March 26, 2011

Midnight At Bertha's Oasis!

There are some films that acquire a "cult" following as soon as they come out, while other films like this one take years to catch on. The only reason POOR PRETTY EDDIE has taken so long to find its audience is simply because it was never that easy to see in the first place. I discovered this film way back in 1997 while rummaging through some old VHS tapes in a junk shop on Sunset Boulevard. The cast was enough to merit a purchase on the spot. I mean, Shelley Winters acting alongside the amazing Slim Pickens (I love the fact he named his son "Easy"), as well as, character actor Dub Taylor and Ted Cassidy (known far and wide as Lurch on THE ADDAMS FAMILY) playing a love sick handyman. Lesile Uggams is supposed to be the star and considering what she is put through in this film, I guess she is, however, it is the legendary Shelley Winters who rules the roost in this flick and don't you forget it. The moment we see her entrance as the blousy, overweight Bertha, she simply owns the screen as long as she is on it.

Michael Christian as "Eddie".
POOR PRETTY EDDIE is, without a doubt, one of the most unappreciated exploitation films ever, but all that is about to change as it has been selected for a Blue-ray release on April 26th. I have been planning to write about this film for years, even going to such lengths as getting in touch with actor Micheal Christian who played "Eddie" in the film. When I spoke with him on the phone he was a bit surprised anyone was interested, but when I explained how much the film stuck with me after I first saw it, he opened up a bit, telling me how much he enjoyed working with Winters and Uggams, although they had been out of touch since the film. I planned a follow-up call but now he has apparently done an audio commentary, or at least an interview for the DVD, so I will wait and see if he answers all the right questions when the Blu-ray arrives on the 26th.

Leslie Uggams as "Liz Wetherly", singing the national anthem.
The film has had many titles over the years from REDNECK COUNTY RAPE to BLACK VENGENCE, so to finally see a decent print as POOR PRETTY EDDIE is more than I could have hoped for a few months ago. The internet is now filled with discussions about just how off-the-wall this film is and none of them are exaggerating when they say this. This film is ugly in every way possible and make no mistake, but what makes it great is just how wonderfully unpolitically correct it is. I mean, Leslie Uggams opens the film as a spoiled diva singing the "Star Spangled Banner" during a football game, so she is depicted as a Whitney Houston clone even though there was no Whitney at the time in 1973. The title implies a "Baby Jane/Henry Farrell" video and in some ways it is, especially with Winters playing a has-been something or other. However, the real deluded one in all this is Eddie, a boytoy with dreams of becoming the next Elvis, or at least a country star, just like Uggams’ character in the film, Liz Wetherly.

Shelley Winters as "Bertha", doing what she does best.
The plot of this film, which I am told, began as a stage play not unlike THE BALCONY (which was filmed in the 60s starring Shelley Winters) with dialogue so ripe you begin to think you might have heard it before in some one-act by Tennessee Williams. Uggams arrives at an off the radar motel called "Bertha’s Oasis" (a Bates motel in the making if ever there was one) after her Rolls Royce breaks down nearby. The motel owner, Bertha, is not interested in renting rooms at all, as her life revolves around getting drunk and blowing Eddie and that is the name of that tune. This is made abundantly clear when Bertha reminds Eddie early on that if he behaves, she will keep doing those things he likes that nobody else will do. I guess Bertha is overestimating her skills at this point. In any case, Eddie becomes obsessed with Uggams to the point of raping her not long after she checks in. The film, at this point, become surreal, as we see the rape inter-cut with dogs humping to a Country Western love song. The best way to describe this film is David Lynch meets Sam Peckinpah. For example, the film boasts many slow motion sequences of sex and violence, as well as, a town filled to capacity with classic rednecks, all whom deserve to be shot and don't think that doesn't happen, because it does. Slim Pickens is a textbook study in grindhouse chic. When he first see's Leslie Uggams, he tells Bertha, "she must be one of them high yeller's!".

I knew the film’s editor Frank Mazzola long before he came to my photo exhibit in 2005 for Donald Cammell's PERFORMANCE which he worked on, as well as, being a close friend of Donald's right up until his death. When I mention this film to Frank he just laughed, as he remembers it as being low budget, shot in Athens, Georgia at a real life motel known as Charles Williams Pinecrest Lodge, which finally closed in 2004.

Leslie Uggams takes it off for a bunch of rednecks.
If you like films that repel and fascinate at the same time, then this is the one for you. It takes a certain kind of jaw dropping sensibility to sit through the whole thing. One of the joys in discovering something as trashy as this, is it keeps giving more right up until you think Leslie Uggams can't be humiliated  any further by anybody in the film, that is, of course, until she is put on trial and then condemned to marry Eddie in a ceremony right out of a "Texas Chainsaw" film. No one will be seated when Leslie and Shelley appear in matching wedding gowns at the films blood soaked finale.

If you love grindhouse exploitation and trash then please take my word for it, this one is for you. I have not felt this strongly about a film since the days of say BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS or MYRA BRECKINRIDGE. This is without a doubt the best performance of Shelley Winters since CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD or WILD IN THE STREETS. Afterall, when was the last time you heard her mouth lines like?...."I don’t care if she farts Chanel Number Five----she ain’t stayin here."


  1. Haahahahaha!! Good stuff. Will be looking for this in a few weeks. Thank you once again for the heads up.

  2. I totally agree with you, David. Poor Pretty Eddie is a truly excellent, overlooked film. I can't wait for the Blu-ray! Shame it was delayed, but at least we only have to wait till the end of this month.

  3. I wonder if the blu-ray will have the "happy ending" version. Hopefully.