The Ecstasies of Women (1969) -*
To be honest with you, I’ve seen an embarrassingly small number of Herschell Gordon Lewis movies, and until now, I had never seen any of Lewis’s skin flicks. Apparently I wasn’t missing much with the latter shortcoming. Now maybe I should reserve at least some of my judgement until I see something like The Adventures of Lucky Pierre or Boin-n-g— one of the first wave of sex films that Lewis made in partnership with David Friedman. Friedman, after all, always had a knack for making something from nothing when it came to production value, and even his worst stinkers from after he and Lewis parted ways look and feel at least semi-professional. On the other hand, it’s not like anything I’ve seen of Friedman’s was actually good, and Frank Hennenlotter knew whereof he spoke when he called nudie-cuties “the stupidest movies in the world.” Perhaps those early Lewis-Friedman tit-shakers wouldn’t alter the picture any. What I can say for certain is that The Ecstasies of Women is as lousy among turn-of-the-70’s soft smut as She-Devils on Wheels is among biker movies. I will gladly forgive Lewis his role in the development of junk mail as we know it if the alternative was that he’d direct more shit like this!
Harry (Walter Camp) is getting married tomorrow to a woman named Trudi. Tonight, though, his friends— Gene (William Vickers), Ted (Forman Shane, from Lady Godiva Rides and The Lustful Turk), and Fred (James Brand, of Mantis in Lace and The Notorious Cleopatra)— have taken him out to a topless go-go bar, the kind where not only the dancers are topless, but so are the cocktail waitresses. At the bar, Harry spends most of the evening reminiscing about his sexual conquests in the months since his job as a traveling sales rep for a lingerie company sent him to Los Angeles. Conspicuously, none of the three ensuing flashbacks, which collectively account for most of the running time, involve Trudi. In fact, we’ll never actually meet Harry’s bride-to-be at all. Eventually, Gene flags down Kitty the waitress (Victoria Bond, from Blood of the Iron Maiden and Like Mother, Like Daughter) to request a girl especially for the guest of honor, and she produces the somewhat hippyish and visibly stoned Summer (Baby Vickie’s Bonnie Clark). Harry and Summer hit it off so well that he soon decides to invite her back to the houseboat where he’s been living, and once the other guys get wind of that, they each want a girl of their own. At closing time, the whole pack withdraws to Harry’s boat, with Summer, Kitty, and two dancers by the names of Chris (Antoinette Maynard, from The Affairs of Aphrodite and One Million AC/DC) and Teddy (Dee Howard, from House of Pain and Pleasure and The Erotic Adventures of Robin Hood) in tow. The ensuing orgy ends with Harry realizing that he doesn’t really want to marry Trudi after all, and running away with Summer to parts unknown.
I’ve often said, with regard to the standard model of bachelor party, that if you want to revel with strippers and whores, then marriage probably isn’t truly for you at this stage of your life— unless maybe your prospective spouse also wants to revel with strippers and whores. It therefore amuses me to encounter a movie in which that seems to be the explicit moral of the story. It also amuses me how the climactic orgy scene implies that because panties are the regular work uniform for the go-go girls, of course they don’t wear the things when they’re off the clock. Alas, those two points exhaust pretty much all the amusement, entertainment, or interest there is to be had from The Ecstasies of Women. Most of the couplings are remarkably off-putting, and the one with the strongest erotic charge, climaxing the last of Harry’s flashbacks, gets cut off when it’s only just getting up to speed. The girls aren’t bad-looking, but the cinematography steadfastly refuses to flatter them in any way— and the less said about Walter Camp’s “charms” the better. Suffice it to say that I can’t recall ever seeing so many ass-pimples in one movie in all my life. Just the same, I would much rather watch Camp pretend to fuck than watch him pretend to act. He’s awful even by Herschell Gordon Lewis’s usual standards, which is a bit like being ugly for a leper or having exceptionally bad body odor for a chimpanzee. And the script requires him to hold up an end in no fewer than half a dozen of the most boring conversations ever committed to celluloid. The role of Harry would be a dirty trick to play on any actor, and Camp is helpless in the face of it. The rest of the cast do somewhat better— which is to say that most of them are about typical for Lewis— although the women average noticeably higher than the men. It’s probably significant that most of these actresses were regular providers of eye-candy for David Friedman during this same period. Extremely forgiving viewers might get a chuckle or two out of the set purporting to represent the main below-decks cabin of Harry’s boat, which is unmistakably somebody’s basement rec room, but even that disappoints because the vibe there is merely shabby, rather than tacky in any of the exquisite ways that were available in 1969. Overall, The Ecstasies of Women is valuable primarily as an illustration of why French and Italian sexploitation imports took everybody’s breath away in the mid-70’s. The makers of those movies knew how to make sex look sexy.