Monday, November 07, 2011

Guest Review: ALEX JOSEPH AND HIS WIVES (1977)

It's an honor and a privilege to have former Variety reporter/editor Lawrence Cohn with us today for this very special installment of Guest Reviews.  Readers unfamiliar with "Lor" are urged to delve into the volumes of Variety Film Reviews for the years when he was venturing into the roughest, toughest New York-area theaters to 
review down 'n' dirty flicks like SHOCKING CANNIBALS, BLIND RAGE, BLOOD WATERS OF DR. Z, CEMETERIO DEL TERROR, MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING, MONSTER SHARK, TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM, LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO, and CHESTY ANDERSON, US NAVY for the weekly industry trade paper.  Here he is with a new review of the
Ted V. Mikels polygamy propaganda pic...

  
Alex Joseph and
His Wives
(COLOR)
__________

Stillborn portrait of a free spirit.
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An American Republic Pictures Corp. release of a William Edward Thrush production. Executive producer, Thrush. Produced and directed by Ted V. Mikels. Screenplay, Thrush, Alex Joseph, Mikels; camera (Movelab color), Nickolas Von Sternberg; editor, Mikels; music, Nicholas Carras; production manager, John Curran. Reviewed on Shocking Videos DVD-R, N.Y., November 1, 2011. (No MPAA rating). Running time: 100 MINS.
Nora Grady................................................Undein Hampton
Sheriff Skinner........................................Noble “Kid” Chissell
F.D.A. Man, Perkins.....................................Tommy Simmons
F.B.I. Man, Wood..........................................Beau Billingslea
Motel Manager............................................Stuart Lancaster
Bobby Grey Fox.............................................Billy White Bird
Bar Troublemaker...........................................Patrick Wright
Car Rental Agent...........................................George Costello
Assassin....................................................Steve Blackmore
Special appearances: Danny Scholl, Edmon Kaiser, Jim Gillings
Also with: Alex Joseph and his wives (Dale, Margaret, Leslie, Lorraine, Carmen, Joanie, Pamela, Judy, Paulette, Melinda, Kitty, Carla) and Pius Whirlwind Soldier
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Ted V. Mikels’ loyal following of admirers who enjoy his horror and action films might be a bit puzzled at this rather flat biopic of one Alex Joseph, a polygamist and libertarian whose heyday was over 3 decades ago. Since Mikels shares Joseph’s fondness for the harem-lifestyle it was a natural project but emerges as propaganda rather than entertainment.

Because Joseph stars as himself and contributed to the screenplay (with Mikels and the film’s exec producer/instigator William Thrush), we’re treated to a typical ego trip. The wives (over a dozen) play themselves and are all attractive, though without acting skills. Mikels began his career with sexploitation pictures but this project emerges squeaky clean.

Alex’s run-ins with the government are depicted in mainly tongue-in-cheek terms. He’s the heroic outsider with a familiar “don’t tread on me” philosophy, and the minions of Order are buffoons, notably an FDA inspector trying in vain to meet up with Alex and inspect his ginseng health food operations. Paralleling many a latter-day reactionary right up through the Tea Party Movement, Joseph takes an extreme stance, belittling the state’s failed attempts to collect sales tax at the diner he owns, for example.

Mikels employs several actors to supplement the real-life protagonists, including soft porn talent like Stu Lancaster, wasted as a local motel manager delivering some exposition, and Patrick Wright, typecast as a male chauvinist barfly with rape on his mind.

Worst casting choice is the unappealing Undine Hampton in the key role of Nora Grady, a British journalist for a women’s magazine, interviewing Alex and his ménage. She doesn’t even try for any sort of British accent, and is mannishly styled, with clear lesbian tendencies. Ultimately she is merely a mouthpiece/structural peg in order to feed the viewer information about the goofy Alex Joseph. Film’s climax is a “surprise” marriage, and I was hoping that it would be hers (illogical as that would be), but no such luck.

Film’s nadir is reached when Joseph attends a Constitutionalist convention of like-minded nutcases, who each get up and mount their particular soapbox to rant about how our government crushes free spirits. If they had included people like David Koresh, Charles Manson (I couldn’t resist name-dropping him) or Jim Jones it might have held some historical interest, but these folks, like Alex, are minor league cranks whose nutsy world views are not even interesting enough to make the cut in some Mondo documentary.

Major subplot has to do with Joseph’s many Native American friends, who naturally share with him a dislike of the U.S. government for so often mistreating them and their forebears over the centuries. I was far more interested in their problems than those of our self-appointed Major Domo Alex, further detracting from the film’s intended impact.

Occasional comic relief is clumsy, notably Alex’s “funny” racism regarding a Black FBI agent on his case, or his sitting there reading Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book in an idle moment.

My take on Joseph, who is comically described in the end credit crawl as being in Hollywood working on movie projects (no takers after this fiasco, however), is unclear, since he obviously has enough charisma to win over a couple of dozen young women to the point of mindless adoration (end credits indicate that many of his wives are separated, however, by May '77) yet comes off onscreen as a big nothing. The communal life style depicted here was the rage in the ‘60s and still of minor interest today, but Joseph’s polygamous version, defended earnestly by the wives, is boring and strictly self-aggrandizing. - Lor.

1 comment:

Marty McKee said...

IIRC, I bought VARIETY'S COMPLETE SCIENCE FICTION REVIEWS on eBay from Lor back in the 1990s.