Co-directed by Carlo Lizzani and Mino Giarda, 1975's The Teenage Prostitution Racket is a bit of an odd duck, mixing poliziotteschi-style cop trappings with a mixture of mondo and expose movie clichés resulting in a film that is a bit of a mess. If you're into oddball Italian genre pictures, it's admittedly quite an interesting mess but a mess nevertheless.
There isn't so much a story here as there is a series of set pieces, all of which revolve around what was reportedly a very real problem with underage prostitution in Milan in the early seventies. As the movie plays out we see a few vignettes that attempt to take us deeper into this problem. First, a woman and her underage daughter hitchhike from one location to the next where the younger of the two is sold to truck drivers. From there, a teenaged orphan girl moves to Milan to work for her cousin only to be talked into working as a prostitute by a pimp who promises to eventually get her off the streets and make her his wife. From there, a chaste young woman from an upper-class family is conned into being photographed in her birthday suit at a party only to be blackmailed into becoming a prostitute that services her clients technically losing her virginity! Before it's all over, we meet a girl who decides she wants to live and work as a prostitute in order to teacher her father a lesson, only to learn that he himself has a taste for jailbait streetwalkers, and yet another prostitute will turn to lesbianism after learning to hate men.
The girls employed to play these parts are all, thankfully, of legal age to do so but look young enough to kinda-maybe-sort-of give you the impression that they're not, which would seem to be the film's intended hook. It purports to take a serious look at the issue of teenage prostitution but it really does no such thing and instead simply shows of one exploitative and nudity-laden set piece after the next. The stories sort of tie together but there's a pretty big disconnect here in terms of what the filmmakers may have been trying to do and what they actually accomplished (particularly when you consider an alternate version of the film was prepared with hardcore material cut into it).
Having said that, if you don't mind the sleazy and grimy feel of all of this, The Teenage Prostitution Racket is at least an interesting movie. The film gets credit for not glamorizing the life of an underage streetwalker, these girls go through a lot and when that happens we do feel for them. These sequences are realistic enough to work, this isn't Pretty Woman or anything like that. You could compare them to the insanely popular German Schulmachen-Report/Schoolgirl Report film series but with a few rare exceptions the vignettes that make up those films are breezy, light, sexy fun. Here Lizzani and Giarda definitely take a harder edged, grittier approach even if structurally this film has a lot in common with that series.
The movie exists in a bit of a catch 22: it's not sexy or fun enough to work as an enjoyable sex romp, but it's too blatantly exploitative to work as a serious take on the material. It does do a nice job of showing of mid-seventies Milan. Had this gone a bit more in-depth and focused more on the effects of prostitution on its character and focused less on letting the audience ogle them in various sexual predicaments it probably would have worked better than it does. That didn't happen and as such, this is interesting more as a curiosity item than anything else.The Blu-ray
Raro Video brings the film to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen transfer in 1080p high definition. While the image is quite clean and free of all but minor print damage, it's also waxy, soft and flat looking thanks to a whole lot of obvious digital noise reduction scrubbing away the grain, and with it, the detail. There are also minor compression artifacts to go along with this. Colors look a bit off in spots as well. It's watchable if you know what you're getting into but there's a whole lot of room left for improvement here.Sound:
The English language LPCM Mono track sounds okay for what it is. Dialogue is clean and clear and levels are properly balanced. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to note. It's not a particular remarkable track but it suits the tone of the movie well enough and seems true to source.Extras:
Aside from a still gallery and a few minutes of extra footage (some of which is explicit) intended for an alternate version of the movie, the main extra on the disc is a featurette called Baby Prostitute in which Lizzani and Mino Giarda discuss the origin of the picture, where they came up with the ideas for the film, shooting on location in the city of Milan, the importance of properly casting the film and a fair bit more. It's quite an interesting look at the making of the movie, as misguided as it might all have been in terms of how the finished production turned out.Final Thoughts:
The Teenage Prostitution Racket tries to be an ‘expose' of sorts but whatever layer it pulls back on the Italian society of its day is quickly corroded by sleazy set pieces and gratuitous exploitation. Having said that, if you're in the mood for sleazy set pieces and gratuitous exploitation, it is at least an interesting film if not necessarily a very good one. Fans of obscure Italian genre pictures and poliziotteschi pictures will find it interesting but Raro's presentation is once again saddled with a crummy transfer. Rent it.