Few brands of manure have fertilized so bumper a crop of Bad Movies as the novels of hackmeister Harold Robbins.
Robbins was a forerunner of today’s writers of soapy, sex-drenched tomes like Pat Booth or Judith Michaels. However, his most popular books were published before their natural adaptation format, the television mini-series, came into existence. Hollywood stepped in and turned his overlong, overplotted, inane books into a series of, well, overlong, overplotted, inane movies. Following Robbins’ sub-plot driven oeuvre, films such as The Adventurers, The Carpetbaggers and The Betsy featured huge casts and seldom ran much under two and a half hours.
The magic of The Lonely Lady is that is manages to cram in as much sleazy sex, asinine plot twists, poor acting and stupid dialog as any of its cinematic siblings into a package only 92 minutes long. Watching The Lonely Lady gives you the same kind of buzz as eating an entire can of undiluted orange juice concentrate.
It’s also notable for being one of two truly awful films Pia Zadora made in the ’80s, the other being Butterfly with Orson Welles (!). Combined, these powerhouse flicks put Pia in contention (against the larger body of work of rival sexpot Bo Derek) for the crown of Bad Movie Queen of the Decade.
Pia’s legendary standing in this rarified field actually began when she was a kid. She starred as “Gir-Mar” in the classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, also noteworthy for being the first film in which she wore a very short skirt. Resting on her laurels, Pia disappeared until the 1980’s.
Petite, chubby-cheeked Pia had the rather good fortune to wed a billionaire. She then attempted, with hubby’s cash, to turn herself into a full fledged movie star/sex symbol with the hilarious and sleazy Butterfly. Did I mention that film costarred Orson Welles (!)? A controversy resulted when Pia won a Golden Globe Award as Best New Performer of the Year for this little-seen and critically scorned opus. In particular, it was considered odd that she managed to beat such impressive rivals in more (to say the least) popular films as Kathleen Turner in Body Heat and Harold Rollins in Ragtime. The bitterly jealous in the industry implied that the multi-talented Zadora owed her award to her husband’s, uh, financial influence.
After the failure of Butterfly (which, by the way, featured Orson Welles (!)), Pia gave stardom another shot. She apparently decided to adapt the work of a novelist fully as talented in his field as she was in hers, for her next film was an adaptation of the aforementioned Mr. Robbins’ The Lonely Lady. This opus, like Robbins’ earlier The Carpetbaggers, was a sex-crazed “expose” of the sleazy side of Hollywood. This type of story was already enshrined in the Bad Movie Hall of Fame in such stellar works as The Oscar, The Star, The Legend of Lylah Clare, and, well, The Carpetbaggers.
Our movie opens outside “The Awards,” obviously this universe’s version of the Oscars. Apparently the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science learned a lesson after allowing the producers of the classic stinkfest The Oscar use of their trademark and denied permission here.
Dozens of extras watch a parade of unfamiliar “celebrities” enter the pavilion. Our Star now makes her appearance, dressed in bright red to make sure we can’t miss her. Conspicuously, she’s the only attendee without an escort. In case any members of the audience are morons and don’t “get” how she’s alone and everything, two extras exchange the following dialog for our benefit:
Extra #1: “Who’s the blond?”
Extra #2: “All alone?”
#1: “Yeah, yeah, walking up there.”
#2: “Can’t be anybody if she doesn’t have an escort.”
This chilling dialog aptly portrays the cruel and heartless way that people can pigeonhole others, in a manner both unfair and damaging to a healthy sense of self-esteem.
As the credits roll, savvy Bad Film buffs will experience a foreboding chill as the name Jared Martin appears (“By the pricking of my thumbs/Something untalented this way comes…”). Mr. Martin appeared in an ominous amount of cinematic dreck in the ’80s, like The Sea Serpent and The New Gladiators. Things get worse still as an ersatz Tom Jones type begins crooning, none too clearly, “Lone-ly Laaa-dy/Own-ly you can something, something….” The sound quality here is dreadful. Not only is the singing so bad that you can’t understand half the lyrics (admittedly, no big loss), but when Jared Martin makes his appearance at “The Awards,” the sound is so poor that we can’t make out the crowd’s expository dialog, meant to clue us in on who he is.
Then, in an oh-so-arty segue, we go from the announcement of “… The Awards Presentation Ceremony” to a flashback of Pia receiving a strangely elaborate statuette as Valley High School’s “Most Promising English Major.” The award is presented by a famous movie director with the imaginative name of Guy Jackson, who, unsurprisingly, plays a larger role later in the movie. When Pia’s Jerilee Randall wins, the audience goes wild in a way seldom seen outside of TV’s The Price is Right.
Jerilee is dressed in a rather frumpy outfit, meant to establish her youth and innocence. She proceeds to give a predictably excruciating acceptance speech. Her discourse is punctuated by audience laughter at the points where the screenwriter apparently thought something funny had been said. When Jerilee starts some rather vaguely speechifying about how Art should be about “important things,” she’s cut off by the powers that be. This is but the movie’s first lesson in how The Establishment keeps close rein on those whose superior talents represent a challenge to the status quo. The audience, feasting on her formidable cerebral intellectualization, expresses its obvious disappointment at the suppression of this dialectical prophet.
That night, Jerilee attends a post-graduation party with the rest of her thirty-year old high school class. There she meets Walt Jr., the son of Walter Thornton, a famous screenwriter (two words not often seen together). We also meet Ray Liotta (a long, loong way from Goodfellas and Something Wild) in his embarrassing screen debut as Joe. We know Joe’s a bad apple, as he’s smoking pot at a party in California (gasp!).
Jerilee ends up blowing off her nerdy beau, Bernie, who had promised Jerilee’s mother that she’d be home early. Temptation, in the form of Walt offering to introduce her to his father, vies with the moral certainty represented by solid, respectable Bernie. To make sure we understand the stakes, Walt Jr. also proffers the most obviously phallic hot dog in movie history (except maybe for the one in Sudden Impact), shoved into Jerilee’s face. Jerilee, stars in her eyes and nothing in particular in her head, leaves with Walt. The audience shakes its collective head and sighs (or snores), knowing a harsh lesson is soon to be learned.
When Jerilee arrives at Walt’s station wagon, she finds dope fiend Joe in attendance. Joe strokes her Creative Writing trophy and wittily notes that it “looks like a penis.” Walt explains that this is merely an example of Joe’s debonair wit, and she proceeds to get into the car. This proves that great writers are not necessarily great empirical thinkers.
Joe and his date, Mary, make out in the back seat on the way to the Thornton residence, making Jerilee visibly uncomfortable. Actually, she seems a bit uptight for an “artist” type. Still, the scene is important in that the impatient audience member is finally, finallyi rewarded by the sight of a naked breast after being forced to wait an entire eight minutes! Don’t worry, dude, plenty more where that came from.
Jocular Joe reaches into the front seat and grabs Jerilee’s breast, as presumably Not-a-Feminist Mary laughs at his Cro-Magnon antics. You just know this girl is going to end up on The Jerry Springer Show. By the time Mary starts, uh, performing a very personal favor for Joe, Jerilee looks like she’s beginning to doubt the wisdom of blowing off ol’ Bernie.
They finally arrive at the Thornton place, and Jerilee invades Walt Sr.’s office for a looksee. She looks mighty impressed by such artifacts as framed photos, not to mention the leather notebook with Thornton’s name filigreed on it. Wow, that must have set him back twenty or thirty bucks. Meanwhile, Joe and Mary are skinny dipping in the pool. When Jerilee wanders outside, Joe pulls her into the water, to blaring “nightmare” music.
Now occurs a scene that is at once one of the most offensive and yet also goofiest in movie history. As Jerilee flees the pool, Joe knocks her down and proceeds to rape her with a handy garden hose! At the same time, the advantage is taken to show off Pia’s starring breasts (about twelve minutes into the film, for those who are counting). This makes the rape scene all the more tasteful. Just then Thornton Sr. drives up.
Back home, the family doctor has just finished examining Jerilee. I believe she’s supposed to be in a state of catatonic shock, but given Pia’s “performance” in the rest of the film, it’s hard to be sure. The set for Jerilee’s bedroom is way overdressed, trying much too hard to make us believe it’s an average teenager’s room. After the exam, the doctor asks if the police have been called, giving Jerilee’s mom the opportunity to give a little tirade about how the white upper middle class can expect to find little justice in the Rich Man’s court (wow!). This speech might remind one of a very early draft of the script for Thelma & Louise, before they made it not suck.
When next we see Jerilee, she’s on the backyard swing set, wearing overalls and looking very young. I think we’re to believe that that the shock of her ordeal has caused her to regress mentally, but again, who can tell? Anyway, who should show up but Walter Thornton Sr., probably to apologize over how his son let her get raped with a garden hose and all. No one seems to find the situation at all awkward. Jerilee’s mom, who in the very last scene was spewing bile over the Rich Bastards who would get away with assaulting her daughter, fawns all over him.
Not that it’ll do her any good. Thornton has kind of a Roman Polanski thing going, and is interested in the daughter, not the mother. And when Mom catches on, she’s not so much creeped out as jealous. You just know this family is going to end up on The Jerry Springer Show. Still, how can Mom compete with her daughter’s and Thornton’s common interest in Writing and Intellectual Discourse? She keeps yabbering on as Jerilee and Walter try to continue their conversation on Hemingway. This appears to be the kind of thing the screenwriter thinks writers spend their time talking about. Of course, how would he know?
Jerilee and Walter keep in touch. We see them jogging, eating in a fancy resturant, and finally, to the chords of an indescribably awful “love song,” kiss at last. All of which is accompanied by their achingly facile conversations about Literature and Important Things. Said conversations appears to represent the kind of discussions the screenwriter thinks intellectuals engage in. Of course, how would he know?
Back home, Mrs. Randall is arguing with Jerilee over her budding romance with Walter. Mom, hitting the booze, perhaps is still a little envious of Mr. Thornton’s attentions to her daughter. Or maybe she just thinks he’s a big, creepy pervert. Still, after listening to Jerilee blather on about how she loves him and how he can help her grow as an artist, Mom garners the sincere empathy of everyone in the audience when she covers her ears and shouts “I’m not listening to this, I am NOT listening to THIS!”
Cut to the wedding reception, held in the backyard of the Thornton place where, you know, the garden hose incident. Luckily, the guests are all too tactful to bring it up. Walter and Jerilee mingle, with Walter making ‘witty’ asides to the guests. Then, in another very creepy scene, we see (eeeeewww!) Jerilee and Walter in their marriage bed. Jerilee and her much older husband start having sex, and Walter immediately experiences an equipment failure. This is our first intimation that Jerilee’s married life might not be a total bed of roses (duh).
We also get our second look at Pia’s boobies here. And in case you think I’m a little weird for cataloging their appearances so closely, well, it’s obvious the producers thought of them as a, perhaps the, big draw, considering how much screen time they get. Is anyone else grossed out by the thought that Pia’s much older real-life husband financed the film that contained her constant nudity, simulated sex and the sexual impotence of her character’s much older husband? I mean, am I the only one to find this sorta odd? Of course, now that I think about it, Pia’s Bad Movie Sexpot rival, Bo Derek, starred in nudity and sex-laced movies actually written and directed by her husband. Boy, this is really getting gross. Although, to be fair, John Derek never had Bo raped with a garden hose.
After a quick scene to establish A) Walter remains a stick in the mud, denying Jerilee the excitement-any-young-woman-would-crave (he doesn’t take her dancing) and B) show business is a cesspool chock full of scumbags, we get to our next major plot, as The Lonely Lady, to the surprise of few, turns into a poor man’s (a very poor man’s) A Star is Born.
Jerilee’s first book hits that bestsellers list. Eating breakfast, the happy (for now) couple lightheartedly read a review that notes that in the book “rape and violence [are] handled with a sensitivity beyond her years.” Jerilee comments “Not bad!” Well, it’s all grist for the mill isn’t it? I hope she remembered to thank Joe in the dedication. Still, I’m a little confused. How come the reviews of her book are all published in different newspapers on the same day. I mean, if the book’s already on the bestseller list (a writer’s first book, of short stories, on the bestsellers list?), it must have been out for awhile, so why are reviews in all the morning papers?
At a celebratory dinner, Jerilee is shocked at the way film people keep kissing up to Walter. Kissing up to a scriptwriter?! Not a very realistic picture of Hollywood, where the joke is one starlet was so dumb she slept with the screenwriter. Jerilee shudders and asks Walter, “Who would want to be an actress?” (not something Pia has to worry about), and he world-wearily replies, “In this business you can’t afford self respect.” (Wow!)
Now a big treat for the viewer, it’s… another sex scene between flabby Walter and Jerilee. This one is even more unnerving, as it’s longer and features a prime view of Walter’s hairy back, making it look like he wears a wool sweater when he’s “doing it.” Don’t get me wrong, though, this scene is very important to Jerilee’s character progression: we see that by taking control of the speed and rhythm of their conjugal activities, Jerilee has turned Walter into a better lover.
Having successfully taken control of their sex life, Jerilee has the self esteem necessary to try her hand at screenwriting. Walter suggests that when, hey, who would have thought, director Guy Jackson (remember? Valley High?) starts shooting Walter’s new script, perhaps she can work as his assistant, thus gaining valuable on-the-job experience. With Jerilee’s intrusion into her husband’s field of endeavor, the audience foresees rough waters ahead. Of course, that’s probably because they looked at their watch and noticed there’s still an hour of this movie left.
Cut to the movie set of Walter’s new film, some sort of costume period piece. We see Walter arguing with the film’s female lead (plot point alert!), while Guy and Jerilee chat. The fact that the scriptwriter is on the set is another example of the film’s apparent confusion about the prominence of screenwriters to the Hollywood moviemaking process (at least as it’s evolved). Jerilee helps with rewrites by typing up Walter’s revisions.
Next, to showcase the film’s hard-hitting sense of warts ‘n all reality, we meet Bud, the set’s rather, er, noticeably gay makeup man. Bud, to make sure we get it, wears a gaudy shirt, says “darling” a lot, and makes lots of catty small talk. As Bud is one of the few characters not interested in exploiting Jerilee sexually, we know they’ll get along fine. Hearing scuttlebutt about the lead actress’ “pig of a speech” burial scene, Bud suggests she try rewriting it, a suggestion Jerilee laughs off for now (plot point alert!).
Going to see Walter, we finally meet Jared Martin’s character, George Ballantine. Ballantine hits on Jerilee, and we learn from expository dialog that at this point in the movie he’s a bit actor. Gee, but I have the feeling we’ll be seeing more of him later. Jerilee tells Walter and Guy that she’s reworked the burial scene. Judging from Walter’s angry reaction, he’s none too keen on the idea.
Hilariously, Jerilee has reduced the entire speech expressing the character’s grief over her son’s death to “WHY?!” Man, she’s a regular Shakespeare. Sure enough, the actress gets wind of it and loves the “rewrite.” Only in a movie (and a very poor one at that) about making movies would they expect you to believe that a big star would rather say “WHY?!” than act out a big showcase speech. Boy, when the film community gets to see her thesp out the line “WHY?!” she’s sure to win “The Award” for Best Actress. I can see The Award Clip at the presentation now. Walter tersely explains it’ll never work.
However, when we see the shooting of the burial scene, Jerilee is pleased and surprised to find that her rewrite is used. Actually, the actress wails not “WHY?!” but “WHY?!… WHY?!” showing that even Jerilee’s dialog can be improved.
Everybody runs around yelling about how brilliantly the scene went. However, gasp!, Jerilee is shocked to see Walter taking “credit” for her dazzlingly artistic writing. Left alone by the film crew, Jerilee walks around the now empty graveyard set as a hundred-and-one-strings type version of the “Lonely Lady” song plays softly on the background. Inside her own soul, she’s probably asking herself, “WHY?!..WHY?!”
At some time in the future, Walter and Jerilee are “doing lunch” with the film’s producer when the actress walks over to talk about the film’s great success. She notes how all the critics “picked up on the burial scene”(!). As Jerilee looks sour, we must assume the situation has remained unacknowledged and is still festering. When Walter starts pompously lecturing on his own brilliant writing, Jerilee lashes out at him.
They are interrupted by the arrival of Vincent DeCosta, a oily, studly young dude. Vinnie, of course, has eyes for Jerilee. Now we see Walter’s unresolved issue, as we watch his discomfort at all the young wolves circling his young and, I guess, alluring wife. The scene goes on and on, as the movie struggles mightily to make sure that even the most unperceptive audience member understands that Walter’s sense of worth is under siege. Finally, after making a speech about what a failure he is, Walter splits.
A contrite Jerilee later finds Walter in back by the pool, and tries to lure him into bed for some (ugh) sexual healing. This sets up one of the truly great I-Don’t-Believe-It! lines in cinema history. Afraid he can’t satisfy her sexually, Walter snidely asks her why she didn’t go off with the studly DeCosta. Then, in a Hall of Fame Bad Movie Moment, he leans over, grabs the garden hose lying at his feet and hisses, “Or is THIS more your kick?!” And yes, it looks to be the same hose. Wouldn’t you think he would have bought another one when they got married and all? Jerilee is so shocked that she stares at him blankly, like she couldn’t remember what she had for dinner last night. Anyway, having made his ultimate contribution to the film’s awfulness, Walter disappears for most of the movie.
Cut to the future, where Jerilee is living alone in a modest apartment, working on her screenplay. Actually, like most movie and TV “modest” sets, it’s also unbelievably huge, as if set designers had never seen a real-life cramped apartment. It’s also as overdressed as her teenage bedroom set was, including a big American Flag standing in the room, and, of course, her high school writing trophy prominently placed. Her apartment is meant to show how she’s struggling. But since California has strict community property laws, she’d have gotten a bundle in the divorce, not to mention her “best-selling” book proceeds. But of course, like most film and movie heroines, and unlike almost anyone in real-life, we’re informed she refused to take any of Walter’s money.
Guy drops by, and Jerilee tells him about her screenplay. It’s set after Vietnam, and deals with two people who love each other, yet can’t make it because they’re so different. It’s all grist for the mill, isn’t it? I hope she remembers to thank Walter at The Awards telecast.
Guy takes Jerilee out to a party of some sort. You know, you expect something from say, the Fifties, to be dated. Yet in this scene, The Lonely Lady seems as dated as any movie Tab Hunter flick from 1957. Guys are wearing their jackets with the sleeves rolled up, worn over unbuttoned shirts, and one fellow is looking over a collection of “record albums” by the “turntable” (kids: ask your parents).
There we become reacquainted with some of our supporting players. Gary James, Guy’s Assistant Director from, uh, you know, Walter’s movie, pops back up. You’d think his role would be as the new Bernie, the “nice guy” that Jerilee blow’s off to her own peril. Oddly though, after bothering to introduce him, not once, but twice, he ends up vanishing from the rest of the film, without explanation. Also in residence is George Ballantine, who is now a up-&-coming star. For some reason, all eyes remain on Jerilee, who while hardly unattractive is no goddess or anything. Still, that’s the plot of the film, so we’re just going to have to go along with it.
Jerilee shows she hasn’t learned anything from the hose incident by hooking up with “bad boy” Ballantine. Ballantine confirms that he’s a jerk by talking about his affairs, then asks Jerilee, who’s got a drink in her hand, if she’s thirsty.
They end up in her apartment, and to the discomfort of the audience, engage in another sex scene. This is important character development though, as we see Jerilee enjoy sex for the first time. This is followed by another very important sequence: the film’s first shower scene, where we get to again study the twin reasons this movie was produced.
Ballantine enters the shower and pushes Jerilee down to perform a, er, very personal favor, exactly like the Ray Liotta guy in the beginning did with his chick. I guess this is to indicate yet again that Ballantine will be trouble for Jerilee. Anybody not get that yet? Hello? Anyone? This is also accompanied by one of the movie’s best visuals: Ballantine’s head is half under the shower stream, so half his hair is plastered to his head, but on the other half his perm is still flying high.
Cut to Jerilee, transferring her awakened sexual energy to creative output. Needless to say, she types on a circa 1920 manual typewriter, proving again that she’s a “serious” writer. Ballantine interrupts her fecund artistic turnout for his own physical needs, and in a warm post-coital glow, Jerilee sighs that she’s happy for the first time in quite some time. This causes the savvy viewer to shake his head, as this is one of the kind of movies (slasher films being another) where such a declaration heralds imminent disaster for the speaker. Unfortunately for us, and unlike a slasher film where the line would be answered by immediate decapitation or impalement with a crowbar, Jerilee’s downfall will take up another forty plus minutes of screen time.
Dropping by the office of Walter’s old agent, George Fox, Jerilee learns the oldest lesson of all when Fox refuses to push her script unless she sleeps with him. She refuses, and walks out. This scene takes place in about one minute, and seems to be included only because, you know, how could it not be?
Next, she tries a slightly less prestigious agent in a big shiny building. The building comes complete with a big sign on top, but the name is obscured (see Thoughts). Jerilee confronts Hollywood’s relentless sexism when the secretary assumes she’s an actress instead of a writer. Upon being corrected, the secretary asks if Jerilee’s in the Writer’s “Guild,” which she pronounces like “yield” instead of “gild.” Jerilee answers, “no,” the secretary replies, “Sorry,” Jerilee shrugs and leaves. Wow, how bitter to be unrewarded after such an epic struggle to gain representation!
Unable to contact Ballantine, Jerilee sits around her apartment boozing it up. Finally, she shows up on his current set and informs him that she’s pregnant. Ballantine, on to his next conquest, is annoyed to be bothered with the situation, in spite of the fact that Jerilee apparently just wants him to accompany her to the abortionist (how sweet!). Ballantine, however, is too busy kissing up to anyone who can help his film career, and it’s obvious he won’t be much help. The whole point of the scene seems to be to let the audience know that Ballantine is a complete and utter jerk. OK, everybody got that by now?
Mrs. Randall picks up Jerilee at the hospital after the abortion, mostly to nag at her. Later, when Jerilee takes Mom out for her birthday, they bump into, of course, Ballantine and his wife. Then, right on schedule, Vinnie DeCosta pops up, and wines and dines Jerilee and her mother. Hmmm, something tells me Vinnie will be the next sleazy dude in Jerilee’s life. Of course, that could only happen if Jerilee was such an idiot that she went from one obvious sleezeball to the next. You just know Jerilee’s going to end up on The Jerry Springer Show.
Vinnie and his brother, Nick, are supposedly looking for “projects” to fund. In spite of the fact that this line wouldn’t fool a teenager fresh off the bus from Iowa, Jerilee mentions her script. Vinnie tells her to bring it by the club and he’ll look at it.
Jerilee arrives at the club, which, complete with mirrored tiles from Home Depot and a white ceramic leopard in the lobby, doesn’t seem like anybody’s idea of a “hot” nightclub. Jerilee asks the two sleazy hostesses for Vinnie, causing them to give each other a knowing look. Jerilee almost decides to split, but Vinnie wanders into the lobby and latches on to her. It’s obvious to us that Vinnie is a hustler, but apparently Jerilee has to learn lessons the very hard way. Over and over again. Despite being broke, Jerilee allows Vinnie to tie up her script for six months or a year as he purportedly looks to make the movie happen.
In need of cash, Jerilee takes Vinnie up on a job offer at the club, where she instantly becomes mother hen to the other women. For instance, one of the hostesses, Janie, is asked by Vinnie to “go out” with a “big director.” If she sleeps with him, he’ll get her into his movie, but she’s a “serious actress” and doesn’t want to make it that way (say, it’s almost like she’s a mirror image of Jerilee herself!). Jerilee promises to talk to Vinnie and make sure Janie doesn’t get fired for turning the guy down. Vinnie is less than pleased with Janie’s refusal, not to mention Jerilee’s butting in, but tones it down so as to continue to fool Jerilee into thinking that he’s a good guy. He also informs her that Nick is taking her script to Europe to seek funding. Amazingly, Jerilee again falls for his patter, and even agrees to go out with him the next day.
Uh oh! Romantic Montage time! SEE Vinnie and Jerilee ride horses on the beach! SEE them eat ice cream (has there ever been a Romantic Montage where the young lovers didn’t eat ice cream? Why is this the Universe’s food of romance?)! SEE them enter a movie theater! SEE them buy groceries! SEE them drive down the road! All to the accompaniment of one of the film’s weirdly anonymous and yet obnoxious songs.
Guy shows up at the club after being out of town for an extended period. On finding out the she’s relying on Vinnie to help make her script into a film, Guy warns her that he’s a con man. We see Vinnie lurking nearby, like in an old Bela Lugosi movie. Next thing, Jerilee catches Vinnie doing coke in his office (you know, I’m beginning to suspect that Vinnie is kind of a creep). Vinnie gets all worked up and tells Jerilee that she’s writing only for him, setting up the movie’s second contribution (along with the garden hose line) for induction in the Bad Dialog Hall of Fame. Scrunching up her little face, Jerilee yells, “If I write for anyone, Vinnie, I write for MEEEEE!.” One must see Pia trying vainly to wring anything at all out of her character’s big line to truly appreciate the moment.
As Jerilee walks out, her relationship with Vinnie in tatters, a thought slowly breaks in on the battered viewer. We were never subjected to a Vinnie & Jerilee sex scene! Teary eyed, the happy viewer, choking back emotion, turns his eyes to heaven in thanks.
But the moment quickly passes, as the horrid cunning of the evil Bad Movie Gods is revealed. For after lounging around her apartment, crying, Jerilee (NOOOOOO!) calls up Vinnie on the phone, and in the next scene, they are having sex. There is no escaping the Doom placed on those watching a Pia Zadora movie!
The sex scene is accompanied by discordant back-ground music, showing that Jerilee’s final fall is nearing (and by this time we’re all cheering it on, if only so the movie will end). In fact, the scene plays out like a bad-trip montage (at least for the audience) from a 60’s “freak-out” film. They have sex. They drink champagne. They have more sex. Jerilee lays naked on a pool table (!) and Vinnie shoots pool balls at her (!!). They have sex yet again. Then, in a hot tub, they have sex. Next, in a bed, they have sex. Vinnie, to the vast relief of the audience, finally ends the sex montage by trying to force the struggling Jerilee to take some drugs he shoves at her. I think. Actually, it looks like a roll of Certs. Maybe Jerilee is just really insecure about her halitosis.
However, by the next scene, everything appears fine between our couple. In fact, Vinnie is introducing Jerilee to some folks from Italy, who might finally finance their movie. Gino is kind of a Henry Kissinger type, and Maria (did I mention they’re from Italy) is his hot young partner and interpreter. Jerilee starts babbling, again, about her script (uh oh), and the Italians wave off her babbling about the script again (Uh Oh!). Maria comments on Jerilee’s “beautiful eyes” (UH OH!), with an exaggerated lustful look. Just then, a guy comes over to get autographs (from Italian film producers?), causing their drinks to be spilled. Maria, staring at Jerilee with the kind of vampish look that went out with silent movies, suggest they repair to the Italian’s hotel room for “privacy.” Then, staring in a breathy manner, she asks Jerilee is she “understands.” We’ve supposed to believe that Jerilee, while suspicious, hasn’t quite figured out what’s going on.
Vinnie sends Jerilee with the Italians alone, cautioning her to be “nice to them.” Jerilee, unbelievably, still hasn’t figured out what’s going on. After they leave, Vinnie gives one of the club hostesses a swat on her ass. I believe this might be intended as a subtle clue to the audience that Vinnie is kind of a jerk.
Cut the Italian’s palatial hotel suite. Maria finally makes her intentions known is such a manner that even Jerilee tumbles (in a manner of speaking). As the lecherous fat guy settles in to watch the show, Jerilee wearily gives in to this final compromise. The next morning, she leaves the apartment. She’s so disheveled that she looks like a comedy sketch’s idea of a woman leaving an apartment after a night of sex. It turns out that, a) Fat boy speaks English after all, and b) they only pretended interest in her script to have sex with her. Again, Pia’s not a dog or anything, but it’s really hard to believe anybody would go to such an elaborate charade to get her into the sack, rather than just hiring a hooker or something.
The disbelieving Jerilee drags herself back to the club, where she catches Vinnie cavorting with not one, but two, naked women. Having rung out about as much as he could out of her script, Vinnie tosses it at Jerilee. You know, in the end, I guess it turned out that Vinnie was really sort of a jerk.
Here comes the scene we’ve all been waiting for: the Jerilee-going-nuts scene. And it’s a primo example, easily the silliest such scene since Barbara Stanwick went bananas in William Castle’s The Night Walker, made twenty years earlier. We start with the classic Shower With Her Clothes On. Then, the classic Tearing Up the Script. Next the Citizen Kane memorial Destructive Rampage Through the Apartment. This is followed by the Voices Saying Lines from Earlier in the Movie, and then by a true tour-de-force: an old fashioned Swirling Mirage Featuring the Heads of the People Who Wronged Her. The Night Walker also featured this touch, and it was hilariously old and creaky when they did it. Now, well, your jaw just drops. Really, this scene is amazing; it’s worth hunting the film down for this part alone. Mom again comes to visit Jerilee at a hospital, but at least this time it’s a loony bin, so it’s not like she’s being repetitive. Walter, footing the bill for the swank treatment, also pops in. We see Jerilee, staring blankly into space, in a state of shock. OK, I admit I’m guessing here. After all, staring blankly into space is pretty much how Zadora has portrayed every emotional state in this flick. I will say this, though: only Pia Zadora could somehow appear hammy while portraying catatonia. Walter tries to talk to her, but gets no response. When he touches her, she starts freaking out and screaming. Seeing her reaction to physical contact, her high-priced therapist runs over and throws his arms around her (?). Um, I’m no doctor, or anything, but…
At night we see Jerilee thrash around for an entire eight seconds. I guess the director felt this was enough to clue us in on what an utter hell Jerilee is in. Next, Guy tries to reach the catatonic Jerilee. He gives her an inspirational speech that would embarrass Stuart Smalley, then finally admits that he loves her (platonically, of course). At this, Jerilee instantly comes out of it. Gee, she just wanted someone to love her for who she is (yawn). Then we enter what seems like a very long sequence (at least for us) covering Jerilee’s healing process. The plot point here is that she starts writing as therapy, and ends up with a boffo script based on her own adventures.
She refuses to just sell it off and lose control over it, so to be made it must be packaged with Guy as director, and… gasp, George Ballantine starring. When Guy confirms that it’s so, and encourages her to go along, she folds. But when she goes to meet the perspective producer, it becomes obvious she must whore herself again, with his wife (her brother is V.P. at the studio).
We cut, finally, finally, to where we began: The Awards, where Jerilee’s script is up for Best Original Screenplay. Amazingly, we learn the film actually has a title, The Hold-Outs, and that Guy and Ballantine are nominated for it also. Even Walter is in attendance, as he has a screenplay in contention with Jerilee’s.
Jerilee’s moment of triumph finally arrives as she’s named the winner. Up at the podium she gives her acceptance speech. However, she soon segues into a hilariously bitter tirade, which includes the film’s third classic line, “I don’t suppose I’m the only one who’s had to f**k her way to the top!” This causes an audience uproar, as hundreds of tuxedoed and gowned extras angrily mutter “Cantaloupe, cantaloupe, watermelon, watermelon!” She goes on and on, and oddly enough, they never turn off the microphone, use the orchestra to cover her up and haul her off stage. At least she’s strenuously booed as she leaves the stage, as the audience in the movie acts out the dearest fantasy of the audience watching the movie. Jerilee, alone, walks off camera, as the haunting title song is played again.
When Jerilee is looking in Thornton office, she sees what looks to be an real-life Oscar on the mantle. It looks nothing like the ersatz “Award” statuette we see at the film’s beginning. Since this is a universe with “The Awards” instead of the Oscars, what’s the deal?
The competition here is fierce, and it’s all Pia. How to choose from such a distinguished array of great acting scenes. Certainly the “Breakdown” scene is deserving. And what about her two (!) “catatonia” scenes, particularly the second one? Close, but no cigar, if Pia’s masterful read of the “…I write for MEEE!” line. Nope. Ultimately, the hands down winner has got to be when her husband Walter waves the hose, the very instrument of her rape, in her face. Pia’s utterly blank facial reaction, as if caught off-guard by someone asking her what she’d like for lunch, is an all-time classic.
One of the little oddities of this movie is the lack of effort given to names and the general of a lack of detail to this world. For instance, instead of coming up with a name for their version of the Oscars, they’re just called “The Awards.” Jerilee attends the rather ubiquitous sounding Valley High, and later explains to her Mom that she doesn’t intend to go to “Valley State.” I mean, maybe the Oscar is trademarked and everything, but why wouldn’t you use the name of a real college? And would they have died from the effort of making up a name for Walter’s film project, instead of just calling it “the movie?” When we see one of Jerilee’s books, it’s cover is pretty much blank white with the title and author’s name in blocky black text. It’s like you’d go to the grocery store’s generic aisle and next to the POTATO CHIPS and CORN FLAKES find a BOOK. Vinnie DeCosta is said to be owner of a hot nightclub, which is never named, much like all the restaurants where various scenes take place. Building names, like office buildings or the hospital where Jerilee has her abortion, are obscured. When Vinnie and Jerilee critique a (unnamed) movie’s actors, he generically states “She was the pits!” and Jerilee replies, “I think he was worse!” Names like “Guy Jackson” and “Gary James” don’t seem like they required a lot of sweat, either. And how come, with about ten male characters, two are named “George?” Not to mention a Guy, a Gino, and a Gary. How about Jerilee, Joanna and Janie? Was Sesame Street brought to you by the letters “G” and “J” on the day they wrote this script? The movie’s consistent lack of even surface detail lends an almost surreal aspect of unreality to the film.
On another matter, yes, Jerilee is horribly victimized throughout the film. Still, doesn’t she bear some responsibility for going out with a string of guys so obviously sleazy that the only thing they lacked were black mustaches to twirl?
Comedy, thy name is The Lonely Lady: Wife, outside the “Awards”: “Why don’t you buy me a dress like that?”
Wry Hubby: “Why don’t you look like that!?”
Walter Sr., jokingly speaking with Jerilee’s mom after the wedding: “What do I call you, ‘Mother Randall?”
Mom, younger than Walter and obviously creeped out: “Veronica!”
Witty Walter: “Mother Veronica?!”
Jerilee and Walter show that the drollery of the Literary Set hasn’t suffered since the days of the fabled Algonquin Roundtable, as they peruse reviews of Jerilee’s book:
Jerilee: “‘Sensitive and perceptive stories which vividly demonstrate the inadequacy of liberal values in the face of Evil.’ What does that mean, Walter?”
Wry Walter, master of the bon mot: “It means your stories vividly demonstrate the inadequacy of liberal values in the face of Evil!”
Jerilee is introduced to Bud, the sarcastic makeup man:
Guy: “Bud, this is Jerilee. She’s Mr. Thornton’s assistant.”
Bud, making the obvious inference: “Sure. I hope you can spell, darling.”
Givin’ as good as she gets Jerilee: “D-a-r-l-i-n-g?”
More example of the famous “Bud” wit, as they discuss the lead actress’ difficulty with her lines:
Jerilee: “Have they shot the burial scene yet?”
Bud: “No. They’re thinking, and lunching. Then they’re going to shoot… her!”
Those crazy kids today, dancing to their wild Rock ‘n Roll, as represented by the fab lyrics of the smash hit “It’s Gonna be a Long Night”:
“It’s gonna be a Long Night (long, long, night),
Yeah, it’s gonna be one night
you’ll nev-va… forget (long night).
Said it’s gonna be a crazy night (cra-zy night!),
Oh, it’s gonna be a lo-ng night,
Yeah, it’s gonna be one night (one cra-zy night),
We learn that doctors in California really go the extra nine yards from this conversation between Jerilee’s mom and the family medic directly after her daughter’s horrible rape:
Mrs. Randall: “Do you want to see her again?”
Caring Doc: “Yes, in a few days…”
Jerilee proves herself a seer to rival the great Nostradamus himself….
Walter Thornton: “Tell me about your award.”
Jerilee: “Well, that really would bore you.”
Vinnie and Jerilee torture the audience visually with a montage of their date, while the soundtrack tortures us audibly with the lyrics of the rockin’ “Temperature Rising”:
“Think I’m on fire ’cause I’m burnin’ up!
Your flame has captured my soul!
You’ve got me wired, I can’t feel enough!
This Passion’s got to unfold!
Why am I so weak,
I can not see, havin’ lost my mi-ind!
Oh, my heart’s on fi-ire!
(Something, something)at my fingertips,
That look of love’s in your eyes,
I just can’t hide it as I stare at your lips!
I feel my temperature rise!”
Jerilee explains to the skeptical Guy why Vinnie can help her make her script:
Jerilee: “He knows a lot of people.”
Guy: “So does my garbage man!”
An agent warns Jerilee that she’d better accept George Ballantine if she wants her script to be filmed:
Tactful agent: “You’ve already had one abortion. Don’t make it two!”