Directors: Al C. Ruban and Jerald Intrator
RetroSeduction Cinema

With Something Weird Video bowing out of the DVD game in late 2007, the digital world is left with a large hole to fill in terms of sexploitation and vintage sinema. RetroSeduction Cinema has been around for some time, primarily focusing on the marvelous films of Joseph Sarno, but it is with this pair of releases that they veer away from Sarno’s melodramatic oeuvre and tackle the black-and-white grindhouse wonders of the 1960s, when sex was still thrilling and forbidden and films promised more than they could possibly deliver. And thanks heavens RSC took this turn! While SWV has had THE SEXPLOITERS in their catalog since 2005, it is the discovery of THE SEXPERTS, a lost William Mishkin sexploitation feature that will give followers of this much-maligned genre cause for excitement! Both releases are must-purchases for fans of the genre; while the films themselves aren’t any better than the usual quickies spooling out of New York around this time, the care taken to bring them to the digital format and their historical value will bring renewed faith to those who worried that no one would bother releasing these films to disc!

Welcome to New York, where sin lurks behind locked doors and women are as cheap as they come. Or so you would believe after being introduced to THE SEXPLOITERS. Who are these “sexploiters”? Why, they’re just like you and me, lonely men who will pay any price for the privilege of seeing a naked woman at their disposal. Into this den of depravity enters Lynn, a Jersey housewife who jumps into her convertible and treks to the city, where she can earn extra spending money by making herself available to a couple of aforementioned “sexploiters”. First she encounters a brutish john who threatens to beat her up, only to beg her to turn the tables and whip him with leather! A venture to Lynn’s home base, a “model agency” frequented by perverts in business suits, finds not only several photography sessions going on at once, but we see a female “sexploiter”, photographing a bearded muscleman in swimming trunks before disrobing herself to pose for him. Lynn’s day isn’t over, as she is one of the guests at an orgy featuring a belly dancer that is raided by the police, and her final customer of the day instructs her to play-act as a grieving widow who schtupps her husband in his coffin (!). Whew, what a day!

As the only credited directorial effort from renowned John Cassavetes producer and cinematographer Al C. Ruban (after he produced Sande Johnsen’s half-hearted THE BEAUTIFUL, THE BLOODY AND THE BARE), THE SEXPLOITERS is an odd one. There is virtually no plot, which isn’t unusual for films like these, but while the black-and-white photography may lead some viewers to expect rough stuff like the films of Wishman or Findlay, Ruban’s film is relatively restrained, with only the opening dominatrix scene and the closing necrophilia scene really standing out as indicative of the genre’s turn into violence and subversive tastes. Historically speaking, THE SEXPLOITERS falls pretty squarely onto the line between nudie cutie and roughie. It was released in 1965, the same year Friedman’s DEFILERS on the West Coast and Wishman’s SEX PERILS OF PAULETTE and BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL introduced the “roughie” to the raincoat crowd. Compared to those, this film is a Sunday school picnic, but there is still an overwhelming sense of sleaze and distastefulness hand-in-hand with the theme of voyeurs paying to photograph beautiful girls in shadowy offices and gutted broom closets. In terms of cheap thrills, there aren’t many to be had here, but at least the ladies are lovely. Terri Steele (who seems to have only appeared in this film) is an appealing lead, but the real showstoppers are June Roberts and Gigi Darlene. Roberts and her gal pal Marlene Starr (both of whom co-starred as dancers in Sarno’s FLESH AND LACE) pose for home moviemaker C. Davis Smith (whose POV footage is intercut with that of the film’s cinematographer in a very creative sequence). Roberts’ cheeky smile and black lingerie are enticing as hell, and she finally allows one of her breasts to peek out of her bra cup in a moment more genuinely sexy than countless other films of the period. Smith looks to be having a grand old time with the girls! Gigi Darlene, who had arguably the finest figure of the entire NYC sexploitation industry of the 1960s, is simply mesmerizing in her beautifully-lit showcase, being photographed by cinematographer and future director Jerry Denby. The low-key lighting focuses the viewer’s attention on her full, bountiful bosoms in another genuinely erotic tableau that few other films of this type feature. Be sure to look for fellow director Sande Johnsen and the director himself, Al Ruban, as one of the men at the orgy and Lynn’s husband, respectively! While it’s admirable that Ruban moved forward to become one of the most important figures in American independent cinema, it’s tough to see any semblance of his talent in this rather formulaic effort. But fans of any of the starlets in the cast and followers of the sexploitation industry’s history should snap this up immediately.

Transferred from a 35mm print that isn’t in the best of shape (there are a number of print jumps and skips, and a lot of grainy scenes), the full frame presentation of THE SEXPLOITERS looks just about as good as Something Weird’s DVD-R of the title. There aren’t any overwhelming problems with the elements, and considering the film’s rarity, room for complaints is non-existent. The mono audio is very strong.

If you don’t enjoy the film itself, the chief supplement on this disc is still mandatory for fans of the genre! While Something Weird failed to retrieve C. Davis Smith to record a commentary for their release of his marvelous sex comedy THE GIRL FROM S.I.N., RetroSeduction wisely snagged this living legend for his first solo commentary, moderated by Wishman-Sarno historian Michael Bowen, one of my personal writing heroes. The two have a wonderful repartee, and Smith is a walking case study of working in New York City exploitation! Bowen asks all the right questions, and guides Smith through a talking tour of his life, from his beginnings as a maker of industrial films through his beginnings in sexploitation with producers Tony Orlando and Sam Lake, director Doris Wishman, distributor Stan Borden, and specific memories about this film’s masterminds, Jerry Denby, Sande Johnsen, and Al C. Ruban. Fans of the ladies here will naturally get to hear Smith’s candid recollections of working with the likes of June Roberts, Gigi Darlene, and Darlene Bennett, and he gets very technical discussing the ins and outs of shooting and distributing low-budget films in New York at the time, working in the editing room, and his work in mainstream television while shooting sex films on the downlow. Smith shares some real revelations here, including an opportunity to edit Cassavettes’ FACES and details of his currently lost feature films and by the conclusion of the track, fans will be clamoring for more! The last time I spoke to Chuck, he was working on his autobiography, and one can only imagine through this sneak peek at his illustrious career what an incredible read it will be when published! For further historical perspective, be sure to read the great liner notes booklet, featuring the usual polished and informative work of Bowen, who also has a pair of incredible books coming soon (bios of Joseph Sarno and Doris Wishman).

Even rarer than Ruban’s black-and-white expose is THE SEXPERTS, another monochrome melodrama set in the Big Apple. Making it all the more obscure is the fact that it was produced and distributed by William Mishkin, the notorious New York City legend who, with son Lew, saw fit to destroy the elements for the majority of his films. The greatest loss of his large library is generally considered to be the many sexploitation films of Andy Milligan (working in a genre where he actually delivered the goods, unlike most of his atrocious horror outings). Mishkin also threw out negatives and prints of such varied projects as sexploitation classics of the 1960s (CAUGHT IN THE ACT, ORGY AT LIL’S PLACE) and exploitation (THAT MAN IS PREGNANT!) and hardcore films of the 1970s (the XXX versions of THE FILTHIEST SHOW IN TOWN and THE SLASHER IS THE SEX MANIAC [released as PENETRATION with hardcore inserts]). Somehow, by the grace of the exploitation gods, this lost film has resurfaced to be added to the great cinematic puzzle that is New York City sexploitation.

The film you are about to see is a “film within a film”. Got it? Meet the cast of characters and the actors who play them, introduced by a roundtable of the “film’s producer, writer, and director (I wonder which ones are William Mishkin and Jerald Intrator?). Still with me? Great! Our heroine is Liz Adams, an alluring brunette new to New York City who shares an apartment with stunning beauty Connie Mason (also called ‘Connie Jackson’ throughout the film). Both women are intent on getting their big break into show business, focusing on Broadway and the world of the theater. Where Liz is “sort of a nymphomaniac”, Connie is quite reserved and content with the man of her dreams, Barry, a photographer. In order to become a superstar, Lynn sleeps her way through the theater troupe, from her co-star to her director to the theater owner. Things get crazier when she is enticed to visit theater owner Leslie’s Fire Island beach house, and soon after both ambitious actresses attend a wild party that transforms into an orgy!

Realizing he had a good thing with surefire exploitation ad campaigns that made his lukewarm nudie films look more scandalous than they really were, William Mishkin followed up his massive hit ORGY AT LIL’S PLACE with THE SEXPERTS, reuniting with director Jerald Intrator for the second in what would be an unofficial “trilogy” (the third film, CAUGHT IN THE ACT, is still lost as of this writing). Looking at the poster for the film (included as the cover of the DVD case), Mishkin once again made outrageous claims as to the depravity of his film, namely that it featured “The Wildest Orgy Ever—in Sin-Titillating Color!” Who wouldn’t pack into the theater to see something like that? Needless to say, THE SEXPERTS does not live up to the hype, but is in fact a convoluted and cheaply-made little film so typical of other films of its ilk that it’s pretty unremarkable. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the film is the decision to have a narrator provide almost all of the characterization, exposition, and plot. That’s right: Intrator and Mishkin let the story flow for a while, then stop the film cold and go back to the filmmakers, who discuss changes in the characters and storyline, before we go back to the film and witness their changes. The narrator keeps reminding us that the film is all in the imagination of the “idea men”, so characters take certain actions that are later described as “not being true to the character”. It’s as strange and wonderful as it sounds! It’s nice to hear Jack Curtis, that familiar male voice from countless New York films and trailers (the voiceover actor of the period who wasn’t Joel Holt), who was also responsible for editing the film, but the unusual structure of the film seems to indicate that the film was unfinished for some reason (perhaps the ever-stingy Mishkin ran out of money) and had to be connected somehow without post-dubbing or filming several important scenes to close storylines. Most of the narrated dialogue is priceless, at times sounding like an educational film (“Connie likes rings, but the kind on her finger, not in her tub”)! The concept of sinful shenanigans going on behind the scenes of the New York theater world was tackled better later by Graham Place (ANYTHING ONCE) and Michael Meola (TUCK ME IN), but as a sort of trend-setting “expose” of show business in the Big Apple, this is where it all began. And it does those one better by actually portraying the brainstorming behind shooting a low-budget sex film in the industry of the time. The arguments over whether to shoot the film in black and white or color are aided by nonsensical color inserts (which in this case aren’t the original inserts shown during the film’s theatrical run, but they do the job) that have nothing to do with the rest of the movie!

It’s interesting that Rusty Allen, of director Herschell Gordon Lewis and producer Dave Friedman’s DAUGHTER OF THE SUN, plays a character named ‘Connie Mason’, the same name as the actress in Lewis and Friedman’s BLOOD FEAST. Even weirder: both Allen and Mason are two of the three women that Friedman considered the most beautiful he ever worked with! Talk about coincidence corner! She is easily the most gorgeous creature appearing in this film. You should recognize Wishman starlet Davee Decker (DIARY OF A NUDIST) as Mimi, the boozehound girlfriend of theater owner Leslie, as well as OLGA herself Audrey Campbell in a quick cameo in the film’s last act, and the accompanying liner notes point out that leading lady Lana Lynn appeared in a handful of H.G. Lewis films previously. While the film seems a slapdash affair for sure, it is nicely photographed in crisp black-and-white, though there are no signs that Jerald Intrator was a competent director. Intrator’s best surviving film would have to be SATAN IN HIGH HEELS, a beautifully made noir-influenced tale of a femme fatale who leaves her psychotic boyfriend in the dust and becomes the seductive star attraction of a big city dive. If you don’t own it already, shame on you; Something Weird’s disc of the title is one of their very best! THE SEXPERTS definitely doesn’t live up to the hype of its sexually voracious advertising campaign, and fans with a short attention span may find the meandering plotline and narrative to be a daunting experience, but it’s an incredible find and well worth picking up!

I don’t know where RetroSeduction unearthed the gorgeous interpositive of THE SEXPERTS, but this is easily their best black-and-white transfer to date! The image is consistently clear and crisp, with the shadowy lighting and skin tones coming across beautifully. The mono audio is just as beautifully rendered. Breathtaking in its clarity, this stands alongside any number of mainstream studio transfers and the best of Something Weird’s negative transfers as one of the best-preserved films of the era.

The only thing missing from this release is a historical commentary of some kind. In place of one is an, as always, beautifully written and informative booklet of liner notes by Michael Bowen, who provides plenty of great background information on William Mishkin, Jerald Intrator, and the moviemaking scene of New York City circa 1965. An even more valuable supplement is the collection of local New York TV spots from the 1960s featuring ‘Olga’ herself, Audrey Campbell, as well as her OLGA co-star W.J. Parker and her SEXPLOITERS co-star Ken Naarden! I don’t know where these came from, but they’re a wonderful gift for the fans, especially in light of the passing of Audrey Campbell not too long ago. “Color inserts” aren’t the original ones used in the film when it was theatrically released, but are instead quite wonderful color loops that would have fit in quite well spliced into the feature. Some of them are precluded by “Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library” (!). A second disc, entitled NAUGHTY NUDES ’65, is made up of nudie cutie loops of the 1960s, which will surely be a welcome addition for fans of all-natural girls next door of the decade. There’s just something about girls without tattoos or piercings, and with beautiful smiles and giant wigs that speaks to the heart, isn’t there?

Both THE SEXPLOITERS and THE SEXPERTS are no-brainer additions to your DVD shelf, especially if you’re a regular reader of DVD Drive-In and a fan of the fascinating world of 60s sexploitation. This duo of low-budget nirvana has done the impossible: given me hope for the future of the genre on DVD, and renewed my dedication and love for these films. Thank you RetroSeduction! -- Special Thanks to Michael Bowen! (Casey Scott)