Wednesday, December 14, 2011



Directed By Barry Mahon & W. Merle Connell
1959 & 1952—136 Minutes Total/Full Screen
DVD Provided by VCI Entertainment
Article written by Heather Drain
Ah, the double feature. While it's become a lost art now in theaters, it has sprouted new life on DVD. Back when they were still common, it was one of the best ways to get your money’s worth for your cinematic enjoyment. Even if one of the features was terrible, the odds were pretty good that the other one would be better. Well, at least less sucky. This is definitely the case with volume two of the POSITIVELY NO REFUNDS series with the double feature of CUBAN REBEL GIRLS and UNTAMED WOMEN.
CUBAN REBEL GIRLS is the more famous of the two, thanks to the twin facts of it being both a relic from Cuba's post-Batista but pre-Bay of Pigs era and featuring Errol Flynn is his last film role. If it wasn't for that, it would have been a mere blip on the exploitation film radar, despite being helmed by fringe king Barry Mahon. (He directed such notable sexploitation classics like THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN, CENSORED and HOT SKIN, COLD CASH. All of which are more fabulous than CUBAN REBEL GIRLS).
The film starts out promisingly enough. After some Spanish-language singing and soldiers marching, the screen then displays the film's alternate title, ASSAULT OF THE REBEL GIRLS. We soon are privy to some borderline campy narration courtesy of the man himself, Errol Flynn. He plays a hotshot journalist who goes down to Cuba to arrange a meeting with Castro and cover the burgeoning rebel movement orchestrated to overthrow the old government. Instead of being super secretive, he decides that it would be wise to act normal. Normal, by the way, is getting a shave and a manicure by a swanky hotel pool while anticipating autograph hounds. While enjoying the “scenery” (aka young lovelies in their swimsuit best), he is approached by an agent of Castro's and is soon ensnared into the heart of the rebel movement.
Exciting, no? Well, enjoy it, because it is about to get a sweaty case of the drolls. Our story switches to the titular Rebel Girls, with the focus being on teenaged blonde Beverly (Beverly Aadland, Flynn's real life jail bait girlfriend), who is all too easily recruited by one very American sounding Cuban girl. The lure in question is Bev's boyfriend Johnny. Turns out he is over there, fighting with the rebels. Once the lasses make it out to the land of cigars and God's coffee, our young and not terribly politically aware heroine is itching for love and blood. Frustration is an easy bedfellow though, since she will have to wait at least 20-30 minutes before action. On top of that, by the time she finally gets to see Johnny, his reaction is “You little idiot!” She proves him right by reacting to such a “romantic” bon mot with teenage girl confused hormonal zest and not an ass whooping.
What the hell happened to Errol? He finally comes back from his cocktail break/getting slightly wounded by the enemy and ends up getting his ripped slacks sewn up by Beverly. Okay. Afterwards, the flaxen haired young rebel ends up seeing more action than she bargained for when she sees her Johnny being hauled off, bloody, broken and possibly dead. Will Johnny live or die? Will young Beverly continue to fight for the rebels? Will the brash, superstar American journalist make it back in time for happy hour?
CUBAN REBEL GIRLS is one of those films that is less notable as an actual movie and more so as a historical relic. As a movie, it plods quite a bit and while Aadland isn't bad at all, she was basically a young, inexperienced teenager having to carry a good chunk of the cinematic weight. Focusing more on Flynn would have made more sense, both in terms of fulfilling box office hype and providing a lead actor with some obvious experience and charisma. Even though at this point in the game, Flynn was near death and looking pretty rough for someone just approaching their 50's, he was still a commanding presence on screen. Also, with a title with like ASSAULT OF THE CUBAN REBEL GIRLS, it brings to mind images way more fun and lurid than the film delivers. Whatever mental image you get with that title is, dollars to donuts, going to surpass what is on the screen. The back story involving Flynn's teenage girlfriend Aadland starring in this film is inherently more interesting and scandalous than this film. The closest to proper exploitation it ever gets is a brief, cutesy scene of some of the girls bathing in a creek. It's like a less revealing version of the similar scene from HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND (which is inherently a better film, by the way). Random fun trivia: Flynn, a notorious booze-lover, was once banned from drinking on a film set. To bypass this formality, he actually injected vodka into oranges. File this under horrifying and yet strangely impressive.
CUBAN REBEL GIRLS might be the star attraction, but it is UNTAMED WOMEN that truly delivers. This film has it all: dinosaurs, curvy she-wolves with perfect hair and even better dance moves, angry primitives with beards (!), a semi-downbeat ending, Druids, and a rag-tag group of American soldiers who end up finding a lost paradise after their plane crashes into the ocean. The only thing this film is missing is a wisecracking schnauzer.
Leading the group is Steve Holloway (Mikel Conrad), your typically stoic and jocular 1950's hero. In a neat twist, the film opens with him lying in a hospital, halfway in a coma and not being terribly responsive. Soon, the doctors administer a drug that gets him to start telling his fantastical but true tale. Out of a plane full of soldiers, the only ones that survive the crash are Steve, one guy with severe mommy issues, another who is a sweet natured guy from Arkansas, and the most awesome of them all, Benny, played with Bowery Boys aplomb by Richard Monahan.
After being stranded at sea for days, the boys are naturally ecstatic to find land, all in the form of an uncharted island. Their relaxation is short lived, however, when they are captured by the lovely, Amazonian, spear wielding and titular untamed women! Benny, being awesome, notes that “Maybe these dolls have other plans for us.” He’s not far off, since most of the girls are excited to see some men-folk, being that the males from their tribe were killed off years ago thanks to the “hairy men.” It is because of this incident that their leader, Sandra (Doris Merrick), wants to execute the new arrivals. Oh yes, before I forget, I should mention that she and the rest of the girls are the descendants of Druids. Druids. Yes, let that soak in for a moment. It hits so well, doesn't it? Like the crack and sizzle of a freshly opened, cold canned drink on a hot day. Druids. Excellent.
She soon gets a change of heart and sets them free, secretly. The guys try to escape to the other side of the island but instead are greeted by some pretty adorable, bulk-sized monsters, all in the form of lizards and even an armadillo! After dealing with these critters and even a man-eating plant, the guys end up back with the women. They soon get to prove their mettle, when a horde of hairy men arrive! They are able to temporarily keep them at bay, thanks to their weapons. But bullets only have so many lives and there are more hairy men afoot than at a Dan Haggerty look-a-like competition. On top of that, there is one quiet volcano that is about to get very, very vocal.
UNTAMED WOMEN is so uniformly fun that it is like a photo-negative of CUBAN REBEL GIRLS. The cast is spirited, the thrills are plentiful, and the Brooklyn-ese charm of Bennie out Huntz-es Hall. It's a pity that Monahan didn't get a bigger career because he really shines here and has a modern type charisma about him. The girls are lovely and are clearly having a lot of fun, plus all the cute forced perspective lizards and armadillos are terrific.
The DVD itself is fun ride into retro-land a go-go, with some additional trailers for films like THE JUNGLE, KING DINOSAUR and the Ed Wood penned THE BRIDE & THE BEAST. For the price of a good but affordable meal, this is a great deal. Though CUBAN REBEL GIRLS has some cinematic issues, it is still cool to have for the novelty of peeking on a pro-Castro America and the wonderment of Errol Flynn. As a whole, I loved this disc and if you are into 1950's B-movie cinema, chances are, you will too.

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