Gorgon Video gives us a double bill of two long unavailable and seldom-seen exploitation films from Arthur Marks: ROOMMATES and A WOMAN FOR ALL MEN on Blu-ray/DVD combo.
"Which will die in the class of '73" when a quartet of college girls head to Lake Arrowhead for the summer? Imperious Heather (Pat Woodell, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE) throws parties and carries on an affair with older Martin (Ken Scott, PSYCH-OUT) – who runs the local motel and took her virginity at sixteen – while watching her nymphet cousin Paula (Christina Hart, HELTER SKELTER) who has a father fixation. "Reasonably bright" blonde Beth (Roberta Collins, THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA) wants to choose money over love, but thinks she has found both with architect Lee (Ben Pfeiffer, TERROR IN THE JUNGLE). Anthropology student Carla (Marki Bey, SUGAR HILL) has her hands full with her summer job as local librarian and juggling blonde, buff boy toy/waterskiing instructor Nick (Darl Severns, SWEET SUGAR) and handsome local cop Mike (David Moses, CREATURES). Medical student Brea (Laurie Rose, THE SUCKERS) just wants to serve man rather than save mankind, and this summer she is providing eye candy as a nurse at the local boys' camp.
The summer revelry is disrupted – but not cut short – by the murder of pretty Alice (Connie Strickland, ACT OF VENGEANCE), stabbed over a hundred times in the woods near Heather's house. There are plenty of suspects: biker Socks (writer John Durren, DEVIL TIMES FIVE) who harassed the first victim on the night of her death, Socks' jealous girlfriend (Paula Shaw, THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS) who witnessed his interest in the victim, camp outcast Harold (Greg Mabrey, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN) who may or may not be misinterpreting Brea's special interest in him, Heather's virile handyman Don (Kipp Whitman, DEVIL'S ANGELS) who skulks about and handles sharp objects, young Arnie (Gary Mascaro) who is caught in between his shrill mother (Barbra Fuller, FLAME OF YOUTH) and father Marty (who is now sniffing around his crush Paula), not to mention virtually any blue-balled extra rebuffed by the bikini babes. The murders continue, and – in spite of her own brush with death – Heather invites everyone to a country club bash where the killer is sure to strike (and quite spectacularly).
Almost shapeless for its entire first half – driven totally by the engaging performances of Bey, Collins, Rose, and Hart more so than Woodell (who holds back for reasons of character) – like a hybrid of THE LOVE BOAT on land with its parallel love stories mashed together with spring break and summer camp sex comedies, THE ROOMMATES suddenly veers halfway through into a thriller territory with the stalking and brutal stabbing of an incidental character accompanied by suddenly suspenseful music (more library cues by "Post Production Associates"). While the pacing and tone still remains leisurely for the remainder, the dramatic shift actually does work by injecting a hint of danger as some of the main and peripheral relationships start to sour and our quartet might be risking more than heartbreak. The revelation of the killer's identity and motive is entertainingly silly, but any attempt at pathos went out the window long ago. Juanita Brown (FOXY BROWN) and Uschi Digard (THE GODSON) appears uncredited during end of the year medical college orgy that opens the film. Bey and Woodell would had previously appear in THE CLASS OF '74, a more meandering story of a quartet of college girls built around footage from Mack Bing's GABRIELLA, GABRIELLA (1972) with Gabriella (Barbara Mills in both films) recalling her first sexual experiences amidst looks into the current sex lives of her sorority sisters (both GABRIELLA, GABRIELLA and THE CLASS OF '74 are available on a double feature DVD from Code Red).
In A WOMAN FOR ALL MEN, siblings Paul (Peter Hooten, THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS), Steve (Andy Robinson, DIRTY HARRY and HELLRAISER), and Cynthia (Patty Bodeen, THE PHOTOGRAPHER) are in for a shock when their millionaire dad Walter (Keenan Wynn, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST) weds stripper Karen (Judith Brown, WOMEN IN CAGES) in Vegas. The brothers' respective free-loading girlfriends Allison (Elaine Fulkerson) and Rodell (Ginny Golden) are quick to point out that they will likely each inherit fifty percent of nothing with a scheming young wife in the picture. Karen is aware that her stepchildren – as well as housekeeper Sarah (Lois Hall, PRIME RISK) – hate her guts, but she assures them that they had better be nice to her since she can handle Walter better than any of them. Peter and Cynthia remain hostile to Karen, but she and Steve come to an understanding after they are both humiliated in an ugly argument between a drunken Walter and an entitled Rodell. They carry on an affair behind Walter's back who has just changed his will with some stipulations his lawyer Barney (GIDGET's Don Porter) finds unusual. When Walter's car goes off a cliff, missing persons Detective Biase (Alex Rocco, BLOOD MANIA) reveals Walter's terminal illness to the family and his new life insurance policy with a double indemnity provision for accidental death. As the search for Walter's body continues, clues of his lingering presence start popping up to haunt Steve and Karen who start to suspect that either Walter is alive or someone else is trying to gaslight them.
Also known as PART-TIME WIFE and DEADLY INTRIGUE, A WOMAN FOR ALL MEN seems like a simple inheritance thriller with a comical amount of twists, a streak of perversion runs through it that keeps things delightfully off-kilter what with Karen's narcissism and her association with a certain Vegas figure called "The Colonel" who has kinky tastes (represented by an intermediary played by Skip Ward aka NIGHT OF THE IGUANA's James Ward), as well as Cynthia's budding sexuality and hinted incestuous feelings and/or lesbianism. JULIE DARLING might have made a better double bill with this one than THE ROOMMATES had A WOMAN FOR ALL MEN not become so ordinary – and soap opera-ish – in the last twenty or so minutes (with Hooten and Bodeen disappearing completely from the last half-hour or so). Even at its most derivative, the casting, production value, and slick photography elevate the film above its similarly-budgeted (if sometimes more entertaining or at least more gleefully exploitative) contemporaries like the Peter Carpenter duo BLOOD MANIA and POINT OF TERROR. It was obviously intended as a more mainstream effort, but it would end up being the last of Marks' General Film Corporation independent productions (IMDb also lists him as an uncredited director on General Film's LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT released just before A WOMAN FOR ALL MEN). He followed this film up with four Blaxploitation films for American International – BUCKTOWN, FRIDAY FOSTER, J.D.'S REVENGE, and THE MONKEY HUSTLE – and then a handful of episodic TV credits as writer or director.
MPI had long sat on these two Arthur Marks properties before originally announcing them as a DVD double feature last year. When the release went up for pre-order, it was a surprise that it would be a Blu-ray/DVD combo (and even more of a delight that it would feature extras). THE ROOMMATES' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen presentation is virtually spotless, with bold colors (particularly the reds of the blood and Ms. Bey's tight sweaters!) and mostly good detail. The night scenes are of course a little grainier and softer, but the overall presentation is overall pleasing (only the stock footage shots truly stick out due to the wear inherent in the materials). A WOMAN FOR ALL MEN's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen presentation ably replicates the glossier look of the film, but the source material has a bit more wear (not that much, but it's noticeable enough after watching the film's co-feature). Both mono tracks are clean and rendered in uncompressed LPCM 2.0, and optional English subtitles are included for both films.
THE ROOMMATES is accompanied by an audio commentary by Marks moderated by Elijah Drenner. Marks talks about how he began as a boy extra on films at MGM with Mickey Rooney before moving up to the production office. He describes how the film grew out of the aforementioned THE CLASS OF '74 and his goal here of writing (with John Durren) five independent female characters with distinct personalities and their own stories as well as the film's casting. Both Marks and Drenner are particularly impressed with Bey and Collins, and Marks admits that de-emphasis on Woodell's character as the film went on had to do with the development of each of the characters' individual stories. Interestingly, Marks points out how the medical school party/orgy scene works to better establish the four main characters' distinctive traits. Drenner, in pointing out the uncredited Digard's appearances during the story, sheds light on the sequence's continuity errors (with the actress popping up fully-clothed elsewhere in between shots of her in a bedroom foursome). Drenner points out some of the behind the scenes crew members including Marks' son Beau as still photographer (Beau Marks would serve as second unit director and associate director on hits like PREDATOR and DIE HARD and more recently as producer on the STRAW DOGS remake) and Bettie Bolling (mother of Tiffany Bolling) as production assistant, while Marks points out those who also stepped in front of the camera like regular producer/production manager Charles Stroud (THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS) as a drunken professor making out with a medical specimen skeleton, and actor Richard Mansfield who had small roles and worked behind the scenes on other Marks films like BONNIE'S KIDS.
Also included for THE ROOMMATES is an interview with Marks and actress Collins (11:34) in which Marks describes the film's combination of a pretty summer locale, bikini girls, and a killer in a format to satisfy the dual requirements of keeping his General Film Corporation afloat and satisfying outside investors. Collins recalls liking the lightness of the script and sharing the screen in one scene with Marks himself (whose back is averted to the camera) in a scene shot to insert her into the early party scene. She also recalls that Pfeiffer was so attracted to her that he expressed anxiety about doing a love scene with her the following day. There is no trailer for the feature.
Marks did not record a commentary for A WOMAN FOR ALL MEN, but he is present – along with actress Brown in another short retrospective featurette (11:40). Marks describes the film as his attempt to get away from the "girlie" pictures like THE ROOMMATES, and describes his concept as introducing a prostitute into an already volatile family situation. He reveals that he got to know Wynn through Van Johnson when he was working at the MGM production office. Brown recalls Marks as a director and the cast including Wynn (who she thinks part of the reason he bellowed his performance was because he was hard of hearing), Robinson (whose wife she suggests also worked behind the scenes while being on the set with Wynn's wife), and Bodeen (who she alludes worked in some unspecified real life tension between the two into her performance). Marks admits that the film did not do as well as he anticipated, causing him to pull out of General Film Corporation. He learned later that it did better overseas as PART-TIME WIFE. He owned fifty-percent of the film as producer and was owed money on the General Films titles as director and distributor. In lieu of that money, he agreed to a cash settlement and acquisition of the titles in 1991. Other extras for the film include the theatrical trailer (2:24) – under the PART-TIME WIFE title – and two TV spots as A WOMAN FOR ALL MEN (0:32 and 0:22). On my player, audio options and subtitles could only be changed from the sub-menus for each film (only the chapter selections appear on the pop-up menus during the feature). (Eric Cotenas)
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