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I'd like to think that when Melissa Leo won the Academy Award this year for her supporting work in "The Fighter," she was thinking, "Gee, the only thing that could make 2011 sweeter would be the hasty DVD release of a 1984 exploitation film I did for Roger Corman when I was brand new to the business." Melissa Leo, I have wonderful news for you.
Fresh out of an abusive home with little brother Tim (Randall Batinkoff, in his film debut), Cookie (Melissa Leo) is a frightened teen girl with nowhere to go. Offering her a new life is pimp Duke (Dale Midkiff, also making his debut), a vicious man who Cookie attaches herself to, taking to the streets as instructed, turning tricks for money. When Duke's wrath kills a fellow prostitute, Cookie is ready to escape, hoping to land a new urban agent in Jason (Leon), leaving the rabid pimp in a hurry to find his former employee and kill her to set an example for the grim street community of crooks, junkies, johns, and hookers.
"Streetwalkin'" has all the earmarks of an exploitation classic, establishing a harsh world for a dewy high school dropout unaware of the cruelties of life, facing an abusive pimp and a sexual underworld of kinks and kooks. Though it tangles with unsavory (and wildly entertaining) elements, director/co-writer Joan Freeman ("Satisfaction") is more interested in the frayed ends of survival, losing the folds of perversion to manufacture a straightforward tale of escape, though it's interesting to see Cookie forever trapped in a cycle of mistreatment, hoping to ditch one pimp for another.
With a handful of police officers credited as advisors, "Streetwalkin'" investigates the prostitute experience, observing Cookie as she prowls the concrete jungle, populated with addicts (Greg Germann) and porn theaters, hoping to squirrel away enough money to stand on her own two feet, desperate to keep Tim on the right track of behavior. Freeman keeps the proceedings gritty, but her scope is limited by traditional Corman frugality, permitting few outdoor encounters, while padding the film with extended appearances from supporting characters (Antonio Fargas shows up as a rival pimp, Julie Newmar plays a fellow street walker), prostitute vignettes, and overlong scenes of Duke feverishly pounding on people and trashing rooms.
There's actually very little plot here to sustain 80 minutes of screentime, with much of "Streetwalkin'" feeling slack and disinterested, despite a few ambitious moments of psychological study that reveal unrealized depth to the material. Freeman seems to be fighting to make a statement, while the Corman DNA of the feature assumes command, displaying sadistic behavior and rough encounters.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation is more admirable than exceptional. Street life retains satisfactory colors and depth, though it's a soft image, not always terrific with textures. Print damage is consistent throughout the viewing experience, along with some flicker issues. Skintones look relatively natural, while black levels lose their support during some of the darker events. Considering the obscurity of the picture, it's a fine DVD, doing the best it can with iffy elements and limited interest.
The 2.0 Dolby Digital sound mix is a tinny track, offering pinched dialogue exchanges and shrill soundtrack cuts. There are also pronounced hiss and pops throughout the listening experience. The action is frontal and direct, but there's little to no weight or dimension. It's not an impressive DVD event, but, to be fair (or imaginative), the strangled audio presentation likely captures the true theatrical experience of the picture.
There are no subtitles
The feature-length audio commentary with co-writer/director Joan Freeman and producer Robert Alden is a rather rich exploration of the filmmaking process, with the duo sharing investigative efforts where they interviewed cops and hookers, hoping to infuse as much realism into the picture as possible. The twosome does a fine job communicating the challenges of a Corman production, struggling with night shoots and the demands of nudity, also delving into the casting triumphs and thespian preparation. It's an informative listen, perhaps too honest at times (Alden is quickly cut off when he begins discussing the firing of a supporting actress), providing needed explanation for such a little known picture.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
The star of the show is Leo, and she's acceptable as the corrupted innocent. With multiple nude scenes and opportunities to cry on camera, the performance delivers as intended, though she never gets a true moment to shine. Admittedly, it's difficult to compete with the details of urban decay, yet the actress cuts a striking figure of tainted virtue, swatting away the monotony of "Streewalkin'" for a few brief moments. Fans of the powerhouse actress should have a blast discovering this lost picture. It's a film I'm sure Melissa Leo didn't want found.