Thursday, February 16, 2017

Flesh and Lace (1965) Kinky Dive Bar Noir

A cheap masterpiece of the sleazy side of Noir, in what could not be more appropriate, an independent "B" feature, shot somewhere in the bowels of NYC.

I've written before that I love when this happens. A film is made on the leading edge, the fringe, the avant-garde of a culture at a particular point in time. This film is for all intents and purposes a Noir. The subject matter is dark, it's characters are obsessed. The films whole milieu is alienated from the face of society we like to normally show. The film is slightly ahead of what will become tolerated and/or perfectly acceptable in time. The culture, (to paraphrase Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity) has a speed limit. Any film that explores taboo subject matter or goes past the speed limit of the culture is considered off beat, kinky, exploitive, obscene and is too far out there for what passed as normal. It gets bumped off the cultural highway into relative obscurity.

Flesh and Lace has been pigeonholed into the genre of film dubbed Sexploitation and it's small sub genre "The Roughie". But now, looking back on it, through the lens of time, you will see that it will easily surpass in feel and cinematic style most modern Film Noir trying to achieve that very zeitgeist of the late 50s early 60s. The real deal is always better than an imagined recreation of the past, rough edges, warts and all.

Joan (Young)  and Dop (Lind)

Bev (Hall)

Go Go dive
 Like films before it, i.e., The Shanghai Gesture (1941), The Blue Dahlia (1946), Road House (1948), Macao (1952), Hell's Half Acre (1954) and many other films centered on bars, dance halls, casinos and nightclubs, Flesh and Lace is about the denizens of a dive bar. This go round, a 1965 Go Go bar/lounge. The film occupies a timespace right before the counter culture derails old society forever, shooting it off on another tangent, one of peace, love, dove, flower power. But this view/interpretation of a dive bar circa 1965 is both stylish and surreal both visually and aurally. There is even a point in the film where it deviates into a Musical when Judy Young belts out a bluesy jazz tune. It's similar in some respects to the films of David Lynch, The Coen Brothers, and musically even Sergio Leone.

Directed and written by Joe Sarno (1921–2010 a pioneer of Sexploitation). Great noir-ish cinematography by Jerry Kalogeratos (The 300 Spartans (1966) (second unit photography - as Jerry Kalogerados) ) and a nice soundtrack of predominantly "bad gogo bar jazz" performed in a good way, along with actual leitmotifs for various characters and emotional states, credited to Stan Free.

The film stars Heather Hall as Bev - the blonde, Judy Young as Joan - the brunette, John Aristedes as the greaser gambler Rook, Joe Santos (A Carol for Another Christmas (TV movie) (1964), The Panic in Needle Park (1971), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), The Rockford Files TV Series (1974–1980), The Sopranos TV Series (1999–2007)) as Julian - the toy shop owner/loan shark, Norman Lind as Dop - the dive bar owner, June Roberts as Gilda the GoGo Dancer #1 who has what looks like fuller brush fake eyelashes, and Marlene Starr as Linda GoGo Dancer #2.


Gilda (Roberts) lt. and Linda (Starr)

Crap Game
The story takes place in a nameless New York neighborhood, in a nameless, narrow, hole in the wall GoGo Dive. I remember as a twentysomething some of these shitholes fondly, The Metropole Cafe on 7th Ave. The Cafe Au Go Go on Bleecker Street, and my neighborhood local, Johnny Jay's on 31st Street under the el in Long Island City.

The clip joint dive in Flesh and Lace has a shotgun main room with a low enough ceiling that is has no headroom over the bar. The Go Go girls have to strut their stuff on the floor, they do the twist and shake their booties in a cleared dancing space between the naugahyde booths and the tables against a light haze of cigarette smoke. With slicked back hair and horn rimmed glasses, weasely Dop (Lind), the dive's owner, has his B girls, chanteuse Joan (Young), and new girl Bev (Hall) working the joint, hustling single men for drinks. Between sets the two dancers Gilda (Roberts), and Linda (Starr), also work the tables and make extra cash at "private parties" upstairs when Dop isn't running his illegal crap game, where the real money is.

Bev telling Joan her problem
Rook (Arestides) and Gilda with her fuller brush fake eyelashes

"Stick around I'm sure he'll smell you."

You got my money?

Rook checking out Bev
New girl Bev (Hall), is having a tough time. She can't seem to get loose enough to lead men on. They want to get randy and handy, but she hasn't lost her "friginity." She has an emotional leitmotif, (a ticking, like a time bomb, that segues into an anxiety beat), increasing in tempo when men get too close. Dop wants to drop her. This gash isn't bringing in enough cash from the lounge trash. Joan asks Dop to give her one more chance.

One more chance
Bev's psychological problems are just beginning. Into the dive walks Rook, a sharpie greaser, a gambler, a two bit hood with a built in chick magnet. He's the late 50s early 60s classic lounge lizard with eyes set a fraction two close to each other, he'd only need a forked flickering tongue to complete the vision. His appearance is accompanied by an electric keyboard rock and roll leitmotif that will remind you of the Peter Gunn theme. Rook was involved with Joan before he had to skip town. He owed Dop ten Gs. He got lucky out in fly-over country and now he's back with the cash. He's hot on a winning streak and wants action, both with the dice, Joan, and any other skirt that crosses his path.

Rook: where's Dop?
Bartender: Stick around I'm sure he'll smell you.

Bev has an altercation with a customer and gets herself fired. Now broke She has to live with Judy at her apartment while she looks for work. Bev on her job search wanders one day into a toy store either up in the uptown Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, or out in Queens, and meets the proprietor Julian (Santos). Julian's toy store is also a front for his loan sharking operation. Julian is smitten with Bev's fragile beauty. She spends the entire day wandering around the store with Julian following her around with his tongue practically hanging out. Bevs innocent demeanor causes Julian to tell her his secrets. He shows her where he keeps his sharking bankroll. When Bev leaves, he gives her a big stuffed lion and tells her that she can have a job at the store. Bev back at Joan's apartment she tells all this to Judy.

An IRT train, the elevated could be The Broadway Local  in Inwood,  Manhattan, or The Flushing Line in Queens , NY


Bev looking for a job maybe 10th Ave, Inwood, Manhattan, or somewhere along the Flushing line in Queens 

Toy Store

Bev and Julian (Santos)
That night at the apartment, as the girls are about to go to sleep, Rook lets himself into their apartment with the spare key. Joan at first tries to fight Rook off but soon the struggles rekindle the old flame and soon they are playing hide the sausage on the floor. Bev peeps at them from the bedroom, and gets herself aroused by touching herself while watching them.

Joan getting ready for bed

Rook coming into the bedroom

Joan initially fighting off Rook

Bev peeping

Bev touching herself

Bev spent after an evening of fingering
The next day, after Joan has gone back to work at the dive bar, Rook again lets himself into the apartment and watches Bev begin to matsturbate with the stuffed lion on the bed. Rook then easily seduces Bev. To Rooks surprise he finds out that the previous demure Bev is now sexually insatiable, a mental block has been breached, a switch has been flipped, she's a nympho. This slime ball even sneaks out of bed with Judy to join Bev on the couch. Eventually Joan catches Rook with Bev a catfight erupts and Judy throws her out.

Rook and Bev

Joan and Bev catfight

Rook breaks it up

Joan tells Rook to get out
Bev goes to Julian's toy store where he cleans her up and fixes a place for her to sleep in the stores basement. After Julian gives her an innocent kiss, Bev goes full nympho. Julian soon discovers he can't satisfy Bev's desires and he twistedly takes advantage of her. He calls his store clerk into action, then is on the phone to friends virtually pimping her out, oh, he not a 100% douche, he gives her money and tells her to buy nice things, Nice guy.

Julian "helping" Bev

She can't get no satisfaction

Pimping her out of a problem
Meanwhile, Rook is again on a losing streak, he makes up with Joan and begs her for money, he loses that. Then he asks Judy to buy him some time with Dop, sexually if she has to, Judy in love with this schmuck agrees. Sleazy Dop anticipates all this and he has Gilda waiting at his apartment, inferring that Bev will have to have a ménage à trois, Judy and Gilda will be making a Dop sandwich.

making up

The Dop sandwich 

When Rook again loses his stake and is out of time he begs Judy for money to leave town. Judy remembers what Bev told her about the loan shark stash in the Toy store in Inwood. Rook takes off with Judy's gun for Noirsville.

Noirsville










Linda and Gilda go to a private party









Joan belting out the blues


 


Of the entire cast only Joe Santos actually made it to the big time, his conflicted Julian is hard on the outside but soft on inside. Judy Young was very convincing as Joan she also had a great voice. Her bluesy torch song was reminiscent of the performance of Meg Myles in Satan In High Heels. Judy should have went on to bigger and better things, she did exploitation for another two years, but her last screen credit is for Frankenhooker (1990). John Aristedes had a strong presence, for David Lynch fans he will remind you of Balthazar Getty in Lost Highway. The films headliner Heather Hall was adequate but not great. June Roberts and Marlene Starr had a short careers in Sexploitation films. Other members of the cast Mark and Lee Dichter, kept their feet in the business as technicians in the Sound Department.

What stood out as exploitive then, is commonplace R fare now, today's films just have bigger budgets better actors and are more polished. Other than tits & ass there is no sex in Flesh and Lace and just like during the Classic Noir era, it's what's implied that's more effective than what is shown. It doesn't get any noir-er than this, even the "hero" is a sleazeball.

 Flesh and Lace would make a good double bill with Aroused (1966) another great New York City late Noir. Screencaps are from Something Weird Video's release. 7/10

A P.S., One thing you have to keep in mind when exploring the Sexploitation catch all genre, especially when searching for reviews is that reviewers reviewing Sexpliotation are usually looking for just that sexploitation, films that are rated low, are so sometimes because they don't quite fit into this pigeonhole, those are the films that may be Noirs that just went over the edge. You can keep in mind the same when searching the Horror Genre for lost noirs. A recent good example is the recently reviewed Stark Fear and Fright the first labeled on IMDb as a Drama/Thriller and the second labeled as a Horror.

A more Sexploitation themed poster



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