Directors: Barbara Peters and Jacques Deerson & Russel Vincent
Wolfe Video

Released a couple weeks too late to celebrate Gay Pride Month, Wolfe Video has delivered a pair of aces in their long-running gay film catalogue: Barbara Peters’ JUST THE TWO OF US and Russel Vincent’s THAT TENDER TOUCH. Both films have previously been released by Something Weird Video, but after successful film festival appearances of both, Wolfe stepped up to bat to bring both films to their proper home on the digital format. Sure, gay filmmaking has improved and progressed since these classics played theaters, but modern audiences can find both camp and historical value in them. In addition to being incredibly entertaining drive-in relics, both features are important time capsules of early gay cinema well worth examining today.

Barbara Peters’ JUST THE TWO OF US has always incorrectly been tagged with a 1975 production/release date. It was originally shot in 1970 under the title THE DARK SIDE OF TOMORROW (the theme song with the same name still appears in the film), but finally saw a successful theatrical run through Box Office International in 1975 as JUST THE TWO OF US, with a tacked-in title card (seen on this print). It tells the story of Denise and Adria, two harried housewives married to Joe and David, enterprising business partners who frequently travel to close important deals. While the men are away on one particular trip, the ladies have an interesting lunch at a local hipster café, where they see a lesbian couple openly flaunting their relationship. This intriguing experience makes Denise and Adria examine their current friendship, and just how far they want to take it while their men are absent. One thing leads to another, and they begin a free-love romance, enjoying trips to amusement parks and miniature golf courses before they encounter Jim and Casey, two studs living on a houseboat. Adria immediately takes a liking to Jim and begins having a second affair with him, leaving Denise to mope and wonder

Of the two Wolfe-released lezploitation films, JUST THE TWO OF US is the one that has aged the best, with the primary reason being that it features one of exploitation’s best-kept secrets behind the camera. Like her fellow female exploiteer Stephanie Rothman, director Barbara Peters always seemed interested as a writer and director in the social movements of her time. In this, her first film, it’s easy to see how she would continue to mature into a progressive female director with such classics as BURY ME AN ANGEL and SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS. It’s a shame Rothman and Peters never really got along, because together, they were a rarity in the exploitation business, delivering guaranteed moneymakers with surefire exploitation ad campaigns while also tackling relevant social issues of the time. Of the pair, Rothman was the more active, directing more films than Peters, who ended up being kicked out of the DGA after issues surrounding her final theatrical effort, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, and disappearing off the face of the earth. As would become typical with Peters’ films, her script features excellent dialogue for its female characters, especially evident in an interesting card game conversation between Denise, Adria, and two of their girlfriends. Her development of the love story between the two heroines is also quite interesting: for Adria, it’s a playful experiment easily derailed when a handsome man appears on the horizon, but for Denise, it becomes very real as she realizes that the reason why she has been so moody and unhappy in her marriage is that she has been in the closet all this time. When the film takes a detour into classic bigoted scenes like Adria wishing Denise could be “happy” (normal) and Denise having a bad encounter with a predatory Hollywood lesbian, Peters rebounds with a surprising happy ending! Also similar to Rothman’s films around this time, Peters has a great love for the local L.A. music scene, including footage of two unknown bands: The Friends playing in a lounge bar, and London Dri playing to a crowd of hippies on the beach. As a bonus, a very good cover version of Big Brother and the Holding Company’s “Combination of the Two” (of their excellent “Cheap Thrills” LP) plays at a Hollywood party while a unique dance troupe, the Queen Mary Dancers, performs!! Why wasn’t there a soundtrack LP for this film??

Peters’ two leading ladies, Elizabeth Plumb and Alisa Courtney, are also an interesting pair. Plumb’s only other screen role seems to be as “the other woman” in THE PSYCHO LOVER, shot the same year as this film, and her cultured voice adds a soft maturity to her performance. She capably carries the film on her shoulders, creating a complex character that the audience cares about. Her compassionate portrayal is one for the history books of gay and lesbian cinema. Courtney, on the other hand, is a rather irritating, brat-faced blonde, and seems miscast as Plumb’s other half, but she’s game for some risqué love scenes and her performance perks up in the second half of the film. You may also recognize popular character actors Marland Proctor and John Aprea as the two studs who come between Denise and Adria and a personal favorite of mine, fiery redheaded sexploitation starlet Christine Murray (the TRADER HORNEE star is uncredited) as Jim’s lover on the side. With all the right ingredients firmly in place, including beautiful cinematography by co-director Jacques Deerson, Barbara Peters’ directorial debut, JUST THE TWO OF US, is a neglected gem that deserves to find a new cult on DVD. Pick up this 1970s classic immediately!!

If Douglas Sirk ever decided to make a torrid soap opera about forbidden Sapphic love, it probably still wouldn’t have been as over-the-top and sudsy as Russel Vincent’s THAT TENDER TOUCH. Marsha is an older widow recovering from losing her husband; Terry is a young girl scarred by an attempted date rape. With the two damaged women sharing an apartment together, it’s only natural that they seek solace in each other’s arms. But trouble in paradise arrives in the form of Ken, a photographer who hires Terry for several sessions and eventually proposes to her. Marsha’s world is turned upside down when the happy couple get married, but she won’t let go of Terry so easily.

Heavy with romantic flashbacks and heartfelt monologues, THAT TENDER TOUCH is a healthy combination of exploitation sensibilities and daytime soap sentiments. In other words, plenty of nudity appears throughout an over-the-top romance gone awry storyline. It’s certainly one of the most lushly photographed exploitation films of the era, with smooth, fluid cinematography by Robert Caramico (the late genius behind LEMORA and such diverse projects as SEX RITUALS OF THE OCCULT, JIVE TURKEY, SLITHIS, and episodes of “Just Shoot Me!” and “Dallas”). Director Russel Vincent, actor Steve Vincent’s brother (Vincent is most memorable from his sexploitation roles in SPACE THING and MANTIS IN LACE, and he appeared in brother Russ’ HOW’S YOUR LOVE LIFE? as well), also wrote and produced this nutty lezploitation wonder, and with this script, you have to wonder what kind of experience he had with lesbians? According to Vincent, lesbians are playful, asexual creatures with big hair and lots of lipstick who are either easily swayed into switching teams or psychotically obsessed with controlling other women. Indeed, perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the script is: why is Marsha so obsessed with Terry? Other than being kinda cute, she is a complete dimbulb and far too perky to be endearing. And to make matters even campier, it appears that Terry’s next-door neighbors, Irene and her daughter Wendy, are also lesbians, making the move on Marsha whenever they get her alone! While it’s interesting that the film is rather progressive in focusing on a lesbian relationship, it’s also very archaic in its portrayal of a lesbian being predatory and pathetic. Additionally, the script insinuates that Marsha was once “normal”, having been married previously, and turned to “the dark side”, and that lesbianism can be solved by simply “finding the right man”, an ancient hetero belief. Naturally, as in all old Hollywood films, any character with “unnatural” homosexual tendencies must perish by film’s end. THAT TENDER TOUCH is an incredibly entertaining portrait of a 1969 mindset regarding lesbian relationships, and comes highly recommended. And just try to get the warbled title song out of your head!

Vincent has a game cast to play out his melodramatic excesses: Sue Bernard, who made her movie debut at 17 in Russ Meyer’s FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, was still a mere 21 when she was required to play the part of ‘Terry’. Of course she doesn’t pull it off that well, but is cute as a button just the same. She also has several nude scenes, quite a change from PUSSYCAT. And wait until you see Sue in ridiculous animal costumes, prowling around a merry-go-round being photographed by future husband Ken! Any sex appeal she may have had anywhere else in the film is completely dried up by this childish, hilarious scene. Bee Tompkins, a TV character actress, sinks her teeth heartily into the role of ‘Marsha’. She tosses and turns having nightmares, claws at the walls of Terry and Ken’s bedroom in the nude while listening to them make love, tears apart her bed in a fit of horny rage, and really earns a gold medal in the shock finale. In a small part as Dodie the maid, Dolly Read is a nice surprise, keeping her British accent and looking just adorable in her little maid’s uniform. She also disrobes for a shower scene, providing more nudity here than she would a year later in her ultimate role, ‘Kelly McNamara’ in Russ Meyer’s BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. It’s interesting that the film not only includes two Russ Meyer starlets, but that both women were also Playboy Playmates in the same year, 1966 (Dolly in May, Sue in December).

The transfers for both JUST THE TWO OF US and THAT TENDER TOUCH come with disclaimers that they are culled from private archival prints from the UCLA Archives. Strangely, the JUST THE TWO OF US transfer begins with Harry Novak’s Box Office International logo, and Something Weird’s version of the title is no longer available. Of the pair, JUST THE TWO OF US looks better, with less print damage and fewer green emulsion scars and lines. THAT TENDER TOUCH suffers from a few too many print jumps, shortening some scenes and missing some dialogue, and there are endless green and white lines throughout the film. However, it’s good to see both films made available on DVD at all, so there is little room for complaints. Both have strong color palettes and bright, clear images. Interestingly, JUST THE TWO OF US is listed as having a 92-minute running time in its pressbook, while the film itself runs a little over 74 minutes. I imagine the DARK SIDE OF TOMORROW version may be more complete than a possibly re-edited JUST THE TWO OF US re-release version, but unless someone talks to Barbara Peters, we may never know. If there is a longer version of this classic, I want to see it!!

The only extras for both discs are very nice reproductions of the films’ original pressbooks. It’s a shame that after all these years, no one has yet tracked down director Barbara Peters, one of the most important filmmakers of the exploitation era; director Russel Vincent has also disappeared without a trace! It actually wouldn’t have been that difficult to interview Sue Bernard or Dolly Read for THAT TENDER TOUCH, or a good number of the crew for JUST THE TWO OF US. However, the proper stories of these films will simply have to wait to be told somewhere else. (Casey Scott)