Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 80: A new edition of 'Married Too Young' (1962)

Artwork from the new DVD release of Married Too Young.
The new DVD release.
Married Too Young (1962) has long been one of the more neglected titles in Ed Wood's filmography, especially among his early, pre-porn movies. And, to be fair, it's not difficult to see why. Wood didn't actually direct the film, for example. That duty was performed by Ukrainian journeyman George Moskov. Ed doesn't receive screen credit for coauthoring the script either. Nathaniel  Tanchuck is the film's only official screenwriter, as confirmed by his daughter Heather. Some Wood fans may doubt that their hapless hero had anything to do with this production, even though Married Too Young is duly covered in Rob Craig's Ed Wood, Mad Genius (2009) and Andrew Rausch and Charles Pratt's The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood (2015).

Back in 2014, I gave the film an exhaustive 4,800-word review, calling it "lugubrious" and "sluggish." I guess I wasn't much of a fan at the time. Maybe I was just disgruntled about overpaying for a grainy bootleg from The Video Beat. I already did a rundown of the film's plot and characters in that article, so if you have never seen Married Too Young, I suggest you start there instead of here.

Filmmaker Fred Olen Ray, who attempted to work with Ed Wood very late in the doomed director's life, obviously wants to bring new attention to Married Too Young and elevate this overlooked film to its rightful place in the Wood canon, alongside Plan 9 and Glen or Glenda. His company, Retromedia, has just issued a splashy new DVD release of Married Too Young, paired with The Violent Years on a disc called The Forgotten Ed Wood. In addition to a "23.98 progressive scan" of a widescreen 35mm print of the film, it also contains: trailers for both Married Too Young and The Sinister Urge; a complete copy of The Violent Years; and a pair of extremely brief but informative featurettes, "A Tale of Two Endings" and "Ed Wood and Married Too Young." (I'm guessing Ray himself narrates the former.)

This is a disc long in the making. Fred Olen Ray has been promising a Retromedia edition of Married Too Young since at least 2014, and there were supposedly plans for an official release of this film back in the 1990s, in the wake of Tim Burton's Ed Wood. But now, it's easily available on Amazon for a mere $9.66. If you're an Ed Wood fan with $10 burning a hole in your pocket, you could do worse.

Let's talk about those special features first. "Ed Wood and Married Too Young" lasts 30 seconds and consists of a letter dated August 25, 1994 from Dale Gasteiger of Headliner Entertainment Group to Greg Luce of Sinister Cinema. Gasteiger says that he and Roy Reid bought Ed Wood in "to finish writing [Married Too Young] for us." He contends that Wood's "contribution probably amounted to roughly 25% of the finished script." In their book, Rausch and Pratt quote Fred Olen Ray as saying he has even more documentation of Wood's authorship.

A letter from Dale Gasteiger concerning Ed Wood.

As for "A Tale of Two Endings," it's even more interesting. Previous to this, I had no idea there were alternate endings for Married Too Young. The narrator of the featurette explains:
"In the original 35mm cut negative of the movie, Tommy and his girlfriend go over the cliff in a stock shot. As you can see, the car turns over and shows its underside and then explodes. And it goes directly to the courtroom scene, where I'm sure everyone was amazed to find out that Tommy only hurt his arm and his girlfriend didn't get a scratch. Maybe because of TV or some complaints, later, another sequence was put in with a different stock shot. 
This time, the car does not flip over. It goes straight down, and it fades out before you can see it, and it's followed by a series of newspapers coming off of the presses explaining that somehow or another Tommy and actress Jana Lund somehow miraculously weren't killed in this crash. I'm not exactly sure why they did this, but I suspect it may have been for a television sale where they thought that perhaps there was no way that those kids could've lived through that and that people watching the movie would be upset and then incredibly surprised."
In terms of picture quality, this DVD is a major improvement from the previous edition. To illustrate that, I'll give you a few selected images from the Retromedia disc, and I'll intersperse those with corresponding screen grabs from the previous Video Beat version that I purchased in 2014.

Here's a moment from the opening race, for instance. In the new DVD, you lose a little visual information at the top and bottom of the screen, like the ankles of the actors in the front row, but you gain some ground on the left and right sides. And details are much clearer now, too. Note, for instance, the girl in the plaid dress at the left side of the frame. Can you even tell her outfit is plaid in the second picture? The facial expressions of the spectators are distinct in the Retromedia version but not in the Video Beat version.

Here are the main characters, Tommy and Helen, on a date. This gives you an idea of what the film's night scenes are like. Notice the fanciful details on Helen's sweater. You can even make out Harold Lloyd, Jr.'s individual front teeth.

For contrast, here's an indoor scene involving Helen and her parents. The Retromedia version offers far greater detail: the clock, the father's jacket, the purse, etc. You can see there is extra visual information on the left and right sides of the screen as well. Check out the banister behind the father for an example. But the grainy Video Beat version has some extra headroom and legroom. Look at the gap between the purse and the bottom of the frame.

Finally, I'd like to show a moment from the dream sequence, since this is the part of the movie that so impressed author Rob Craig and is the most blatantly Wood-ian in tone. With its layering of images, this might be the scene that benefits the most from a crisp transfer.

There is at least one more significant difference between these two versions. In the Video Beat DVD, the opening credits declare that the film was "produced by Headliner Productions." That's it. No human producer is listed, just the company. In the Retromedia DVD, the credits say that Married Too Young was "produced by Nathaniel Tanchuck." Both versions credit Nat Tanchuck with the story and screenplay. So, while my bootleg copy of the film has largely been supplanted by this new disc, the Video Beat edition is not exactly obsolete.

It remains to be seen whether Retrovision's Forgotten Ed Wood disc will revive interest in Married Too Young. I certainly haven't seen much publicity for this release yet. I only found it by accident while searching for other Ed Wood releases on Amazon. The cleaner, sharper transfer certainly makes the movie more enjoyable to watch, and the letter from Headliner Entertainment should satisfy those who have questioned the film's authenticity.

But, still, I can't imagine this turgid, preachy movie ever becoming another cult classic on the order of Glen or Glenda or Plan 9 from Outer Space, and it lacks the inspired lunacy of such Wood-written films as Bride and the Beast and Orgy of the Dead. Those looking for an Ed Wood "youth in crisis" movie will probably gravitate to The Violent Years or The Sinister Urge instead. Ultimately, this is one for the completists out there. If that's you, this DVD is ready when you are.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Magazine Odyssey, Part 18 by Greg Dziawer

Things are getting dirty this week.

This series has previously ventured into unsavory territory, discussing Ed Wood's possible involvement writing for pornographic Swedish Erotica magazines in the latter half of the 1970s. This week, it's time to analyze another clipping from such a publication.

Rather than repeating the gory details about this final, sordid phase of Eddie's career, let's allow this text—which accompanied a photo feature in Swedish Erotica Film Review Magazine #2, circa 1977—to do all the talking.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part 11 by Greg Dziawer

Who's that portraying a Mexican jailer in a '70s porn loop? You know who.

Ed in a sombrero.
Rudolph Grey's 1992 book Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr.  alerted the world to Eddie's participation in a 1970s pornographic loop in which he played a Mexican jailer, complete with "a dildo and a big sombrero." That intriguing film, identified by Grey only as The Jailer, seemed to have been lost to time. But readers of this column will remember that I screened and reviewed a copy of the obscure loop under the title Prisoners Lovemaking (aka Prisoner Love Making) back in August of 2017. The video was blurry and black-and-white, but it was an important part of Ed Wood history nevertheless.

If you'd asked me, even a week ago, if an original, full-color 16mm master of Prisoners Lovemaking would ever show up, I would likely have waived my hand at you and scoffed. Not that I am an asshole by nature, but such an event would have seemed immensely unlikely to me.

But then, last Friday night after work, I sat down at my computer, cracked open a beer, and relaxed. No sooner was my butt warm than I went to one of my favorite places, a private Ed Wood forum on Facebook, and saw that a miracle had occurred earlier that afternoon. A new member to the group, a movie fan and collector from Oregon, announced that he'd come into possession of a high-quality 16mm print of Prisoners Lovemaking. But how?

This collector graciously allowed me to share his incredible story here:
I bought this years ago for $1. I watched it once, set it on a shelf, and didn't make the Ed Wood connection until reading a piece by Will Sloan a few months back. Even then, I thought it was such a long shot that I didn't take the film out and give it another look until today. It's fate, I tells ya!

I'd actually already read your article today and loved it. I was a wee bit sad to find that the film had [already] surfaced online, but I felt better when I saw the other print. The copy I have is 16mm, in color and super-crisp. It looks great.

I bought this with a bunch of other films and was really looking more for more tame burlesque things, cheesecake reels, etc. I'd always wondered about the very remote possibility that Ed Wood might have been involved in some of these things, mainly because I believe one of them was put out by [Ed Wood's employer] Pendulum. It was set on an airplane, if I remember correctly. Mainly, I'm blown away by the weirdness of this happening. I mean, this thing had to be found by someone who had some interest in Ed Wood, had to live in Portland, had to have read articles by folks like you, etc., etc. The stars lined up or something.

I live in Portland, OR where we've always had our fair share of strip joints and adult bookstores. The place where I found this has since been demolished, but for most of my time in Portland, there was an especially terrifying porn shop downtown called Cindy's—The Adult Bookstore. So, years ago, maybe in the late '90s or early 2000s, I began to wonder if there was any chance that a store such as Cindy's would have any of its old 8mm stag films lying around. It didn't seem likely, but I was buying/selling a lot on Ebay at the time, and I was up for finding any type of collectible. 
The infamous Cindy's, once a landmark in Portland.
Also, I had bought a few 8mm films from an older gentleman who used to show up at antique shows in town. I'd picked up some older cheesecake/burlesque films from him: one by Russ Meyer, a Bettie Page film. Good stuff at amazing prices. So I knew that some of this stuff was out there.

So I convinced a friend to go with me to Cindy's but really expected nothing more than a sketchy experience. We walked in one night to find a crummy, low-rent joint with a grubby floor, too much light, and a scary biker-type guy working the counter. It smelled like Pine-Sol. Completely old school. But to my absolute amazement, sitting on the racks among the modern sex mags and DVDs were rows and rows of 8mm and Super 8 films. And they were priced at $1 each. 
A familiar smell.
I tried to play it cool and not come off as too excited, and I asked the scary biker guy if they were really a dollar each. He said they were. This was mostly your basic stuff—plenty of Swedish Erotica and lesser-known series. The biker guy was actually friendly enough, and when I asked him if they had any more, he said, "We got boxes of 'em in the back. You can look if you want." So why not? If you're invited to go to the back room of a terrifying porn shop, you can't really say no.

He took me and my pal to the back room where there were indeed boxes of old films. I began to go through them and spent maybe 10 minutes digging through and choosing things that looked interesting. I snapped up any burlesque stuff I found—not much—but really grabbed anything that looked interesting or collectible. The cheaply packaged films in white boxes with just a color photo glued onto the front. Super 8 films with sound. One from Pendulum specifically because I knew of the Ed Wood connection. There were just a few 16mm films, so I grabbed some of those, too.

So I took home my big box of films and began screening them, one by one. Nothing against the full-on porn stuff, but I was a little uncomfortable selling it on Ebay. I did sell quite a few of these things, but I just stashed several away and figured I'd sell them or toss them eventually. But one film that stood out just a little was the one set in a prison with a jailer wearing a very tall sombrero. I thought about selling it but just never got around to it, honestly. It sat in a box for years.

Then, just a few months ago, I was reading a little about Ed Wood online. I'd always wondered if he'd directed the Pendulum film I'd found. I didn't find any reference to that, but I did learn how involved he'd been with Swedish Erotica. I'd probably owned and sold films he made without even knowing it. But the bit I read that really caught my attention had to do with a lost film in which Ed played a Mexican jailer. I wondered if there was any chance that it could be the film I had, but considered it an extreme long shot. I figured I'd give it a look at some point, but it was months before I even bothered to take it out and screen it.

So that's the story! As I mentioned before, it's a miracle that this thing didn't end up in a dumpster by the early '80s, and I have no idea why it made its way to an adult bookstore in Portland. I'd bet that companies that made these films just didn't know what to do with their masters after a while other than to sell them off or throw them away.

I did go back to Cindy's a few times, so I made a fairly good haul. But the majority of the films I found were really just the sleazy version of white elephants. There are plenty to go around for collectors, and there seem to be very few of any real historical or monetary value. I knew that some of these were good finds but that most weren't. I also wasn't keen on having boxes of this stuff sitting around my house. And honestly, I did feel a bit unclean about going into Cindy's. Even by scuzzy old porn store standards, it was a scary hellhole of a place.

One of the last times I went there, the terrifying biker guy behind the counter informed me that someone had died there that day—some junkie shooting up in one of the booths. Note that I said it was "one of the last times." A really good find keeps you coming back well beyond the point of reason.
Quite a saga, don't you agree?

Interestingly, this rare loop is extant in two versions, both sourced from 8mm. One is in color, the opening loop in a VHS compilation from 1985, a treasure-trove of Cinema Classics loops very likely directed by Ed Wood. The other was drained of color, almost sepia-toned, and likely from a B&W source, also on a VHS-era comp. The loops were commonly sold in both color—fifty bucks, no drop in the bucket in the early '70s—and a more affordable B&W version. They were originally shot in color 16mm.

The discovery of this 16mm master of Prisoners Lovemaking promises to shine a new light on Woodology, and I'm confident my new friend from Oregon will diligently shepherd the film into accessibility at the highest quality by today's standards. The color and detail we'll see will finally and firmly ensconce Ed Wood in the world of early '70s West Coast porn loops, more vividly than I ever imagined.

Next: We'll delve into the VHS compilations in which Prisoners Lovemaking previously appeared and detail the Pendulum magazine photo feature with text accompaniment by Ed Wood that ran concurrent to the loop's original release. Yes, you read that right.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Woodologist Odyssey, Part 2 by Greg Dziawer

Buried under that film is Keith Crocker, presumably.

There are casual Ed Wood fans, and then there are Woodologists, the true obsessives for whom an annual Halloween screening of Plan 9 from Outer Space simply will not suffice. But who are these strange people? Well, to reiterate what I said when I last visited this topic, a true Woodologist must possess the following traits:
  • An abiding interest in Ed Wood, both the man and his work
  • A strong desire to uncover previously unknown information about Ed
  • (most critically) The willingness to act on that desire
Rare birds, these Woodologists, and few are more deserving of the title than cult cinema auteur, film professor, and 'zine  publisher Keith Crocker. A veritable Ed-vangelist, Keith takes Ed directly to the people, as a prolific community arts lecturer and presenter. And through his boutique label Cinefear, Keith has released two DVDs of Ed Wood's (alleged) 1970s pornographic loops, transferring these rare films from his own 8mm originals.

Recently, I sent Keith a modest questionnaire about his experiences as a Woodologist, and his answers were entertaining, enlightening, and occasionally startling. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood/Dziawer Odyssey, Part 10 by Greg Dziawer

Who's that man sitting at the bar?

Last weekend, I indulged myself in a common pursuit, slowly scanning through a film situated squarely within the orbit of Edward D. Wood, Jr., on a lark hoping to spot Ed. I scoured the backgrounds of a very busy 1949 variety musical B-feature called Square Dance Jubilee. A relatively early effort for editor turned director Paul Landres, Jubilee is mainly a showcase for country music acts of the day, including the infamous Spade Cooley, Smiley and Kitty, and The Broome Brothers. The film was co-written and co-produced by Ron Ormond (of Mesa of Lost Women and Yes Sir, Mr. Bones fame), and the cast includes cowboy actor Tom Tyler (from Crossroad Avenger).

At the 50:41 mark, during a performance of a novelty number called "Joan of Arkansas," there appears—for a few fleeting seconds—a character on the left periphery of the frame. He's seated at a bar, so his back is to us as he enjoys the music. But then, at 50:52, an old timer taps him on the shoulder, so he turns his head and gives us a profile view:

Who's that at the left? Is it Ed Wood?

There are myriad reasons why I was looking through this particular film in the first place, and we'll get to them in future installments. Until then, watch the film for yourself and see what you think. A vague resemblance? No way? Is this mysterious barfly our Eddie?


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Another roundup of comics parodies by Joe Blevins

Remember these?

Well, folks, it's that time again. The long-running comic strip Mary Worth has just wrapped up another glacially paced story, so I figured it was time to do another assortment of comics parodies, takeoffs, and spoofs. I've accumulated quite a few of these over the last few months.