The Devil’s Sleep (1949)
Directed by W. Merle Connell
The men who brought you the sexploitation classic Test Tube Babies (1948) are at it again.
In The Devil’s Sleep, producer George Weiss and director W. Merle Connell expose the shocking truth about “reds” and “bennies” (a.k.a. Seconal and Benzedrine). Namely, that they’re being peddled out of swank health clubs to unwitting overweight middle-aged women who want to “reduce,” as well as to bored teenagers looking for kicks.
Bennies might have been great for keeping soldiers and aviators alert and awake during World War II, but we don’t want them on the tree-lined streets of our idyllic suburban neighborhoods, gosh darn it!
Timothy Farrell plays the mustachioed owner of the health club, Umberto Scalli, and William Thomason plays Detective Sergeant Dave Kerrigan, the man who’s warm on his trail.
If you’ve seen Test Tube Babies you may remember Thomason as the husband with the malfunctioning semen.
Timothy Farrell should be immediately recognizable to aficionados of bad movies. He got his start in Test Tube Babies and went on to a long and semi-illustrious career. He played the “Umberto Scalli” character in two more exploitation movies, Racket Girls (1951) and Dance Hall Racket (1953). Farrell also narrated legendarily bad filmmaker Ed Wood’s first movie, Glen or Glenda (1953), and appeared in it as a doctor.
Both Test Tube Babies and The Devil’s Sleep are awful movies, but they’re amusingly awful. Both use their “social message” aspect as an excuse for lots of scantily clad ladies and brief nudity. The Devil’s Sleep one-ups Test Tube Babies in this department, because it uses its health-club setting to also show off lots of male eye candy, most notably Mr. America 1948, George Eiferman.
The Devil’s Sleep is currently available in its entirety on YouTube. You can also download it from archive.org.
Street Corner (1948)
Directed by Albert H. Kelley
Wilshire Pictures Corp.
Street Corner is one of several “sex hygiene” films that followed in the wake of Kroger Babb’s notorious roadshow presentation Mom and Dad (1945) and attempted to copy its phenomenal success.
Like all exploitation movies from the 1940s, Street Corner had to demonstrate some kind of legitimate educational value in order to show lurid footage that could never make it into mainstream Hollywood entertainment, like syphilitic penises and close-up footage of babies being born.
Street Corner does a much better job of walking this line than a trashy picture like Test Tube Babies (1948). Its call for facts-based sex education for young people is a noble one, although the film is in every way a product of its time.
Dr. James Fenton (played by Joseph Crehan) narrates the film, telling the sad tale of his friends Mr. and Mrs. Marsh (Don Brodie and Jean Fenwick), who didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to prepare their daughter Lois (Marcia Mae Jones) for the realities of grown-up life. Clara Marsh tells Dr. Fenton that Lois is a very sensitive girl and that she’d be shocked. She’ll learn about the birds and the bees “somehow.” Somehow is right, says the doctor, who warns Mr. and Mrs. Marsh that if children aren’t given proper sex education they’ll learn about it on “the street corner” or in “the alley.”
Lois Marsh is 17 years old when she ambivalently loses her virginity to her 19-year-old boyfriend Bob Mason (John Treul) on prom night. He gets her with the old “I’m going to college and this’ll be our last date in a long, long time” routine. The director of Street Corner, Albert H. Kelley, shows that he knows how to wield symbolism as a blunt object by depicting Lois having sex for the first time with a close-up shot of her hand slowly crushing her corsage. (Wink wink.)
Naturally, since this is a sex hygiene film, one night of knocking boots knocks up poor Lois. Her clueless parents offer no help. Her boyfriend rushes back from college to marry her, but he winds up a smear on the highway, and Lois winds up in the hands of the local abortionist (Gretl Dupont).
Lois’s visit to the abortionist is shot and scored like a horror movie. Unlike Vera Drake, this abortionist takes payment and doesn’t seem to care very much about the young women in her care.
Dr. Fenton’s voice-over drives home the horror: “Fear and ignorance have combined to add another victim to the ever-mounting toll. Another human life has been destroyed by one of the most malignant practices of a civilized society; abortion.”
People who bought tickets to Street Corner had to wait nearly an hour to see Dr. Fenton’s “clinical demonstration,” his regular weekly clinic of sex education that features explicit short films. The first is The Miracle of Birth, which begins with an animation of an egg being released into the female organs of reproduction, then being fertilized by a lone sperm. Eventually this leads to what Dr. Fenton calls “the ultimate and crowning glory of womanhood, the miracle of birth,” which takes place while the mother is asleep under a light anesthetic. We get to see a baby boy coaxed out of a vagina and then see his umbilical cord cut.
The next film is Birth by Caesarean Section, which I’m sure satisfied any budding gore-hounds in the audience while sickening everyone else.
Then we get Human Wreckage, a film about venereal disease that explains the importance of blood tests before marriage, followed by a series of graphic close-ups of male and female genitals infected with syphilis and gonorrhea, which are meant to caution viewers against neglect, self-treatment, and quack medicine.
Street Corner was made long before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was still illegal in America. Dr. Fenton makes no bones about calling abortion “murder.” And of course there is no mention of any kind of birth control in the film. Apparently just knowing that it isn’t the stork that brings babies will be enough to stop girls from getting green-gowned and knocked up after the prom.
Test Tube Babies (1948)
Directed by W. Merle Connell
W. Merle Connell’s Test Tube Babies premiered in San Francisco on April 9, 1948. Then it went on a road show tour of the U.S., and if it happened to be banned in your state you could just drive over to the next state to watch it (see the newspaper ad below). Like most exploitation films, Test Tube Babies was reissued under a variety of titles over the years, including Sins of Love, Blessed Are They, and a longer, recut version called The Pill in 1967.
Also firmly in the exploitation tradition, Test Tube Babies is a train wreck of two very different films. One is a woodenly acted informational film about artificial insemination and the other is a woodenly acted drama about a less-than-perfectly-happy young married couple whose friends are all drunks and swingers.
That young couple are George and Cathy Bennett (William Thomason and Dorothy Duke), and the lack of children in their marriage after the eternity of 12 months is causing them great unhappiness. George isn’t happy that Cathy spends time with the sleazy gigolo Frank Grover (John Michael), and she isn’t happy with all of the wild parties they keep having. But without children, what’s there to do but host swinging make-out parties?
These wild parties consist of a hot record on the phonograph, plenty of drinks, women undressing after gin spills all over them, and men yelling things like “Show ’em how they dance in the burlesque houses!”
There’s a good amount of stripping and undressing in Test Tube Babies, but most of it is fairly discreet. The only actual nudity I spotted occurred during a cat fight that begins with the line “Why you cheap tramp!” and ends with the bleached blonde Mary Lou Reckow rolling around on the floor with another actress and losing her top.
After that fight, George and Cathy vow to never throw another party like THAT again. Cathy tells George they need a family. He agrees. This conversation occurs after the movie is already more than half over, and it’s the first time in Test Tube Babies that they talk about going to see an obstetrician or gynecologist (which they can’t pronounce).
The obstetrician, Dr. Wright, is played by legendary non-actor Timothy Farrell, who worked as a bailiff in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department while acting part time. Farrell is probably best remembered today as the narrator of Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda (1953), in which he also appeared as the doctor. Unlike Thomason and Duke, Farrell is able to correctly pronounce “gynecologist,” but I did find it weird the way he kept saying “sperms.”
Test Tube Babies was produced and presented by George Weiss, who would go on to have a long career presenting Z-grade exploitation and sexploitation films dressed up as informational documentaries to circumvent Hollywood production codes. His films include timeless classics like W. Merle Connell’s The Devil’s Sleep (1949), Lillian Hunt’s Too Hot to Handle (1950), Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda (1953), Robert C. Dertano’s Girl Gang (1954), Maurice H. Zouary’s Nudist Life (1961), Joseph P. Mawra’s Olga’s House of Shame and White Slaves of Chinatown (both 1964), and many, many more.