Poor Pretty Eddie

It’s a statement, but nobody knows what it’s saying
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1974
Director: 
Chris Robinson, David Worth
Starring: 
Leslie Uggams, Shelley Winters, Michael Christian, Ted Cassidy, Slim Pickens
The Setup: 
Black woman breaks down in the backwoods, is repeatedly raped.
Discussion: 

So out of the blue come two recommendations for obscure blaxploitation films, right next to each other. The person who wrote me about this film wouldn’t tell me what it’s about, but merely listed this film’s alternate titles: Black Vengeance, Heartbreak Motel and Redneck County Rape. I’m sure you couldn’t think any worse of me if I told you that this made me WANT to see it.

So we open with Leslie Uggams as Liz Weatherly, singer so famous she is asked to sing the Star-Spangled Banner at some huge stadium at a baseball game. We hear her entirely uninspired version, which may in fact prove to be some kind of ironic statement, then cut to the front grill of her massive while Rolls Royce. We hear that she has two weeks before her next set of concerts, and that she’s going to drive "until she finds a nice hole to crawl into." Why she chooses to drive through the backwoods bayous is left 100% unexplained.

Now I will state up front that I believe this movie has artistic pretensions—if not quite artistic realization—and this is first apparent during the credits, where we have repeated shots of a huge backwoods [and I mean BACK WOODS] water wheel, and hear only the sounds of the woods and the creaking of the wheel. We don’t see Liz’s car breakdown, we just, once the credits are over, see her inexplicably wandering in the woods. She finds herself at some rural watering hole, with huge goon Keno, who introduces her to Eddie, muscular redneck in a white tank top. Eddie leers at Liz and says everything in an sexually insinuating tone of voice. It doesn’t take him long to realize that Liz is a star that he’s seen on TV, and what do you know, turns out Eddie has singing aspirations of his own. He says they’ll fix her car right up, and you know, maybe she’ll have time to hear some of his singing. Liz responds with icy condescension.

We now meet Shelley Winters as Bertha, chain-smoking drunk monster mom dressed as a floozy. She finds that false eyelash she’s been looking for among her rumpled bedsheet and puts it on. You know, you have to just love Shelley Winters for taking these roles. I love you, Shelley! Turns out she is not Eddie’s mom, but his LOVER, despite the fact that she’s in her fifties and he’s in his twenties, and she demands that he get rid of this other woman immediately. He shuts her up by kissing her all over, which drives her into a state of enflamed desire.

Meanwhile it seems that Liz dabbles in photography, and has decided to document the rural backwoods. I’m sure you are familiar with the movie convention where we see her taking pictures, then have little still images to show us the pictures she’s taking, but what’s amusing here is that Liz seems to be such a strikingly AWFUL photographer! She takes completely undistinguished pictures of just LEAVES and stuff. Anyway, although nothing is happening, suddenly the music goes CRAZY, and it’s almost a minute before we see a reason: there’s someone watching her! Like, OMG.

That night Liz is still dripping icy disdain as Eddie shows up for dinner in an spangled country outfit with fringe that looks like something Elvis might have rejected as too understated. Then Slim Pickens shows up as Orville, the town sheriff, who has a semi-retarded son.

So they have this tense family dinner—I wish I knew what they were eating. Bertha is trying to be nice to Liz, but is clearly ready to viciously turn on her at any moment. Eddie is gearing up to ask to perform—and she’d better say yes. Orville is an outrageous stereotype of the squealing redneck moron. And through it all, Liz is being a total bitch. Okay, maybe, from a racial/political perspective, she shouldn’t HAVE to be friendly, but on the other hand, she’s a defenseless black woman among racist rednecks and with no way to escape—so I don’t think it’s out of the question for her to have a little CONTEXTUAL INTELLIGENCE and at least attempt to be civil. She really goes out of her way to offend when Eddie is going to perform his music for her—and at that moment she asks if she can make a telephone call. But surprise, the telephone is out.

So Eddie gets up to perform. First he gives the song a long, LONG intro, speaking as though he is before a large audience of his most devoted fans. The he sings his horrible song, which is an ode from a husband to his wife. Liz is about as receptive to it as you can imagine. Especially after she has learned that her car has not been fixed and she will have to stay the night. After she’s excused herself, Orville tells Eddie how Liz “couldn’t take her eyes off him” while he was on stage. Bertha then makes a desperate attempt to get Eddie into her bed, saying she’s gonna unload a jam-packed canister of sweet lovin’ all over him so good that he’ll never want to leave. He leaves.

SPOILERS > > >
When Liz gets out of the shower, she comes out to discover Eddie shirtless and with a glass of wine in her bed. She tells him get out, but he hears “Do me!” It gets to the point where she knees him in the crotch, and then he drags her to the bed and rapes her. Okay, here’s how it goes: He leaves his jeans on and basically wrestles with her in slow-motion. This is intercut with Orville and others watching dogs fuck. It seems clear to me that the footage of the dogs fucking is there to up the sexual content and IMPLY the rape without explicitly having to SHOW the rape—and it works really well. I was a little disappointed in my fellow mankind to read in all the other IMDb external reviews [i.e. these are people writing reviews for websites, not just IMDb users] that they consider the dog footage just a completely senseless, random insertion and react with an attitude of “Well now I’ve seen everything!”

So the next day Liz tells Bertha that she was raped, and Bertha tells her: You better stay away from MY MAN! Bertha tells her to get the fuck out and if she means to say anything that might harm her poor, sweet Eddie, Bertha will testify that Liz attacked Eddie. In here Bertha gives a heartfelt speech [to Liz, not the most receptive audience] about how she just loves her Eddie and just can’t help it. Now, after about 45 minutes, we begin a SUDDEN voice-over by Liz as she coaches herself to be strong. Then Eddie takes Liz to this local dam for her to take some publicity shots. He acts as though his rape of her was no big deal. Then this other, gross blond redneck friend of the family offers to give Liz a ride to where she can get some help—and forces her to fellatiate him, telling her how she’s going to experience ecstasy. Hmm, I don’t think he’s going to be much help. Which proves to be exactly the case when Eddie emerges from the backseat and beats the blond guy down. He then whips Liz, with his handy-dandy whip he apparently brought along for just such a situation, and tells her “You’re gonna be my girl!”

After this, Liz steals a jeep and makes a break for it, but ends up getting pulled over by Orville. She sits at a table and tells him that she was raped. “Real rape?” he asks? Yes, she says, and as she’s talking he pushes a bowl toward her and asks her is she’d like to “suck on a tomato.” He then starts probing her for details, all the while taking notes on his pad. He asks “Did he put any suck marks on you?” and just generally doesn’t seem to be taking the inquiry seriously. Which is revealed a second later, when we see that the “notes” he’s taking are just dirty doodles. He takes her to the town honky-tonk, where a large group of the locals are gathered. He tells them that Liz reported a rape, and they decide that they can have the trial right there. They force Liz up on a pedestal, and tell her to produce any evidence she has, such as “suck marks.” When she doesn’t produce any, they rip open her shirt. She screams in slow-motion for quite some time and the editing once more goes all artsy.

Then Eddie makes a stew for everyone, including Bertha, Liz and Keno, and makes sure they’ve all had some meat when it is revealed that the meat was Keno’s dog. The movie once more goes insane and Liz issues more prolonged screams. She is staring at herself in the mirror in her room when she looks up and sees a white woman [or Eddie?] in her place.
Then Eddie asks Bertha to get out her old wedding dress, and she gets all atwitter, excited that her dream is finally coming true, and says that she’s not sure she’ll be able to fit in it. “You think I’m going to marry a dumb broad like you?” Eddie says. He then tells Liz of his plans and says “Once we’re married you’ll be decent again.”

So Liz wears the dress and Eddie brings her into the town hall, where this woman with a crazy beehive is singing. By now, Liz is completely blank and catatonic. Now, I forgot to mention that after the dog incident, Eddie shot Keno, and left him for dead. Now the bizarre wedding is going on and the editing is once more going crazy artsy [or just crazy], and then Keno comes in with a shotgun and blows Eddie away. There is more extended, slo-mo screaming, to the point where you’re wondering if David Lynch stepped in and re-edited this. Liz gets ahold of the rifle and shoots Eddie, although he has already been shot twice and is clearly already far down the road to death, so it doesn’t come off as much of a revenge. She then sees herself with the shotgun in the mirror, and—the end!
< < < SPOILERS END

It’s hard to say what’s really going on here. It’s clearly straining for some kind of artsiness with its showy editing and stylistic contrivances, but it’s hard to discern what it’s supposedly saying. Basically, we just watch Liz be treated worse, and worse, and worse, and still worse. Her “revenge” at the end is severely neutered—she basically wasn’t responsible for Eddie’s death at all—which makes it difficult to place this movie in the Blaxploitation category. It really just comes off as pure exploitation—watch a woman be sexually humiliated. Repeatedly. I had read somewhere that this was a retelling of Jean Genet’s The Blacks, and did a fair amount of digging to see if that was true, but ultimately I think no, it’s not—although again, the seeming artsiness with which it’s presented makes one think there must be SOMETHING going on here. But I have to say, ultimately I can’t see what, and what you end up with is just pure exploitation. There are two credited directors, and apparently one came in and reworked the others' material, so maybe that's the answer.

So there you go. Yes, it’s unusual, but it doesn’t amount to much and doesn’t leave you with much—except questions about why anyone would make it. And why actors like Shelley Winters and Slim Pickens would be in it. And especially Leslie Uggams—WHY in God’s name would she agree to make this movie? There’s nothing uplifting or enriching about it, and her part is flat and horrible. These are the lingering questions you’ll be asking yourself, but ultimately maybe the best thing is just not to watch it in the first place.

Should you watch it: 

I’m not sorry I saw it, as it really is quite… SOMETHING… but I wouldn’t really recommend anyone else sit through it.