Monday, 13 May 2013
Blu-ray review: The Telephone Book (1971)
Massage Parlor Murders!, the good people at Vinegar Syndrome have come up trumps again with their new Blu-ray release of obscure 1971 film The Telephone Book.
Not only that, there's appearances by Jill Clayburgh, Lucy Lee Flippin (Little House on the Prairie) who has one of the best, apparently ad-libbed, lines involving the unique use of a banana and William Hickey (the old Mafia Don in Prizzi's Honor) as a man who wakes with an erection that won't go down. There's also Arthur Haggerty (better known as dog trainer Captain Haggerty, and even better known to genre fans as the fat bald zombie on the boat at the beginning of Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters) as a district attorney giving a press conference about the perils of obscene phone calls.
Surprisingly, the film is not overly erotic, (despite their being plenty of flesh on display) but rather arty, and bursts from black and white to colour for the last ten minutes with the inclusion of some Robert Crumb style animation by Len Glasser. It was this animation that gained the film its X rating when it was released in 1971. The humour of the film is not as broad as the standard sex comedy, but there's plenty to enjoy.
Once Mr Smith is actually on the scene in his pig mask mid way through it does become a little talky but the frantic editing and bizarre situation keeps the interest. Sarah Kennedy, (not to be confused with the British one who appeared on Game For A Laugh) is a delight to watch and very likable, and went on to be a regular on Rowan & Martin's Laugh In and appeared with a young Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) in The Working Girls (1974).
The film struggled to get a distribution deal at first, being turned down by Hugh Heffner and all the major studios until it was picked up by Avco Embassy, who in a display of cold feet, put the film out under a false company name, Rosebud Releasing Corporation (the same name used to later distribute the unrated version of Evil Dead 2!)
Director Nelson Lyon would go on to be a writer for Saturday Night Live, and would end up being blacklisted from the industry for his involvement in the massive drug binge that killed John Belushi.
The disc contains an interesting, if a little off topic at times, commentary by producer Mervin Bloch, who also worked cutting trailers for some major films like Polanki's The Tenant and the Pacino movie Cruising.
If Vinegar Syndrome keep unearthing these 'lost' classics, our shelves will soon look like a massive homage to 42nd Street (well, even more than they do already). Keep them coming, is what I say. The Telephone Book is far from mainstream and that alone is a good enough reason to seek it out. The Blu-ray is region free, and it comes with a DVD copy too and looks better than a film this rare ever should.
If you like your sleaze to be a touch arty without being too pretentious , you should not hang up on this one.
7 out of 10