please Watch... Today's recommendation is even a double header: "The Mayflower Madam" (1987) and "Secret Weapons" (1985).

Without further ado, it's on with the show!

Poor Sydney Biddle Barrows (Charlie McCarthy's kid sis Candice Bergen). Elegant, classy and with a patrician Mayflower pedigree, she's been just a little too outspoken at work and now she finds herself unemployed. Sydney knows all about fashion and good taste (and graduated first in her class at FIT), but in a weak economy, what's a socialite to do? With no trust fund to her name, Barrows is forced out of necessity to answer the phones at (GASP!) an "escort service". Rather than sully her hands in such a sleazy undertaking, Sydney quits and decides to go into business for herself. Does she become a personal shopper? Design a line of luxury hand bags? Whip up a line of fancy coffees?

None of the above. Instead, Sydney decides to run her own "escort service" but with class. True to her Main Line heritage, Sydney's operation won't be like those tacky, trashy services advertising on late night cable. No way! "Cachet" will be an elegant business catering to wealthy men who enjoy the finer things in life. And the working girls she will employ will be "real ladies" much like herself, the kind you would take to the theater or meet for cocktails at The Carlyle Hotel--not the coarse, coke-snorting skanks Heidi Fleiss peddled. How gauche.

As Bergen busily sets up her enterprise, we watch her dishing up etiquette tips ("real ladies always wear stockings"), taking her "girls" shopping and finding them just the right "professional" name from a baby book. Just as she promised, Sydney's stable of "ladies" is full to bursting with aspiring actresses and premed students who were just, you know, looking for a flexible part-time job until their real careers took off. No slutty, tramp-stamped harlots among the lot of 'em!

As a boss, Sydney is tops. She knows just the right outfit to wear for every "date". She's always available to talk. She even runs lines with an acting hopeful before her big audition! When the business booms, Sydney shares the profits with her staff; she even arranges picnics and balloon rides in Central Park. No wonder the gals love hanging out with Sydney, even on their day off!

Of course, you know this quasi-feminist pajama party can't last forever. Sure enough, somebody tips off the cops and soon the vice swoops in--they even arrest one of the "girls" seconds before her big Broadway debut! Isn't that so, like, ironic? The ensuing scandal horrifies Sydney's upper-crust family, especially after the New York Post dubs her "The Mayflower Madam" and runs gleeful articles like "The Mayflower Madam Ran A Tight Ship." Sydney is kicked out of the Social Register, her snooty friends snub her and she loses hunky boyfriend Chris Sarandon. As they say, crime doesn't least in TV movies. In real life, Sydney didn't show one ounce of remorse or shame. As she explained to the New York Times, "I ran the wrong sort of business, but I did it with integrity."

Well, I don't know if "integrity" is the right word...

Anyway, "The Mayflower Madam" is so delightfully insipid that it ranks right up there with the best of Candice Bergen's big screen worst, which includes the schlock busters "The Group", "The Magnus", "Solider Blue", "The Day The Fish Came Out", "The Adventurers", "Oliver's Story", "The Hunting Party", "The Domino Principal" and "Rich and Famous". Whew! With a cinematic rap-sheet like that, no wonder The Golden Turkey Awards nominated her for "The Worst Actress of All Time" (Candice lost out to Raquel Welch, incidentally).

Moving right along, we have "Secret Weapons" (AKA "Secrets of the Red Bedroom"), an alleged expose' of Soviet shenanigans at the height of the Cold War.

Over the decades, those pesky pinkos have tried every trick in the book to take over the world and undermine the good old US of A: arming Cuba, sending tanks into Hungary, erecting the Berlin Wall, building the bomb, even rigging the Olympics.What other schemes could they employ? How about training Russian women to be sex spies for the state?

That's how "Terminator"/"Beauty and The Beast" star Linda Hamilton and future Oscar winner Geena Davis found themselves in this crack-pot commie classic. As "Elena" and "Tamara", Hamilton and Davis are trained by the only fun person in the movie: Sally Kellerman, a whip-cracking KGB meanie who is equal parts Rosa Kleb, Natasha Fatale and Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS. It's Kellerman who informs the prim Russians that America's "religion" is "sex" and that American society is corrupt, degenerate and just plain icky--as opposed to the Worker's Paradise of the USSR, where it's always raining, there are shortages of everything and people shuffle around in frayed sweaters and army boots.

Elena, of course, harbors a secret desire to defect to America and hopes being a Skank for Stalin will be her ticket out. To that end, she and the other recruits lose their Russian accents, learn to dress provocatively, become fire-arm certified and develop a taste for "American cuisine" like hot dogs (which, really, must be a treat for gals who grew up eating boiled cabbage and black bread). Sure, some of their colleagues crumble under this intense Mata Harri training, but Linda and Geena emerge as "Joanna" and "Brenda", ready to bring down those filthy Yankee pigs with a bat of their eyes and a flip of their newly big hair.

Unfortunately for Elena/Joanna, she's ordered to seduce and disgrace congressman's son Christopher Atkins. Atkins, you may or may not recall, shot to fame in 1980's "The Blue Lagoon", where he wore pukka beads and a loincloth. He became a teen idol, while his acting skills suggested he might be the long lost son of Sonny Tufts. Besides "The Blue Lagoon", Atkins also appeared in "The Pirate Movie", where he once again wore a loin cloth and danced with fish for a production number called "Pumpin' and Blowin'", and the younger man/older woman romance "A Night in Heaven" where he played a college student/stripper. After a stint as the stewed Suellen's cuddlemate on "Dallas", Atkins' career began to fade in earnest, helped along by  schlock like "Secret Weapons". I mention Atkins at length because he later appeared in the Roger Corman vampire movie "Dracula Rising". I have only seen bits of this flick and I would love to see--and possibly review--the whole movie. It looks like a riot and may be the only movie in history where a monk sports a perm. I'm hoping SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE will do Junk Cinema lovers a great service and download the flick on YouTube or at least tell me where I can get it cheap.

But I digress. "Secret Weapons" is every bit as silly and shoddy as "The Mayflower Madam", despite its Cold War polemics. In fact, "Secret Weapons" and "The Mayflower Madam" are practically the same movie. They are both about prostitution, although one set of gals engage in the world's oldest profession for money, the others participate in the name of patriotism. The women are "trained" by knowledgeable bosses. If they feel any discomfort about what they are doing, the recruits tell themselves it's only "temporary" or "for the state". The audience, meanwhile, is expected to be "shocked" that God-less commies would train young women to sleep with and blackmail men, while viewers of "The Mayflower Madam" were meant to be horrified that someone in the Social Register would sink so low as to dally in hookerdom. And both flicks subtlety suggest that being a high class hooker can be a fun job (for a while) or can even help you defect to America, as long as you don't get caught.

Now, after watching these two corkers, don't you feel better? See, your life is not so bad. If Candice, Linda and Geena can survive appearing in this trash, you can find the strength to hold out for better times, too. The only person to feel sorry for here is Christopher Atkins. He's the perfect example of a "himbo" who never understood that what his loincloth covered up was the entire basis of his career. I just hope Channing Tatum is paying attention.