Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 31: "Revenge of the Virgins" (1959)

"Savage Maidens Without Men!": Another Western thought to be written by Edward D. Wood, Jr.

"This is the revenge of the virgins. Once again, the trespassers have paid the penalty, and the legend continues. Beware the savage guardians of the Golden Horde."
-narrator Kenne Duncan, Revenge of the Virgins
  
"The power of men is illusory... The power of women is real."
-author Salman Rushdie

One of Pete Perry's sexploitation classics.
This week, we turn our attention to two men named Pete, one real and the other (most likely) imaginary. The real one is Peter "Pete" Perry, Jr., yet another of schlock cinema's "utility infielders," who managed to keep his career in Hollywood alive for almost 30 years by diversifying his resumé. A little editing here, a little producing-directing there, maybe some writing and acting from time to time, etc. In that sense, his filmography resembles that of multifarious B-movie contemporaries like Ronald V. Ashcroft, Don Davis, and Edward D. Wood, Jr. But Pete's career in exploitation filmmaking is obscured by clouds of doubt and ambiguity. Biographical information about the man is frustratingly rare.

Most of the writing about Pete Perry has been in the form of reviews of the movies he made. The magnificently-named blog Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot has this career overview, which calls Perry "a pioneer of the sexploitation genre." And Goregirl's Dungeon has a nicely-illustrated feature about one of Perry's films, too. You'd think there would be an interview with this man or at least a few scattered anecdotes about him, but if they exist, I cannot locate them.

The most specific detail I can find about Perry from an official source is this one-sentence biography on the website of Something Weird Video, a company which now distributes several of his films: "Director Peter Perry," says SWV's Lisa Petrucci, "often worked with [adult film producers] David F. Friedman and Harry Novak during the 1960s under a number of aliases." Oh, man, did Pete Perry have aliases. Over the years, he was Dick Crane, A.J. Gaylord, Arthur P. Stootsberry, and Seymour Tuchus (my personal favorite). He seems to have gotten his start working for other filmmakers with Ed Wood connections. For instance, he wrote The Flesh Merchant (1956), which was directed by W. Merle Connell, i.e. the man whose bondage footage had been clumsily edited into Glen or Glenda? back in 1953. Then, Pete Perry worked for Ronnie Ashcroft as a writer-actor on the potboiler Girl with an Itch (1958).

The very next year, Pete directed his own first feature, a "nudie Western" novelty called Revenge of the Virgins (1959). This film was distributed by a company called Radio Voice of America or RVA. Critic Rob Craig has cleverly noted that these are also the initials of Ronnie V. Ashcroft, hinting at another possible connection between the two men. After Virgins, Perry would go on to direct a dozen more flicks over the next 20 years, almost always in softcore, with such rather well-remembered titles as The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill (1966), My Tale is Hot (1964), and Kiss Me Quick! (also 1964).

The Notorious Cleopatra, credited to
"A.P. Stootsberry" (aka Pete Perry, Jr.)
But directing was not Pete's only gig! As an editor, Pete Perry was employed several times by the notorious anti-auteur Al Adamson (1929-1995), who combined sex and violence in such ensanguined films as Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969), Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970), and Five Bloody Graves (1970), all three of which featured John Carradine. Meanwhile, the Internet rumor mill asserts that Pete Perry is the same person as Bethel Buckalew, who worked extensively as a writer, director, producer, and production manager in softcore sex films of the 1970s. Perry and Bucklalew do have several films in common, including The Notorious Cleopatra (1970) and Mag Wheels aka Summer School (1978). But Perry himself disputed that claim in a brief statement he gave to the Temple of Schlock blog in 2008. While he distributed My Boys Are Good Boys (1978), a comedy directed by Buckalew, he had no part in the making of that film. According to Perry, Buckalew "is a real person. I used to use him in the early days as my production manager, but then he went off on his own and did those other things."

Pete's company, Peter Perry Productions, indeed has a few late-1970s titles to its name, including Good Boys. In his own personal writing resumé from the '70s, Ed Wood claims to have penned a screenplay for "Pete Perry Prod." called Bed Time Talk. No other record of this film exists, and I have no evidence that it was ever produced. Considering Eddie's talent for churning out screenplays in a hurry, I have little doubt that he wrote something called Bed Time Talk once upon a time, but it doesn't seem to have gotten past the screenplay stage. By the end of his directing career, like Ed Wood before him, Pete Perry attempted to transition from soft to hardcore with A Woman's Dream (1980), whose cast includes at least a few actors with names I recognize, mainly from the invaluable Rialto Report podcast, namely Jamie Gillis and Herschel Savage.

As for Pete himself, he seems to have retired from the business after editing Chris Warfield's Sounds of Sex in 1985. My Internet sources informally tell me that Perry is alive and living out West, possibly in Nevada, these days. I wish him well.

Pete LaRoche's Outlaw Queen
But now, friends, it's time to discuss the career of another Pete, specifically Pete LaRoche, a writer who just may have been our very own Edward D. Wood, Jr. working under a pseudonym. Here is what the Internet's best Ed Wood fan site, The Hunt for Edward D. Wood, Jr., has to say about him:
The issue of Pete LaRoche is an interesting one. The name (and a variant, "Peter La Roche") appears on only three movies in the IMDb, all with some sort of connection to Ed. Outlaw Queen and The Wetbacks both feature involvement by Ed's friend and protege, Ronnie Ashcroft (see The Astounding She-Monster). Revenge of the Virgins features narration by Ed's best friend Kenne Duncan, also features Nona Carver (whose only other work is Take It Out In Trade) and uses the same music used in The Beast of Yucca Flats, which stars Tor Johnson and features Conrad Brooks. All of this is quite interesting, of course, but doesn't really point directly to Ed. The only problem is, I can find absolutley no information about Pete LaRoche anywhere else. So, for now, my suspicion is that "Pete LaRoche" might just be Ed, and his films will be listed here [in a separate section of the site], with the most apocryphal of the apocryphal films.
In his book, Ed Wood, Mad Genius, critic Rob Craig chooses to include Revenge of the Virgins in his survey of Eddie's career and gives it a full write-up, which he prefaces thusly:
Ed Wood's participation in this low-budget film is disputed; it is included on the assumption that Wood wrote, or contributed to the screenplay, which is credited to a "Pete LaRoche." The only other screenplays credited to LaRoche are Wetbacks (1959) and Outlaw Queen (1957), but there are at least two magazine articles during the time period with a similar by-line, dealing with Western movie stars William S. "Bill" Hart and Tim McCoy. Pete LaRoche may in fact be a separate individual, or one of Wood's many pen names, as Wood was an avid fan of the Western film genre, and could have easily been the author of all extant "LaRoche" pieces.
One of Pete LaRoche's fact-based Western articles from the 1970s.
It is interesting to note that Craig covers neither The Beach Bunnies (1976) nor The Snow Bunnies (1972) in his book, despite the fact that both are clearly and unambiguously credited to Edward D. Wood, Jr. And yet Revenge of the Virgins does make his cut! This movie, then, must have struck Rob Craig as genuine enough to merit taking up space in his book. One connection that neither of these writers seems to make is that all of LaRoche's screenplays are Westerns, a factor which ties it to the LaRoche-written magazine articles. The Hunt for Edward D. Wood, Jr. actually links to the piece about William S. Hart, so I've had a chance to peruse it. Craig asserts that these articles were written "during the time period" that LaRoche was working as a screenwriter, but this is not strictly true. The LaRoche movie scripts stretch from 1956 to 1959.

The two known LaRoche articles, however, appeared in 1971 --  not coincidentally, when Ed Wood was working quite frequently as a magazine writer. And, yes, he did occasionally pen fact-based Western articles during that time. (See: "Pearl Hart & The Last Stage" from week 9 of this series.) Pete LaRoche's biographical sketch of Western actor-director William S. Hart appeared in the June 1971 issue of True West magazine. The other known LaRoche piece, "Colonel Tim McCoy -- Army Man, Movie Star," also surfaced in June 1971, this time in a publication known simply as The West. What's truly fascinating, at least to dedicated Wood-ologists, is that "Army Man, Movie Star" was reprinted in August 1974 in a magazine called Golden West, Vol. 10., No. 9. But here, it was credited to "Glenn Shirley." Draw your own conclusions.

Hart's manliness: above reproach.
I am still currently attempting to secure a copy of "Army Man, Movie Star" from a library in Arizona. But I have read the William S. Hart article, and I have no trouble believing it is Ed Wood's work. More specifically, this article could easily have been a chapter in Ed's book, Hollywood Rat Race, which devotes an inordinate amount of ink to the directors and actors of the cowboy pictures Wood so loved. Hart (1864-1946) was born in Newburgh, NY, a mere 17 miles from Ed's own birthplace of Poughkeepsie, and just like Ed, Hart first worked as a stage actor before getting into movies. The screen icon's acting-directing career, which was noted for its rugged manliness and realism, stretched from 1914 to 1925 when he was displaced by "showmen" like Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson and retired to his ranch in Newhall, CA. Pete LaRoche seems especially impressed by the fact that Hart insisted upon doing his own stunts. Here, I must point out that Ed Wood's first-ever appearance in a movie was as a stuntman in the Sam Fuller-directed Western, The Baron of Arizona (1950), starring Vincent Price. When LaRoche writes of Hart's on-set derring-do, he makes this very Hollywood Rat Race-esque observation:
Today all of it would be filmed with a double while the studio's valuable property star would be sitting in the shade probably sipping a tall, cool one. This is not to say that all of today's stars are unable to perform the dangerous stunts which are written into the script. John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Lee Marvin and a few others are fully capable of meeting any demands; but their studios wouldn't allow it if a double or trick photography could make a passable substitute.
Many of the hallmarks of Ed Wood's book are present in this one brief passage: alcohol consumption ("sipping a tall, cool one"), the phoniness of Hollywood, and the pampered nature of modern movie stars. Eye-catching lists of celebrity names, like the one seen above, are extremely common in Rat Race as well. Wood's typically byzantine gender politics are also on full display in this article. The author goes off on a longish digression about the nature of male-female relationships in Hart's movies, seemingly offering his own "frontier" version of Freud's Madonna-whore complex:

Louise Glaum
In most of his films, [Hart] was reformed by the "good" girl after having shown (in a time of crisis) that there was a basic goodness in his own character. As for sex in his films, Louise Glaum usually played the seductive gal who made no bones about what she was selling, and Hart paid for it, no questions asked. This was an authentic part of the frontier town, and Bill Hart did not leave it out. This was the era of the "man," and his wants were not denied or restricted. Hart made this plain in all his films. Saloons were there. Gambling went on around the clock, and the ever-present dancehall girls were around to please, entertain and satisfy. While women were a precious item on the frontier, they were not regarded as highly destructible and fragile as the women of today. 
Hart was truthful in the handling of his women. He was gentle to the gentlewoman who, in his films, represented what was fine in womanhood, but he was hard in dealing with the kind who aroused his wrath. A notable example of this treatment was vividly displayed in his film of 1916, Hell's Hinges. While he was against a young minister's establishing a church in the town of Hell's Hinges, he respected him for attempting to carry out his mission in the face of strong opposition. And when Louise Glaum, the town's foremost Lady of Joy, seduced the young minister after having plied him with whiskey, Hart broke in on her and thoroughly manhandled her.
So there you have it, ladies: Baffling and Unhelpful Gender Stereotypes of the Oooooooold West! Fool around with a man of the cloth and get the crap beaten out of you. And now, we turn our attention to a most curious late 1950s Western in which women hold all the true authority, while impotent and incompetent men strut around and peck at each other like addle-brained roosters in a cockfight. None of the women in this film are "highly destructible" or even remotely "fragile," and the closest thing this movie has to a "gentlewoman" is a rather weak-willed man.

REVENGE OF THE VIRGINS (1959)

Title screen from the film.

Alternate titles: None. Even the French title translates as Revenge of the Virgins.

Availability: Revenge of the Virgins is available as half of a DVD called Naughty West Double Feature (Something Weird Video, 2003), along with Van Guylder's The Ramrodder (1969), a movie whose cast features Marsha Jordan as well as Manson Family member Bobby Beausoleil. (And, yes, it was filmed at the notorious Manson hangout, the Spahn Movie Ranch.) Something Weird also offers Revenge on its own as a download for ten bucks.

Russ Meyer's breakthrough.
The backstory: For about as long as motion picture cameras have existed (let's say the 1890s), people have been using them to record sexually explicit scenes and images. Watch any of those made-for-cable documentaries about the "history of sex in the movies," and you're bound to find grainy, flickering, black-and-white footage of people stripping off and doing all sorts of interesting things to themselves and each other, including bondage and S&M scenarios. But because of religious restrictions, moral concerns, and censorship laws, such potentially "objectionable" movies had to occupy a clandestine or subterranean place in our society for decades. Ultimately, by the 1950s, "stag films" and "loops" became part of the Twentieth Century way of life, though the only method to see them was by visiting out-of-the-way theaters or by renting them privately and projecting them on a bedsheet or small screen at a bachelor party or men's club meeting. Meanwhile, thanks to Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine, which debuted in 1953, (mild) female nudity became somewhat more acceptable as mainstream entertainment for heterosexual men. At least in print, that is. The movie world wasn't quite as accepting yet.

But in 1959, there appeared on the entertainment scene a new form of diversion: the "nudie cutie," a feature-length narrative film which incorporated female nudity into a storyline. With Lena Dunham now flashing her boobs regularly on HBO's Girls, this may not seem like such a big deal. But in the waning years of the Eisenhower Administration, this was a revelation! The father of the genre is widely considered to be writer-director Russ Meyer (1922-2004), who not coincidentally had been a photographer (and a damned good one) for Hefner's Playboy. Though he would go on to make better, more inventive movies, Meyer's game-changer was a modest "Frenchy comedy" called The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), starring Bill Teas, a combat photographer who had served alongside Meyer in the Marines in WWII. Produced on a modest $24,000 budget, the film attained a level of commercial success unheard of in the sex film market, with grosses in the low seven digits. (In today's money, imagine taking about $200,000 and turning it into $8 million.) A key to the film's success was the fact that its abundant nudity was completely removed from any sexual context. Teas merely imagined seeing naked women wherever he went, and the movie allowed us -- through the magic of cinema -- to see what he was seeing.

So The Immoral Mr. Teas is a sex film with no sex. Just what the doctor ordered! In its own way, Mr. Teas is as much a landmark in movie history as Gerard Damiano's Deep Throat (1972), a feature-length film which actually contained unsimulated sex acts as part of its story.

But just as Damiano's much-celebrated, much-hated film was preceded by producer Bill Osco's less-heralded, now-forgotten Mona: The Virgin Nymph (1970), there is some debate as to which director actually started the whole "nudie cutie" phenomenon in the late 1950s. Russ Meyer is the widely-acknowledged king of the genre, but it is worth pointing out that Pete Perry's Revenge of the Virgins appeared the very same year. It was critic Rob Craig who gave me the idea that perhaps Perry had beaten Meyer to the punch. Granted, both Teas and Virgins were quickly made, so it is entirely possible that Perry saw Meyer's film and rushed his own "nudie cutie" into production before the year was over. Or this could be one of those "great minds think alike" situations where both Meyer and Perry saw where the sex film industry was headed and started to work along similar paths. This could be a sexual-cinematic example of the "multiple discovery" theory, in which important breakthroughs are reached independently and simultaneously by different experimenters.

It's important to point out that The Immoral Mr. Teas and Revenge of the Virgins are not even vaguely alike, tonally or structurally. The one crucial element they have in common is the inclusion of female nudity in a storyline which contains no onscreen sex. Otherwise, these are very different movies! Meyer's full-color comedy is a lighthearted, rather drowsy little trifle of a film which plays more like a series of skits or vignettes. While the women in the film do not engage in any explicit sexual activity, Mr. Teas' fantasies are certainly fueled by male lust, hence the word "immoral" in the title. On the other hand, Perry's movie is a brisk, violent, no-nonsense Western in which the female nudity is never presented in a sexual manner at all. In fact, even though it's the film's selling point, the toplessness of the "Indian" characters is never once commented upon and now comes across as an almost surreal nonsequitir, like the random naked lady (played, no kidding, by Russ Meyer starlet/girlfriend Kitten Natividad) who makes an unexplained appearance in Airplane! (1980).

Ramona Rogers, aka Jean Nieto.
So Pete Perry may or may not have invented the "nudie cutie," but he was most definitely an early adapter and deserves to be called a pioneer in his field. And what kind of team did Mr. Perry assemble to create this groundbreaking film of his? Well, I alluded earlier in this article to Pete's possible connection to Ronnie Ashcroft, director of last week's film, The Astounding She-Creature. There is considerable overlap in the cast and crew between Virgins and She-Creature. Most obviously, the two films share a score: the jarring, Stravinsky-like compositions of Guenther "Gene" Kauer. The only examples of "new" music in Perry's film are the upright piano heard in an early saloon scene, plus the thudding "war drums" used to represent the Indians. (Both of these might be stock, as they are used more as sound effects than true background music.)

Elsewhere in the crew, one of the two credited cinematographers on Revenge of the Virgins is Gene Gropper, who did some reshoots on She-Creature for Ronnie Ashcroft. And the uncredited narrator is Ed Wood's good buddy, Western badman Kenne Duncan, who played one of the leads in She-Creature. Besides Duncan, the most interesting name in the cast for Wood-ologists is Nona Carver, who plays the blonde-haired "white goddess" who leads an all-female tribe of Native Americans. Carver, of course, is the stripper who played a madam in Ed Wood's Take It Out in Trade (1970).

The topless Indian maidens, the "Golden Horde," appear to be played by strippers and pinup models, none of whom amounted to much in the film industry. There are six altogether, none of them Native American in ancestry. Only one has even a second credit to her name. That would be Ms. Betty Shay, who appeared as a dancer in a filmed burlesque show called Merry Maids of the Gay Way (1954). Another member of the Golden Horde, Ramona Rogers, at least has a few extant glamour shots and seems to have also worked under the name Jean Nieto.

Charles Veltmann, Jr. and costar Jodean Lawrence.
As for the film's non-nude performers, there are a surprising many who went on to long, successful careers, and a few who... well, didn't. Among the latter group is milquetoast Charles Veltmann, Jr. (aka Charles Veltman), who booked at least one more Western, John Wayne's famously troubled The Alamo (1960), but nothing else. Ralph Cookson, a grubby barkeep here, didn't even get that far. Colorful character actor Stanton Pritchard has a brief filmography indeed, but it includes Ronnie Ashcroft's Like Wow! (1962). Louis Massad didn't get a great deal of film credits, but racked up plenty of TV gigs in the 1960s and 1970s, mainly in Westerns (Gunsmoke, The Virginian) and action shows (Mission: Impossible, McCloud). Del Monroe has a similarly TV-heavy career, with the expected emphasis on shoot-'em-ups and manly fare (Mannix, The Rockford Files, The Fall Guy). The late Hugo Stanger (1901-1990) worked in films for 30 years, snagging some of his most plum assignments (Beetlejuice, Psycho III) near the end.

The actor listed in the credits of Revenge of the Vrgins as "Hank Delgado" has an almost-entirely undistinguished filmography... unless he's really Henry Darrow (birth name: Enrique Delgado), who has been getting steady TV and film work (including recurring roles on TV's Harry O, The Bold and the Beautiful, and at least three incarnations of Zorro) since the late 1950s. In that case, Revenge of the Virgins was the beginning of a lengthy Hollywood career.

By far, however, the best and most compelling performance in this film is given by feisty Jodean Lawrence (1932-2010), an actress who was still going by the name Jodean Russo back then. Lawrence was her maiden name, and she reverted to it after getting divorced. A Los Angeles stage performer of note, Lawrence's film and TV career didn't take off until the 1970s. She went on to appear in such prominent motion pictures as Airport (1970) and Johnny Got His Gun (1971), along with a slew of TV shows (Little House of the Prairie, The Streets of San Francisco, The Six Million Dollar Man). Her death  in 2010 merited an obituary in Variety. In case you were wondering, Edward D. Wood, Jr. was not likewise honored.

The viewing experience: Though conceived as a hybrid of the Western and burlesque genres, Revenge of the Virgins reminded me more of those 1970s horror movies, including Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (1977), in which a group of "normal" people travel to a desolate, remote location, only to find themselves being cold-bloodedly picked off, one at a time, by a family of savage, feral strangers. In this film, however, the "victims" are depicted in an entirely unflattering way, so our sympathies are not aroused by their deaths. The "killers," on the other hand, are portrayed in a basically neutral manner and do not suffer any casualties, unlike the grotesque clans in the Hooper and Craven films. And while the horror films of the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond eventually winnow the pool of potential victims down to one last female survivor, the fabled "final girl," Revenge of the Virgins narrows down its "straight" cast to a single, rather effeminate man. The plot of this movie is extremely basic and straightforward, with very few digressions or distractions, so I think I'll let narrator Kenne Duncan -- who recites the prologue with the chummy, impersonal bonhomie normally reserved for Hawaiian travelogues -- set the scene for us:
Nona Carver as "Yellow Gold"
Out of the early days of our Western frontier have come many legends. Some of these stories are based on fact. Others, no doubt, were conceived in the minds of grizzled old prospectors, too long alone in the hot barren waste, consumed by their one dream -- the dream of finding gold. Each one convinced that he would one day hit the biggest bonanza of all. Many of these stories, as you know, concerned Indians. They were the large tribes or nations in Arizona, such as the Apache, the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Papago and many more. California's Indians were divided into smaller tribes. There were a good many of these groups who were all but extinct when the Spaniards landed. Most of them are far more primitive than their brothers in other territories. Their culture was that of the Stone Age. 
This story deals with the last days of one such tribe. Already small when Spain first claimed California as her own, their numbers steadily dwindled as they waged an unending war against the white man. They refused to be converted to Christianity by the padres of the mission. The white man was their mortal enemy, to be killed on sight. While their number was decreasing, the number of their enemy was increasing. The Anglo or Yankee had migrated West and was embarked upon the feverish search for gold. The remnants of this tribe had been driven back into the hills in an area which was thought to be rich in gold. Individual prospectors and parties of men had gone into these hills, never to return. There came a time when the only remaining members of this tribe were women. Their men had been all killed in their ceaseless battle with the white man or had died of pestilence. 
Ironically, the leader of these women was herself white. She had been captured as a baby, and the only reason she had been spared was the fact that heir hair was the color of yellow gold. To the superstitious minds of these primitive people, this was the symbol. She had been sent to them by the Sun God, and they treated her as a goddess as she grew to young womanhood. Since she had known nothing but the ways of these Indians, their enemy became her enemy, and she fought and killed her own people. 
This is the story of one party of white men and one white woman who, in their search for gold, encountered these Amazons of the West. 
A member of the Golden Horde fires an arrow.
The knowledgeable Wood-ologist will easily find numerous parallels here between Duncan's narration and the plot and dialogue of the Ed Wood-scripted Orgy of the Dead (1965). The very first sentence, for instance, is evocative of a line spoken by horror writer Bob (William Bates) in the later film: "All of my books are based on fact... or legend. That's perhaps why they're more interesting and sell in the top spots." An emphasis on "facts" is a key Wood-ian motif, as discussed in some detail in my review of The Beach Bunnies. Moreover, the theme of worshiping gold above all else is a major motif in Orgy as well, with Pat Barringer's character paying the ultimate price for her devotion to the precious metal.

Of all the movies in the Ed Wood canon, Orgy and Virgins are the two which feature a great deal of non-sexual female nudity, though the topless diving sequence from Venus Flytrap (1970) is another good example. You might remember that Orgy featured its own Native American character, the Indian maiden who was forced to dance for Emperor Criswell. Another Orgy character, the Princess of Darkness, described this young lady as "one who loved flames. Her lover was killed by flames. She died in flames." While Orgy's lone Indian character worshiped fire, the members of the Golden Horde in Revenge of the Virgins fiercely protect the gold on their land, for reasons that the non-Indian characters describe as some kind of primitive, indecipherable superstition. The white characters, of course, want the gold for selfish, practical reasons.

Whose side is the movie on? Clearly, not with the treasure seekers, as they exist mainly to die for our amusement. But the Golden Horde aren't very sporting either, shooting the white folks with arrows from a distance with no warning. "Well, that's the Apaches' idea of fair play," says Stanton Pritchard in disgust. The Indians only risk a close-range attack after the last survivor has been bitten by a snake* and is too weak to fight back. Besides, we never get to really know any of the Golden Horde as individuals. We are rarely left alone in their presence, apart from one ritualistic dance scene which again hearkens back to Orgy.

In other words, the Native American characters are rightfully protecting what is theirs, but they're doing so in a rather cowardly way, so morally they're kind of a wash. The film's final shot, with the female Indians swarming around a male victim, makes an interesting counterpoint to scenes from such other Wood-scripted "girl gang" flicks like The Violent Years and Fugitive Girls.
*Yes, Revenge is yet another (alleged) Ed Wood movie with a snake in it. See also: Bride of the Monster, Necromania, The Astounding She-Monster, and Orgy of the Dead.

Pan Taggart: Ed Wood's onscreen surrogate?
The basic plot of Revenge of the Virgins is extremely simple, and Kenne Duncan's introductory narration gives away most of what happens in this hour-long feature. Dandified city slicker Melvin Potter (Veltmann) and his greedy, domineering, sexy wife Ruby (Lawrence) have just arrived in a frontier town looking for a business investment with the small amount of cash Melvin has socked away. Ruby wants wussy, submissive Melvin to purchase the saloon, but he finds that it's simply out of his price range. (It seems Melvin's previous business ventures have not been too profitable.) But while he's checking out the place, Melvin encounters a local character: a hard-drinking old coot named "Pan" Taggart (Pritchard), whose wild stories about a mother lode of gold deep in Injun country are a source of great amusement to the snickering patrons of the tavern, who buy him drinks but don't believe any of what he says. Yet Melvin is somehow convinced by Taggart, and they make plans to gather a group of men and weapons and go after that gold.

Whether he knew it or not when he was writing this script, Ed Wood created a good onscreen surrogate for himself in the character of "Pan" Taggart, whose nickname is short for "panhandler." In his later years, when he was deep into alcoholism and working for Pendulum Publishing, Eddie would regale his much-younger coworkers with anecdotes about his glory days working in motion pictures with Bela Lugosi, and they treated him much like the bar patrons treat Taggart in Revenge of the Virgins, finding Ed amusing but giving little credence to his words.

Anyhow, when Melvin relates his new plans to Ruby, she reacts as if this were Jack and the Beanstalk, and her husband had just sold the family cow for a handful of magic beans. Their big scene together is classic Wood. The reversal of traditional gender roles is on full display here, as it is Ruby who clearly "wears the pants" in the relationship, even though she looks womanly and dresses in a very alluring and feminine manner. (Throughout the film, Ruby repeatedly tells Melvin to "shut up," a phrase she shares with macho Jail Bait gangster Vic Brady.)
Ruby: Who is Pan Taggart?! 
Melvin: He's that prospector I told you about, the one that knows about the gold. 
Ruby: I sent you out to try and talk a deal with the owner of the saloon, and you come back without talking to him? And have the gall to tell me you wasted your time talking to a stupid old fool? 
Melvin: But.. but, Ruby... 
Ruby: I want that saloon. Do you understand? For once in my life, I wanna be somebody! I wanna run that place and be the queen of the beehive. And have all the people come to me for things. I wanna make money. Big money! 
Melvin: Ruby, Ruby, you just said it! That's exactly what's been on my mind! Big money! 
Ruby: Well, then go out and buy the saloon! 
Melvin: Ruby, honey, forget about that saloon for a minute. That's not what I'm talking about! Besides, if... if you were to be the queen around a place like that, honey, I... I just couldn't stand it! All those men pawing at you! 
Ruby: Oh! 
Melvin: Ruby, honey, listen to me! Hear me out just this once. Now we both want big money, but I'm telling you again I just haven't got the wherewithal to buy a place like that! 
Ruby: Before you married me, you sold out a freighting business in Illinois! What did you do with the money? 
Melvin: Well, I... I sold out the place because I couldn't make a go of it. Now, now if you've got a place that isn't doing very well, you're not going to get very much for it, are you? Now, Ruby, listen... this Taggart swears up and down that the gold is there. And I believe him! 
Ruby: Why? 
Melvin: Well, if it wasn't there, say... say he made up this whole story just to mooch a bottle and some food, he wouldn't be willing to risk his life, now would he? Much less three months of hard work and a long trip. Oh, no, no. He can get a bottle and food a lot easier than that! 
Ruby: Where's this gold supposed to be? 
Melvin: At a place he calls Gold Creek. It's deep in Indian Territory. Now, honey, it's no picnic to get there, but we can be rich! Real stinking rich! And we won't have to sweat it out in that lousy saloon for the next 15 years! Listen, Ruby, all we have to do is bag it up! Bags of gold!
"Tell me about the rabbits, George!"
The only two men Melvin manages to convince to go in with him are a couple of no-good desperadoes (Delgado and Stanger) on the run from the law. These men immediately start scheming how to screw naive, too-trusting Melvin over; they also start making inappropriate sexual overtures toward Ruby. This ragtag party of five -- Taggart, the Potters, and the two crooks -- head out in search of Gold Creek. From this point on, Charles Veltmann, Jr. temporarily takes over the voiceover chores from Kenne Duncan, making Revenge of the Virgins another Ed Wood movie with multiple narrators. After a few minutes of screen time, there are two additions to the group -- a pair of Cavalry deserters (Massad and Monroe), who also do a lot of dastardly, sneaky plotting behind Melvin's back. Frankly, having two matching pairs of scumbags was overkill. The desperadoes and the deserters are difficult to tell apart, so these two "new" characters don't add a great deal of variety to the film. I guess their real purpose is to provide more victims for the Golden Horde to kill, and believe me, the archery-related deaths start early in the proceedings and don't let up.

The only real moment of pathos along the way is when Pan Taggart is killed. His death comes mere seconds after he finally gets his hand on the gold that he has been dreaming about for years. His last words before being struck by an arrow are: "Gold! Gold! Here it is! Gold!" The irony of this does not go unnoticed by the other characters. "Old coot tries for ten years to convince somebody that there's gold up here," says Delgado. "When he finally makes it back, he gets one minute to feel it between his fingers." That's life in a nutshell, ain't it? Later, when Ruby is struck down, Melvin insists on putting a marker at her gravesite. ("It seems kinda lonesome without a touch of somebody cared.")

As Rob Craig notes in his assessment of this film, graves and funerals are a common theme in Ed Wood's writing career. In the Pete LaRoche article about William S. Hart, he even devotes a few sentences to the final resting place of Hart's beloved pinto, Fritz. ("Fritz is buried at the William S. Hart Ranch in Newhall, Calif.," the article informs us, "his memory commemorated by a suitable monument.")

Ultimately, Revenge of the Virgins leads to a climax in which Hank Delgado plans to shoot Charles Veltmann, Jr. in the back while the latter prattles on obliviously about the saloon he'll buy with his share of the gold once he returns to town. The scene very much reminded me of the famous "rabbits" scene between George and Lenny in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. I don't know whether or not Ed Wood was thinking of that when he wrote this screenplay, but it seems likely. The difference here is that there's no undercurrent of tragedy in Revenge, since both characters -- the shooter and the shootee -- are almost entirely worthless.



All in all, this is a movie that Ed Wood fans in particular and seekers of strange entertainment in general will definitely want to check out, if only for its lost-era oddness and squeaky-clean brand of decadence. Revenge of the Virgins is easy to find in a variety of formats, and it's a quick, quirky, relatively painless viewing experience, even for rookies who may find themselves overmatched by the likes of Orgy of the Dead. Better yet, if you're an aspiring Wood-ologist but are a bit squeamish about pornography, this is an ideal "gateway drug." Revenge will allow you to check out the "naughty" side of Eddie's career without the potential embarrassment of seeing actors and actresses in sexual situations, either real or simulated.

Or if you're slightly put off by the prospect of sitting through a black-and-white Western from the 1950s, you may be put at ease to learn that this one is roughly 50% boobs, 40% people being shot with arrows, and 10% Ed Wood dialogue. That's a winning formula, I'd say. Moreover, this little movie is a museum artifact of cinematic sexploitation plus a statement (albeit a muddled one) on both the role of women in society and the treatment of the American Indians by white settlers. What more do you want from an hour of light entertainment?

In two weeks: One of the most talked-about, shocked-about motion pictures of 1959 was Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder, a film so scandalous that even star Jimmy Stewart's father came out publicly against it. Of Hollywood's offerings the very next year, easily the most controversial was Alfred Hitchcock's now-seminal slasher Psycho. If you take Anatomy of a Murder and cross-pollinate it with Psycho, what do you get? I have no idea, but director Boris Petroff was hoping audiences would be curious enough to be lured into the movie theaters and drive-ins of America to see his latest creation, a sleazy crime thriller whose screenplay was credited to Petroff's wife, Jane Mann, and film/TV writer Don Devlin. But there are those who believe that a certain Edward Davis Wood, Jr. may have had a hand in the creation of this particular movie. Did he? We'll sort all this out in one short week as we examine Anatomy of a Psycho (1961).

8 comments:

  1. Another amazing entry! AFAIK, I'm the person who brought "Revenge of the Virgins" to the attention of the webmaster of "Hunt For Ed Wood" (he had previously listed other Pete LaRoche films "Wetbacks" and "Outlaw Queen" under apocrypha) after I happened upon it randomly at a video store. The subject matter and Kenne Duncan narration seemed too Woodian to dismiss, but I was never really sure about the Pete LaRoche article I had read (though it had some similarities with his Pearl Hart story and some passages in Hollywood Rat Race). So the thought that Ed was Pete LaRoche lingered in my mind but nothing was really conclusive... until now! I believe the "Glenn Shirley" pseudonym confirms it beyond any reasonable doubt. Not only "Glenn" but "SHIRLEY"... his drag persona! His novels are littered with Shirleys and plenty of Glenns too. You have really outdone yourself with this entire series, but the LaRoche confirmation is the biggest revelation so far. Now I want to seek out "Wetbacks" and "Outlaw Queen" too!

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  2. Thank you for commenting, Hifithepanda! And thank you for pointing 'Hunt for Ed Wood' -- and, therefore, me -- toward the Pete LaRoche films. This is a really cool, under-explored phase of Ed's career.

    Glad you're enjoying the series! I hope you'll keep reading! I've got some neat stuff planned.

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  3. Well, being a Saint @ The Church of ED WOOD in must...BRAVO!!!

    First Kong now this, KUDOS!!!

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    1. Thank you, Tor! I hope you keep reading!

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  4. Great write-up, but a quick note: Steinbeck wrote Of Mice and Men, not Faulkner.

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  5. FYI, I will be upgrading the Pete La Roche material with the next update to "The Hunt"...

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  6. I have just installed iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.

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