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The Sexploiters
cast: Terri Steele, Jackie Miller, and Gigi Darlene

director: Al C. Ruban

120 minutes (n/r) 1965
Retro Seduction DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden
For many years thought lost, this film is the sole directorial effort by Al C. Ruban who later went on, with much greater effect, to produce the films of John Cassavetes, including Minnie And Moskowitz (1971), as well as The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie (1976). Allegedly, Ruban screened his own work for Cassavates whilst in post-production but sadly any comments were left unrecorded. This exploitation piece is typical of the grindhouse genre: a work which barely hangs together dramatically, is cheaply made, with token acting by all concerned, and features a half hearted attempt at a plot - essentially just a skeleton upon which to hang the provocative flesh of what's now badly dated cinematic titillation. But to some of those who come to the film almost a half century on that's the essence of its charm - even though Ruban's lack of skill means that outside of the completist exploitation fan, even a half-hearted recommendation is difficult. Perhaps understandably on this showing, Ruban had a fairly short engagement with the sex-exploitation market.

The story, which frames Ruban's film, is the working day of Lynn Merrick (Terri Steele). Ostensibly she's a working NY suburban housewife, as respectable as any other, with a soft spot for nice cars, clothes and jewellery. We see her leave her comfortable house in the morning. "Girls in Lynn's place are known by many names," intones Ruban's male narrator over these early scenes, said with the leering cynicism peculiar to the genre, "but to those who know them they are known as... the sexploiters!" Although not mentioned explicitly, the film is based on an infamous Long Island scandal where housewives prostituted themselves for cash. Lynn's first visit today is to a client who lives in a penthouse; he seems nice enough until he suddenly rips open his shirt and asks Lynn to assault him with a whip, a moment caught with a camera angle influenced perhaps by the opening of Sam Fuller's lurid The Naked Kiss, made the year before.

Lynn returns to her 'agency' for the next assignment. During the rest of the film we will see just how she and other girls make up their day, which is either with 'photo assignments' with 'amateur photographers' (complete with cameras and film, hired to comply with token legality), or off to work more highly paid 'specials', bachelor parties and the like. A lot of The Sexploiters' short running time is devoted to capturing these sleazy encounters, in which girls appear a lot in underwear or topless but, as was the rule at the time never showing pubes or, for that matter, never really touching or kissing their johns. An exception to this is made at the end with a single, mild lesbian sequence. Interestingly, at least from a technical viewpoint, The Sexploiters appears filmed on two distinct grades of black and white film, with more risqué inserts shot on higher resolution stock. The effect is to make these 'posing session' segments more vivid and larger-than-life than the rest of the film's more gritty, documentary feel - as far as such clumsily staged moments are able. However one imagines that the filmmakers simply felt obliged to go back for a reason and improve their original product by using what was later available, rather aiming at any particular artistic scheme of things.

In addition to Lynn's activities the film also shows those of her co-worker Suzy (Jackie Miller) who is not above taking one client (a mouse-like office worker called 'Mr Smith') away from camera club for some extra curricular activity. Their relationship, subsequently consummated off-screen in a shower, is the most interesting and dramatically sketched in here, and raises the question most readily of who really is 'exploiting' whom. All of the women on show seem either to be enjoying the experience of displaying themselves for their male admirers, or just being in charge of the party. By contrast it is the Mr Smiths and others who remain timid and led by lionesses, parted from their money and self-respect, even being tricked at one point by a fake raid on a party organised by the girls. At one point Smith even ends a session some minutes early through (one presumes) an element of self disgust, and timidly questions the girls' motives - a uncharacteristic curiosity which is however soon brushed off, as there is clearly business to be done.

For those who watch and wait for such things, besides the opening whip attack, the highlights of Ruban's film also include a striking scene towards the end, where Lynn dances in her underwear, then gets into the casket of a 'dead' client, while the camera lingers outside and repeats shots of a phallic electronic candle. A peculiar moment in an otherwise ordinary film, it's one anticipatory of the similarly bizarre coffin scene in Meyer's Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens, made a decade or so later. But in purely erotic terms, the most successful segment of the film, to these jaded eyes at least, has to be where pert German blonde Gigi Darlene suggestively eats a creamy ice cream cone - a rare occasion where The Sexploiters succeeds in its own terms.

This edition of has been restored from the long-lost original materials but still features its good share of tramlines and jumps. Most will find it more interesting to watch with the commentary track running, aptly provided by cinematographer C. Davis-Smith. One of the few survivors from those early days of sexploitation, Davis-Smith's account of his contemporaries (some of whom, as well as he, appear as photographer-clients in this film) is interesting, introduces some otherwise shadowy participants and a half-forgotten industry, and puts some of the production constraints of the time in perspective. Other than a reasonably generous selection of trailers from the Retro-Seduction archives and a detailed booklet there's not much else to this release. If on balance it is better to have these lesser-known genre pieces available than not, it has to be said that ultimately there are more stimulating pieces of trash out there for the fan to spend money on.

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