SAW’s Betsy Russell proves “It’s not a man’s world anymore” in the 1980s Crown International pick-up TOMBOY, given the HD-mastered treatment on Blu-ray and DVD by Scorpion Releasing.
Astronaut’s daughter Tomasina “Tommy” Boyd (Betsy Russell, PRIVATE SCHOOL) has always been a tomboy, graduating from softball and basketball to motorcycles and racecars. Working as a mechanic for Chester (Richard Erdman, STALAG 17), Tommy is still removed from her passion for racing until her custom work on one of the many classic heaps belonging to spoiled rich kid Ernie Leeds Jr. (Eric Douglas, THE GOLDEN CHILD) allows her to meet driver Randy Starr (SUPERBOY’s Gerard Christopher, here credited as “Jerry Dinone”) who is going to race one of Ernie’s stock cars at Daytona. Randy seems equally smitten with Tommy, and her social-climbing actress/dancer friend Seville (Kristi Somers, HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN) urges Tommy to visit Randy at Ernie’s compound (in hopes of doing some networking of her own). Despite initially coming across as a chauvinist, Randy doesn’t seem too put off by Tommy’s demonstrations that she’s not a shrinking violet (especially the ones in which she ends up in a wet T-shirt). When Ernie’s chief investor Earl (Philip Sterling, THE GAMBLER) becomes more interested in Tommy’s driving abilities and her own custom-made race car and decides he wants her to race it against Randy and Ernie’s car, Tommy must choose between love and self-respect.
More ambitious than your usual Crown International release, TOMBOY is slick and entertaining enough to rival some of the studio pics from the period. At the same time, it feels like a TV movie spiced up with very R-rated nudity. The film appears to have been patterned after FLASHDANCE substituting Jennifer Beals’ iron worker with Russell’s auto mechanic (including some similar shots of a permed Russell in a welding mask with sparks flying in the foreground) and the more “tomboyish” racing ambition in place of dancing. There’s also a subplot with Tommy’s friend Seville sexually exploiting herself in hopes of getting ahead after her dancing and acting auditions go nowhere. A soaked and mud-caked Tommy also puts on Randy’s proffered shirt before undressing underneath it a la Beals removing her bra in the former film (although not before briefly flashing Randy and us). The story is a bit more straightforward than expected for an exploitation film. One would assume that scuzzy Ernie would make some attempts to dissuade Tommy from racing or sabotage her car, particularly since the film has already supplied a pair of scumbags who have already been schooled by Tommy (she outruns them on her motorcycle causing them to wreck their car and then fixes it back to cherry condition the next day).
Nevertheless, the film’s heart seems to be in the right place; tempering Randy’s chauvinism with a degree of obstinacy in Tommy’s character, and making Ernie scuzzy enough to give them – and a couple other supporting characters – pause. Fortunately distributor Crown International – and production company Marimark who were behind other Crown releases like THE HEARSE, HUNK, MALIBU BEACH, and MY CHAUFFEUR – remember their primary audience are over eighteen and do not skimp on the opportunities to show nudity from the likable and attractive leads (as well as the lovely Somers) to various topless serving girls at Ernie’s parties and a single-shot cameo by Michelle Bauer as a motorist who finally gives nerdy not-even-remotely-a-romantic rival Howard (Toby Iland, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR) a chance to score. Besides the “Tomboy” theme song by Souvenir – heard in its entirety on the disc’s main menu screen – the soundtrack features a handful of other tracks that could easily rival the compilation soundtracks of other films from this period.
Previously released in two multi-film sets from Mill Creek (current owners of the Crown International library), TOMBOY has now been mastered in high definition (a Blu-ray is also available) by Scorpion from the original camera negative. I haven’t seen the previous transfer but Scorpion’s anamorphic dual-layer DVD version looks and sounds practically pristine (if only we could see director Freed’s HAUNTS, BEYOND EVIL and GRADUATION DAY in this condition rather than their current representation – legitimate and otherwise – as murky 1980s tape masters). Since TOMBOY is neither a horror or an action film, Scorpion has developed another line for hostess Katarina Leigh Waters called “Kat’s Meow”, which I presume will also include titles like Crown’s THE POM POM GIRLS and WEEKEND PASS. In her introductory segment, Waters – no more capable than Russell at looking like a tomboy – highlights the careers of notable performers in the film along with background on Russell who took time away from acting to raise her kids with actor Vincent Van Patten (HELL NIGHT) before making her comeback in the SAW series.
Russell herself appears in a brand new video interview (27:14) in which she reveals that she became involved in the project after she had to turn down Crown International’s and Marimark’s MY TUTOR (1983), and that it was her idea to ape Jennifer Beals’ FLASHDANCE hairstyle as a means of changing her look during a slump in her career after PRIVATE SCHOOL (she does mention being up against Sharon Stone for a major film role at the time). After seeing the final product, she didn’t think she did a good job but has since found out that it’s a fan favorite. The bulk of the interview actually focuses less on the film and more on her overall career starting with LET’S DO IT (1982) – in which she briefly appeared because a friend asked if she wanted to do a scene – and PRIVATE SCHOOL in which her hair had to be bleached because of her resemblance to star Phoebe Cates. Of AVENGING ANGEL, she says that director Robert Vincent O’Neil wanted her rather than Donna Wilkes from the first film ANGEL (1984). She also is a rather forthcoming about her own cattiness with her female co-stars (as well as with Matthew Modine on PRIVATE SCHOOL), although she is a bit too forthcoming in dishing dirt on several of her other co-stars. Unfortunately, she glosses over CHEERLEADER CAMP and the few films she did during her marriage in favor of the SAW films and her future plans as a life coach. The disc also includes both a theatrical trailer (1:43) for the film as well as a TV Spot (0:35). Trailers for THE POM POM GIRLS, ALLEY CAT, KILL AND KILL AGAIN, SAVAGE STREETS and JOY STICKS round out the package. (Eric Cotenas)
BACK TO REVIEWS