August 1, 2011
Legendary cult filmmaker Roger Corman was an equal opportunity producer. In a man’s world of exploitation cinema where T&A are the only letters of the alphabet you really need to know, Corman was hiring female crew members fresh out of college to shoot sleazy tales others wouldn’t have dreamed of entrusting to a woman. The best Corman titles weren’t afraid to dabble with a little social commentary either, while dishing up buxom babes and bloodshed aplenty. Take Humanoids From the Deep, for example, which contains a social/racial subtext, albeit half submerged beneath a story about swamp men and their (somewhat inevitably) naked victims.
Streetwalkin’ assumes a similar approach. Directed and co-written by Joan Freeman — a Harvard grad whose previous filmmaking experiences included PBS documentaries and indie flicks — the film delves into the life of a young girl from a broken home who escapes to the big city with her brother to try and start afresh. Her idealism is short lived, however, when she’s compelled to get hooker happy to make ends meet, and is swept up into the arms of a violent pimp. Unsurprisingly, his sweet-talkin’ turns sour after his backhand works overtime, and he accidentally murders a fellow prostitute.
While the grim premise is one we’ve all heard before, Freeman’s titillating and tasking tale isn’t obscured by a bigger plot, lingering on the sordid realities of the skin trade. Gritty, grimy New York City streets, and all the nasty things that ladies of the night have to deal with, are the focus here: drugs, cops, abuse, and deadly circumstance. Although Corman’s productions frequently succumb to B-movie hilarity — and Streetwalkin’ is no exception (as much as I want to believe that everyone ran around topless in the ’80s, well … ) — the film sells seedy fairly well, with its low-budget origins working in its favor. Freeman isn’t shy about tossing around the C-word, flashing some flesh, or creating a tense subtext around a gang of African American pimps who are pitted against the whiter than white crew of whore wranglers.
Oscar-winner Melissa Leo might want to forget about her role as Cookie (and her nude scenes), the misguided girl from a small town who gets tangled up with Dale Midkiff’s Duke (most recognizable from Pet Sematary), but her performance is no more terrible than some of the TV work you’ve seen her perform in. The biggest surprise of the movie is watching a lingerie-clad Julie Newmar (Batman’s Catwoman) as the older and streetwise hooker who walks the pavement solo and doesn’t take lip from any man. In fact, you’ll find yourself rooting for most of the women in the movie despite their questionable career choice. It’s clear that Freeman and her co-writer husband had some kind of sympathy for the women enduring the world’s oldest profession and tried to present street life in a different light other than red.
Fairly fast-paced, engaging, and not wholly unbelievable, Streetwalkin’ sashays through its 86 minutes pretty painlessly — falling somewhere in between a daring Lifetime drama about trampy teen runaways and a nastier sexploitation flick. Shout Factory continues to do the Roger Corman Cult Classics Collection justice with a new DVD release featuring an anamorphic widescreen transfer, commentary from director-writer Freeman and producer-writer Robert Alden, several trailers, and a reversible DVD sleeve with the original ’80s poster art. Visit their website for more details and pick up a copy of the film over here.