Man As Meat

Directed by Harry Keller.
With Hedy Lamarr, George Nader, Jane Powell, Jan Sterling, Jerry Paris, and James Gleason. Universal Pictures. B&W. 84 min. [SPOILER ALERT]

Okay, Murray, who can we get to play the role of the desperately lonely movie queen has-been? Columbia has Bette Davis all tied up in The Catered Affair and Joan Crawford, who doesn’t like to play has-beens, is doing Autumn Leaves. They’re both way beyond our budget here. We’ll get Hedy Lamarr. She hasn’t done much of anything since My Favorite Spy with Bob Hope. Hedy likes a lot of sex. She tells people so. Hedy even likes sex with girls sometimes. She doesn’t make a secret of that either. Hedy will be perfect for the part of the sex-starved has-been. We’ll call her agent. Now, who can we get to play the beefcake bit player that Hedy falls in love with? Kirk Douglas? No, too expensive. Burt Lancaster? No, too intense. He’d steal the whole picture. How about that buff gay guy who hangs out with Rock Hudson? You know, the pumped-up boy from Robot Monster. Nader, George Nader. He’ll be great. Hedy will be hitting on the script girl, while George is making a play for the stuntman. This is going to be a stitch.

For the role of the movie star’s drunken slut daughter, we need a blonde tramp. Marilyn Monroe just hit the big time with Bus Stop. Jayne Mansfield just got done with The Female Jungle, which sounds too much like Female Animal, and Yvette Vickers is tied up on Short Cut to Hell and Reform School Girl. Mamie Van Doren is working on High School Confidential. Jane Powell? Are you kidding? Jane Powell, the wholesome kid from A Date With Judy and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? That Powell? You say she’s trying to shed that Miss Goodie Two-Shoes image? But she’s almost thirty now. You say a slut role is just what she’s looking for? Murray, get her agent on the phone. Now we just need a hard-bitten dame to play the over-the-hill slut who tries to steal the hunk bit player from the has-been movie star. How about Allison Hayes? She should be about through with The Unearthly and The Undead. No, she’s way too hard-bitten. How about that dish who’s playing the other blonde in High School Confidential with Van Doren? What’s her name? Sterling, yeah, Jan Sterling. She ought to be finished by the time we need her. And we’ll cast the rest of this Hollywood sleaze play with hungry bit players. Murray, you’re a genius. Scummy, but a genius. Call me tomorrow. Love ya, Baby.

We start with drunken movie star Vanessa Windsor (Lamarr), who falls off a high scaffolding during a stunt scene, then flash back to the day she met Chris Farley. No, not the Saturday Night Live Chris Farley. This is a Hollywood nobody named “Chris Farley,” played by George Nader, at least a dozen years before that other Chris was even born. Anyway, Farley is a beefcake boy toy, wandering around the set one day, when he saves Vanessa from a falling spotlight accident. He suffers a scrape to his right arm, and Vanessa falls in love with him, or at least with his biceps. Lily Frayne (Sterling), Vanessa’s backstabbing rival, notices Farley’s biceps too, and tries to add him to her gigolo collection. The none-too-bright Farley calls Vanessa “Miss Windsor” right up until the time that she lures him to her beach house and plants a big wet one on his quivering lips. Vanessa installs her young stud as “caretaker” of the beach house and buys him a ton of expensive new clothes. Clueless Farley can’t quite figure out what he’s there for and why everybody is pointing and snickering when Vanessa takes him out on the town. Meanwhile, meat slab queen, Lily Frayne, waits to make her play.

Out for a beer on his own one night, dullard Farley sees a lecherous man taking advantage of a drunken young blonde named Penny (Jane Powell). Veteran screen and stage actor James Gleason has a small part here as a wise Irish bartender. In the parking lot, the man paws at plowed Penny, and Farley, the knight in tarnished armor, steps in and punches him out. Half-wit Farley then takes the drunken girl “home” to the beach house, where they exchange witticisms and wisecracks. Penny, who is Vanessa’s daughter—Big Surprise!—somehow doesn’t recognize her mother’s beach house. After do-gooder Farley puts pie-eyed Penny in a cold shower, clothes and all, she sheds her dress and makes like a floozy. Farley manages to resist the girl’s charms the first night, but she comes back for more. Sober now, Penny Windsor slips into a polka dot swimsuit and slithers up Farley’s leg. Hopelessly out-brained, Farley gives in to the girl’s eager lips. Talent agent Hank Lopez (Jerry Paris) stops by to offer Farley a role in a Mexican jungle movie and snaps right away to what’s going on with the Penny-Farley-Vanessa love derby. Hank and Penny trade one-liners for two pages of the script. Vanessa, meanwhile, has fallen in really, really true love with her meat boy, and begins to worry that there’s someone else vying for his short attention span. Vanessa immediately suspects the ravenous Lily Frayne who, by now, would give her left lung for a taste of Farley-burger.
Poor old Vanessa confides her romantic troubles to daughter Penny. Penny struggles between pangs of guilt and jolts of lust. Hank offers advice and an escape plan. Lily discards her current lover boy and focuses on the hapless Farley. In the middle of all this cupidity, Farley strains his muscular brain to figure a way out. What will he do? What will he do? Should he string the aging Vanessa along and burn down her bank account? Should he keep playing trampoline with the shapely daughter? Or should he just he give in and become hungry Lily’s latest sausage boy? He announces he’ll be leaving for Mexico to make a B-movie (like this isn’t already a B-movie). Vanessa is crushed, Penny starts to feel some remorse, and Lily licks her chops. About as sharp as a bag of wet rats, Chris Farley is again befuddled. With all the mental health she can muster, Vanessa Windsor throws herself off the movie set high dive and forces Farley into a decision. The Windsor women reconcile. Rocket scientist Farley figures out which way his missile is pointing. And Lily splits in her limo, trawling for testosterone. Farley’s agent, Hank Lopez, still looks for his ten percent.

One gets the feeling that the script was at one time about an incredibly stupid blonde starlet who comes to Hollywood, only to be preyed upon by three licentious men. She’s a beautiful, young, big-breasted bimbo, swimming with male sharks in shallow end of the Hollywood pool. It’s almost as if the producer took this script, switched the genders of all the characters, and cut out most of the blonde’s lines. The “Farley” character doesn’t speak when he should, spouts flip little one-liners when he does speak, and never seems to make his feelings known to anyone around him. If ever he does argue or stand up to someone, he ends up sounding petulant and whiny. Women, predatory women, everywhere. What’s a hunk to do? The one-way ticket to Mexico with agent Hank sounds better and better.
The Female Animal was Hedy Lamarr’s last motion picture. She had arrived in Hollywood in the 1930s, a flawless young beauty whose main claim to fame was a nude swimming scene in a Czechoslovakian movie called Ecstasy. That perfect face helped her overcome difficulties with English, problems on the casting couch, and personality conflicts with the heads of several major studios. By 1958, she quit the business before her beauty left her, wrote an autobiography (Ecstasy and Me) about her film career and sexual acrobatics, and became quietly strange, even racking up a couple of shoplifting arrests. She sued Mel Brooks because he called one of his characters “Hedley Lamarr” in the 1974 comedy western, Blazing Saddles, and fought the CorelDRAW! graphics software company for their use of one of her old portraits on their packaging. She died January 19, 2000. George Nader’s Hollywood career was allegedly shattered by the news that he was a homosexual, a fact that someone supposedly traded to gossip columnists to keep the news of Rock Hudson’s lifestyle out of print. Nader moved to television roles, played parts in European movies, and in 1978 wrote a gay novel called Chrome (Putnam). The Female Animal pretty much ended Jane Powell’s movie career; she went on to television and musical theater. Jan Sterling went on to more movies, including The Incident (1967), and The Guiding Light soap opera. Jerry Paris went to a regular role on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Director Harry Keller, who had been a film editor for Republic Pictures, went on to make Tammy and The Doctor (1963) and Kitten With a Whip (1964). Writer Robert J. Hill later scripted Sex Kittens Go to College (1960) and Dog Eat Dog (1964). Renowned B-movie producer Albert Zugsmith went on to Touch of Evil (1958) and Platinum High School (1960).
So now, Murray, I’ve seen the first cut of The Female Animal. Totally unbelievable, Baby. That Farley guy is a complete numbskull. And his shorts must be full of ice cubes, if you know what I mean. Or he swings the other way, if you get my drift. I mean, what guy in his right mind would cheat on Hedy Lamarr and her perfect face or turn down Jane Powell and her perfect caboose or refuse Jan Sterling and her…uh…money? This Farley character comes in like a lamb and goes out like lambchops. Murray, are you sure this isn’t a true story somehow? Maybe we’ll have to change the title to “Hedy Had a Little Lamb” or “Beefcake and the Star-Crossed Buns.” What do ya say, Murray? What do ya say?
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1 comment:

Chick Young said...

Utterly Fantastic Post Parker!

I caught 10 minutes of this about 15 years ago the tv and forgot about it. After reading your essay, I would LOVE to see it! I would really love to participate in this blog-a-thon, but am up to my neck in work all through the weekend. If I get a chance, I'll try and work something up on maybe A Star is Born (Mason and Garland), Cinema Paradiso, or Irma Vep. Maybe even Living In Oblivion. Some of fave industry self-relfexive flicks. Someone has already done Ed Wood, which I will read when I come up for air. Hoping to join in...