Remembering Dave Friedman

Hot on the heels of the death of Tura Satana came the sad news that we’d lost another important cult figure—exploitation film producer/distributor David F. Friedman, one of the last links to this distinctly American motion picture genre. Part filmmaker, part carnival barker, he specialized in selling “the sizzle, not the steak,” and his enthusiasm for showmanship and seeing what he could get away with colored his entire career.

When he was a child, he and his father, a reporter for The Birmingham News and a circus expert, visited the small traveling carnivals of Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama, igniting his passion. As a result, he was “with the show” from an early age.

While he was serving in the army, he met Kroger Babb, a pioneer in the exploitation field, whose most famous film is the 1945 Mom and Dad, a low-budget opus about the travails of an unwed mother. Strictly in Reefer Madness territory, Babb spiced the movie up with separate screenings for men and women, an in-person “sex hygiene expert,” Elliott Forbes hawking hygiene pamphlets (an excuse to sell nude photos to aroused audiences) and actual baby birthing footage. He successfully toured the film around the country for decades.

After the war, Friedman worked briefly for Paramount Pictures as a local marketing representative and one of his major projects, ironically, was the promotion of Cecil B. DeMille’s Greatest Show on Earth (1952). However, the sawdust and greasepaint beckoned, and he soon found himself back on Babb’s doorstep, helping him to sell Mom and Dad, along with other exploitation titles, for the next few years.

In those much-more-innocent days, Babb was one of a group of exploitation distributors who practiced “four-walling,” a technique that eliminated the need for a seal of approval from the MPAA. They’d go into a small town, rent a theater for a week (or a night!) and promise the local populace sights of nudity, sleaze and debauchery that their films seldom—if ever—delivered. After the show, they were often to be found racing for the state line in the middle of the night with their ill-gotten cash, leaving behind angry audiences and even angrier authorities who realized they’d been “had.”

Friedman loved the idea of the game, but unlike the other exploitationeers (who he dubbed “the forty thieves”), he stayed on the right side of the law, correctly figuring that if he burned customers with garbage films and empty promises, he’d soon run out of towns to exhibit in. Friedman himself said that when audiences weren’t satisfied by the skin on display in the main feature, the projectionist would quickly thread up a “square-up” reel, giving them the “pickle and beaver” shots they’d come to see. These were silent, 20-minute reels with grainy scenes culled from ancient porno films, but they usually did the trick.

Friedman also led the way for the foreign film boom of the 1950s, which saw audiences flocking to subtitled movies in search of more “adult” entertainment. Babb and Friedman decided that rural America would enjoy the brief glimpses of nudity and sexual implications in Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 Monika, so they picked it up for domestic distribution. Cutting out all the Swedish dreariness but preserving all the hot stuff, they subtitled it “The Story of a Bad Girl,” and it was a smash.

Friedman met Herschell Gordon Lewis in 1959 while he was selling his first film, The Prime Time (with Karen Black!). They formed a partnership and started making “nudie cuties” like Boi-i-ing! and The Adventures of Lucky Pierre. Nudie cuties were an outgrowth of the nudist camp films that the Supreme Court had recently ruled legal for exhibition. No physical interaction or lower body frontal nudity was permitted, however, so they were really the cinematic equivalent of “Playboy” centerfolds at the time.

The genre became repetitive and tiresome, though, and their next step was to virtually invent the splatter genre with Blood Feast in 1963. It was a huge hit, especially in the South, where it played drive-ins for years. After a couple more gore films, Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red, they parted company, and Friedman began to make films in the “roughie” genre, including The Defilers and A Smell of Honey, A Swallow of Brine. Roughies combined nudity with violence, bringing the exploitation genre one step closer to softcore…and eventually full-on hardcore sex.

Friedman made She Freak in 1967, which was both a remake of Tod Browning’s 1932 Freaks and a loving behind-the-scenes glimpse of the traveling carnivals he loved. The sexploitation genre kicked into high gear in the late 1960s, though, and that’s when he made some of his most playful—and playfully monikered—films. Space Thing, Starlet! and Trader Hornee are the most memorable titles. In keeping with Friedman’s carny background, their trailers are full of hilarious hyperbolic narration (written by the man himself) and are far more entertaining to watch than the films themselves.

Friedman often appeared in these films in playful cameos. He definitely stayed behind the scenes, however, when he produced the notorious Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S., filmed on the sets of the “Hogan’s Heroes” television show! This near-porn torture-fest was the sleaziest project he’d been involved in up to that time, which is probably why he chose to hide behind a pseudonym.

The porno chic genre arrived in 1972 with Deep Throat, a film that drew married suburban couples to theaters to get their first glimpse of full-on sex, and sexploitation was dead as a doornail. Friedman reluctantly produced a few hardcore projects, but it just wasn’t any fun for him, and he retired in the mid-1980s.

A revival was just around the corner, though—the home video craze of the 80s brought his movies—mostly the Lewis gore collaborations—to a new audience. I remember going into Budget Video on Highland Avenue in Hollywood in 1984 where patrons were watching a laserdisc version of Blood Feast and admiring the deep color and exceptional picture quality. I have to admit it did look great!

Mike Vraney’s Something Weird Video began re-releasing a much more complete catalogue of his work in the early 1990s, bringing back the notoriety he loved. With the advent of DVD, he worked on many of the films’ commentary tracks. Something Weird offers a special edition of a 1948 VD scare film (and Mom and Dad ripoff), Because of Eve, in which Friedman himself re-enacts the book pitch as “noted hygiene commentator” Alexander Leeds during the intermission. Now that’s a must-have!

And in 1998 he published the autobiography I mentioned earlier, “A Youth in Babylon,” which tells not only his story but those of the exploitation pioneers he’d had the opportunity to meet over the years. The tales he spins (and embellishes, I’m sure) are just fascinating, and I waited for years for the promised sequel, which sadly never materialized.

Friedman appeared in some documentaries about the exploitation field, two of which, Mau Mau Sex Sex, with fellow huckster Dan Sonney, and Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies, both from 2001, are quite entertaining. He’s credited as executive producer for Lewis’ Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002), which I have yet to see. According to The New York Times‘ obituary, he’d been blind and deaf for the ten years leading up to his death. Poor guy.

Interestingly, Friedman was born on Christmas Eve and passed away on Valentine’s Day. If he’d known that was going to be his fate, I’m sure he’d have figured out a way to market it:

“Special holiday show! One night only!”

Alien Women

ANNOUNCEMENT: Next post is the big 100. Thanks to all my regular readers!

Since women scare men anyway, it’s only natural that there would be a lot of sci-fi movies in which the creature or otherworldly being is a female. Let’s take a look at some of the stranger ones.

One of the most intriguing (and most frustrating) films I saw at the drive-in was Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood (1966), starring John Saxon, Dennis Hopper and the unforgettable Florence Marly.

The distributing company, American International, had picked up an earlier Russian space film with spectacular (for the time) special effects, and Harrington was ordered to incorporate as much footage from it as possible into his movie. As a result, it’s a frustratingly heavily-padded movie whose intriguing central story would make a good “Twilight Zone” episode.

After aliens contact Earth to inform the population of an impending visit, their ambassador spaceship crashes on Mars. American astronaut rescuers find only one survivor on board (Marly)—a female with green skin, a Dairy Queen ice cream cone hairdo and a lust for human blood. The male astronauts are intrigued by their green guest, while the lone female astronaut, Laura (Judi Meredith) is suspicious, particularly since the alien woman—who is completely mute–reacts with disgust whenever she’s nearby.

Hopper’s character in particular is drawn to her, so of course he’s the first to go. The surviving astronauts realize they must protect themselves from her while assuring that she’s brought to earth safely for experimentation.

She can hypnotize the males, but not Laura. When this All-American woman catches the alien feeding on Brenner (John Saxon), a girlfight ensues, and the green lady is scratched.

Later, Laura and Brenner find her dead in a pool of green blood. They realize that she was a hemophiliac and was not able to clot after the scratch. She gets the last laugh, though—when they get back to earth and technicians start to search the ship, they find that the alien had lain glowing, throbbing red-green eggs all over the place.

Marly’s creature is great. Having no dialogue, her facial expressions, and the way her eyes are illuminated when she hypnotizes her victims, are quite memorable. But it really feels like about 30 minutes of the 81-minute film are filler: Rathbone speechifying, clips from the Russian film and long sequences of the astronauts walking around their training grounds and blathering. You can always do what I did—I recorded it from a cable broadcast, digitized it on my computer and made my own cut, which I burned to DVD. I think it runs about 45 minutes.

From England came Devil Girl from Mars (1954), a really low-budget sci-fier whose main interest (besides the great title) is the fact that it came from the U.K. at a time when its fantastic film industry was focused more on the Hammer remakes of classics horrors like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

Patricia Laffan stars as the martian Nyah, a cross between Darth Vadar and a dominatrix, who lands in on earth to round up men to repopulate her planet. Since it’s based on a play (yes, really!), there’s a who-o-o-le lot of talking and not a lot of action, but if you’re fond of home country color with a bit of cheesy sci-fi thrown in, it might be right up your alley.

Some couples are staying at a little inn in the Scottish moors when Nyah struts in and states her purpose. Why such an out-of-the-way place to harvest men, you may ask? Her ship was damaged upon entry into the earth’s atmosphere, so she had to redirect from her original destination of the heart of London to the middle of nowhere. And instead of clamoring to get into Nyah’s ship, the men resist her plans because they don’t like—ahem—powerful women.

What little action the film has is buried by heaps and heaps of dialogue, but its most hilarious aspect is Nyah’s robot (pictured here). Intended to induce the same kind of fear Gort generated in the classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), this one is just hilarious.

Also of note are early appearances by genre stars Hazel Court (Masque of the Red Death) and Adrienne Corri (Vampire Circus), but this is another one that needs to be loaded on the computer and edited down into a highlight reel.

Another alien-woman-comes-to-earth film is The Astounding She-Monster (1957). It’s super-cheap, restricted to just a few sets, and basically the same action happens several times: alien comes into cabin, earthlings run out and go to the jeep. Alien confronts them on the road, earthlings rush back to the cabin.

There’s no synchronized dialogue during the outdoor scenes (they were probably shot MOS), so a loudmouthed narrator keeps advancing the plot along. The She-Monster (Shirley Kilpatrick) isn’t terribly astounding—she looks like someone who got a Divine makeover while wearing a body stocking.

It’s rumored that Kilpatrick was actually a younger, thinner Shirley Stoler, who attained cult status with films like The Honeymoon Killers, Seven Beauties and Frankenhooker. Frankly, it does kind of look like her!

It is also rumored that Ed Wood had a hand or two in the making of this film, and the dialogue certainly sounds like it could have issued from his Remington typewriter. Monster‘s director, Ronnie Ashcroft, worked with Wood on Night of the Ghouls. And Kenne Duncan, one of Wood’s stock players, has a leading role. Even the trailer makes it look like an Ed Wood film. Hmm…

http://www.liveleak.com/e/727_1182699230

Finally, let’s take a look at a shoulda-coulda-woulda-been. Tobe Hooper, whose career has been revived more frequently than Zsa Zsa Gabor (sorry) got a cash infusion from Cannon Films in 1985 to make three films—Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2—and they all stink!

The plot of Lifeforce sounds great: batlike creatures and three humanoids emerge from the tail of Halley’s Comet and transform most of the population of London into zombies. Plus, the lead alien (Mathilda May) who’s responsible for the outbreak is frequently naked, for those who are interested. As a matter of fact, most of the positive reviews on IMDB are from fanboys who’ve become human tripods because of the nudity.

Well, it’s not. The movie is a mess. As a matter of fact, it makes no sense at all. I’ve tried to watch it at least three times and have just been worn out by all the frantic goings-on. It’s like Hooper, four years after his estimable triumph with Poltergeist and 12 years after Texas Chainsaw, is trying to prove how relevant he still is. I really, really wanted to enjoy Lifeforce, but there comes a time in every wrongheaded film when the viewer’s brain becomes unplugged and enthusiasm deflates. That happens to me every time.

Invaders from Mars, despite the promising casting of Karen Black, who plays a school nurse helping the kid (her real-life son, Hunter Carson) who suspects his parents have “changed.” The only memorable scene in this film that I can recall involves Louise Fletcher, as a teacher who’s been invaded, gulping a live mouse down her gullet.

So what’s my favorite female alien movie? Well, for sheer entertainment value, I’d have to go with Plan 9 from Outer Space. Even though Vampira looks like…well, Vampira…she’s supposed to be an alien. And from the cardboard gravestones to the spaceship’s shower curtain door, man—it’s so funny.

Criswell: “Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown… the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places.

“My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?”

Oh, and Hunter Carson was the original Bud Bundy in the unaired pilot for “Married with Children.”

Women Behind Bars

This week on TCM I saw the 1950 Warner Brothers film Caged, starring Eleanor Parker and Agnes Moorehead, and it put me in the mood to reflect on other Women in Prison (or WIP, as they’re commonly referred to) epics. Although there were other WIPs made before it, Caged was the first to take place entirely inside such an institution, and it really established the template for those that came after. I’ll break the template down for you according to character:

1. The new fish. A young, innocent girl who has inadvertently been caught up in a criminal act and is terrified to be locked up. She learns about life the hard way and is usually released to begin a career in crime of her own by the end of the film.

2. The “boss” of the cellblock. A professional, hardened criminal who is serving serious time and controls the rest of the women in her block. Variations include sapphic lusting for the new fish, corrupt financial dealings with the warden and guards and a last-minute heart of gold. She always has toadies hanging around to do her dirty work.

3. The warden. Either male or female, the warden can be either a corrupt sadist who uses the inmates for sexual and financial reward or an earnest individual struggling against the system to improve conditions. Sometimes gets killed, sometimes ends up behind bars, too.
4. The head matron. Usually corrupt and in cahoots with the cellblock boss. Enjoys psychologically traumatizing the inmates and delivering severe physical punishment when the need arises. Doesn’t often get sexually involved, but is typically depicted as a mannish lesbian.
5. The older-but-wiser inmate. She’s spent much of her life behind bars. With jaded eyes, she sees the high-pitched dramatics of the other characters as ridiculous, but she has valuable life experience to pass on to the new fish.
6. The delicate flower. Like the new fish, she hasn’t been incarcerated for a very long time, but she is unable to handle the rigors of prison life. Trembling and in constant fear, she is easily pushed over the edge, resulting in her suicide or the killing of someone else (often the head matron).
In Caged, Eleanor Parker is the new fish, Agnes Moorehead is the kindly warden and Hope Emerson plays the head matron. Parker and Moorehead are very good, but it’s the astonishing 6’2″ Emerson who really steals the show whenever she roars onscreen. It’s a good film, too, addressing some then-taboo topics, including corruption in the prison system and some brief but delicately-handled same-sex lusting. Parker is an unwed mother (well, technically a widowed mother), and the word “pregnant” is used and—gasp!—you can actually see that she’s with child! It did well at the boxoffice, even garnering several Academy Award nominations, assuring the genre would continue.
1955 brought Women’s Prison with then-husband-and-wife Howard Duff and Ida Lupino, respectively, as the kindly prison doctor and the sadistic warden who loves to psychologically torture the inmates by wearing feminine clothes and makeup denied to them. A great cast of B-movie vixens, along with Lupino’s unabashed hamminess, make it a lot of fun. 1958′s I Want To Live! is technically not a pure WIP, as it is based on a true case and doesn’t completely take place behind bars, but it is notable for Susan Hayward’s Oscar-winning performance as real-life convicted murderess Barbara Graham, sentenced to death in San Quentin’s gas chamber. Later in the decade, the drive-in craze spurred by the influential teen population moved the action from prisons to reform schools so that younger, more buxom stars like Mamie Van Doren (Girls Town) could take the leading roles. Nowhere near as hard-hitting as the earlier films, these movies often featured rock ‘n’ roll numbers by popular acts of the day and just the right amount of teenage titillation.
By the time the more liberated ’60s rolled around, sex and sadism became the two major plot points in WIP, initiated by prolific Spanish director Jesse Franco’s 1969 99 Women. Pornography was still illegal in the United States at the time, so men anxious to see female flesh both bare and bloody (the “raincoat crowd”) would queue up wherever these films were shown. This particularly nasty offshoot of the genre continued for decades, upping the ante as censorship slackened until they became full-on porno with scenes of cruelty and torture thrown in for good measure. An extreme example of this is the notorious Dyanne Thorne Ilsa series.
In the ’70s, American producer Roger Corman decided to play catch-up, bringing films like The Big Bird Cage and The Big Doll House (both starring Foxy Brown‘s Pam Grier) to American drive-ins. They delivered the requisite nudity and violence, but not as extreme as their European counterparts. They also had a sense of humor. Cage, for example, has an amusing twist—all of the male guards are gay to prevent them from being “interested” in the nubile inmates! Most importantly, Jonathan Demme made his directorial debut with Caged Heat (1974), featuring the incredible Barbara Steele as a sexually frustrated, wheelchair-bound warden and Erika Gavin, from Russ Meyers’ Vixen and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, as an inmate.On stage, John Waters’ muse Divine played the matron in the WIP parody Women Behind Bars, which was frequently revived over the next couple of decades.
The 1970s also brought WIP to the small screen. Ida Lupino returned to play another sadistic warden in 1972′s Women in Chains, also starring Stella Stevens and Lois Nettleton. Most notorious was the 1974 Linda Blair telefilm Born Innocent, in which she plays a runaway teen whose uncaring parents have her locked up. A scene depicting a shower room rape with a broomstick allegedly prompted a similar real-life assault and so outraged the viewing public that the concept of “family hour” was born. The Partridge Family‘s own Susan Dey played the new fish in Cage Without a Key in 1975, during a period in which teen idols took on “adult” dramatic roles in TV movies to demonstrate their range. It’s amusing to see Laurie Partridge facing the rigors of incarceration. And what a performance—in one scene, she’s supposed to be losing control, spinning around to beat her fists against the wall, but you can clearly see she isn’t even touching it.
Blair was locked up again in one of the genre’s highlights, Chained Heat (1983). Once more playing the new fish, she has a rather embarrassing shower scene and veteran villain John Vernon plays the warden who videotapes his sexual exploits—ugh—with the inmates. Stella Stevens is the butch matron, and Sybil Danning is the cellblock boss. It’s wall-to-wall sleaze, and it’s a hoot. It’s the only WIP I saw in an actual theater. Danning was promoted to warden in the 1986 WIP spoof Reform School Girls, but unfortunately it’s never as funny as it thinks it is, despite the presence of The Plasmatics’ Wendy O. Williams and Warhol stalwart Pat Ast. It was probably the last WIPto receive a legitimate theatrical release.On stage, Women Behind Bars was revived with Adrienne Barbeau as the warden.
The ’90s were a dire time for WIP, with nudity-laden, low-budget sequels being churned out for the increasingy uninterested home video marketplace. A sequel-in-name-only, Caged Heat 3000, was made by Corman’s Concorde Pictures in 1995, and it represents the absolute nadir in my opinion. Allegedly set on an asteroid in space, its chintzy sets barely suggest anything other than someone’s basement. The silicone budget was much higher than the production costs, if you know what I mean. With endless shower scenes and sexual interludes, it’s as explicit as a Hustler spread, but it’s not erotic, it’s not funny—it’s just awful. Recently WIP spoofs have come back to the marketplace. Cult star Mary Woronov played the warden in 2003′s Prison A-Go-Go, and most recently, Stuck!, with Karen Black and Mink Stole, has been making the festival rounds. Filmed in black and white, it’s a throwback to the beginning of the genre. So, in a way, the circle is complete.

An Ode to Karen Black

You knew it was bound to happen. How could a blog be called “Weird Movie Village” not have a post about the weird, wonderful and extremely prolific entertainment phenomenon known as Karen Black? I’ve seen her in movies, I’ve seen her on the stage; hell, I even saw her in the grocery store! Let me tell you…

Ms. Black has had a truly incredible career. In the late 1960s and early 70s, she was the toast of the independent film scene. She was in “Easy Rider,” “Five Easy Pieces,” “Day of the Locust” and “Nashville.” She’s been in almost 200 movies, and when fickle Hollywood turned its back on her, she continued her career in Italy, Canada and wherever else true Blackishness was called upon. She worked for Hitchcock and she worked for Ruggero Deodato. According to the IMDB, she’s got six current films completed or in postproduction. And a band named after her…The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. Now, I’m going to have some fun with her in this post, but I mean it with the utmost respect and admiration. Karen Black is cult movies personified.

We all know the career highlights: the cross-eyed stewardess landing the plane in “Airport 1975″; she makes the actor’s choice of sticking out her tongue while trying to pull the replacement pilot in through the damaged fuselage, but that pales in comparison to the hideous 1970s orange decor inside the cabin. She portrays the terrified apartment dweller fighting off the Zuni Fetish warrior doll in “Trilogy of Terror,” a story that traumatized TV movie-watchers for years. In Altman’s “Nashville,” she played the ambitious Connie White, intent on overthrowing cuckoo lady Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) in her quest to be the number one female country singer in America.

I first saw her in person at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel Cinegrill in the late 1980s, performing an evening of some of her original songs mixed with standards. The show began with her in bed. The lights were supposed to come up, the bed would wheel out onto the stage, she would sit up and begin to sing. Something went wrong technically, though, and she had to lay back down and start all over again. Some cruel audience members came to jeer, but I came to experience the majesty.

Karen (if I may be so familiar) has an unusual singing voice. How can I explain it? How’s this: just as she has lived her life, she allows her octaves to go wherever the hell they feel like. Not that she has a bad voice; it’s very good. She has adventurous phrasing, that’s all. When I asked for her autograph after the show, she was obviously still stinging from the hecklers. She grabbed the pen and program from my hand, snapped, “What’s your name?” and signed in super-spirally script, “Best, Karen Black.” I don’t blame her for her irritation. Those guys were total douches.

About three years ago I was shopping at my neighborhood Pavilions grocery store on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks; I lived across the street. As I walked through the store, I was people-watching and doing that interior monologue you do when you look at someone who’s vaguely reminiscent of someone famous. Or maybe I’m the only one who does it. Anyhow, my inner voice said, “Hey! It’s Karen Black!” Then I did a double-take and realized that it was indeed her…at my market!

Later, while waiting at the checkout, I became aware of Ms. Black herself heading toward my line. She was coming straight at me! What was she going to say to me? Just when I was fumbling for what I hoped would be an appropriate rejoinder, those famous eyes turned from me to the cashier and she asked, “Where’s the aluminum foil?” Damn.

Most recently, I saw her in “The Missouri Waltz,” a stage production in Hollywood. It was an Equity-waiver theatre (99 seats or less), so the surroundings were very intimate. Like you walked across the stage to get to the bathroom.

Karen’s playwriting debut is a “drama with music” set in the 1970s, about a young woman who returns to her family home, pregnant and unmarried and unsure what to do with the baby. She is guided by her two ghostly aunts (Black and Dana Peterson). Black wrote some good monologues but the second act collapses into a running-in-and-out-of-doors sequence reminiscent of something out of “I Love Lucy.” And the songs (not written by her)…well, here’s an example. The actress portraying the niece sings large portions of one of her numbers bent over with her ass sticking out at the audience and it actually helps the material.

Ah, Karen can try again and you know she will.

What are my favorite Karen Black films? “Trilogy of Terror,” “Nashville” and “Day of the Locust,” of course, but her second film with Altman, “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” a screen adaptation of the Ed Gracyzk play, has to rank as number one. Ostensibly, it’s about the 20th anniversary reunion of the “Disciples of Dean,” a group of former high school friends in a small Texas town, but it ‘s more complicated than that. Black plays Joanne, a male-to-female transsexual who went under the knife as a result of his/her unrequited love for Mona (Sandy Dennis), who claims to have been impregnated by James Dean during the filming of “Giant” in nearby Marfa and her mentally-impaired son is their love child. But look for this film. It’s not on DVD but it’s on cable from time to time. The extremely low budget caused Altman to utilize some effects from the stage that actually add to the story rather than doing the reverse. Since the story bounces back and forth between 1955 and 1975, the quaint effects are appropriate.

And what a cast! All from the stage version: Cher (still looking human), Kathy Bates (long before she became “Academy Award-winner Kathy Bates”) and the aforementioned Dennis. It only played 52 performances on Broadway, which may account for the spartan budget of this film adaptation. Nevertheless, it’s a goldmine of one-liners you can inject into (almost) everyday conversation. For example, if someone suddenly says that they feel like they’ve been through something all before, turn your head, cross your eyes and ask, “Deja vu?” not in English, not in French, but in some indiscernible accent, maybe from another planet, like Karen did in “Jimmy Dean.”

She’s the gift that keeps on giving.