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Girl Gang/Pin-Down Girl (Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Picture, Vol. 11)
The feature attraction on the latest Blu-ray volume of the Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age Of The Exploitation Picture series from Kino Lorber and Something Weird Video (this would be volume eleven for those keeping track) features Robert C. Dertano's 1954 picture Girl Gang as its feature attraction.
Produced by exploitation titan George W. Weiss (the man who gave us the Olga films!), the story introduces us to Joe (Ed Wood regular Timothy Farrell), an ambitious drug dealer who has no qualms whatsoever about getting the local high school student populace hooked on the devil's weed and smack! Once he's got this kids under his sinister influence, he uses them to do all sorts of nefarious things, mostly stealing cars.
Joe's main squeeze is the lovely June (Joanne Arnold). She's a junkie with no sense of loyalty and we quickly learn that Joe isn't the only man around town sharing her bed. She's also pretty cunning. Cast in point, a scene where she comes on to her boss only to then to blackmail him into handing over some cash lest she squeal to the authorities that he raped her. In most ways, June is no better than Joe, and in some ways, she might be worse.
One night, after a party full of pot smoking and back door humping, a group of Joe's customers decide to rob a gas station. This results in a shootout after which the cops nab an injured kid who tells the cops where his friends have gone before he passes on. While this is going on, Joe and his assistant coerce a doctor to remove a bullet from one of the gals in the gang who got shot. This doctor sucks, and the girl dies. As June gets into a fight with another gang member, the gang members quickly realize that the cops are closing in and that their days might be numbered...
A movie fill of girls with pointy bras and tight sweaters trash talking each other and everyone else, Girl Gang might be light on plot and riddled with clichés but it's a pretty fun watch and briskly paced at just a few minutes past the one hour mark. Timothy Farrell does a great job as the heavy, playing his sleazy and manipulative character pretty effectively. He may not have been a great actor but he had a certain presence to him and he was just fun to watch, not just in this picture but in his endeavors with Ed Wood as well (those being Glen Or Glenda, Jail Bait and The Violent Years). Joanna Arnold is just as much fun to watch as his gal pal, throwing her weight around and basically treating everyone like garbage.
Dertano's direction isn't fancy but he paces the film pretty nicely despite a lengthy musical interlude that you probably won't see coming. The score is solid, if not particularly remarkable, and the cinematography is better than you'd probably expect it to be given the nature of the film and its obviously low budget. This must have been pretty salacious stuff in its day, as it is quite frank in its portrayal of drug use (parts of the movie feel like an instructional video on how to shoot heroin!) and while there isn't any real nudity in the film, there are some sexually charged moments and plenty of innuendos worked into this entertaining picture.
Girl Gang is presented by Kino and Something Weird Video in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and properly framed at 1.33.1. The sixty-three minute black and white feature takes up 14.2Gbs of space on the 50GB disc and was taken from a new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative. While some print damage is obvious at times, particularly a stretch in the first third where a scratch from the top to the bottom of the screen hangs out on the left side of the frame for a while, the transfer is more than watchable and at times quite nice. Detail can be impressive at times though contrast dos tend to fluctuate a bit from scene to scene. While it's important to keep expectations in check, given the age and obscurity of the film in question, this looks better than most will probably expect it to.
The film gets a 16-bit English language LPCM 2.0 Mono audio track. Audio quality is fine is limited by the original elements. Dialogue generally comes across fairly clean if a bit on the flat side. There are moments where you'll not be able to help but notice some minor hiss and occasional sibilance. Optional English subtitles are provided.
The first extra on the disc is a commentary from film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. She's upfront about the fact that a lot of her work focuses on gender politics and that that will be a subject she covers here, she also goes over how the film ties into other juvenile delinquent and drug scare films. She also covers how the film connects to the work of Ed Wood, the importance of Timothy Farrell's work in this picture, details on producer George Weiss' career, information on Robert C. Dertano's career and her appreciation of William C. Thompson's cinematography on the film. She also goes over how the film was marketed very much as a juvenile delinquent film, the sexualization of the 'bad girls doing bad things' in the film, the popularity of depicting marijuana use as a gateway drug in exploitation films of this era, how the characters exist only for spectacle without any thought towards characterization or depth, the weirdness of placing a musical interlude just past the half way mark in the picture and how it contrasts with sexual violence that comes and lots more. Interesting stuff.
The disc also includes a second feature, Pin-Down Girl, from 1951. Also known as The Blonde Pick-Up and Racket Girls, this film was once again directed by Robert C. Dertano. Originally included on Something Weird Video's Wrestling Women U.S.A.! DVD, the story this time revolves around Umberto Scalli (Timothy Farrell again), a sleazy mobster who works as a manager of a group of female wrestlers. This is really just a ruse, as he makes his big money not booking wrestling matches for his clients, but with various forms of sin and vice! If he isn't working over the books he's peddling dope or selling skin to anyone keen to handover some money. The latest addition to Scalli's stable of lady wrestlers is Peaches Page (played by… Peaches Page), a rough and tumble looker who puzzlingly falls for the grimy mug.
Like most gangsters, Scalli makes a few wrong steps and soon enough finds himself in the hole to one Mr. Big (Phil Bernard) for a cool thirty-five grand. Mr. Big, as you can imagine, isn't one to let his debtors off easy when they don't pay, but Scalli finds his troubles compounded when the cops start closing in on him at the same time!
Pin-Down Girl is goofy stuff, padded by plenty of footage of Peaches Page doing her thing in the ring alongside other real-life female wrestlers like Clara Mortensen and Rita Martinez, but it's pretty entertaining, especially if you can appreciate Farrell's acting style here. The guy had a knack for playing sleazy weirdos and like the feature attraction on this disc, this second feature once again gives him a good opportunity to do just that. The various female wrestlers that co-star in the movie aren't necessarily the world's greatest actresses but it's fun to watch them try here and they handle themselves just fine in the wrestling scenes. Dertano's pacing is solid and if the cinematography won't floor you, the movie is fairly well shot.
This one looks a bit rougher than the feature attraction but the AVC encoded 1080p presentation, framed at 1.33.1, has been scanned in 2k from a 35mm re-release version using the alternate title of The Blonde Pick-Up. Taking up 12GBs of space on the disc, it shows decent detail but has a bit more print damage at times than you might hope. If it isn't pristine, however, it looks decent enough with solid detail. The 16-bit LPCM 2.0 Mono track, in English, also comes with removable English subtitles.
Pin-Down Girl is available with a commentary track from Eric Schaefer, the author of Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!. He notes what makes this film stand out from other exploitation movies made around the same time but not fitting into one of the typical categories. He then explains how George Weiss came to produce the film, Timothy Farrell's presence in this picture, the movie's connections to 1953's Dance Hall Girls (written by Lenny Bruce) and Girl Gang. He offers up some information on Peaches Page, alternate versions that exist (and some that might not exist) for this picture, how there may be some mild nudity trimmed from the elements used for this presentation, the film's release history, thoughts on the different characters that pop up in the movie, the use of wrestling footage in the film, Dertano's work as a journeyman director and his own correspondence with the director before he passed away.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are trailers for Pin-Down Girl, The Blonde Pick-Up, Racket Girls and Test Tube Babies as well as menus and chapter selection options.
Kino's Blu-ray release of Girl-Gang/Pin-Down Girl is a good one, possibly the most entertaining release from the Forbidden Fruit series to date. While the presentations aren't perfect and they do show their age, overall they look quite good and the two commentary tracks offer some welcome background information and analysis. 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.