Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Shining Flower in a Cesspool on "Hollywood Boulevard"

Movies about women trying to make it in Hollywood are usually dark affairs, filled with tragedy (pick any version of "A Star is Born"), addiction ("Valley of the Dolls"), ruin ("Sunset Boulevard"), or all of the above ("Beyond the Valley of the Dolls").  One of my favorite movies in this subgenre is Joe Dante and Allan Arkush's delightful "Hollywood Boulevard" (1976).  Produced and released by Roger Corman's New World Pictures, the backstory that led to the creation of this movie is well-known to most film buffs.  New World trailer editors Dante and Arkush bet Roger Corman that they could make a movie that was even lower-budgeted than any other New World movie made up to that time.  Corman took the bet, Dante and Arkush used tons of stock footage of previous New World movies to help enhance their modestly budgeted ($54,000 on a 10 day shooting schedule) film, and the result was "Hollywood Boulevard, a movie set in a New World-like B-movie studio.  It allowed co-directors Dante and Arkush an opportunity to parody the cliches of the "starlet in Hollywood" subgenre by presenting us with a heroine who, like those before her, has to overcome incredible obstacles to make it in show business.  However, Dante and Arkush rise above these cliches by allowing our heroine to come through the story relatively unscathed without any long-lasting damage or side effects by giving their lead character integrity and surrounding her with loyal friends.

In "Hollywood Boulevard," real-life 1970s drive-in B-movie starlet Candice Rialson plays the aptly-named Candy Hope, another Hollywood hopeful from the mid-west who comes out to tinseltown searching for fame and success.  After some discouraging auditions, where she has to face rejection and amorous producers/casting agents who attempt, without success, to take advantage of Candy on the casting couch (as well as inadvertently getting involved in a failed bank robbery as a getaway driver due to her naïveté) she finds a caring ally in veteran grade-B agent Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) who sends Candy to work at schlock movie studio Miracle Pictures where she soon graduates from stunt woman to co-starring in their epics "Machete Maidens of Mora Tau" and "Atomic War Brides."  At Miracle Pictures, Candy falls in love with handsome screenwriter Patrick Hobby (Jeffrey Kramer).  When Candy isn't busy dealing with having to act in exploitative nude rape scenes, primitive shooting conditions in the Philippines, and performing dangerous stunts on her own, she has to contend with a mad slasher who is bent on eliminating all the rising hopeful starlets at Miracle Pictures.  Could the killer be established B-movie queen Mary McQueen (Mary Woronov)?

What makes "Hollywood Boulevard" such a delightful experience is the winning lead performance by the underrated Candice Rialson as Candy.  Naïve, but not dumb, early in the film Candy outsmarts the ruthless bank robber Duke Mantee (John Kramer) who tricked her into driving the getaway car for his bank robbery by hitting the brakes and causing Duke to smash his head into the windshield, knocking him unconscious long enough for her to get away.  During the opening credits, Candy walks into an audition and finds herself being hit on by the producers/casting director.  She flees the scene with her blouse torn open, but with her dignity otherwise intact.  Unlike her friends Bobbi (Rita George) and Jill (Tara Strohmeier), Candy has no interest in furthering her career by sleeping with Miracle Pictures producer PG (Richard Doran).  Even though Candy is dating Patrick, screenwriter at Miracle Pictures, the movie makes it clear that Candy's interest in Patrick is sincere and genuine and has nothing to do with promoting herself in the organization.  Candy proves, during the course of "Hollywood Boulevard" that she is a hard-working professional willing to earn her way up the ladder of success in a legitimate manner; remains loyal and appreciative of the friendship and support offered by her agent Walter and by Patrick; and has no petty competitiveness with Bobbi, Jill, or even the condescending B-movie queen Mary.  That's why Candy is able to overcome the challenges she faces working at Miracle Pictures--she never loses sense of who she is during the course of the story and doesn't allow the seedy behavior of some of the characters surrounding her to adversely influence or dampen her spirits.  It's easy to root for Candy to succeed because Rialson invests the character with strong traits of decency that the audience can easy identify with.

Rialson's best moment in "Hollywood Boulevard" is the sequence where Walter and Patrick take Candy to the "premiere" of her first movie "Machete Maidens of Mora Tau" at a drive-in theatre.  Faced with the meager reality of her first film role, Candy gets drunk watching herself on-screen firing machine guns and being exploited by the crass filmmakers at Miracle Pictures.  At one point, the disgusted Candy exclaims, "An actress.  Ha!  Ugh, I can't take much more of this stuff.  It's a bunch of baloney!  That's not the real me!"  Candy's reaction worsens when she sees her own nude rape scene on-screen.  She is so appalled she stumbles out of Walter's car into the projection room and orders the projectionist to stop running the movie.  The projectionist, and a passing drive-in patron, tries to take advantage of a drunk Candy, but she is rescued by Walter and the two of them dispatch her attackers.  Even though the scene has a politically incorrect, inappropriately comic undercurrent, the sequence serves as Dante and Arkush's embarrassed, perhaps even shameful, acknowledgement of the exploitative treatment of actresses who appeared in movies made by New World Pictures in the 1970s.  Candy's disgusted reaction gives all starlets who toiled in "B" movies their due by recognizing that appearing in exploitation films might not have been the ideal vehicle to make their mark as an actress.  That's why we're glad for Candy at the end of the movie (after Mary McQueen has been unmasked as the killer stalking Miracle Pictures starlets, inspiring Patrick to write a screenplay based on Candy's experiences in Hollywood) that she finds genuine stardom appearing in the presumably higher-quality movie "The Hollywood Sign Girl."  After all she's been through, Candy's success was hard-won.

The late Candice Rialson was ideally cast in "Hollywood Boulevard" because she had previously starred in "Candy Stripe Nurses" (1974) and "Summer School Teachers (1975) for New World.  Because she likely understood first-hand what a starlet like Candy in "Hollywood Boulevard" experiences in their search for recognition in show business, Rialson brings a lot of heart, warmth, humor, and sympathy to the role.  We never feel any sense of contempt or indifference towards Candy the way we do when Ginger Lynn Allen walked through the role in the inferior remake/sequel "Hollywood Boulevard II" (1989).  Rialson is very effective during the opening credits when Candy is seen walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard, going from audition to audition, reacting to the people and scenery, while the moody and touching theme song "Hello Hollywood" ("The highway to the stars is a rough and rocky road.  By the side lay careers of those who couldn't pull their load") plays on the soundtrack.  We see Candy's excitement and amazement at arriving in the City of Dreams, and we immediately wish her well and don't want to see her suffer like countless starlets before her.  Rialson is matched every step of the way by the great Dick Miller and underrated Jeffrey Kramer as her friends Walter and Patrick.  They are a wonderful trio together.  Mary Woronov is also superb playing the malevolent movie starlet Mary McQueen.  She creates a worthy antagonist in the movie who also happens to be very likeable on her own terms.  Even though co-directors Dante and Arkush probably had modest goals in mind when they made their bet with Roger Corman that allowed them to make this movie, they far surpassed everyone's expectations by turning in a movie that had legitimately good, in addition to undeniably campy and schlocky, elements throughout.

1 comment:

  1. I had never heard of this movie. It is not one that I am going to rush out and buy, but, as a result of reading this review, I will certainly watch it if ever I see it on television. Fascinating facts and history in this. And the money--$54,000!

    By the way--the photo that heads your blog is a classic--really amazing.


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