Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Retro Review: FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (1965)

Welcome to another installment of RETRO REVIEW, where we take a look at films made before the year 2000. This week we look at a cult classic from director Russ Meyer, 1965's FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!.

Mention the films of Russ Meyer, and Faster, Pussycat! is probably going to come up. I'm not entirely sure why this movie should be so well known; Meyer made exploitation movies, cheap drive-in fare full of simple plots, laughable acting, eye-candy women and plenty of shock, when the situation called for it. The enduring popularity of this movie, above all his others, may have to do with the fact that Faster, Pussycat! is a feminist power fantasy, first and foremost.

Three women, who ostensibly work as go-go dancers but apparently are just a wandering female car gang with a very select membership, learn of an old man living in the California desert who is rumored to be hoarding a bundle of cash. Varla, the leader of the group (played by Tura Satana), decides they're going to steal it. So the gang finds the run-down homestead where the old-timer lives with his two sons, one the righteous and devoted type, the other a big, dumb country ox of a man, and set to work trying to find and loot the stash. Their plan isn't terribly complicated. It just involves liberal application of each of their innate talents, be it cunning, sexuality or brutality as the situation demands. Wacky hijinks ensue, people die, and we're treated to a steady drumbeat of implied sexuality bearing all the subtlety of using a sledgehammer to crack an egg, as the film moves steadily toward its era-demanded "Crime Does Not Pay" ending.

The story is sufficiently free from complexity so that you can indulge your smartphone addiction at will without missing anything important. Apparently, the only reason to watch Faster, Pussycat! is to watch a group of women play the vicious, sexually dominant role typically filled by men in those days. The opening sequence climaxes with Varla beating the tar out of a guy, actually beating him to death with her bare hands, for no apparent reason, before she and her two accomplices kidnap the victim's girlfriend.

Apart from the ending, though, this is as exciting as the movie gets. There's plenty of dialog dripping with the kind of thinly-veiled double entendre that one expects from bad porn, so much so that the complete lack of sex scenes feels like an anticlimax (pun mostly unintended). The three women embody the one-note song archetype that unfortunately passes for a Strong Woman even today: she's always angry, always looking for a fight, except when she's trying to seduce a man for purposes of controlling him. Varla literally cannot speak to her henchwomen without berating them. Billie, the fun-loving blonde in the bunch, covers the seduction angle. It's not clear what Rosie, the third in the group, brings to the table, other than to play Varla's sidekick.

There's a lot to laugh at in this movie, none of it intentional, but Rosie is the worst. The acting debut of a topless dancer-turned-actress going by the unfortunate stage mononym "Haji", Rosie is a study in bad characterization. This is primarily because Haji seems unable to decide whether her character is Russian or Italian, and so keeps switching between the two accents at will. Her Russian accent is passable, if stereotypical, to my ear, but her Italian is pure "Mama mia" cheese. "Ok, you wash!" she yells in an early scene where Rosie's Italian side has taken the wheel. "Now I'm-a gonna spin-a you dry!"

Faster, Pussycat! reflects the heady, early days of the Sexual Revolution and Women's Liberation, and so revels in the scenes of Varla and the gang beating men up, berating them or manipulating them as they will. With only a very few changes, this movie could be made today, so it comes as no surprise that a Faster, Pussycat! remake has been on Quentin Tarantino's short list for years. That said, I find the monochromatic characterization of Sisters Doin' it for Themselves less grating here than I do when I find it in modern projects. This is likely due to the fact that Varla and her gang never come off as though they're using their anger and hostility to disguise their own frightened weakness. Whatever these women are, they are not mere woman-children. They aren't the type to use their femininity as a safety net should their plans not go the way they want, and that gives the characters a faintly compelling quality that still manages to shine through the hack writing and horrendous acting.

Faster, Pussycat! is not a good movie. It's not even a good action movie, as many of the mistakes and shortcuts taken in production jump out even on the first viewing. But it is an interesting movie, if only for the reflection it provides of the era in which it was made. If you've never seen a Russ Meyer movie, this is good place to start.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is not rated by the MPAA, but does carry a TV-14 designation.

Robert's Score: 3 / 10

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