Sinister Urge, The
Reviewed by Nicholas D'Amico
Rating: 9 Beans
y 1960, Edward D. Wood was in pretty bad shape. His close friend Bela Lugosi was dead, his last film, REVENGE OF THE DEAD, had died at the box office, and his alcoholism was becoming more acute. He had footage laying around from a movie he started in 1956, ROCK & ROLL HELL, so when Roy Reid came to him with some footage shot by George Weiss for an uncompleted film called HELLBORNE, Wood wrote the story for THE SINISTER URGE and took over the directoral reins.
THE SINISTER URGE opens with a shot of a chubby blonde (Betty Boatner) stumbling down a country road, apparently being chased by someone. As she staggers along in a white bra and slip, the dust from the camera car envelops her and she almost runs off the road a couple of times. She keeps shooting glances behind her, although no one is there, and then she spies a sign that reads CITY PARK. She doglegs over to it and ends up in another area that looks nothing like the road she was just on. Spotting a phone booth, she runs to it and his horrified to find that it's a (gasp) pay phone!!! She starts slamming the receiver cradle and chanting, "Op-er-ray-ter! Op-er-ray-ter!" in an annoying southern accent. This doesn't last long as the guy who was chasing her, Dirk Williams (Dino Fantini) finally catches up with her and murders her by slapping her four or five times. After a few shots of the dead girl on the riverbank (with a little tit thrown in so the losers who paid to see this at the Adult Cinema won't feel ripped off), we meet Lt. Matt Carson (Kenne Duncan) and his partner, Sgt. Randy Stone (James "Duke" Moore). They go to the site of the murder and immediately deduce that she was killed. After a little "Dragnet"-flavored dialogue ("Same M.O. ...Killed the same way, the same everything!" "With one great difference." "…What's that?" "Her name will be different."), the connection is made between the murder and the "smut picture racket".
Cut to the smut picture racket as elfin photographer Jaffee (Harry Keatan) directs three chunky models in bathing suits on how to arrange themselves on a table. As assistants move lights in too close to the models (but that's okay, since they never get turned on anyway), and Jaffee starts shooting the immobile women with a 16mm movie camera, Director Johnny Ryde (Carl Anthony) walks in. While the girls take a break, Ryde and Jaffee discuss what to do with the films stored in the back room. Jaffee assures Ryde that he can finish this one in a couple of hours and get everything loaded up and moved out ASAP. Ryde splits and ten seconds later, Lt. Carson and Sgt. Stone conduct a raid on the studio. As the girls scream and Jaffee falls on his ass trying to escape, the stagehands have the lamest fight with the cops you've ever seen, at least until the fight at Jake's Pizza Joint later in the movie. Jaffee plays cute with Carson and Stone until they threaten to bust up the joint and Jaffee rolls over like a dog, opening the film vaults to the invading cops. They impound the entire smut film library and arrest everyone present.
Back at headquarters, their superior, whose character is identified in the credits as Police Inspector (Reed Howes), is flipping through 5x7 stills of the abovementioned chunky women in bathing suits and throws them on Carson's desk, shouting "Smut! Rotten smut!" and tells Carson that this has got to be stopped. Carson assures him that he has his whole department (all four of them) on the case and Inspector tells him he'll have more men to deal with this immediately. After he leaves, Carson and Stone are rehashing the case for expositional purposes when their reverie is interrupted by outraged taxpayer Mr. Romaine (Harvey B. Dunne) who goes into a hissy fit about the police wasting their time on "this silly dirty picture business." After demanding that they attend to more important crimes, like murder, robbery, and juvenile delinquency, Carson points out that all of the above crimes are actually offshoots of the smut picture racket. It seems that the people who commit these crimes are driven to it by looking at these pictures. "Some characters will steal or kill just to get this stuff! It's worse than dope for them!…The smut picture racket is worse than kidnapping or dope peddling… Show me a crime, and I'll show you a picture that could have caused it." The chastised taxpayer leaves the office, his head lowered in shame.
We then meet the leader of the smut picture ring, a tough, brassy blonde that goes by the name Gloria Henderson (Jean Fontaine). Ryde comes to see her and breaks the news of the raid on her studio to her. She asks who was responsible and when Ryde answers, "Our old friend, Lt. Matt Carson," Gloria snaps, "Oh, boy, something's gonna have to be done about HIM!" in her staccato voice. This brain trust then figures out that there's an informant somewhere in the gang and it's revealed that the girl at the beginning was murdered for trying to cut herself in on the business. After discussing how they have to come up with new product for the high school crowd and how expensive it will be, Gloria says, "Don't worry, the syndicate has plenty!"
Meanwhile, at Jake's Pizza joint, the local teens are having a hootenanny and exchanging smutty pictures. As the kids are grooving to some generic 50's rock & roll type music, Connie (Conrad Brooks) and Danny (Ed Wood, Jr.) get into a rumble over smut territories. The fight moves outside and instantly degenerates into a slapfight between the two of them. Dirk, who's been watching the whole thing from the wings, calls the cops and they bust Jake's place.
After this, Gloria gets pissed and orders Janet and her girls, who are apparently Gloria's smut pimps, to collect an overdue bill from Clawson (Henry Bederski), who runs the local ice cream shop and sells smut on the side. They go there directly from church and beat the snot out of him. Stone, who was assigned to lean on Clawson, finds out what happened, calls Carson and gives him the update.
Back at Gloria's she and Ryde are reviewing the latest releases of their studio and discussing how to handle the police interference. Ryde laments, "I look at this slush… and try to remember… at one time, I made good movies." Gloria pooh-poohs that instantly, reminding him that he makes more money now than he ever did, then tells him to "get busy on that hot footage. And brother, I mean HOT!"
At headquarters, Carson and Stone are discussing the vagaries of life and how, right now, at this very minute, Mary Smith, who was great in the school play, is on the train, headed for Hollywood to star in the movies.
We then meet Mary Smith herself (Jeanne Willardson), sitting in an agent's office showing her portfolio off. The Agent (Kenneth Willardson) pretty much tells Mary to forget it and go home. Dejected, Mary goes to the park and is "discovered" by Johnny Ryde. He talks to her and she steps right into the snare the smut racket has set. He advances her money a few times and before you can say "Stupid Hick Bitch", she's on the hook to Gloria and her gang for a bundle. When she finally auditions for Gloria, she finds out the true nature of the business she's in and reacts with shock and surprise. Gloria snaps, "Oh, brother! WHAT'S with HER?!" and then threatens to call Mary's father. Mary immediately strips and ends up in front of Jaffee in some kind of awful gown, which is yanked off of her as soon as the film starts rolling.
At Gloria's, Dirk is lurking around and finds a bunch of Mary's pictures. After looking them over, he takes out his switchblade and gives it a kiss. Afterwards, Mary, sweet kid that she is, is at the park feeding the ducks when Dirk jumps out from behind a tree and knifes her.
The cops find the knife with Dirk's fingerprints on it and decide that, rather than going to all the trouble of finding him, they'll put a male cop wearing drag in the park and hope that Dirk will attack him.
When Gloria arrives home that evening, she finds a couple of syndicate goons waiting for her. One of them (Vic McGee, who bears an amazing resemblance to Slim Whitman) lisps that she has to get rid of Dirk… permanently.
Ryde comes over later and Gloria demands that he take care of Dirk immediately ("Oh, WHAT'S WITH THAT CREEP?!") and promises he'll handle it.
In the park, a woman who is obviously a man in drag is stumbling around the woods in a skirt and high heels when Dirk jumps out of the bushes and tries to kill him. The cop does some quick judo and knocks Dirk out. While rifling Dirk's wallet, the cop gets knocked out by Ryde. He then wakes Dirk and tells him to leave town, giving him a car with fixed brakes.
While Dirk is driving through the mountains, the brakes suddenly fail and the car goes over the side. He manages to jump out of the car and survives, courtesy of some stock footage of a car crashing down a mountain and more footage of a guy that looks nothing like him rolling down a hill. He then heads for Gloria's place, hell bent on revenge.
One thing here. Whenever they "fix" the brakes on a car, why is that the brakes don't fail completely until the car is somewhere in a mountainous region?
Back at Gloria's, Dirk jumps Ryde and threatens to kill him ("Don't try it, Daddy-O! You can't take me as long as I've got this shiv… Maybe some other time - but not when I got this fixed at you!"). Ryde, of course, immediately shifts all the blame to Gloria, saying the whole thing was her idea. Dirk backs off when Ryde tells him that they can get rid of Gloria and take over the business. Dirk accepts the idea ("Okay, Johnny boy…. Just stop cryin' on your chin!") and goes out on the patio, hiding in the bushes. Gloria gets home and Ryde tells her that Dirk is not only still alive, but gunning for both of them. He then demands that Gloria introduce him to her backers. She agrees (a little too readily for my tastes) and goes to change her clothes. As she's doing this, Ryder turns off the lights and tells Dirk of the progress he's made. Dirk knifes him and when Gloria comes out, she's holding a gun. Thinking that Dirk is Ryde, she shoots him for trying to blackmail her, then calls the cops and reports that Dirk shot Ryde. She then sits down and waits, not bothering to check and see if the guy she shot was dead or not.
When Carson and Stone arrive, she explains that she and Ryde had Dirk there, trying to talk him into turning himself in, when he pulled a gun and shot Ryde before running off. As Gloria sits on the couch, calmly telling her story, Stone finds that it's Dirk, not Ryde, who was shot. Putting two and two together, they confront Gloria. She tries to pull her gun and they of course grab her before she can pick it up. After a little philosophizing ("Pornography… a nasty word for a dirty business"), they take her away and the movie ends.
This film was pretty much the last "legitimate" film Ed Wood made. After this, he worked only in soft-core films. If you get a chance to see an uncut version of this movie, you'll notice a little nudity in it as this film bridged Wood's transition into porn filmmaking.
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