When is porn not porn? Well, when it’s all dressed up as a super snazzy spy thriller film called Ginger from 1971, I suppose.
Produced as the first installment of a reasonably budgeted trilogy of lady cop action films in the early 1970’s, Ginger, and its sequels The Abductors (1972) and Girls Are for Loving (1973), stars the indomitable Cheri Caffaro as its hip talking, miniskirt wearing, tall blonde, gun toting namesake. We are immediately informed, during the opening credits, that our heroine, 23-year-old Ginger McAllister, who isn’t a ginger at all, was raised in the Hamptons by wealthy parents who died eight months ago in a plane crash. This gives her a sort of Bruce Wayne/Batman edge that all of the other leggy blonde ultra-vixens fighting crime can only dream about.
We also learn that she graduated from a 4-year university with a “straight B” average, and degrees in history and political science. She is a tri-Delta, which may or may not qualify her to kick some royal ass, although her education suggests that she will be able to tell someone exactly why she is kicking his ass after some suitably erudite repartee.
They just don’t build them like this anymore.
Ginger McAllister has everything a 1970’s female superhero needs; she’s smart, beautiful, and can take a punch. Some would say she is better than a hooker with a heart of gold. Despite having no experience in the field of investigation, Ginger has been summoned by some top secret private detective agency to “crack the case” (whatever that means) of some heroin trafficking prostitution blackmail ring out on the Jersey shore.
If details and logic seem vague and hazy, it might be due to the hilariously inept script by the writer/director of the Ginger series, Don Schain. Schain was married to series star Cheri Caffaro, and they would eventually create four more masterpieces of drive-in lunacy, in addition to the Caffaro-scripted H.O.T.S. in 1979, a female answer to Animal House (according to Caffaro at the time). After their 1977 collaboration Too Hot to Handle, Schain hung up his writer/director hat and focused on producing films instead. This, of course, is no great loss to cinema, as his screenwriting technique seems to be to reduce every spy thriller cliché (“I put a knockout pill in your drink”) into an unintelligible directive, recite the script verbally to his actors, and then have them ad lib the parts they can remember.
His directing style seems to be to tell his actors to wait 30 seconds before they say their line because the lag time will be fixed in editing. Unfortunately, the cuts were never quite as precise as they should be, so there is a lot of dead air onscreen between “action!” and “cut”. Maybe they shot each scene on a different day at a different location, who knows, but there is probably a second or two that could be cut at the head of every scene in the film. They make up for that, however, by abruptly ending scenes without any resolution. Schain also seems to be a fan of the “zoom in to an extreme close-up, and immediately follow by zooming out to an extreme long-shot---reverse when necessary, and repeat frequently” school of cinematography.
Don Schain eventually took a job with the Walt Disney Company, and has produced numerous television features for them, including the incredibly popular High School Musical films. Cheri Caffaro, on the other hand, appeared in a few more films and made guest appearances on television detective shows like Baretta and Delvecchio in the late 1970’s. But, disillusioned with the entertainment business, she quietly and abruptly retired to Southern California where she raises bees, harvests their honey, and educates the world on the honey bee crisis and colony collapse disorder through her Hollywood Honey organization.
Ginger begins like any classic ABC Movie of the Week, but soon devolves into a lurid tale of degenerate behavior instigated by evil ringleader Rex Halsey, one of the unlikeliest dog collared anti-heroes to come out of sexploitation cinema (Did he just say “There could be twubble”?). In short order, we are treated to dirty dancing with some of the least seductive stripper music ever, music more appropriate to an aging clown birthday party than anything approaching nightclubbing. This is, naturally, followed by a bi-curious bondage-inspired catfight, and Ginger starts getting a little porny from here. Except, it’s just all too ridiculous to be porn, and there is too much exposition going on, like somebody has to be explaining something at all times or the audience just won’t get it.
Despite its obsessive nods to bondage core, Ginger, as porn, is a godawful, almost embarrassing, example (even by 1971 standards) of what pornography can be. If the director thought that unattractive white men laying, literally laying, on unwilling women is hot, well…so be it. Even sexy talk time is unconvincing, stilted, and a little creepy. It is certain that the executives at the Oldsmobile dealership credited for lending the cars at the beginning of the film swallowed their collective tongue when they saw what sort of action adventure spy caper film they had given their good name to (besides being one without very much action).
Perhaps the Oldsmobile executives wondered to themselves during the rape scene why Ginger didn’t ask Rex if he had ever been with a woman before. And, perhaps they wondered why somebody would be credited for “Miss Caffaro's hair styles,” when it becomes so obvious that she is not a natural blonde (oh…spoiler alert). Perhaps they even wondered if the Bob Orpin who is credited as Assistant Camera Operator is the same Robert G. Orpin who is credited with composing, arranging, and conducting the music for the film. Perhaps not.
Of course, there are some distractions from the hilarious hijinks as a result of the clichéd and stereotype laden script, such as Mexican drug dealers, racial epithets, and reassurances to a frightened and sexually confused female that it is okay to, you know, try it out with a woman because she can still find a man and get married. In fact, there is so much about this film that is patently offensive, it is hard to give it the benefit of any doubt. One can’t justify sections of this film’s dialogue, as people often do of Mark Twain, as “oh, it was satire,” or, “oh, it’s social commentary,” or, “but, that’s just how people talked back then.”
One, also, can’t help but notice the message that the promise of being a strong, independent (martini drinking) woman has dire consequences. You will be verbally demeaned, you will be sexually assaulted, and you will be psychologically terrorized should you step out of line. The film also reminds us, however, that a movie like this could not, and should not, under any circumstances, be made today.
Which is not to say that Ginger is not absolutely hilarious in its awfulness. Somehow, it’s shortcomings, and the total commitment of its star Cheri Caffaro, make it just that much more endearing. It is the kind of movie that should make us envy the 1970’s and its drive-in movie trash double features. I’m looking forward to checking out the Ginger sequels, but how could they possibly top this?
With Clark Ames as Brad.
Anthony Galli currently lives in Athens, Georgia. He shares a birthday with his black cat, Magic, and they both claim Wings of Desire as their favorite film. Anthony has published two books of poetry, Amnesia for Insomniacs and Invisible Idiot.