Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Moonshine Love / Sod Sisters (1969)

I’ve always been fascinated by stories about amnesia. We all know how it works from watching television in the 1970s and ’80s: you hit your head once, you’ve got amnesia; you hit it again, your memory’s back. Simple. Or is it?

One of my favourite films to feature a character with amnesia is Someone Behind the Door (1971) by Nicolas Gessner. In it, Charles Bronson plays a man with amnesia who is manipulated by a doctor, played by Anthony Perkins, into believing that the doctor’s cheating wife is his own – and that he must kill her. It’s a very different kind of role for Bronson, and a very effective suspense thriller.

Other films I liked which feature characters with amnesia include The Bourne Identity (1988 and 2002), The Long Wait (1954) – which is based on one of my favourite Mickey Spillane novels; Who Am I? (1998) – a Jackie Chan movie with a final sequence of stunts and action so amazing that I watched it whenever I stumbled upon on on late night TV; The Sender (1982), an effective but lesser known British horror film; and even The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), in which Kermit loses his memory and becomes a boring Madison Avenue advertising frog named Phil. 

Imagine how intrigued I was to discover that I had an unheard of (at least to me) Hicksploitation movie called Moonshine Love (1969) hiding on one of my Something Weird double feature DVDs (as a bonus feature) – and it’s about a guy with amnesia!

The description said “Hillbilly harlots Jeannie and Lil take a hankerin’ for a two-bit robber with amnesia and a bag of stolen loot in the feature-length regional skinflick, Moonshine Love!” Not to downplay enticing phrases such as “Hillbilly harlots” and “regional skinflick”, but I was excited by “a two-bit robber with amnesia”.

The movie does begin with the planning and execution of a robbery, and it is #NotQuiteClassicCinema gold! The robbery doesn’t go as planned, and our hero double-crosses the other two thugs and runs off with the money. Unfortunately for him, he has a bit of an accident and hits his head (and we all know what that means). Very, very fortunately for him, the robber is found and brought home by the aforementioned “hillbilly harlots” – perhaps better described by the original title of this movie, which is Sod Sisters.

As one of my twitter friends pointed out (hello Peter!) the next sequence features a pretty amazing go-go dancer performing onstage while the two double-crossed robbers lament their situation. I love the fact that this dance gets its own title card in the opening credits: dance sequence by Pat McGlamry. It does go on for five and half minutes of the film’s sixty-one minute running time – which is substantial. Alas, as my friend Peter points out, this is McGlamry’s only credit on the IMDb (and presumably her only film appearance), which is quite a shame.

The bulk of the rest of the movie really focusses on the sexy, sleazy goings on at this backwoods homestead. Needless to say, the Sod Sisters take more than a passing interest in this man with amnesia, who really becomes a helpful hand around the property. Most of the hicksploitation films I’ve watched at the home drive-in have been salacious stories with a PG execution. In other words, they may have been “adults only” titles in their day, but you could see more extreme nudity and sexual behaviour on the average modern TV show. Moonshine Love, on the other hand, still earns a hard “R’ rating with a fair amount of full frontal nudity and an extraordinary scene in which one of the sisters pleasures herself with a rather large carrot. It’s not pornographic by any means. But it is graphic.

Eventually, the forward moving plot of the first ten or fifteen minutes returns and there is a showdown of sorts. There is suspense, and action and comedy. It’s not entirely satisfying from a storytelling perspective, but it is entertaining.

The IMDb lists the running time of the movie as seventy-four minutes, which is thirteen minutes longer than my version seems to be. This could suggest that there is even more story, or perhaps more exploitation, in some other version of the movie. However, this could just be an inaccurate listing.

Moonshine Love (1969) is a much more sleazy and entertaining film than I expected it to be. As an “extra” feature on a DVD set that doesn’t even advertise it on the front, I expected it to be dull. It is, probably, the worst of the three movies in terms of quality. But it is the most extreme of the three movies in terms of delivering the exploitative goods. If that sounds like something you could appreciate, do not hesitate to track this movie down and watch it. If, however, you prefer well written and performed monologues to romantic scenes with vegetables, you would be better off to stick to movies like Common Law Wife (1961) or maybe Jennie, Wife Child (1968). One thing is certain, all of these movies could spice up any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Common Law Wife (1961)

I don’t think I have ever used the word Hixploitation prior to tweeting about this movie. The Wiktionary defines it as: “A genre of exploitation film that relies on the stereotypical (and often negative) depiction of rural whites of the American South and Appalachia.” I didn’t even know it was a genre, and I certainly haven’t studied it in detail. But then again, I tend to view all movies as being part of a genre – even the ones that are considered non-genre movies. This is one reason it drives me crazy when people talk about genre films as if they are of less value than “regular” films. Or “serious” films. They use terms like “elevated genre”, which I guess is supposed to mean “it’s a genre film, but it’s better than a genre film.” Huh?

The top rated movie on the IMDb is, and has been for some time, The Shawshank Redemption (1994). It also gets 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it is clearly a critically acclaimed movie, as well as an audience favourite. It’s classified as a drama. I look at it and think “it’s part of the prison genre,” or the “wrongfully imprisoned genre.” It’s based on a book by Steven King, who is considered a genre writer. A quick look at the top five rated movies on the IMDb reveals The Godfather (1972), The Godfather: Part II (1974) – both part of the “gangster genre”, The Dark Knight (2008) – the “superhero genre”, and 12 Angry Men (1957) – the “courtroom genre”. They are all great movies, and they are all genre movies as far as I am concerned. So, where are these non-genre movies that are so much better?

Common Law Wife (1962) was directed by Larry Buchanan, who made close to 30 movies including The Naked Witch (1961), Mars Needs Women (1967) and Mistress of the Apes (1979). There is some suggestion that Common Law Wife was really directed by a man named Eric Sayers, using footage from an earlier, unreleased film by Buchanan called Swamp Rose. Eric Sayers only has two directing credits (plus two producing credits) on the IMDb. I can’t find any other information about him. Could Eric Sayers be a pseudonym for Larry Buchanan?

Common Law Wife is a strangely structured movie. It starts off by establishing a twisted love triangle involving Shug, “a rich old man,” Linda, his live in lover of five years, and Baby Doll, his “young, sexy niece who worked as a stripper”. Linda learns, through talking to a lawyer, that she is Shug’s common-law wife in the eyes of the state, and as such she cannot simply be tossed out of the house. Baby Doll wants to move in and inherit all of Shug’s money when he dies, but Linda digs her heels in and refuses to leave. It seems, after the first twenty minutes or so, as if the rest of the movie will be a battle between these two women – plus a battle between Shug and the common-law marriage laws that he knew nothing about.

However, the movie takes a strange turn when Baby Doll goes to visit her sister, Brenda, and her husband, who happens to be the town Sheriff. It seems that Baby Doll and the Sheriff used to be an item, before Baby Doll dumped him and left town. It doesn’t take long for a whole new love triangle to be established. And if that wasn’t enough, the local Moonshiner sets himself up as a rival for the Sheriff when he makes a play for Baby Doll’s affections. It seems like a couple of triangles too many for a movie of 80 odd minutes, but it’s all so entertaining that I didn’t mind one bit.

One of my twitter friends (hello @QuandaryMan) summed it all up rather well: “Larry Buchanan was producing the kind of sleaze they really wanted to see in their soaps.” He also came up with a great name for the genre: “Backwater Shakespeare.” I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing that here, but if you think it’s as brilliant as I do, I encourage you to check out his blog.

Common Law Wife (1962) is adult cinema of a bygone era. There’s no hardcore sex, and not much actual nudity, but the story is (or was) intended for adults. It’s less graphic than what a person could see on a current TV series, but it’s a fascinating peek at what once used to pass for shocking and illicit entertainment. It may be #NotQuiteClassicCinema but it features better acting and writing than some of the more respectable productions I’ve seen – and it’s way more entertaining. I look forward to seeing more of Larry Buchanan’s work on a not too distant #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.