Written by: Robert Bleese
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Starring: Judith Brown, Andrew Robinson, and Keenan Wynn
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
She's too much woman for any one man.
A Woman for All Men provides a reminder that maybe you shouldnít give up on a movie. Itís a prime example of one of those great, free-wheeling exploitation flicks that changes directions with each reel. Even better, it becomes progressively insane as it unspools. Considering how sleazy and unsubtle it is, Iíd hardly say it sneaks up on anyone, but it does somewhat cleverly morph into an Agatha Christie story that's been dragged through the drive-in mud.
An eventual inheritance thriller, the familial strife is hot and heavy early on: millionaire tycoon Walter McCoy (Keenan Wynn, magnificently crusty and mustachioed) has married Vegas showgirl Karen (Judith Brown), much to the dismay of his three children. His two sons, Paul (Peter Hooten) and Steve (Andy Robinson), are particularly ruffled by the unsure nature of their eventual inheritance. Distrusting of their new stepmother, they spend much of their time bickering with her and their old man, so the first twenty minutes of the film subjects viewers to a gauche display of Rich White People Problems. Itís awful, gross, and mostly dull, though it does set the stage for the filmís eventual plunge into insanity: it turns out just about everyone involved here is a raging, scheming assholeóitís just that you donít know who really has the upper hand, all the way up until the final scene.
Naturally, you suspect Karen is a gold-digging floozy, what with Brownís playful, Chesire cat furtiveness. Each wry smile and cool drag of a cigarette signals her devious intentions. What you donít expect is just how she goes about it: one night, she casually invites Steve to watch some footage of a nude photoshoot (shot by Walter!) and seduces him. An affair erupts, at least until Karen gets cold feet and returns home to a now suspicious Walter, who rearranges his will just before his car plunges off of a cliff, presumably killing him. Once this inciting incident (which comes over halfway through the runtime) finally occurs, you still wonder if what follows will be all that worthwhile since the film has been so languid despite how outrageous it is (in addition to a woman seducing her stepson, thereís a scene where Walter gathers the whole family around to marvel at his nudie videos of Karenóyou know, wholesome bonding time).
The answer is that itís worth it, as the last third of the film transitions from sordid, forbidden romance to a murder plot where the two plotters donít even mean to commit homicideósort of. To its credit, A Woman for All Men keeps both its viewers and its characters off-balance with a sequence of reveals and developments. Itís the sort of movie where you have to talk in vagaries to preserve spoilers, but rest assured: itís twisted fun to the last drop of blood. Admittedly, itís light on bloodshed, but itís driven by that drive-in mentality that demands diversions and eccentricities no matter how pointless they might be. For example, thereís a bizarre interlude where Karen spies on her step-daughter (Patty Bodeen) exploring her own sexuality, and thereís more than a hint of lesbianism, yet it goes absolutely nowhere. You could perhaps argue that itís an elaborate red herring, only the film isnít really ever a murder mysteryóinstead, itís like if a movie contracted a touch of Twist of the Death Nerve in its final five minutes or so (look, I donít expect this make much sense to the uninitiated, which may make the best case for watching this).
In the absence of actual murders, the film makes do with a dark sense of humor. The primary pleasure of A Woman for All Men isnít watching its cast get butcheredóitís watching its two main assholes squirm because they donít quite know when (or if) theyíll get butchered. When itís obvious that someone is on to Karen and Steve, the two are understandably bewildered, and it only gets worse once things spiral completely out of control. Their contrasting responses are particularly amusing: Karen remains nigh-sociopathic and cool, going so far as to hit up an old Vegas acquaintance known as ďThe ColonelĒ in order to return to her old lifestyle. None too pleased, Steve is prone to fits of rage, and Robinsonís face contorts with the same bizarre mix of rugged pathos and petulance found in many Harvey Keitel performances. These two really deserve each other, which is to say they deserve to rot together.
As A Woman for All Men has been paired with The Roommates on Gorgon Videoís home video release, thereís a natural tendency to compare these two Arthur Marks efforts. While the former doesnít reach the lunatic highs as the latter, itís arguably more tightly constructed and slightly less tone deaf. Both, however, are fine examples of this eraís particular B-movie fare, which coasted less on any sort of merit and more on bare breasts, bloody carcasses, and taboo. A Woman for All Men delivers both of these in what amounts to a prototype for the sleazy, sexually charged thrillers that would become increasingly popular for decades. Itís practically the blueprint for the sort of stuff that would eventually clog Cinemaxís airtime, only one had to brave either the drive-in or the grindhouses to enjoy it.
And if you didnít manage to do so, you were out of luck for nearly four decades since the film has languished in obscurity since its original release. Gorgonís resurrection has resulted in a more than respectable treatment: the transfer is appropriately grainy but otherwise pristine, with bright, gaudy colors and fine detail, while the 2.0 PCM mono track delivers the soundtrack in the sort of clarity that likely shames the old drive-in speakers. In this case, Marks did not record a commentary for the film, but he and Brown are part of an 11-minute retrospective, which is joined by a trailer and a couple of TV spots. A Woman for All Men is appropriately the B-side to this release, which highlights the work of a somewhat unheralded director in Marks.
Movies like it and The Roommates may have been a dime of dozen during their time, but Marksís productions are slightly more assured and more interesting than, say, a lot of Crown Internationalís similar output. If nothing else, Marks understood the bewitching power of an alluring vixen; in Brown, he found the sort of muse only the drive-in could spawn, and his camera regards her with both affection and disdain, a paradox that perfectly reflects anyone who crosses her demented path here. Buy it!
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