Dir: Steve Mullen (WHITE RAT)/Ogden Lowell (HOW TO SCORE WITH GIRLS)
Code Red Releasing

Code Red Releasing double bills a pair of lost exploitation pics (which could not have less in common other than that they were both shot in New York) in sub-grindhouse condition (with disclaimer): the grungy noir WHITE RAT and HOW TO SCORE WITH GIRLS (aka CRY YOUR PURPLE HEART OUT), a sex comedy dedicated to casualties of the battle of the sexes.

Although HOW TO SCORE WITH GIRLS is listed first on the cover of this double bill, Steve Mullen’s WHITE RAT is actually the first feature (well, it’s on the left side of the disc’s sole menu screen). Disgraced cop-turned-P.I. Mike Capon (Hal Sherman) has fallen for Alice Leason (Alisha Fontane, TEENAGE TRAMP) a woman who he has been hired to protect by her powerful boyfriend Alexander Poultrez (Joe Petrullo, THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CAMPUS CORPSE) after a death threat. Alice has decided that she is tired of Mike and wants to go back to Alexander so she reveals to both that she invented the threats to make Alexander jealous. No sooner does she slam her apartment door in Mike’s face then she comes back out with a gaping bullet-wound in her stomach. Alexander and his lackey Lou Alton (Ray Fisher) do not seem too shocked or too concerned, nor does her best friend and rival singer Paula Davis (Carolyn Lenz). Mike, however, wants to know who killed Alice even though Alexander coolly tries to discourage him. Mike has more to worry about than veiled threats from Alexander and Lou since the police know that he was the last person to see Alice alive. Mike’s wife Cindy (Christine Summerfield) has not been oblivious to Mike’s involvement with Alice, but she loves him enough to help him elude the cops (even when she drives downtown to pick him up, only for him to steal the car and leave her behind). With some prodding from Paula, Mike decides that Alexander is the likely suspect and that he must clear his own name with the police before going after Alexander.

WHITE RAT makes for a long 72 minutes, despite seemingly starting just before its script’s second act. The entire setup is dispensed with before the opening credits by a narrator who introduces all of the “unheroes” and describes their connections to one another over several bits of footage and single shots recycled from later in the film. The narration pops up randomly to either fill in missing scenes or to dispel what little suspense there is by describing the characters’ motivations for specific actions. It is difficult to tell if some scenes were never shot, ruined at the lab, or never existed in the first place. Despite the heavy use of voice-over and narration, there are some long exterior scenes of characters in long shot that seem to have not been looped (the camera holds on the actors too long for purposefully inaudible dialogue). Besides opening up the film at such a late point in the first act, the editing sometimes intercuts scenes meant to follow one another and intersperses the narrative with a seeming confessional interview with Alice (which at times seems like a monologue audition).

It may be too-little-too-late, but WHITE RAT actually does become a little interesting when Alexander suggests that Mike’s supposedly all-consuming obsession with finding justice for Alice is just a way of escaping his dead-end marriage to Cindy and his dead-end career. This aspect could have been interesting (especially since Alice is definitely no LAURA) but we really know more of Mike’s strained marriage to Cindy than of his relationship with Alice. The film’s script is dead serious but the steadfastly noir-ish dialogue forces the actors into parody. Sherman (in his only credited role) gives his all, but his spiraling descent just makes him more annoying than pitiable, with Fisher’s Lou ending up being the more interesting character by the time the climax comes around. None of the performances are truly bad, just hampered by the dialogue and the gaps in the narrative. The film’s two instances of nudity seem added in as an afterthought, although the bloody aftermath of one offscreen death adds a little punch late in the film. The chicken coup setting for the final confrontation with Poultrez is perfectly suited to Mike’s meltdown, although Mike’s solution to the mystery of who killed Alice does not seem any likely or unlikely than the one that came before it.

Three soldiers are looking to score after two years without in HOW TO SCORE WITH GIRLS (aka CRY YOUR PURPLE HEART OUT!, which is actual title on the print), a New York-shot sex comedy by Ogden Lowell. After turning down an offer by a black teen shoe shiner of a weekend with a white chick for $5 (as a charitable donation for their basketball uniforms!), Steve (Ron Osborne) and Harry (Larry Jacobs) part ways in search of some tail. Steve meets up with buddy Greg (Richard Currier) at a bar. Greg sets him up with Joanna (Sandra McKnight), but their encounter is cut short when a supposed basket case friend of hers shows up (only for Steve to discover that the platonic friend is actually her boyfriend). It’s back to the bar for Steve where drunk, loud-mouth feminine hygiene product salesman Frank (Richard Young, NIGHT CALL NURSES) tries to set him up with the prettier half of a lesbian couple (“how ‘bout a couple of dykeries?”). Frank gets punched by the butch one and Steve is stuck with paying for their drinks.

This sets up a running pattern for the rest of Steve’s and Harry’s and Greg’s attempted hook-ups with the obvious going terribly awry. Steve plans to get both Harry and himself laid by pulling a switcheroo two-for-the-price-of-one deal in the dark with Joy (Arlana Blue, CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE), a girl whose number Frank gave him. Steve hides in the shower while Harry – who has talked Joy down from $50 to $25 and gets to take pictures – has a go, but Harry falls asleep afterwards. Steve and Greg hit Central Park to pick up chicks. They meet up with some “make love not war” hippie chicks Jean (Grave Davies) and Sue and accompany them to the “Golden Oldies Erotic Film Festival.” While watching a black and white faux-vintage piece of erotica called I, A WOMAN TOO!, they discover mid-grope that the girls are underage. Steve drags Harry along on a double date with old acquaintance Robin (Barbara Derektor) and her pretentious and chilly roommate Mike (Mary Ward). Things get off to a frosty start and do not get any better when their preppy neighbor Chuck (Dallas Mayr) arrives and they needle each other about Steve’s lack of education and Chuck’s lack of military service. Steve and Harry spike Chuck’s and Mike’s drinks to get him stoned and her amorous, but a country picnic with Steve and Greg and Nancy (Shakari Chichon) and Betty (Cary Eckhardt) features a malfunctioning convertible top and a released parking brake.

HOW TO SCORE WITH GIRLS is more entertaining and lively than WHITE RAT, but not necessarily better. The comedy falls flat due to over-familiarity and less-than-stellar acting. Steve is not above taking advantage of a drunken girl, Harry’s comic relief isn’t very comic, and Greg fades into the woodworks (the alternating pairing of Steve with either Harry or Greg for various adventures calls attention to what may have been a scheduling issue or perhaps a casting change half-way through). The pacing of the episodic narrative is uneven and it’s a long way between nude scenes (fairly early on, you’ll be more concerned with when the next actress takes her top off than whether or not Steve actually gets some action). The non-PC humor is simply lowbrow rather than subversive. The film does offer some nice sunny views of seventies New York, 42nd street, Central Park, and upstate for the countryside jaunt, but the sickly sweet theme song seems to go against the grain for a sex comedy (then again, so does the attempt at a tender ending).

Code Red has already warned fans on their blog not to expect remastered transfers for these two films since only video materials survive. Both presentations are indeed fullscreen and of variable quality. WHITE RAT features intermittent tape rolls and hissy audio (dialogue is always intelligible though and the brassy parts of the score seem undistorted). Roughly 24 minutes into the presentation there is a moment of stuttering audio and video, but this looks more like a digitized fault in the master tape rather than an encoding or mastering error (this happens again later in the film). Bits of dialogue are dropped in one or two instances, but it is difficult to discern if that was a fault of the tape or the original print (which features some very large reel change marks). It is difficult to tell if the transfer is unmatted or just badly framed. A boom dips into the top of the shot in a scene late in the film, but it seems like any matting would cut some people off below the eyeline in some long and medium shots.

Reportedly, only eight prints of HOW TO SCORE WITH GIRLS were struck by Technicolor. The negative is lost and none of the prints could be tracked down. Sourced from a 3/4” tape master, it looks consistently better than its co-feature, although the 16mm blow-up print is not without spots, speckles, and scratches. There are some instances of jitter and a moment of horrible tracking noise and a couple second of black at the reel change points. Code Red has not gone the dual-layer route with this double feature (although I doubt these aged video sources would benefit too highly from a higher bitrate). The sole extra is a trailer for HOW TO SCORE WITH GIRLS under its original title CRY YOUR PURPLE HEART OUT! (3:19), which has appeared on prior Code Red discs. (Eric Cotenas)