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Toys Are Not For Children
Jamie Godard (Maria Forbes) is, in the eyes of those around her, an odd young woman. Some might say she's immature or stunted in her growth. She works in a toy store and really, really enjoys her work but so too does she have an odd obsession with her absentee father. Given that he left her a bunch of toys before he left, maybe there's a connection. Her mother Edna (Fran Warren) doesn't help matters, constantly reminding her daughter what a louse her father was and knocking him down every chance she gets. Or maybe Jamie is just broken. Either way, eventually Jamie and co-worker Charlie Belmond (Harlan Cary Poe) and, around the same time, she strikes up a friendship with a hooker named Pearl Valdi (Evelyn Kingsley). Interestingly enough, Jamie's wayward father had a thing for prostitutes and Pearl just might know where he is.
Soon enough, however, Jamie and Charlie tie the knot but it isn't long before Jamie needs something more and Charlie is put off by her inability to ‘seal the deal' after which he starts drinking and cavorting about with women of loose moral standing. Inspired by Pearl, she starts turning tricks on the mean streets of seventies New York City hoping to fill the void her marriage to Charlie cannot. Jamie quickly garners a reputation amongst the local johns for her specialty, and that's catering to older men who have no qualms whatsoever about taking advantage of her ‘daddy issues.' After a bit of this, Jamie learns what happened to her old man and sets a plan into motion that will allow for her to meet up with him for the first time in years.
What could go wrong?
Not the sexy exploitation picture that the film's original advertising campaign might have led you to believe, Toys Are Not For Children is a dark and fairly twisted character study. Yeah, fine, there's some nudity here but it's tame. The real focus of the picture is on Jamie and her issues, and while Ms. Forbes is certainly a pretty enough actress and her character does wind up in some rather precarious situations (including one early in the film where we see first-hand how much she really, really loves toys!), the movie doesn't seem all that interested in titillating its audience so much as it does unnerving them. The script, by one Macs McAree, takes some truly unexpected twists and turns during the movie's eighty-five-minute running time, and if parts of it seem predictable or almost inevitable, other parts of it most certainly do not.
Marcia Forbes doesn't appear to have ever acted outside of this one feature film, and that's a shame. She brings a very believable childlike naivety to the part that goes a really long way towards making this one work. She's pretty credible here, infusing Jamie will enough character and quirk to really pull it off. Harlan Cary Poe, who has a small part in Taxi Driver as one of the campaign workers in the film but who had bigger parts in Stigma and The Yum Yum Girls, is decent enough as her husband. As his character's arc starts to shift, his performances accommodates this rather well. Fran Warren plays Jamie's shrew of a mother perfectly while Evelyn Kingsley is decent enough as the hooker who sets so much of this off.
Although the movie was clearly made on a low budget, it's got a pretty effective atmosphere. This isn't feel good material at all, it takes us to some dark places, but it's got some great seventies-era New York footage that give the film some ‘time capsule' appeal as well.
Toys Are Not For Children arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.78.1 widescreen transfer taken from a new 2k restoration of ‘original film elements.' This provides quite a nice upgrade over the DVD release that came out via Something Weird Video back in 2003 as part of a double feature with The Toy Box. The color timing is much more consistent here, flesh tones look better and we get stronger black levels as well. Detail is noticeably improved, as you'd expect, and there's noticeably better depth and texture here too. The image retains the expected amount of film grain, which helps to accentuate the film's gritty, seedy aesthetic, and the transfer is free of any noticeable compression artifacts or edge enhancement released issues. Some print damage is noticeable here and there but overall the image is pretty clean.
The LPCM Mono track, in the film's native English, is also fine. Optional English subtitles are provided. Range is limited and there's some flatness in the source but dialogue stays clear enough and the levels are well-balanced.
An audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain starts off the extra features and it delivers as much, if not more, interpretation of the film as it does facts and figures. They detail the way that the film shifts between an art film and an exploitation film, offer up some thoughts on the directing employed in the film, spend quite a bit of time discussing the performances, especially the work done by Marcia Forbes in the lead, as well as some of the supporting players.
Up next, check out the twenty-five-minute Fragments of Stanley Brasloff featurette, which is a newly-filmed appreciation of the film courtesy of Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower. In this piece, Thrower details the life and times of Brasloff, talking about how he worked as a live entertainer before getting the filmmaking bug, pumping out a picture called Two Girls For A Madam and then Toys Are Not For Children before bowing out of the industry. As is typical of Thrower's work, this piece is very well-researched and quite interesting. Dirty Dolls: Femininity, Perversion And Play is a new video essay by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Given that Heller-Nicholas specializes in "gender, genre, representations of sexual violence, cult and horror film, and women's filmmaking" according to her website, she's a good choice to deliver this twenty-three-minute piece. She talks about the connections that Toys Are Not For Children has to some other films, discusses the feminine side of the film and its lead character and more.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film's original theme song, Lonely Am I (sung by T.L. Davis and ‘newly transferred from the original 45-RPM vinyl single') alongside the original theatrical trailer. Menus and chapter selection are also provided.
Arrow has also provided some reversible cover art as well as, for the first pressing, a full color insert booklet that contains credits for the feature and the Blu-ray release, some notes on the presentation and an essay on the film from Vanity Celis.
Toys Are Not For Children is grim stuff, but it's well-done and quite effective. Arrow has done a nice job bringing this twisted little gem to Blu-ray, with a transfer that offers a big improvement over what's come before and some decent extras as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.