The Girl from S.I.N. (1966) -**½
I’m genuinely grateful that even after all these years of seeking out the dumbest, the weirdest, and the worst that cinema has to offer, I can still find movies that flat-out stupefy me. With all I’ve seen, it’s easy to start thinking that maybe the serious befuddlements are all behind me, and that would be a very depressing prospect. Fortunately, though, the cosmos keeps coming through with shit like The Girl from S.I.N. As the title suggests, The Girl from S.I.N. is sort of a sexy spoof of 60’s spy movies— except that it doesn’t actually take anything specifically recognizable from the contemporary craze for Bondian espionage adventures except the title and a few character names. It’s also sort of a parody of Yellow Peril movies on the Fu Manchu model— except that it never really commits to that, either. It’s sort of a roughie, with its heroine in bondage and its torture-by-steam-cabinet scene— except that it isn’t very rough in comparison to the likes of White Slaves of Chinatown or The Touch of Her Flesh. And it’s sort of a nudie-cutie, too, with its comical mad scientist and its invisibility pills that keep wearing off at exactly the most embarrassing moment— except that the aforementioned bondage and torture make it still a little too rough to qualify as one of those. So really, I can’t tell you what the fuck this movie is, beyond lascivious, cheap, and silly.
Oh— and it also just narrowly misses being a silent movie 40 years out of time. We begin to suspect as much very quickly, too, as the opening scene of a woman who’s supposed to look Oriental but doesn’t (Joyana, of The Brick Dollhouse) giving a champagne-soaked shrimp-job to a sleazy porn-stache guy (Jerry Denby, from The Sexploiters and Monique, My Love) drags endlessly on to the tune of some cacophonously inappropriate library music, but without so much as a single post-looped moan on the soundtrack otherwise. As the toe-sucking approaches whatever climax may come of such attentions, the woman takes up an ice pick from the bucket where the champagne had been chilling, and Trotskies the shit out of her partner. Cue opening credits.
Next we are introduced to Silk Suit (Sal Rogge), agent for M.A.F.I.A. Suit has been summoned to the secret Manhattan headquarters of Dr. Sexus (Bob Oran, from Hell’s Bloody Devils and The Sex Perils of Paulette, who manages to look a tiny bit more convincingly Asian than Ice Pick Girl), the head of a global criminal syndicate called S.I.N. If either of those acronyms means anything, writer/director/cinematographer C. Davis Smith isn’t telling. Sexus, incidentally, is the employer of the toe-sucking femme fatale, who we now learn goes by the name of Poontang Plenty. (You know, I really do pity the writers of Bond spoofs sometimes— a name like “Pussy Galore” is essentially impervious to parody, but you’re plainly doing it wrong if you don’t at least try to poke fun at the convention anyway.) He also employs a giant, bald, CaucAsian assassin called Bigjob (I’m guessing this is Rick Wright) and a staff of lingerie-clad servant girls. The reason Sexus wants to see Suit is that he knows the man from M.A.F.I.A. has been tracking the movements of a certain nondescript shlub (C. Davis Smith himself, whose other turns in front of the camera include The Altar of Lust and File X for Sex: The Story of the Perverted), and that sort of behavior always piques an evil genius’s curiosity. Suit seems happy enough to spill, but Sexus has Poontang Plenty subject him to a rigorous sex-and-violence interrogation just the same.
The object of Suit’s scrutiny turns out to be Professor Drake, a scientist toiling privately in a nearby tenement, together with his cute, blonde lab assistant, Karen (Lisa Ryan, also known as Mary O’Hara, from Another Day, Another Man). Drake is developing a pill that confers invisibility, because… well, honestly I don’t know. Maybe there just weren’t any research grants available for bat embigulation or shark-to-human gill transplants when he went looking for funding. In any case, he’s reached the stage of testing his formula on live mice, the success of which inadvertently leads to the demonstration of the drug’s temporary effectiveness on humans as well. The invisible mouse escapes from Drake before he can return it to its cage, you see, and Karen is terrified of rodents. In her panic, she decides that the only logical thing to do is to down an invisibility pill of her own, making it impossible for the mouse to find her.
I should mention at this point that Karen is dating the guy across the hall from Professor Drake’s apartment— not because it matters yet, but because Smith now sees fit to have us hang out with Sam (Sam Stewart, of Bad Girls Go to Hell and The Amazing Transplant) for long enough to kill what little story momentum The Girl from S.I.N. has thus far managed to generate. This is so that we can watch him at work, taking advertising photos for some manner of “milk product.” The motivation becomes a little bit clearer when we see that the model posing with the glass to her lips (June Roberts— or Dolly Lee, as she calls herself here— from The Beast that Killed Women and The Pink Pussy: Where Sin Lives) is both very pretty and very nude.
Eventually, Smith remembers that he’s supposed to be making a movie here, at which point Silk Suit (now recovered from his working over by Poontang Plenty) and Bigjob invade Drake’s flat, and attempt to beat the secret of his invisibility drug out of him. Karen, whose presence the criminals have not yet noted, gets undressed and takes another of the pills to ensure that she stays undiscovered. Then she charges in and kicks the crap out of Suit and Bigjob. It’s never quite clear whether they understand what’s happening to them, but either way, they beat a hasty retreat after snagging a document which Suit believes to be the formula for the professor’s invention. Actually what he grabs is Drake’s income tax returns (because ordinary people can no more make sense of those than they can of advanced biochemistry, don’t you know…), so he and Bigjob are going to be in trouble when they get back to S.I.N. headquarters.
Meanwhile, Karen rushes across the hall to enlist Sam’s aid. Inevitably, the pill she swallowed wears off just as she reaches his door, so instead of having to explain why she came over to his place invisible, she has to explain why she came over naked. Sam never seems to become any less puzzled, but he does accompany Karen back to Drake’s place to help revive the professor. Drake has a whopper of a headache and could use a good rest, but he’s basically okay. Sam puts him to bed at his place so that he can more conveniently watch over him, while Karen makes herself invisible again and runs off to infiltrate S.I.N. headquarters despite having no clear reason to do so and no apparent way of knowing where it is. The couple’s amateur-night counterespionage does nothing but to get both of them captured by the bad guys— Karen when her invisibility wears off while she’s standing within arm’s reach of literally the entire S.I.N. inner circle, and Sam when Poontang Plenty, posing as a model, slips him a powerful aphrodisiac and incapacitates him with some bullshit arousal-dependent martial arts technique. It will thus fall to Professor Drake to save both his own ass and theirs. (Strangely, the invisibility drug lasts a lot longer when it can’t be used as an excuse to get a pretty girl naked in a public place…)
Let me return now to that “almost a silent” business, because it’s easily the weirdest aspect of this very weird movie, and because I suspect it’s less than obvious what I really meant. The whole time I was watching Poontang Plenty slurp champagne off of her target’s feet in complete silence outside of that desperately overdramatic music, I kept thinking, “Somebody’s going to say something soon, right? I mean, this is 1966, so there has to be dialogue at some point, doesn’t there?” Nope. Or at least not if by “dialogue,” you mean “characters speaking diegetically to each other, in such a way that we get to hear them.” Astonishingly, there isn’t a single word of that throughout The Girl from S.I.N.’s entire running time. Characters do talk, but not only did C. Davis Smith not have a microphone on the set to catch it, he didn’t even have the actors dub their lines in post-production! Instead, Smith post-looped a narrator to explain the action on the screen. And as bizarre as that is, I still haven’t told you the really strange part. Think about the other modern movies you’ve seen with lots of voiceover narration: The Last Man on Earth, A Clockwork Orange, the theatrical cut of Blade Runner, the English-language dub of Gigantis the Fire Monster, whatever. Think about who the narrator in those movies is supposed to be. It’s the protagonist, right? Or at the very least, a character who figures somehow in the story? Well, not here. In The Girl from S.I.N., we have voiceover narration from an omniscient third-person perspective, as if we were listening to Smith reading his screen treatment aloud. It’s a throwback not merely to the silent era, but to the days before the widespread adoption of intertitles circa 1905! The only contemporary thing slightly like it that I’ve seen is The Beast of Yucca Flats, but that film had at least a little bit of conventional dialogue to go along with the ramblings of its stoned beatnik God.
As the foregoing might imply, the overwhelming impression conveyed by The Girl from S.I.N. is that Smith had absolutely no idea what he was doing, and didn’t much care. That is perhaps to be expected, because one of the few things I’ve been able to find out about him is that he was a protégé of Doris Wishman. Wishman is a subject we’re long overdue to take up, but the proper context for that would be a review of one of her own movies. For now, suffice it to say that her claim to infamy rests upon raising sexploitation cinema nearly to the level of outsider art. The notion that she would have a protégé is simply mind-blowing. That said, The Girl from S.I.N. is exactly what you’d imagine a film made under Wishman’s influence to be. It meanders in counterintuitive directions, keeping only the vaguest track of its plot, premise, and even genre. It bores and mesmerizes at the same time, holding with its sheer strangeness attention that it does nothing to deserve on the basis of quality, however one chooses to define it. It provokes mystified musing over how incredibly low the “sexy” bar must have been set in 1966 for this thing to have found a distributor. And as I’ve already described at length, it unconcernedly forgoes altogether one of the most basic aspects of post-1930 filmmaking. If I didn’t know better, I’d be tempted to ask whether C. Davis Smith had ever actually seen a movie before, of if he was just going by descriptions of the medium that he’d heard or read.