Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 16: "For Love & Money" (1967)

For Love & Money: Of all the movies Ed Wood was ever involved in, this was one of them!

Donald A. Davis as a drunk in Plan 9 from Outer Space.
As bizarre as it often seems, Ed Wood's life story is not exactly unique. Many others followed the same basic career path—writers and directors working on the fringe of the motion picture business, often hopping from genre to genre depending on wherever the money seemed to be that month.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is best known as the "Godfather of Gore" for his blood-soaked horror films, but he dabbled in sexploitation, too, and made children's flicks, hillbilly comedies, juvenile delinquent movies, rock & roll pictures, pseudo-psychedelia, and more. Barry Mahon made cheap but innocent Saturday matinee films for children and equally cheap but sleazy adult movies for their fathers! Anything to make a quick profit. Shoot it, get it out to theaters ASAP, and use the profits, if any, to fund the next one.

The skin flick business was alluring to many independent film makers in the 1960s because it required very little initial investment and the movies were seemingly guaranteed to make money. The operative word here is "seemingly." Showbiz is a harsh industry, especially when you're working at its lowest level. As audiences got more and more jaded, adult films had to get increasingly more explicit in order to hold their attention. Hardcore films—that is, movies with graphic depictions of intercourse—largely made softcore films that emphasized nudity over actual sex obsolete. The adult film business was also beset by any number of outside woes: police harassment, government censorship, protests by religious organizations, dishonest distributors, crooked theater owners, and even mob bosses who wanted to control the whole industry.

Take into consideration that show business tends to attract people who are already a little unstable and needy, and you have a surefire recipe for misery. Time and again in researching these films and the people who made them, I have encountered sad biographies of men and women who died well before their time, often due to alcoholism. One such fellow was Donald A. Davis, usually billed simply as Don Davis.

Born in Florida in 1932, Don Davis got his start in the picture business with Ed Wood in the 1950s, serving as a production assistant on Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and making his first-and-last-ever acting appearance as a drunk in that film, a role that would prove tragically prophetic. He also worked as an editorial supervisor on Ed's Night of the Ghouls in 1959. In fact, his name appeared so frequently in the credits of Wood-related films that for years I mistakenly assumed "Don Davis" to be another of Eddie's many pseudonyms. Davis, after all, was Ed's middle name, and Eddie called himself "Don Miller" when he directed Necromania in 1971. But, while he traveled in many of the same social and professional circles as Ed Wood, Don Davis was a separate individual and had his own shadowy, under-the-radar film career in the 1960s and early 1970s.

One of Don Davis's many softcore skin flicks.

On Eddie's recommendation, sexploitation kingpin Stephen C. Apostolof hired Don Davis as an editor and post-production supervisor for Orgy of the Dead (1965). Steve took an immediate liking to this good-natured young man, a recent University of California film school graduate eager to make good in pictures, and the two soon found themselves bonding over drinks while discussing their respective divorces.

Actor Harvey Shane, Apostolof's most-frequent leading man, also liked Don as a person but was unimpressed with him as a director. Shane appeared in several of Don Davis' films in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely as a favor to his friend and frequent employer Steve. Speaking to documentary director Jordan Todorov roughly four decades later, Harvey remembered Davis as a nice, thirtyish guy who would "always drink" and who made movies that were "so bad" that he was "embarrassed to be in" them.

But Orgy had established Don's bona fides in the smut film racket, and two years after its release, he began directing and producing flicks of his own in a run that would last about six years and would produce such lurid-sounding titles as For Single Swingers Only (1968) and Dial-A-Degenerate (1972). In 1969, interestingly, Davis directed a now-apparently-lost film called Gun Runners with a script by Ed Wood. That same year, Don and Steve were instrumental in the founding of the Adult Film Producers Association (AFPA), and Don even served as the organization's first-ever president. But Don Davis's career was derailed in 1972 when he and his business partner, distributor Carl Carter, were busted for obscenity in Tennessee. According to Apostolof, Davis "got into the 16mm pornography really early and used Memphis as a distribution point. They busted him for interstate transport."

Steve was subpoenaed in the trial, as was B-movie bigwig Dave Friedman, possibly best known today as the producer of Herschell Gordon Lewis's early gore flicks (including Blood Feast and Two-Thousand Maniacs) but also a prodigious producer of nudie cuties and other sexploitation films. Steve testified that photographing naked women was "art," not pornography. ("Picasso painted naked women," Apostolof argued.) The jury clearly disagreed. Davis and Carter were found guilty on 27 counts and faced a staggering 135 years in prison. Their conviction was eventually overturned on appeal, but Don Davis's career—and life—never recovered. His filmography came to a halt in 1973, and Don himself was dead by '82, a victim of the chronic alcoholism that had claimed Ed Wood a few years earlier.

Before all this unpleasantness, though, Don Davis made his directorial debut with an adaptation of one of Ed Wood's adult-themed paperback novels. The resulting film, despite its obscurity, is actually quite a remarkable little artifact that more of Wood's fans should see. Why? Well, read on.


For Love & Money features the sexiest, most exciting kind of espionage there is... industrial!

Alternate titles: For Love or Money [possible 1969 rerelease title], Harry Novak Presents For Love and Money; The Sexecutives [source novel]

Availability: Mastered in 2001 from a 16mm print found in the vaults of "sexploitation king" Harry Novak, this movie is now readily available as a DVD-R or download from our good pals at Something Weird Video. Either way, the price is ten bucks. The version I saw included a good 40 minutes of sexploitation trailers, including one hawking For Love & Money. Believe me, that one's a keeper! (The hyperbolic announcer intones in a booming voice that this is "a movie you'll want to see more than once!" No kidding, citizens.)

From book to movie and back to book again!
The backstory: Ed Wood's most prolific period as an author of what today we'd call "erotic fiction" was definitely from 1967 to 1968. Desperate for quick cash, Eddie churned out several dozen leering, panting paperbacks during that time, including one called The Sexecutives (Private Edition, 1968; credited to "David L. Westermier"), which enticingly billed itself as "the incredible SEXploits of a gang of sex spies who used grotesque measures to blackmail their victims." Don Davis purchased the rights to this explosive-sounding novel and used it as the basis for his first film, For Love & Money, giving story credit to "Edward Davis."

The perfunctory script was written by James Rogers, whose only other screen credit is as a production assistant on Davis's Her Odd Tastes (1969). Weirdly enough, the movie was then turned back into a book -- a heavily-illustrated "Fotoreader" called For Love Or Money (Olympic, 1968) with an abridged version of the plot and various stills from the film. Sadly, both The Sexecutives and For Love Or Money are now expensive, difficult-to-find collectibles and neither was available for review as part of this project. Should anyone find either of these novels in a used bookshop someplace, be sure to drop me a line. Just know in advance that I'm not going to spend a hundred bucks on a paperback book. Probably.

Georgie Cooper listens to people having sex.
The movie's plot hinges on a crime ring of sexy young female blackmailers under the employ of Ms. Irene Kelly (Janice Kelly), who runs what might be considered a combination escort-and-temp agency, renting out the services of secretaries and "convention hostesses" to horny, middle-aged businessmen. What these fellows don't realize is that the young ladies they've hired are not just there to "serve" them. In fact, they're industrial espionage agents, either stealing hush-hush company information or putting powerful men in compromising positions so that they can later be blackmailed. And what the girls themselves don't realize is that the police are wise to them and have been tapping their phone calls and secretly recording their trysts.

Between the girls spying on the businessmen and the cops spying on the girls, a good deal of For Love & Money is devoted to shots of hidden microphones and secreted cameras, and there are many minutes of screen time devoted to people electronically eavesdropping on the conversations -- and love-making sessions -- of others. Possibly out of fear of confusing the audience, rookie director Davis rather oversells this aspect of the story. In Wood's novel, incidentally, Irene's last name is "Longstreet." Perhaps it was changed to Kelly to match the real surname of the actress... or to remind viewers of the so-called "Kelly Girls" who worked for the temporary employment agency Kelly Services.

In both the film and the novel, the framing device for the story is highly reminiscent of Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda? (1953), i.e. two dull white guys in suits sit on either side of a desk in an office, discussing various "cases" that relate to a particular topic. Instead of a doctor grimly lecturing a cop about transvestism and sex changes, however, this film is about a police officer, lethargic old-timer Lt. Gardiner (Lionel Nichols, giving an utterly disengaged performance) grimly lecturing a businessman, sweaty Don Harding (Munro Knight), about how Irene and her army of duplicitous women have been ruining men's careers... and compromising sensitive corporate information to boot. Gardiner believes Harding was one of Irene's victims and wants the increasingly-squirmy man to cooperate in the investigation. But Harding dubiously maintains his innocence, so Garidiner regales him with tale after tale of the girls' dirty work. This turns out to be a lucky break for us, the audience, because this film's raison d'etre is to show Irene Kelly and her talented employees at work.

Without the flimsy frame story -- which, like much of Ed's work, is clearly descended from TV's Dragnet -- For Love & Money is really a series of otherwise-unrelated vignettes about sexy gals and the dumb guys who fall for 'em.

Michelle Angelo's talents speak for themselves.
First up is the story of "Areospace Central" engineer Mr. Wyman (Dean Allen), a Brylcreemed braggart who clams to have 1500 men working for him and says self-aggrandizing things like, "I'm a doer... Doers take all." On a business trip, according to Gardiner, he conveniently picked up a magnificently-endowed redhead (popular 1960s pinup girl Michelle Angelo) at a bar, and they went back to a motel room together. After wowing him with her 44DD breasts, the girl bedded Wyman, waited until he was asleep, then photographed sensitive documents in his briefcase. Meanwhile, a police officer (Georgie Cooper) was listening in through headphones and recording the various grunts and groans emerging from the motel room. Wyman, naturally, was shit-canned for this, but the damage was done.

This portion of the film seems all-but-certainly inspired by Ed Wood's stint making highly-classified training films for the Autonetics Aviation firm in the early 1960s. Though these short films have never been released to the public, Ed was clearly proud of this phase of his career and wrote about it fondly in Hollywood Rat Race. The next "case" is devoted to a figure model named Tanya (Michi Tani, never to be seen again after this film but prominently featured on its posters) who was hired by a total sleazeball named Loren Grant (Barry Cooper) to model for -- and then seduce -- his aging boss, Floyd Shermac (Curly Etling), the head of the charmingly-named "Stallion Motors" and (in his spare time) a self-styled amateur glamour photographer. Grant snapped some incriminating photos of the old man getting very cozy indeed with Tanya and did temporarily usurp Floyd at Stallion Motors. But it was all for naught, since Don Harding's company bought Stallion and dumped Grant at the first opportunity. That's how the police first suspected that Harding was somehow involved in the crime ring.

Sure enough, the next flashback shows Don's own tryst with one of Kelly's girls. Though he claims to be happily married, Don indulged in some extracurricular nookie with a free spirit named Francie (Norma Mimosa, another one-flick wonder), who introduced him to the pleasures of LSD "capsules" and Laugh-In-style body painting. It is here that the film becomes very preachy and moralistic, with Gardiner scolding Don in the classic Joe Friday style ("Aren't you a little old for the LSD and hippie bit?") and Don immediately repenting ("I've read all about the disastrous results that can happen, and I've even given my kids long lectures on the dangers that can come from its use.")

As per usual, Wood is extremely opposed to the counterculture and the use of psychedelic drugs. Most of the characters in this film drink constantly, but apart from one fleeting remark by Francie ("We all do some pretty wild or silly things when we're drinking.") this vice goes unnoticed. That's textbook Eddie. After hemming and hawing, Don agrees to help the cops, despite the damage it could do to his reputation and his family. (The cops, for their part, agree to squash some of the nasty photos they've got on Don.) Before the triumphant... uh, bust, though, there's time for one more little sexcapade, this time involving Irene herself who poses as a secretary and, naturally, boffs a naughty businessman named Blake Carter (Scott Avery), who has sort of a late-1960s Peter Sellers thing going on, looks-wise.

In the end, a sadder-but wiser Don Harding gets one final chewing out from Lt. Gardiner about the steep toll he's paid for some fleeting pleasure. Screenwriter James Rogers takes this speech largely from Ed's novel, but Eddie phrased it with a bit more style. To wit: "It would seem a high price to pay for a few stolen pleasures on the good ship JOLLY POP!" Rogers left out the "jolly pop" part. See, that's the kind of phraseology that separates Ed Wood from the rest of the hacks in his field.

As always, though, sin has heavy consequences in the Wood-iverse. And yet again, innocent people (Harding's family) suffer along with the guilty.

The Maysles Brothers' Salesman (1968).
The viewing experience: Like opening a time capsule from 1967 and realizing that the year wasn't all "platsticene porters with looking-glass ties," as the Beatles would have it. Like the Maysles Brothers' Salesman (1968) or George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), For Love & Money largely takes place in what social scientist Toby Miller deemed "the other '60s... a world of starched shirts, dark ties... and morning cigarette coughs -- a world far removed from tie-dyes, beards, long hair, and pot highs." The film's creative apex and main commercial selling point is its laughably inauthentic "LSD trip/body paint" sequence, which acts as the exception that proves the rule.

It's a radical departure from the rest of For Love & Money, a movie that takes place mostly in functional offices and nondescript motel rooms where stationary actors recite their lines at each other while parked in front of uninspiring plain white walls. Apart from the fabulous girls, the characters in this film are mostly dour, middle-aged cops and booze-swilling corporate drones in ugly, off-the-rack suits. But for a few precious minutes somewhere in the middle of this movie, For Love & Money makes an endearingly clueless attempt at being "hip" and in doing so, only reveals itself to be even more square than previously imagined.

When Don visits Francie at her home, he notices she has a few pieces of quite benign "psychedelic art" on the wall, the kind of stuff you could find at any poster shop of the era. Unbeknownst to him, one of those pictures has a camera hidden away behind the lens of an unkempt hippie/biker-type's sugnlasses. "I can see where, with those [LSD] capsules, this could be a pretty drop-in, trip-out place," Don tells Francie, before urgently adding, "You do have some more of those capsules, don't you?" Later, he will sadly confess to the police, "I knew when I let her introduce me to LSD that I was letting myself in for trouble." His excuse is typical of the starchy, uptight mindset of those "other '60s" -- he's under "tremendous pressure" at work.

So wholesome is this film that when Don drops acid, it comes swaddled in white bread "to kill the taste." The resultant "trip" scene is one of the mildest to be found in the films of the late 1960s: just a few minutes of swirling colors. Then, totally zonked out on LSD, Don starts to daub paint all over Francie, who has stripped down to her underpants and seems to have checked out emotionally. All the while, he babbles nonsense about color and nature and how the nipple is the center of the universe. Sexy it ain't, brothers and sisters.

Michi Tani, you make my heart sing.
And that brings us to one last major issue: how does For Love & Money function as erotica? Surprisingly well, I'd say, but obviously matters like this are of the utmost subjectivity. If the movie is arousing, it's not due to Ed Wood's writing or Don Davis's directing. For those of you who are curious about such things, the depiction of sex in this film is genteel. Oh, sure, there are many topless shots and a few glimpses of bare bottoms, but not a hint of pubic hair is on display and all fornicating is done either under the covers or off-screen entirely as we "listen in" via the surveillance microphones along with the cops. In one scene, it is obvious that Michi Tani is awkwardly positioning herself to keep from exposing her crotch as she climbs into bed. Why the state of Tennessee thought Don Davis was such a menace is beyond me.

But despite all of this, For Love & Money is occasionally stimulating. The cinematography by "Humphrey Buggit" (likely a pseudonym; this is his only known credit) is not outstanding, but at least the girls look appealing here. That definitely cannot be said for every skin flick of the '60s and '70s, as we will see in upcoming weeks of this project. Janice Kelly and Michelle Angelo are both luscious and sensual -- and not hopeless actresses either -- but it is Michi Tani who stole my heart. She can't act worth a damn, and her English skills are nonexistent. The script unhelpfully gives her American slang terms like "hip" and "groovy," which sound like Martian expressions coming from her lips. But the young lady has... something. Maybe it's that she takes off a leopard-print coat to reveal a leopard-print dress... with leopard-print skivvies underneath that. Maybe it's because she seems so thrilled to be in this shabby little movie, as if this role were the grand prize she'd won on some game show. Or maybe I just think she's cute. Whichever. If you're out there, Michi Tani, get in touch. Soon. Sure, it's been 46 years. I accept that, but I do not care.

By the way, I cannot possibly convey to you the true For Love & Money viewing experience without letting you hear the movie's indelible theme song, written by Jim & Chet Moore and crooned by Jose Siemens. The Moore boys seem to have contributed music to a few forgotten low-budget skin flicks from the 1960s, but Siemens has no other credits to speak of. Here, at any length, is the wonderful, terrible tune in both its incarnations: the relatively boisterous main title and the softer, samba-influenced version that is employed during literally every single one of the film's love scenes. Happy listening.

Next week: In 1966, 20th Century Fox made a cool $8 million (the equivalent of $130 million today) distributing a caveman film produced by England's famed Hammer Studios. This film's success was largely due to the participation of Ms. Raquel Welch, who famously appeared in a very revealing animal-print outfit both in the film and on its iconic poster. (You might remember that one from its pivotal role in The Shawshank Redemption.) 
Does a success like that go unnoticed by the wannabes and schlock merchants? It does not. Three years after the original, Ed Wood (working under the name "Adkov Telmig") penned the script for director Ed De Priest's belated attempt to jump on the prehistoric bandwagon. Make plans to be back here in seven short days for my look at One Million AC/DC (1969).