Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Road To Ruin Is Paved With Good Intentions ...And Bad Movies

 

Money problems can get the best of anyone.

Greetings, movie lovers.

Are you experiencing cash flow problems? 

Would you like to earn more money?

Of course you would.

Unfortunately, you're too old for a paper route, too young to collect Social Security, the Publishers Cleaning House Sweeps Steaks keeps passing you by (no matter how many times you enter) and marrying for money isn't an option.



"And that's how you make air.": Walter White trying (and failing) to interest his students in chemistry.

In situations such as these, people often find it necessary to seek out a part-time job, something that won't interfere with their regular gig, but will add some much needed dough to their bottom line. However, finding such a position can be difficult and lead to unexpected complications.

Just ask Walter White.

Mr. White (played by Bryan Cranston, the thinking gal's Kevin Bacon) is the main character in "Breaking Bad" (2008-2013). He's a high school chemistry teacher slowly being crushed under the weight of his exsistance: his teaching salary is chicken feed; his students think he's a dink; his tetchy wife Skylar (Anna Gunn) is pregnant with a "surprise baby" and his teenage son (RJ Mitte) is a moody kid who favors Uncle Hank (Dean Norris), a DEA agent with a big mouth and racist opinions, over his more straight-laced dad. On top of everything else, Walt has cancer. Terminal lung cancer, to be exact.

Ouch. Does this guy need a hug or what?

A hug might be nice, but what Walter really needs is money. Lots of it. Right now. With the cost of his cancer treatment skyrocketing with each visit, Walt becomes frantic about keeping his family out of Debtors Prison--before and after he dies.

The Batman and Robin of Meth: Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).

His solution?

Take a part-time job... cooking Meth.

But not just any Meth! Walter plans on using his superior science skills to cook-up a batch of Meth so pure and potent, drug addicts everywhere will be dying for it.

Of course, to get the product out to the public, Mr. White needs someone who understands the market. As luck would have it, Walt unexpectedly reunites with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), an addle-brained former pupil he duly flunked back in the day. Jesse is now a low-level drug dealer and Meth addict. However, Walt figures the combination of his science skills and Jesse's contacts will give him just the right edge he needs. Jesse initially rejects this opportunity, but after Walt blackmails him, he quickly changes his mind. Of course, Walt makes it clear they will only be peddling Meth until he builds up a nest egg for his family; when that's done, business is concluded.

Sounds like a great plan, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

"Your shoes don't go with that apron!": Drug dealer Krazy 8 (Max Arciniega) takes aim at Walter White's fashion sense.

How about everything?

Now, if you're a fan of "Breaking Bad", you already know Walt and Jesse get mixed up in some pretty ugly shit: crazy drug dealers, explosions, murder, car crashes, unhinged drug users, neglected children, White Supremacists, over doses, shoot outs, shady lawyers (better call Saul!) and drug kingpins who don't hesitate to knock off kids.

 "Breaking Bad" has been rightfully praised for it's superior acting/writing/direction. However, it wasn't the first TV series/movie of the week that explored the extraordinary lengths cash-strapped folks would go to make ends meet.

As is so often the case, Junk Cinema was already covering this topic years before anybody else was.

See, TV movies from the '70's, '80's and early '90's regularly churned out cautionary tales featuring a cross section of the Americans who would find themselves "breaking bad"...usually by becoming hookers. 


Housewife hookers Linda Purl, Jamie Lee Curtis and Karen Valentine discuss the finer points of their job in "Money on the Side."

This Junk Cinema sub-genre not only allows (the mostly female) performers to act up a storm, it also provides viewers with an All You Can Eat Bad Movie Buffet of big hair, shoulder pads, moralizing judges and kooky dialog. The movies were also promoted using nifty slogans like, "Sex. Who Pays When a Housewife Turns Hooker?" (that's from "Money on the Side".) And they utilized exotic locations like London, New York, Russia and Montrose, California. Below is a combo platter of some the nuttier offerings this genre spawned.

*"Money on the Side" (1982)--A trio of desperate housewives (including Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis) need money for bills and stuff, so they begin working for real estate lady Susan Flannery (the future Stephanie Forrester on "The Bold and the Beautiful").

 Unfortunately, Flannery's real estate business is merely cover for an escort ring. The gals turn tricks because it's good money and, well, it's better than making Happy Meals for five hours straight. Of course, the law is on to Flannery and soon everybody's in the slammer. Linda Purl is so horrified her kid will learn the truth about mom's part-time job, she hangs herself. Karen Valentine, meanwhile, tries to explain to her astonished husband (Richard Masur) that she and her fellow doxies were "just people" trying to make some extra money. 

 "What I did, I did for us!" Karen screams. Unconvinced, hubby leaves her high and dry.

*"Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold" (1978)--Future Oscar winner Kim Basinger foolishly goes off to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune. Things get pretty bleak pretty fast and viewers are asked to consider which is worse: being unemployed or having to share an apartment with mimes.  Anyway, when she can't make the rent, Kim falls in with a scuzzy "modeling agency" and is soon forced, for economic reasons, to pose topless. 

In an interesting twist, Basinger would go on to pose for "Playboy" magazine and, unlike her character in this movie, didn't feel one bit ashamed.

* "The Mayflower Madam" (1987)--Sydney Biddle Barrows was an FIT graduate and a descendant of one the original passengers on the Mayflower. When she's fired from her department store job, Sydney (played by a pre-"Murphy Brown" Candice Bergen) goes to work for a nasty pimp answering his phones. Horrified by the shoddy way he runs his business, Bergen decides to set up her own shop called "Cachet". Recruiting nice, clean, healthy gals who dream of being actresses and going to med school, Sydney gives them all make overs and provides tips on how to be "a real lady." Soon business is booming and Sydney and her girls celebrate with picnics at Central Park and balloon rides. Bergen even helps her hookers study their lines for acting auditions! What a great boss! Best of  all, Sydney finds herself a rich boyfriend.

However, there's a price to pay for all this illicit activity.

Sydney Biddle Barrows (Candice Bergen, far left) and her happy hookers go shopping with their ill-gotten gains in "The Mayflower Madam."

One day, Sydney's killjoy landlord turns her in to the cops and the whole sordid mess ends up making headlines ("The Mayflower Madam Ran a Tight Ship!" yelled one paper). Everybody goes to jail (one hooker is even arrested seconds before making her Broadway debut) and Sydney's friends and family are aghast at what she's done. Bergen is shunned by her high society crowd and, even worse, her rich boyfriend dumps her. Look for the real Sydney Biddle Barrows in a cameo.

* "Co-Ed Call Girl" (1996)--One of the greatest TV movies of all time...and one of the most hilarious.

Joanna (Tori Spelling, in the role she was born to play) is the world's dumbest pre-med student. Stressed out by her studies and feeling guilty about the long hours her widowed ma (Susan Blakely) puts in at their family's bakery to support her, Joanna stumbles into a call girl ring run by the slick and sick Ron Tamblin (Scott Plank). 

Poor Tori actually thinks her job as an "escort" merely requires her to show up on "dates" with assigned men to be pretty and charming at social events, not having to, you know, sleep with the guy.  (One of the other escorts gives Joanna this tip when she has bed down with a "date" she finds less-than-appealing: "Just pretend he's Brat Pitt.") At first the money seems good and Joanna can go on some shopping sprees, but when her, um, "dates" start insisting on getting physical, Spelling begins to have second thoughts. When Tori works up the courage to tell her boss she's quitting ("My heart's not in it anymore!" Joanna wails), Ron screams back, "I don't care about your heart! Just this body and what it can do for me!"

As all Lifetime movies must, there's a fight over a gun and Tori ends up on trial for attempted murder. However, because the cops have been wanting to bust Ron for some time, Joanna ends up giving states evidence (I think) and Ron is sent to jail for, like, a million years. Spelling, meanwhile, is set free, sadder but wiser, but, alas, still in debt.

"I have to do what?!" Tori Spelling is shocked SHOCKED! to learn that her "Co-Ed Call Girl" duties include having sex with her "dates."

Although "Co-Ed Call Girl" was a ratings smash, reviews were less than complimentary. In fact, The New York Daily News' critic dubbed it "The Worst Tori Ever Told" and claimed Spelling gave "the single worst starring performance on TV" that year. "Co-Ed Call Girl" also won an esteemed place on the "50 Most Ridiculous Lifetime Movies" list compiled by the website Complex.com. In case you're interested, it placed 49th.

*"Secret Weapons" (aka "Secrets of the Red Bedroom"(1985)--The KGB, always on the look out for ways to defeat the west, recruits and trains Russian gals to seduce and blackmail American diplomats. Because life under Communism is awful (there are shortages for everything) and the typical Soviet dad is a drunken pig, the government has no problem finding females willing to join up.

Elena Kolsov (future "Beauty and the Beast" and "Terminator" heroine Linda Hamilton) is one such gal. Working under the strict tutelage of Sally Kellerman (who tells her pupils, "America's religion is sex."), Linda loses her Russian accent, gets a make over, learns how to fire a gun and becomes acquainted with American food like hot dogs. Soon enough, Linda and her friend Tamara (future Oscar winner Geena Davis) are targeting unsuspecting Yanks with their feminine wiles.

One such unfortunate mark is Christopher Atkins, the heart throb from "The Blue Lagoon" and the crackpot Roger Corman classic "Dracula Rising". He plays the son of a Steve Jobs-ish computer genius who was brought to the USSR to "broaden his horizons." When Elena asks Chris what he does all day, he says, "The same thing I do at home: I get up late in the morning and I go to bed late at night."

"And in between?" she asks.

"You aren't too smart are you? I like that in a man.": Elena sizes up her next patsy (Christopher Atkins) in "Secret Weapons".

"Drink," he replies.

Then Chris pulls out a joint and declares, "When Lenin or whoever it was that said religion was the opiate of the people, I bet he never tasted this stuff!" 

Right on cue the cops burst in and an International Incident is born.

 Elena feels guilty for trapping such a harmless twit as Chris, so she decides to quit being a "grande horizontale" for Mother Russia and works out an elaborate plot to defect to America. Don't you love a happy ending? 

*"Half-Moon Street" (1986)--The towering Sigourney Weaver takes a break from fighting off alien beasties with concentrated acid for blood in the "Alien" series, to fighting off the high cost of living in "Half-Moon Street".

Over- educated and under-paid, Dr. Lauren Slaughter (Sigourney Weaver) decides working for an escort service is a smart move.

Although she has a Ph.D and lectures at a snooty London institute, Dr. Lauren Slaughter (Weaver) is paid peanuts and lives in a crummy apartment where there's never enough hot water. Needing to augment her salary, Lauren receives a mysterious VHS cassette (it was the '80's remember) extolling the virtues of working as a paid escort for the tony Jasmine Agency. Because escorting offers flexible hours and good pay, Lauren signs up. (Unlike poor Tori Spelling, Dr. Slaughter does get to decide if she wants to bed down with a client. For example, when a Japanese "date" offends her, Weaver announces, "I decide what I do after dinner. And in your case, it's no. Definitely no.")

 Lauren meets Lord Bulbeck (Sir Michael Caine) on another for her "dates.". An MP and terrorist expert, Caine dabbles with escorts because he hates dating. Turns out Lauren enjoys "uncomplicated sex", so the two really hit it off. When Lord Bulbeck asks Dr. Slaughter if she's ever worried about her physical safety (or catching an STD) while out on her rounds, Weaver cheerfully reassures him, "I have a gynecologist who knows karate." (Which great for the Obgyn, but what about her?)

Unbeknownst to Dr. S, Lord Bulbeck is involved in an anti-terrorist plot/sting/operation and the government is using her to lure out the assassin/baddie. Of course, Weaver knows none of this and is pretty miffed when she's almost killed during the flick's climatic shoot out.

Later on, Caine brings Lauren flowers and apologizes for almost getting her killed. And using her as a pawn in a government operation without telling her. Weaver accepts his apology and the two kiss and make-up. Dr. Slaughter quits the Jasmine Agency and it appears our cuddlemates will live happily ever after.

After pondering these flicks, I believe the following points can be made:

"Live in thy shame, but die not shame with thee!":Tori Spelling tries to deal with the shame of starring in "Co-Ed Call Girl."

Point Number One: It's almost too easy for gals feeling the financial pinch to get roped into prostitution rings or "Escort Services"...at least according to TV.

Point Number Two: The United States really needs to beef up its social safety net. Karen Valentine's character in "Money on the Side", for example, started hooking to pay for the long-term care needed by her son. Tori Spelling, mind you, became an escort to help pay for med-school. All of those against universal health insurance or free-community college, please take note.

Point Number Three: I think some smart producer is missing out on not making a sequel to "Half Moon Street." My idea is this: Lord Bulbeck and Dr. Slaughter get married, have some kids and then he's in the running to be Prime Minister. What happens when Weaver's "escort" past comes out into the open? A PM with a wife who was once a hooker? Now that's a movie begging to be made!

Point Number Four: Tori Spelling is right up there with Pia Zadora and Delores Fuller (from "Glen or Glenda?") as one of the worst actresses of all time. Watching Tori's perpetually stupified expression as one of her "dates" (a temperamental concert pianist/conductor) orders her to strip as he bangs away on the piano (no pun intended) is a hysterical high light. And what gal defending herself against attempted murder charges would wear high heels and a mini skirt to court?

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, tough times financially are no excuse to sell Meth...or yourself. And help me SAVE THE MOVIES!