Back in March of this year, I was fortunate to have chatted at great length with one of my favorite actresses of my youth, Mary Woronov, for an interview that I conducted for Forces Of Geek to help promote her appearance at a screening at The Cinefamily here in Los Angeles of the uproariously funny, 1982 dark comedy that Mary starred in and Paul Bartel directed, Eating Raoul. If you’ve never seen Eating Raoul, I highly recommend an immediate viewing; it is an outrageously funny, last nail in the coffin of the 1970s swinger scene in Los Angeles as its plot revolves around an exceedingly straight couple, played to eerie 1950s perfection by Bartel and Woronov, who pose as swingers to rob and kill oversexed deviants for the cash they bring as payment for a promise of fetishistic pleasure.
The midnight screening of Eating Raoul drew a full house, which seemed to surprise Mary and her costars from the film who were also in attendance, Robert Beltran and Susan Saiger, who were visibly touched that so many people came out to this old film that they viewed as more of a lark when they starred in it over thirty years ago. I, for one, was not so surprised, as I still find the film as funny and as audacious as I did when I watched it for the first time in the dorm room of my friend Ian Koss during our freshman year of college back in 1986 when we were forced to reside in a sub-leased hall at Emmanuel, a Boston-area all-girl Catholic college (it sounds cheekier than it was). I have always been indebted to Ian for picking that film out of the video store rental racks from a shop in the school’s neighborhood, the Fenway, which was, at the time, a predominantly LGBT area in Boston (again, sounds more daring than it was, but it oddly fit the film that we were watching). OK, I will say that the location of our 1986 screening made watching the film a better overall experience (Catholic guilt kicked in there), but it was the pairing of Bartel and Woronov that made it a movie that I will always turn to when I am feeling a bit off.
From my conversation with Mary earlier this year, there were a few surprises that came up whenever I mentioned her multiple collaborations with Paul Bartel. Most surprising was her hatred for a film of theirs that I have always loved, the Mazursky-esque 1989 film, Scenes From The Class Struggle In Beverly Hills, which Mary loathed due to Bartel’s desire to make a more “serious” film with no improvisation, and her love of their 1976 Roger Corman/exploitation film send-up, Hollywood Boulevard, that was co-directed by Joe Dante of Gremlins fame and Allan Arkush, who would later direct Mary and Paul in the classic Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. I was surprised by this opinion from Mary, as even though I love both her and Bartel, I had never heard of this film, but based on her effusive review, I quickly hunted down a copy.
The backstory for Hollywood Boulevard is nutty, even by Roger Corman standards… Producer Jon Davison wagered Corman that he could create the least expensive movie in the history of Corman’s New World Pictures. Corman gave Davison ten days to shoot this magnum opus and a budget of sixty thousand, which, again, is low for even mid-1970s Corman standards. As per usual in the Roger Corman factory, young talent who were already working for Roger and who were eager to direct something with any budget were brought in to helm the film. In this case, Allan Arkush and Joe Dante were tabbed for the honor of assembling a narrative from clips of New World’s previous exploitation films and whatever acting they could get out of a cast in the aforementioned time period allotted.
Our film opens when a stunt woman is killed after her parachute fails to open much to the disaffected dismay of Miracle Pictures director, Eric Von Leppe (Paul Bartel). If they are going to finish this movie, they are going to need a new stunt woman and quick. We soon meet the buxom Candy Wednesday (Candice Rialson), who has just landed in Los Angeles in the hopes of making it as a actress, and like a true exploitation thespian, Candy meets her up to no good agent Walter Paisley (the eternally shifty Dick Miller), who signs her up to replace the recently squashed stunt woman for his friends at Miracle Pictures. It’s the classic Hollywood story you’ve come to love with the bonus sleaziness of a 1970s Roger Corman production.
Candy takes to her new role as a daring stunt woman and makes friends with her fellow starlet, Jill (Tara Strohmeier) and the screenwriter Pat (Jeffrey Kramer), but Mary (Mary Woronov), the grand dame at Miracle, isn’t too happy with the way that Candy is quickly fitting into her role and becomes quite threatened. Despite the tension from Mary, the crew is off to the Philippines to shoot Machete Maidens of Mora Tau with the help of a lot of footage from previous Corman films with bigger budgets to add that certain something, but the production takes its toll as Jill is shot in the stomach. No matter, the show must go on, and they wrap this classic and head home, where they attend the premiere of their new film at a local drive-in theater. The night turns into disappointment when Candy finally realizes that she isn’t making the next Citizen Kane as she is horribly disgusted at what she sees, but she still stays with the company, even though it soon becomes clear that someone else is also not too happy with Miracle Pictures as some other foul play wreaks havoc on the set of the next film, sending everyone into a panic while they continue to work diligently to finish the film.
You almost have to invoke the Tarantino “Grindhouse” rule when watching Hollywood Boulevard, meaning that when you are making a movie that emulates something that is inherently flawed, you have the a lot of latitude in making it as messy as you want and believe me, Hollywood Boulevard is messy as it parodies the shambolic New World universe, but it is really the stars who carry you through the film. Dick Miller plays Walter Paisley as a wonderfully sweet sleaze, a kind of affectionate uncle who appears to means well, but might “accidentally” grab your friend’s ass when he is saying goodbye. Paul Bartel as the pompous director and Mary Woronov as the psychotic lead actress steal the film away , as they do in many a Corman production with their wit and larger than life presence, from the supremely adorable but bland lead character. Mary’s performance as the villainous soon to be forgotten starlet in Hollywood Boulevard recalls the absurdity and expressiveness of her role as Calamity Jane in Death Race 2000, overshadowing many of the other performances because Mary is just too entertaining in her caricature of the maniacal actress taken to the extreme. Candice Rialson does the most with her role as Candy, but, again, invoking the “Grindhouse” rule, she is, like most leads in an exploitation film, a lovely woman for you to put in the middle of the poster to sell more tickets.
Original Trailer for Hollywood Boulevard
During our interview, Mary brought up Hollywood Boulevard to exemplify the comedic talents of her late friend, Paul Bartel, who she claims was one of the funniest people whom she has ever met. As the audacious director of slop in the film, Bartel delivers every line of ridiculousness with deliberateness and the slightest touch of surprise; Bartel knows what he is saying is absurd, and he says it with contradictory seriousness and humor. A man who could improvise brilliantly at the drop of a hat to make anyone in the room burst out with laughter, Bartel proves that here and in the countless films that he and Mary starred in together for years to come, and although Hollywood Boulevard may be purposefully or accidentally rough around the edges, I am still glad that I gave it a watch. Thanks Mary.