I hope you enjoyed the Andy Sidaris reviews – he certainly liked his nude ladies and redneck humour, and wasn’t all that interested in writing new ideas for his movies, but there’s a charm to most of them and I’m really glad I watched them. Now, we’re mopping up with a couple of his early movies, made while he was still directing Olympics TV coverage and Wide World of Sports.
Just to show self-plagiarism wasn’t something he picked up later, “Stacey” was remade as “Malibu Express” in 1985, with the central plot being the same, but the gender of the main character being switched. Just what it was about this story that compelled him to tell it twice, I have no idea, but here we all are. Both are private eyes, both race cars on the side, both live in a boat on a marina.
To recap, briefly – Stacey (Anne Randall), described at one point as a “centrefold private eye”, is hired by a very rich old lady, Florence Chambers (Marjorie Bennett), to sort of investigate all the family members who are living in her mansion, to make sure they’re worthy of being put in the will. There’s three of them – nephew John (John Alderman), his wife Tish (Anitra Ford), and their daughter, I think, Pamela (Cristina Raines). There’s also chauffeur / general assistant Frank (James Westmoreland).
The general gist is mostly similar – Frank owes money to a bookie and is blackmailing Tish, by sleeping with her and making sure he has photos of the deed. He also blackmails John by threatening to reveal his homosexuality – in “Malibu Express”, he goes places in full-on drag, but it seems Sidaris was a little bit more accommodating in 1973, as he’s much less of a caricature, although the words used to describe him aren’t great – he’s called the “faggy heir”, and “queer” and “faggot” are both used. Pamela was a bit older in the later movie too, as here she’s 16 or so, and therefore is off limits sexually; she was blackmailed in “Malibu Express”, here she’s just seen as under the influence of a weird Manson-esque guru.
Talking of him, he and his two friends seem to want to maul every woman around them – one of them just gently fondles Stacey’s boob before he’s even said hello to her. Okay, she grabs a bottle, smashes the end of it and threatens the would-be rapist with it, but it happens again and the definite implication, despite a strong female lead, is that women are objects to be admired or owned but not to have their own agency.
Like I said, the plot is largely the same – there’s twists and turns, a murder and a very strange gunfight at a busy racetrack where no-one seems all that bothered that two goons with shotguns are chasing a gorgeous woman through the car park.
Right from the beginning of his career, Sidaris used Playboy models for his leading ladies. The weird thing is, Anne Randall is pretty good, and I can only assume her nude modelling was the thing that stopped her from getting more mainstream work. She’s really really beautiful, too, like distractingly so, and even manages to keep her clothes on and dress appropriately throughout most of the movie (okay, there are a few nude scenes).
Sidaris’ technical abilities were not great at this point in his career. There are a number of conversations in cars, and he didn’t record live sound in any of those scenes, leaving them very oddly dubbed later. There’s a bunch of terrible editing, and oddest of all, stereotypically Greek music playing during all the action scenes. All I can say is, the two things really don’t go together. The ending feels like it came out of nowhere too, with the villain being afforded way too little screen time before the big reveal.
This has been called “whitesploitation” by a few commentators, as it mirrors the beats and style of the blaxploitation cinema so popular at the time, just replacing the black lead with a woman. I can see the point, although I’d rather just call it good old fashioned exploitation cinema, with its nudity, violence, and twisty plot. Calling attention to the whiteness of the cast (100%) is probably something I’d advise against if you’re trying to defend this movie, honestly.
It’s all a bit silly, but ultimately it’s good fun, much the same as the director would go on to do with his later movies. It’s strange how many of the things that would obsess him appear here – helicopters, Playboy models, explosions, light comedy – so it appears he emerged fully formed from the world of TV, ready to give us stories full of girls and guns.
Rating: thumbs up