Director: Anthony Spinelli
Vinegar Syndrome

Anthony Spinelli's ambitious period porn film noir DIXIE RAY HOLLYWOOD STAR arrives in a very special DVD edition from Vinegar Syndrome.

Hard-boiled police lieutenant (Cameron Mitchell, NIGHTMARE IN WAX) and his partner (John F. Goff, THE FOG) respond to a call from private detective Nick Popodopolis (John Leslie, CHAMPAGNE FOR BREAKFAST) who has a dead blonde in his office (Juliet Anderson, PRETTY PEACHES). Nick explains that the victim stopped by to "blackmail [Nick] with pussy" and was shot while attempting to kill him. To get the lieutenant to believe him, he has to go back a few more days when he was contacted by faded movie star Dixie Ray (Lisa De Leeuw, CO-ED FEVER) whose comeback is threatened by an incriminating photograph taken by her estranged husband Charlie (producer Chris Warfield/Billy Thornberg, PURELY PHYSICAL) during a sex game, which he gave to club owner Tony Lamarr (Steve Marlow) to cover his gambling debts. Dixie has already paid Lamarr fifty-thousand for the negative (which she then entrusts to Nick), but someone has a print and wants more money. Nick decides track down the elusive Charlie and ends up learning more about the man from Dixie's nymph of a daughter Leslie (THE TOOLBOX MURDERS' Kelly Nichols) than from Dixie or her jealous and possessive lesbian secretary. When Nick is attacked by a pair of Lamarr's thugs who think he plans to enrich himself with the negative, Lamarr denies any involvement with the current blackmail scheme and also points him to Charlie. Charlie, however, tells him an entirely different story about the dissolution of his marriage, plunging Nick into a tangled web of intrigue in which he realizes that he is being set up as a patsy but not who by and for what reason.

Antony Spinelli's DIXIE RAY HOLLYWOOD STAR is an ambitious and handsomely-designed homage to film noir (with gorgeous production design by the film's screenwriter Dean Rogers and Spinelli regular Bryan Costales). Rather than sending up the noir clichés as other porn auteurs might have done – especially in light of Carl Reiner's and Steve Martin's DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID the previous year – DIXIE RAY HOLLYWOOD STAR embraces them to the point that the hardcore sex scenes seem alien and scuttle what sexual tension the performers manage. Leslie is an engaging lead, but De Leeuw is a spectacular femme fatale who goes from smoldering DOUBLE INDEMNITY Barbara Stanwyck to Joan Crawford behind-the-scenes MOMMIE DEAREST for the memorable climax and far overshadows the bodies and performances of her female co-stars (even the always welcome Anderson). The film even ends in vintage Hollywood fashion with a nod to American patriotism and the war effort. The film could have been Spinelli's masterpiece instead of SEXWORLD; and it might be, but only in its R-rated version IT'S CALLED MURDER BABY (which should be considered as a mainstream version rather than a softcore edit).

DIXIE RAY HOLLYWOOD STAR was released theatrically by producer Chris Warfield's Coventry Productions on VHS and DVD by Caballero, while IT'S CALLED MURDER BABY (94:03 versus the original 101:09 cut) was released theatrically by Warfield's softcore/exploitation company Lima Productions and on VHS by Lightning Video. The latter alternate cut is also included on Vinegar Syndrome's DVD, and a viewing reveals significantly more differences than the deletion of seven minutes of sex (especially considering the number and length of the sex scenes). Producer Warfield takes his Billy Thornberg credit on the X-version and Warfield on the R version while Spinelli is credited as himself on the X and as Sam Weston on the R. Uncredited on the X-rated version but listed in the full ending crawl on the R are sexploitation regular turned character actor George "Buck" Flower (TOUCH ME) as co-production manager and actress Verkina Flower (whose teen exploitation film MAG WHEELS was picked up and reissued by Warfield as SUMMER SCHOOL) as a wardrobe assistant.

From viewing the R-rated cut in its entirety, it appears as though this is the original version with the X-rated version scenes filmed as alternate takes (often from alternate angles). Rather than the deletion and replacement of hardcore sex shots with softer angles in the R-rated version, we see additional dialogue, performance and character nuance, exposition, more creative staging and camera angles, and plenty of production value deleted from the X-rated version in favor of hardcore sex, resulting in a choppier pace compared to the moodier R-rated version. For example, when Nick goes to meet Dixie Ray for the first time, the X-rated version consists of a shot of his car passing through the gates of the estate and cutting to the beach as the two walk along the sand followed by her bodyguard as they discuss her predicament (mostly in long shot with faces averted). In the R-rated version, Nick arrives and meets Dixie on the tennis court. We see the house's luxurious interior as they go inside to talk (the dialogue which is dubbed in over the beach scene in the X-rated version) where he also first meets Adrian, and then we cut to the beach scene where Dixie informs Nick of her husband's whereabouts (in both versions, she lifts her skirt to prove that she never wears panties).

There are plenty more variations between the two cuts with the R-rated version privileging plot and performance (including a major scene with Mitchell and Groff that does not appear at all in the X version as well as a visit to an Armenian newspaper editor played by PLEASE DON'T EAT MY MOTHER's Buck Kartalian) over sex. The X version has two threesome scenes – in addition to the ones featuring Nick's secretary (Hilary Summers, THE BUDDING OF BRIE) – that feel completely gratuitous even before seeing the R cut: the first between Leslie, THE TALE OF TIFFANY LUST's Veronica Hart, and DRACULA EXOTICA's Samantha Fox is elided by a fade out in the latter version while another one between De Leeuw, Anderson, and CANDY GOES TO HOLLYWOOD's Phaery Burd is missing altogether in favor of a scene that explains the identity of a character played by NIGHTDREAMS' Kevin James (who appears in a final sex scene with De Leeuw without any sort of introduction in the X version). Spinelli himself also appears – billed as "Sam Weston" – as a hotel clerk only in the R-rated version. Nichols is credited under her birth name Marianne Walter in the R-rated version's credits. DIXIE RAY still gets by nicely with its attractive cast, hot sex, slick lensing, and period design, but IT'S CALLED MURDER BABY is the better film.

According to Vinegar Syndrome's packaging, both versions of the film were mastered from their original 35mm camera negatives and encoded in progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen. The hardcore version is thoroughly crisp and colorful with only a few in-camera scratches; and it may be that the shots common to both versions were transferred from a dupe negative for the R-rated version (which sometimes looks a shade contrast-ier, a shade grainer, and features more dings and scratches). The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks on both versions are generally clean with some hiss (and a brief moment of buzz on the R-rated version). The R-rated version is a substantial extra in itself, so the disc is not exactly lacking in supplements with only this alternate version and the trailer for the X-version (1:55). (Eric Cotenas)