Thursday, 14 February 2013 09:33

My Favorite Movies: The R-Rated One From 1976 Starring Connie Stevens

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My daughter is 13 and still likes to watch My Little Pony cartoons. When I was her age, I was obsessed with seeing R-rated movies. This was before VHS tapes so I couldn’t just pop one in at home. My dad was pretty cool about taking me to see them at the theater. I remember we saw THE FRENCH CONNECTION when I was 9 but I just couldn’t get enough of the forbidden sex and violence. On Saturday afternoons when I was 13 and 14, I would tell my mom I was going out to play with my friends, then ride my bike up to the nearby Des Peres 4 (now 14) Theater and ask strange men on the parking lot to buy my ticket to whatever R-rated movie was showing (I would give them money of course). DEATH RACE 2000, MANDINGO, CAPONE, THE DEVIL WITHIN HER and SHAMPOO were some of the taboo films I saw using this method. Today, an adult would probably get arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but I have no regrets. One film I saw this way was SCORCHY, a movie that’s always had a soft spot in my heart.

Throughout her 50-year career, renaissance blonde Connie Stevens has been a popular star of movies and TV as well as a recording artist and founder of a hugely successful cosmetics empire. With the 2010 film SAVING GRACE B. JONES, Ms Stevens added movie director and screenwriter to her list of accomplishments. But I’ll always remember Ms Stevens fondly for a movie she starred in in the mid 70’s. The 1975 movie SCORCHY is an entertaining action-adventure in which Connie starred as a sexy undercover drug agent who will stop at nothing to break up a violent narcotics-smuggling ring. SCORCHY was a fun, if not particularly good, movie aimed squarely at drive-in audiences who like their action spiced with a touch of sexploitation.

In SCORCHY Connie Stevens plays Sgt. Jackie Parker (I have no idea why this movie is called SCORCHY. No one is named that and the word is never uttered, but strangely it fits) whose latest case involves a gang of international heroin smugglers who are transporting their goods through antiques purchased abroad by unsuspecting tourists. Jackie pursues the villains to Rome and then back to Seattle, where most of the action takes place. About halfway through, exposition ends and SCORCHY becomes one long series of extended chase scenes and shootouts across Seattle involving Jackie, the two major villains (Cesare Donova and William Smith), a briefcase full of money, a briefcase full of drugs, taxis, motorcycles, and dune buggies.

SCORCHY is far from a great film. It’s script is mostly lame and it’s directed without much style by Hikmet Avedis, but it’s the only film like this that Connie Stevens starred in and it’s easy to see why she didn’t return to this type of grindhouse fare. Born Concetta Rosalie Anna Ingolia in 1938, Connie Stevens started show biz singing in a quartet that would eventually become the popular group “The Lettermen’. She began her acting career in juvenile melodramas such as YOUNG AND DANGEROUS (1957) and DRAGSTRIP RIOT (1958) before being chosen by Jerry Lewis to costar in his 1958 comedy ROCK-A-BYE BABY. This led to a role on the TV show “Hawaiian Eye” where she played flaky nightclub singer and photographer Cricket Blake opposite Robert Conrad for four years. She had some music hits, starred in more movies (including TWO ON A GULLOTINE in 1962, a terrifying shocker) and had a hugely successful Las Vegas headlining act. Though a gorgeous curvy blonde, Ms Stevens had always cultivated a bubbly wholesome image for herself and it must have caused a stir when she starred in the R-Rated SCORCHY in 1976 (the poster’s tagline reads “She's Killed A Man, Been Shot At, And Made Love Twice Already This Evening... And The Evening Isn't Over Yet!"). Even though she plays Jackie Parker as sultry and foul-mouthed, she never seems quite at ease in the part. Her girlish voice is ill-suited for the role, the floppy garish 70’s outfits she wears (The closing credits reveal the costumes are from the “Pleasure Dome Boutique of Hollywood”) aren’t remotely revealing, and she never seems comfortable mouthing raunchy lines like “Two weeks in Rome and I didn’t even get laid!” SCORCHY is most famous for Connie’s two quick-glimpse topless scenes, stills from which have popped up in magazines like ‘Celebrity Skin’ for years. In one, she skinny-dips, and in the other she’s ‘undercover’ with a man who gets shot in the back with a harpoon gun! Connie Stevens never made another exploitation film and stuck mostly with TV after this, occasionally making cameos in films such as GREASE 2 (1982) and BACK TO THE BEACH (1987). Memorable as SCORCHY’s central heavy is William Smith, an imposing muscular tough guy and one of the kings of 70’s drive-in cinema. Smith is sometimes known as the ‘John Wayne of the Biker Movies’ having starred in such motorcycle classics as RUN ANGEL RUN (1969), THE LOSERS (1970), ANGELS DIE HARD (1970), and CHROME AND HOT LEATHER (1971). Smith was best known to mainstream audiences as the villain Falconetti in the groundbreaking TV miniseries “Rich Man Poor Man” in 1975 (it’s he who kills Nick Nolte at the end) and fought Clint Eastwood in ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN in 1980. Cesare Donova, who plays SCORCHY’s drug kingpin, was an Italian actor who had come to Hollywood and landed a lead in the TV series “Garrison’s Gorillas” in 1967 and is best know to younger audiences as the Mayor in ANIMAL HOUSE (1978).

SCORCHY was released on VHS in the mid-80’s with box art featuring a woman who looks nothing like Connie Stevens and is now a difficult movie to find. After her show-biz career fizzled and she fell on hard financial times, Connie Stevens began a lucrative new career in the infomercial game with a successful line of skin-care and make-up products in the 1990s. Connie first experimented with movie directing with A HEALING, a 1997 documentary short about nurses who served in Vietnam, and at age 71 wrote and directed her first feature, the Missouri-shot SAVING GRACE B JONES, an old-fashioned melodrama starring Tatum O’Neal as a troubled country singer reconnecting with her family following years of institutionalization. SAVING GRACE B JONES, which also starred Piper Laurie, Michael Biehn, and Penelope Ann Miller, It screened at the St. Louis International Film Festival at the St. Louis Art Museum in 2009. Connie Stevens was in attendance speaking and answering questions after the movie. Afterward, I handed her my SCORCHY one-sheet poster and asked her to autograph it. She rolled her eyes, as SCORCHY is obviously not her proudest moment, but was a good sport and signed it. I said “This is a hard movie to find”, to which she replied: “Good!”

My SCORCHY poster signed by Connie Stevens: