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Tag Archives: Screen Classics

The Devil’s Sleep (May 18, 1949)

The Devil's Sleep
The Devil’s Sleep (1949)
Directed by W. Merle Connell
Screen Classics

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.

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Test Tube Babies (April 9, 1948)

Test Tube Babies
Test Tube Babies (1948)
Directed by W. Merle Connell
Screen Classics

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.