Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 22: "The Class Reunion" (1972)

Good thing they didn't make a movie about the second swingingest class ever. 


"Well, she was an American girl raised under promises. She couldn't help thinkin' that there was a little more to life somewhere else. After all, it was a great big world with lots of places to run to. Yeah, and if she had to die tryin', she had one little promise she was gonna keep. Oh yeah. All right. Take it easy, baby. Make it last all night. She was an American girl."
-Tom Petty, "American Girl" (1977)

Old Man: I sure hoped you'd make it, find your dream come true. 
Tony: I guess... I guess I never had a dream. 
Old Man: Maybe that's it. That sure might have been it. 
-Will Geer and Rock Hudson in John Frankenheimer's Seconds (1966)

Steve Apostolof with his arm draped around Rene Bond.
"Everybody liked Rene Bond," observed film critic and historian Greg Goodsell in Jordan Todorovsky's 2012 documentary Dad Made Dirty Movies . And why shouldn't they? With her toothy smile, apple cheeks, chestnut hair, button nose, and wide brown eyes, she was an accessible and appealing screen presence, the kind of sweet-natured girl you might have had a crush on in high school.

Here was your typical small town homecoming queen, only instead of waving to onlookers from the back of a convertible as it cruised down Main Street, Rene Bond was cheerfully disrobing and performing sex acts both real and simulated in motion pictures and on stage. She wasn't pale and drawn, like some of her drug-addled contemporaries in the adult film business. No, she was pert and pink and raring to go. A healthy girl, you might say -- not sexually aggressive in a threatening way (you'd never cast her as a horny Nazi commandant, for instance) but sexually assertive and willing to take the lead in the bedroom.

Rene's characters made it seem natural and normal for a woman to seek sexual satisfaction in her relationships. Filmgoers were besotted. So were directors and producers, who hired her again and again throughout the 1970s for hardcore, softcore, and (every now and again) so-called "legit" pictures. Her profile at the Internet Adult Film Database says that she began her career in either 1968 or '69, when she was at that magic age of 18. She was represented in those early days by talent agent and cinematographer Hal Guthu, who remained a friend for the rest of her life.

Among Rene's earliest employers was that sultan of schlock, producer Harry H. Novak, who gave her a leading role in one of his beloved "hicksploitation" features, Country Cuzzins (1970). The very next year, Rene's career trajectory would intersect with that of Edward Davis Wood, Jr., who directed the vivacious starlet in his lovably ludicrous, self-penned Gothic sex epic Necromania (1971). After that came a series of starring roles for sexploitation kingpin Stephen C. Apostolof. People don't much think of Rene Bond as one of Ed Wood's actors, but the truth is that she was in at least four films that Eddie wrote and/or directed, which puts her ahead of Criswell, Vampira, Bela Lugosi, Dolores Fuller, and Paul Marco.

According to all that I've read and heard about her, Rene Bond was a consummate professional, easy to work with, and a proven box office attraction: a real living doll with a Kewpie face and a Barbie body. Every Barbie needs her Ken, naturally, and Rene's was her frequent co-star and boyfriend-turned-husband Ric Lutze. It's not difficult to imagine the conventionally-handsome, broad-shouldered Ric as the captain of the hometown football team, with main squeeze Rene as the head cheerleader. Sure, Rene's wonderfully photogenic C-cup tits were plastic (she was an early adopter in the field of cosmetic surgery), but then again, so were Barbie's! Although some X -rated stars were running away from abusive or dysfunctional homes, Rene had plenty of familial support. While Mom happily accompanied her to gigs, Dad took inordinate pride in his daughter's exhibitionist career as a stripper and porn star, blissfully unconcerned with how it might affect his status as a member of the local chamber of commerce. Rene would croon "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" in her act and even bring the old man out on stage with her. Greg Goodsell comments again, this time via Facebook:
For the longest time these older guys would come forward to say that they saw Rene doing explicit stripteases around Hollywood [including the Ivar Burlesque Theatre] and Burbank and at the end of the show she would bring her dad on upstage. Director James Bryan confirmed all of this when I interviewed him a few years ago.
Then as now, adult film performers often worked under assumed names -- that is, when they opted to take screen credit at all. No exception to this rule, Rene Bond was known in her heyday by pseudonyms both mild (Mary Wendover, Karen Small, Mindy Brandt) and spicy (Lily Lovetree, Lotta Rocks). And there were multitudinous spellings of her own Christian name: Rene, Renee, Reneé, Renée, Reni, etc. But none of this seemed to be done out of shame or shyness. Rene was the type to shake hands, sign autographs, and pose for pictures with tuxedo-clad producers as they possessively wrapped their arms around her slim waist. She aimed to please and hit her target more often than not.

Mr. & Mrs. Levine: A porn star's temporary redemption.
If there were storm clouds on the horizon for Rene Bond, they first started to appear in her personal life. In the early-to-mid-1970s, the carnal contessa had two marriages go south on her, both to adult film stars. She and Ric Lutze split in '72, and a 1973 rebound marriage to Tony Maziotti stalled three years later.

But, still, the work continued. Always. Dozens of pictures a year, in fact, many not yet cataloged on the Internet. Magazine spreads, too. By the time Ronald Reagan took office as President of the United States and announced that it was "morning in America," Rene had passed the big three-oh and dropped off the porno radar. The days of the 35mm theatrical porn film were over by then anyway, and a new generation of young turks with VHS cameras had arrived to glut the market with cheaply-produced, narrative-free fuck flicks.

So where did Rene Bond go?

Well, as detailed in last week's column, Rene re-remarried, this time to a nice-looking fellow named Lonnie Levine with no apparent connection to show business whatsoever, let alone the smut racket. She and Lonnie appeared as gleeful, grinning contestants on the 1985-1986 syndicated game show called Break the Bank. The Levines' episodes -- a winning streak that netted a cool nine grand in cash and prizes -- most likely occurred in '86, as Joe Farago had already replaced Match Game's Gene Rayburn as host. The program identified Rene as a bankruptcy specialist rather than an actress.

Like previous Wood stars Tom Keene and James Craig, the former Ms. Bond had seemingly abdicated her showbiz throne for a more humdrum but dependable life as a mere mortal in the private sector. She was puffy-faced, permed, and polyester-clad by then and looked more suited to a PTA meeting than a porn set. But the famous megawatt smile was still there, and the eyes were as bright and expressive as ever. There was a hit song on the radio that year, "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades." Maybe she heard it on the way to the studio that day. One telling, tragicomic moment in the taping occurred when her husband, typical of the doofuses with whom she was so often paired in her movies, misidentified the award given out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as the Emmy rather than the Oscar. Rene playfully thwacked Lonnie on the arm for that. Maybe as a little girl, she'd once dreamed of standing on the dais of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and thanking all the little people who'd helped her along the way.

Rene Bond: An American girl
It sure looked like Rene Bond had beaten the system. She'd run the gauntlet and emerged intact on the other side, give or take a marriage or two. New job, new fella, new life, her years as a professional fornicator just a crazy, faded memory now. But she couldn't keep it together. A decade after Break the Bank, Rene Bond was dead from cirrhosis of the liver, a malady most frequently caused by chronic alcoholism and hepatitis. She was four months and nine days short of her 46th birthday. Even Ed Wood -- the walking cautionary tale -- managed to do better than that.

The fate of her third and final marriage is unknown, but there are vague reports of Rene spending many of her final years in Las Vegas, a locale once described by songwriter Wally Pleasant as "that boulevard of broken dreams where luck runs out of machines." She expired in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 2, 1996. Mr. and Mrs. Bond's outgoing little girl, the sweetheart who'd easily won over the public with her seemingly effortless charm, was gone. Like the heroine of Tom Petty's song, she was an American girl who died trying to keep that one little promise to herself.

I cannot help but feel that the world failed this young woman, an actress who projected strength onscreen but was as fallible and vulnerable as anyone in real life. Fascinatingly, there is an uncharacteristic touch of melancholy to the character Rene Bond portrays in this week's movie, a softcore production that reunited the creative team behind 1965's immortal Orgy of the Dead.

THE CLASS REUNION (1972)

A sampling of tender moments from Steve Apostolof's The Class Reunion.

French ad for the film
Alternate titles: Class Reunion; Private Screenings: Class Reunion; The Erotic World of A.C. Stephen: The Class Reunion; the film's German title, Heißes Verlangen blutjunger Mädchen, translates as Hot Desire of Very Young Girls. In France, the film was known as Les Tripoteuses.

Availability: This film is not currently "available" in the strictest sense of that word. For those who are very clever with their search engine skills, however, it is relatively easy to find online. Class Reunion was released on VHS in the late 1980s, but this edition (Private Screenings, 1989) is extremely expensive. Something Weird Video also seems to have put the film out on VHS as part of its series, The Erotic World of A.C. Stephen. I was unable to locate new or used versions of this edition. Good luck.

The mighty SCA Distributors logo!
The backstory: Ed Wood's life and career in the 1970s were heavily influenced by two key figures in the adult entertainment industry. One such figure was Bernie Bloom, the owner of Pendulum Publishing, a firm that cranked out X-rated magazines; quasi-scientific sex manuals; and even occasional films and loops. By a wide margin, Bernie was Eddie's steadiest employer during that turbulent decade.

The other major figure in Ed's life at that time was Stephen C. Apostolof, the Bulgarian-born filmmaker who wrote and produced softcore cheapies under the semi-pseudonym A.C. Stephen and released them through his own company, SCA Distributors. Bernie and Steve were Ed Wood's two most reliable patrons during his declining years, and it's a coin toss whether they were tossing him a lifeline or working him like a pack mule for little to no money. Both were dismayed by Eddie's drinking, but both kept hiring him -- not only because he worked quickly and cheaply but because they genuinely liked the guy. Bernie claimed that he threw as much work as he could Eddie's way "because the harder he worked, the less he had time to drink." It's quite possible that Steve felt the same way. In any event, Ed's wife Kathy definitely preferred Bernie to Steve, as she would tell Rudolph Grey:
Over the years, Eddie bounced back and forth between Bernie Bloom and Steve Apostolof like a ping pong ball. I hated when Steve would try to get Eddie away from Bernie. "We're gonna make another picture, Pappy. Come on, Eddie. Come on, Pappy." How many times did I plead with Eddie to stay with Bernie and a regular guaranteed paycheck? You know, Bernie did love Eddie in a way, and I know Eddie loved Bernie. He tested Bernie too many times. Eddie was such a kid in a way.When Bernie fired him, it broke his heart.
True, Ed Wood's seven-year tenure at Pendulum (roughly 1968-1975), with its factory-like office on West Pico Boulevard in LA, was the closest thing he had to a steady job since he'd been a night production coordinator at Universal in the early 1950s. Essentially, both of those were clerical jobs, relying on Eddie's formidable skill with a typewriter. He churned out stories for Bernie Bloom just as mechanically as he'd once churned out call sheets for Universal.

Clearly, though, Steve Apostolof was offering Ed something more tempting: the opportunity to get back in pictures and see characters saying his words up there on the big screen, the way he'd only dreamed when he was six and watching Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning's Dracula (1931) at the movie house back in Poughkeepsie. How could he say no to that? Never mind that Apostolof was barely keeping the wolves at bay himself, financing each new movie with the meager profits from the last one.

In the long run, Ed Wood's decision to keep collaborating with Stephen C. Apostolof was a gift to his future fans. While the work he did for Pendulum during those years remains all but inaccessible in 2013, the SCA skin flicks are a mere click of a browser away. Best of all, Eddie got full credit under his own name in Apostolof's '70s sexcapades. Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of sitting through these films is seeing the words "EDWARD D. WOOD, JR." in big, fat, yellow letters on the screen.

Good tux/bad tux: Steve Apostolof & Ed Wood.
Orgy of the Dead (1965) marked both Ed Wood's and Steve Apostolof's entry into the world of "blue movies," and apart from occasional outliers like Ed's monster movie Venus Flytrap (1970) and Steve's heist flick Hot Ice (1978), the sex film ghetto is where they would spend the rest of their film careers. Orgy, then, was a ghoulish debutante ball for both men, but their second collaboration along these lines would not emerge until 1972. Actually, that year marked their second, third, and fourth collaborations.

Since I cannot determine exact US release dates for The Class Reunion, Drop Out Wife, and The Snow Bunnies -- other than the fact that they all came out in '72 -- I am covering them in alphabetical order.

What had Steve Apostolof been up to between 1965 and 1972? Well, as documented in Jordan Todorov's self-explanatory Dad Made Dirty Movies (2012), Mr. Apostolof (or "Executive Filmmaker" as he ostentatiously added to his already-personalized SCA California license plate) stayed quite busy cranking out a series of movies affectionately referred to as "nudie cuties," with lots of bare boobs and butts but no onscreen penetration or explicit fellatio or cunnilingus.

As the 1960s wore on and below-the-waist nudity become more commonplace, "nudie cuties" started being indelicately referred to as "beaver pictures." Yet actual sex remained off the menu for those directors who didn't want to get hauled in front of a judge or have their movies and equipment confiscated during police raids. Strategic implication was the goal of such suggestive Apostolof flicks like The Bachelor's Dreams (1967), College Girls (1968), and The Divorcee (1969). You'll not find a "money shot" in any one of them.

The softcore subgenre was pioneered and perfected by director Russ Meyer, whose films are still considered to be among the most sexually arousing of the 1960s. Apostolof's films were never in Meyer's league, even with Eddie Wood at his side, but SCA productions featured competent cinematography, attractive actors, and storylines that at least attempted, albeit clumsily, to capture the cultural zeitgeist or ape more respectable "mainstream" entertainment. Many of Apostolof's late '60s films focused on the drug-infested counterculture, while 1969's Lady Godiva Rides took some cues from Tom Jones (1963) with Albert Finney.

Leading man Harvey Shane, then and now.
Like most any experienced director, Steve Apostolof had his own regular stable of actors: performers he could depend on to show up on time, say their lines, and do what he wanted when he wanted. The cast of The Class Reunion is chock full of these folks. These were Steve's people, let's remember, not necessarily Eddie's. You won't find the likes of Kenne Duncan, Duke Moore, or Lyle Talbot here. And Steve would probably have rather returned to Bulgaria, the communist-overrun homeland he fled as a young man, than work with Criswell again. In their place, alongside the aforementioned Rene Bond (or "Renee Bond" this time around) and Ric Lutze, you'll find such SCA stock players as:

  • Marsha Jordan, a busty, Alabama-born blonde of a "certain age," whom we'd probably now call a MILF or cougar. After spending over a decade doffing her duds onscreen in one softcore flick after another from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, this former stewardess (who'd spent her childhood in a convent!) quietly retired from the business and devoted her time to being a wife and mother in San Miguel, California, apparently achieving the happy ending that evaded poor Rene Bond.
  • Forman Shane (or Shain), aka Harvey Shane, an olive-complected, curly-haired leading actor who brought an earthy humor and credibility to his many, many roles for Steve Apostolof. As I learned from the documentary, Harvey was a close friend of the Apostolof clan, and Steve's children were a little weirded-out to learn that he'd done so many sex scenes in their dad's movies. Though no longer recognizable as his younger self, Shane remains a fine raconteur and has a good sense of humor about his film career.
  • Terry (or Terri) Johnson, aka Judy Medford, a rather vacant and willowy blonde who spent roughly six productive years in the sex film trade, mostly tame softcore stuff but possibly dipping into hardcore a few times as well. (This is unsubstantiated; if you can prove or disprove this, let me know.) Besides her long, flaxen tresses, Johnson's most notable features are her upper teeth -- quite prominent and bifurcated with a Letterman-like gap in the front. She comes across as a hybrid of Joni Mitchell and Janis from The Muppet Show.
Unfortunately for all of these folks, Steve and Ed included, Gerard Damiano's Deep Throat (1972) made movies like The Class Reunion all but obsolete. Throat was a narrative, feature-length pornographic film with graphic, non-simulated sex acts, and it achieved something no other movie of its ilk ever had before: mainstream popularity with respectable audiences. While Steve's films were directed all but exclusively at men, Damiano's movie was attracting couples... along with reams of free publicity and years of legal headaches as well. Dad Made Dirty Movies records Steve's initial reaction to the Damiano film as unimpressed boredom.

Marsha Jordan, meanwhile, compared hardcore porn features to "medical film[s]" with "nothing left to the imagination" and declined to participate in them. This is similar to a statement by cult director and Russ Meyer superfan John Waters, who said that watching hardcore porn was like watching open heart surgery.

But the public's mind had been changed, and Apostolof's films were no longer satisfactory to the average ticket-buyer, which meant that they were no longer satisfactory to investors or exhibitors either. Steve tried swimming upstream for a few more years, but it was all for naught. His once-prosperous career had bitten the dust by 1978.

Reunion attendee Marsha Jordan.
The viewing experience: Honestly, while viewing The Class Reunion, I had to wonder whether its makers had ever observed or interacted with human beings before making this movie. That's how odd and unnatural the characters' behavior seemed to me. Though theoretically more down-to-earth and naturalistic than Necromania, with its spooky, vaguely supernatural setting, The Class Reunion is even more opaque as a narrative experience.

Whatever twisted logic guided Ed Wood in the co-writing of this screenplay, Steve Apostolof's priorities as a director are instantly clear from the opening shot of the film: a close-up of Marsha Jordan in the shower, lovingly polishing her breasts to a high shine. Jordan is introduced tits first. It takes a few seconds before we see the actress's face and realize that she is wearing full makeup, including heavy blue eye shadow.

One might surmise that Apostolof, like Russ Meyer, was a breast fetishist, but there is a definite difference between the two men in this area. Meyer trained his camera on women's breasts because he loved them, obsessed over them, and wanted to feature them in the most cinematic way possible. Apostolof, on the other hand, repeatedly referred to boobs as "ticket sellers" when discussing his films. To the pragmatic Bulgarian director, tits were a means to an end, the carrot dangling at the end of the stick and luring horny men into the theater. To Meyer, tits were art, God's greatest masterpieces, and he was put on this earth to capture them.

Russ was the Rembrandt of tits. Apostolof was more like the Kmart of tits. Steve's movies are laid out like a convenience store, and he puts his most-desirable merchandise (in this case, Marsha Jordan's mammary glands) right up front so that customers don't have to go looking for them.

Structurally, this film is rather eccentric. Like a James Bond movie, The Class Reunion begins with a pre-credits sequence that has very little to do with the rest of the film. After emerging from the shower and painstakingly drying herself off, Marsha Jordan is visited by the local mailman, who presents her with an invitation to a class reunion. One might point out here that Ed Wood, Sr. was a postal worker and that one of Glen or Glenda?'s most memorable scenes involved a friendly neighborhood mail carrier who sought respite in cross-dressing after making his appointed rounds. So let's add "mailmen" to the official list of Ed Wood motifs.

Bafflingly, Marsha Jordan's character is called "Rose Cooper" in this scene but is identified as "Jane" mere seconds later in the opening title sequence. It doesn't matter anyway, since top-billed Marsha disappears entirely from the film after the credits. The prologue vaguely establishes that "the class of '69" (get it?) from "the old alma mater" is getting back together for a weekend. As we will see, it turns out to be a weekend of booze-fueled debauchery whose participants screw incessantly, indiscriminately, and without conscience.

The class of '69, together again amid ugly '70s decor.
Virtually the entire remainder of the movie takes place in a spectacularly unspectacular hotel amid the truly nauseating interior decor of the era: lots of murky earth tones, dark wood paneling, and shag carpet. The setting reminded me that this film came out the same year as the historic Watergate break-in, which would eventually bring down the Nixon presidency. I realize that The Class Reunion all but certainly takes place in Southern California, but I couldn't help but imagine that the fateful burglaries were being carried out by G. Gordon Liddy's crew just a few doors down from where the onscreen action was occurring. (Fun fact: Liddy, like Ed Wood, had once lived in Poughkeepsie, NY.)

Alcohol was muscling its way to the forefront of Eddie's writing, so the reunion kicks off in "the French Room," which is merely the hotel's dingy, depressing bar. Bourbon appears to be the drink of choice in this movie; maybe it's what Ed was drinking at the time. The class of '69 amounts to about eight people by my count. From a distance, you'd guess them to be typical lounge lizards on the make, hoping to find someone to accompany them upstairs for some fun. There's nothing particularly nostalgic or collegiate about the gathering.

The ringleader of the event seems to be the satyr-like Charlie (Forman Shane aka Harvey Shane), a self-described "lowly account executive" who has arrived to the hotel without an escort and is eager for mischief. Winsome, buck-toothed blonde Liza (Terri Johnson) has been torching for Charlie since college and still gets "goose pimples" when she thinks of him. Athletic, all-American Harry (Ric Lutze) is now a football coach in Iowa and can't get over how everyone's matured since college!

Slender, troubled brunette Rosie (Starline Comb aka Starlyn Simone) is married, but her rich, older husband Jim is away on one of his frequent business trips. Fluff (Sandy Carey)-- and how's that for a definitive Ed Wood character name? -- is the class slut, plain and simple. Rosie counsels her to keep her panties on and her legs crossed, but we all know Fluff will not be heeding that prudish advice, as she quickly sets her sites on the even-more-improbably-named Wimpy Murgatroyd (Fred Geoffries aka Christohper Geoffries), a sturdy-looking lunkhead with platinum hair.

Flamboyantly gay Tom (Ron Darby) and lipstick lesbian Thelma (Rene Bond) seem to be married and acting as one another's beards. He's satisfied with the arrangement; she isn't. While he bats his eyelashes and flirts with every man in sight, she sulks in the corner.

Apostolof's College Girls
The Class Reunion could scarcely be a proper Ed Wood movie if it didn't recycle previously-existing footage in utterly weird and arbitrary ways. Thus, the boozy bonhomie of the French Room is suddenly threatened by a noisy demonstration outside. It seems some young, shaggy-haired folks are marching down the street to protest the war in Vietnam. (Apostolof has clumsily inserted some newsreel footage of hippies into his film.)

Now, our main characters in The Class Reunion are supposed to be in their early 20s and should probably be social liberals at this stage in their lives, but this film was created by two fortysomething conservatives, one a staunch anti-communist (Apostolof), the other a battle-decorated ex-Marine (Wood), and the script reflects their stodgy, reactionary views. The college graduates therefore react to these young ruffians as if they were members of a hostile alien species. Wimpy snorts: "Nothing like those street apes ever happened when we were their age! You know, to think, I helped pay their school tax!"  Harry, too, is incensed. "The only principles they've got is called sex. S-E-X with a double X!" (That makes two films in a row with Ric Lutze spelling in anger.)

Charlie, to his credit, is more lenient toward the kids and reminds his classmates that they, too, used to engage in some kinky capers. To prove his point, Charlie invites the reunion attendees up to his hotel room to watch some supposed "home movies" from his "frat rat" days. (In those pre-VCR years, that meant he had to bring a projector and movie screen with him to the hotel!) The films indeed show that the gang used to participate in orgies, apparently in full view of a movie crew. In fact, these scenes are lifted verbatim from Apostolof's previous film, College Girls (1968), including a memorable shot of Harvey Shane jumping off a balcony while high on LSD.

The reunion attendees are shown nodding and giggling at Charlie's movies, as people tend to do when watching old films of themselves, but this gets a little uncomfortable when one scene seems to depict a rape. Perhaps Steve and Ed should have been more careful about the footage they chose to repurpose.

In any event, Charlie suggests that he and the gang have another orgy for old time's sake, and without any further prodding whatsoever, all the other characters immediately disrobe and start crawling all over each other on the hotel floor. The only abstainers are limp-wristed, lisping Tom and sullen, pouty Thelma. In essence, the film's two homosexual characters are not allowed to join in these heterosexual reindeer games. They're not missing much, though, since this must be one of the most listless and passion-free orgies in movie history. The only real eroticism occurs when Rene Bond, forced to watch from the sidelines, strips and fondles herself while gazing sadly at her nude, writhing classmates.

Thelma and Rosie bond over bourbon and bathrooms.
From there, The Class Reunion is merely a series of sexual interludes. In an amusing reversal of the "girl and gorilla" subplot from One Million AC/DC, hapless Wimpy finds himself unable to get away from the sexually insatiable Fluff, who keeps dragging him back into bed for round after exhausting round of aerobic intercourse.

In the movie's most regrettable sequence, the one highly likely to make modern-day audiences cringe, stereotypical "fag" Tom finds himself duped by a couple of con artists, Bruce (Con Covert) and Henrietta (Flora Weisel), who have a very impractical sexual blackmail scam going. I suppose they're a latter-day equivalent of the criminal couples in such past Wood films as Jail Bait, The Violent Years, and Night of the Ghouls. It's also noteworthy that, while disrobing, Tom twice compares his clothing to snakes (another key Ed Wood motif).

Meanwhile, Liza (whose name is mysteriously pronounced "Lisa") finally gets her chance to rendezvous with Charlie.

Rosie, the unfortunate young woman whose absent husband Jim is a good provider but a lousy lover, participates in the film's two most meaningful and interesting sex scenes. The first is her tender and erotically-charged lesbian encounter with jumpsuit-clad Thelma, who uses the opportunity to bash the opposite sex:  "Men are all beasts! They don't care what a woman likes or dislikes! They just wanna get their own climax and go home!" It's difficult to imagine that sentiment coming from Steve Apostolof, so I can almost guarantee that Ed Wood wrote the dialogue for this scene. That would also explain this befuddling, Wood-ian exchange while Rosie and Thelma are drinking (what else?) bourbon:
Thelma: I never could take that stuff straight! 
Rosie: There's some water in the bathroom if you'd like. 
Thelma: I've been in too many bathrooms lately. How many bathrooms have you been in lately alone?
The film's climax, which blessedly takes place outside the dreadful-looking hotel, brings Rosie back to the safe and familiar world of heterosexuality by pairing her up with bland nice guy Harry. "You're so kind and masculine," Rosie gushes, before the leisure-suited Lothario makes sweet love to her in a Garden of Eden-esque public park. "It's just like out of a storybook! So beautiful!" Harry enthuses. This movie came out the same year that Rene Bond and Ric Lutze's marriage broke up, and it's interesting that Starline Comb beds both of them in this film. During their romantic interlude, which is scored with sappy violins, Rosie and Harry take a moment to ponder the larger issues of life (as Ed Wood's characters are wont to do). At first, Rosie is despondent and seemingly channels Eddie's own existential, late-in-life despair:
Rosie: It seems like life has cheated us out of all the things we like best. Take me, for example. I like sex, and what do I get? An old, impotent, rich husband! What's happened with us, Harry? Where did all those years go? We had so much fun in college!
Later, Harry gently though incoherently talks her down when she gets too lofty:
Rosie: What makes people tick, like us? 
Harry: Us? 
Rosie: Well, yeah, us. Why are we here, and why are we so miserable at home? 
Harry: I don't need a professor to tell me that! I could talk about that subject for days.
But Rosie still insists upon pondering the imponderables, while Harry stays grounded. You can almost hear Ed Wood debating himself in this dialogue:
Rosie: I really like you, and I don't know why. 
Harry: Well, look, I don't question it. I just accept it. If there's gotta be a reason, we'll find out sooner or later! 
Rosie: I accept it, too, dear. But I'm so miserable and unhappy, and I keep asking myself why. 
Harry: Because we're asking ourselves too many questions, that's why.
The two lovers then undress and have satisfying sex in this serene, pastoral setting. Original sin has been cleansed away by the sunshine and fresh air, and Harry and Rosie are naked and beautiful and free in the glorious natural world outside the dark, sleazy hotel. The Class Reunion ends with these enigmatic yet sweet and hopeful words:
Rosie: Ah, it's so wonderful here! I wish I could stay forever! 
Harry: Yeah, life is so wonderful, and you're so beautiful! Maybe that's the reason, the only reason! Well, there'll always be another class reunion!
You will think I am being facetious here, but I am quite sincere when I tell you that this moment reminded me of Judy Garland's famous final speech from The Wizard of Oz (1939), a film Ed himself referenced in his One Million AC/DC script. If you'll recall, Dorothy has awoken from her strange and eventful dream to find herself back in her Kansas farmhouse, surrounded by loved ones and clutching her beloved terrier, Toto, to her chest. Her aunt and uncle don't seem to believe her wild stories about the land of Oz, but this doesn't trouble her. As the MGM Orchestra builds to a crescendo, Judy Garland speaks these immortal, unforgettable words:
Oh, but anyway, Toto, we're home! Home! And this is my room -- and you're all here! And I'm not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And -- Oh, Auntie Em -- there's no place like home!
Or as Ed Wood might have put it, "Oh, Auntie Em, there's no place like a class reunion!"
Next week: We go from graduates to dropouts! At the Human Be-In, a 1967 hippie tribal gathering in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, author and psychologist Timothy Leary, a man older than either Ed Wood or Steve Apostolof, made one of the 20th century's resounding statements: "Turn on, tune in, drop out." Those six widely-heeded, hotly-contested words had a seismic impact on American culture in the 1960s. 
Five years later, Wood and Apostolof were still struggling to figure things out, as evidenced by their very tardy cinematic response in which a curious housewife decides to check out the whole "swinging" scene in search of sexual and emotional fulfillment. Will she succeed... or will she, like Dorothy Gale, find that her heart's desire was in her own back yard? I guess we'll all find out in a week when I cover Drop Out Wife (1972).

Special thanks to Jordan Todorov and Greg Goodsell for their assistance in researching and illustrating this article. 

4 comments:

  1. The treatment of Bruce is genuinely puzzling to me. Was he out in college? Is his sexuality a surprise to his former classmates or did they always know about it? And if all of his male friends are straight, why doesn't he bring a date so he won't be left out when it's trouser-dropping time? So many questions.

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  2. As I said, this movie seems to have been made by humans who have never interacted with other humans. But here's the deal on Bruce as clearly as I can describe it. His classmates all seem to know he and Thelma are homosexual, but it's an implied, unspoken thing. They're both ostensibly closeted and using their "relationship" as a cover. It's natural to the rest of the gang that Bruce and Thelma wound up together. They all saw it coming. But the couple spend little to no time with each other and do not put any effort whatsoever into keeping up the front. Bruce does have a homosexual encounter later in the film, but it's not with one of his classmates. It's with a heterosexual con artist who lures him into bed so that they can be interrupted by the conman's wife, who threatens to expose Bruce as being gay unless he pays her some money. This scene is played for slapstick comedy, by the way, with the wife beating her husband and Tom over the head with a purse in a false show of anger.

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    1. UPDATE: I was taking my character names from Rob Craig's Ed Wood, Mad Genius. In that book, Craig states that the gay character is Bruce (Con Covert). However, having now seen subsequent SCA films, I know believe this character is Tom (Ron Darby). The article has been changed accordingly.

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