Sep 29, 2012

Hell Night

Almost every psycho-slasher movie features teenage girls in their underwear, or taking a shower, or having sex with full-nude backsides, while the teenage boys stay full-clothed, even during sex.  The opposite, fully-clothed girls and and nude boys, is vanishingly rare.

So Hell Night (1981) stands out as a non-heterosexist gem.  It's about some fraternity pledges, including Seth (Vincent Van Patten) and Jeff (Peter Barton), who have to spend the night in a haunted house occupied by a psycho-slasher. The girlfriends go along, too.

But the girls are fully clothed or hidden under the covers of the bed the whole time.  And Seth and Jeff spend about half the movie showering or dressed only in boxers.

But it's not just about the beefcake.  I could swear that Seth and Jeff were being presented a same-sex couple, in spite of some heterosexual dalliances.

1. When in danger, the two together as tightly as boy-girl couples in heterosexist flicks.

2. Jeff investigates a mysterious noise twice, once with girlfriend Marti (Linda Blair) clinging fearfully to his back, and then with Seth clinging to him in the exact same position.

3. Jeff escapes from the haunted house and runs into town.  When no one believes him he steals a gun, uses it to hijack a car, and rushes back to rescue -- not his girlfriend, who is already dead -- but boyfriend Seth.

4. They escape together and walk off into the sunrise together, a gay reversal of the standard "fade-out kiss."

Director Tom DeSimone got his start directing gay porn in the 1970s, so it is understandable that he might accentuate the beefcake and the bonding.

Sep 26, 2012

Star Wars

Like Silver Streak, Star Wars (1978) is often read as a heteronormative fable. Luke Skywalker (25-year old Mark Hamill), an innocent, sleepy-eyed young man from the provinces, becomes involved with Rebel forces struggling to defeat an evil intergalactic Empire (in 1977, code for the Soviet Union), and, inevitably, meets a Girl. Except there’s no romance with the girl – in later episodes she turns out to be his sister. And there is a romance with the handsome space cowboy Han Solo (35-year old Harrison Ford).

Han is a loner (“Solo”), traveling with no one but a hairy, six-foot tall Yeti-like creature named Chewbacca (another animal sidekick to diffuse homoerotic potential), and unwilling to investigate potential human relationships.

At first he refuses to speak directly to Luke, and when he lets down his guard sufficiently to acknowledge Luke’s existence, he calls him by the diminutive “Kid.”

We wonder what he’s afraid of, and so does the Girl, brassy Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher): “Your friend is quite a mercenary!” she snaps at Luke. “I wonder if he really cares about anything. . .or anybody!”

Han finally warms up to Luke: they fight together, rescue each other, hug; at the end of the movie, Han asks Luke to go away with him (“I could use a partner”), and, when he refuses, decides to stay with Luke. But now Luke has competition in Princess Leia, who is “infuriated by” (that is, infatuated with) Han. She manages to insert herself into every shot featuring the two together.

When they are slamming against each other in a jubilant bear-hug, she squeezes between them, so they are actually hugging her.

When Han tries to walk off with his arm around Luke, she squeezes between them again.

Even in the last scene, when Han and Luke receive medals and then turn to receive the applause of the Rebel troops, the camera pans out to present the illusion that Princess Leia is between them (she is actually standing behind them).

Director George Lucas, not well known for accentuating the homoerotic potential of his films, worked very hard to ensure that Han and Luke never connect in any substantive way. What was he afraid of?

Sep 24, 2012

Advise and Consent

I just saw Advise and Consent (1961), the first Hollywood movie to mention gay people openly (almost). It's about the appointment of a new Secretary of State, Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda). The Senate has to vote to "consent" to the appointment.

But when evidence surfaces that Leffingwell attended meetings of the Communist party years ago, Senator Brigham Anderson (Don Murray), a young, wholesome "family man," leads a committee to refuse their "consent."  Then Anderson starts receiving telephone calls ordering him to report favorably on Leffingwell, or they will reveal an incriminating letter and photo about a long-ago romance with a man.

It's all very convoluted, with plots and subplots, schemes and counterschemes, and so many characters that you need a score card, not to mention interminable Senate roll calls.  The only interesting plot point is the parallel drawn between Leffingwell's dalliance with Communism and  Anderson's gay relationship, both "mistakes" that could ruin the men's lives.

Anderson tries to track down his ex-lover (thinking that he is the blackmailer), and finds himself in a gay bar full of pomaded, dissolute types who all leer lasciviously, ready to pounce on the straight guy.  When the bartender calls "Come on in!" in a cheery voice, we're expected to shudder in dread.  And of course, the "Hollywood queer" must always die; Anderson kills himself.

Oddly, the movie was controversial in 1961 because it was so liberal, criticizing the anti-Communist witch hunts and suggesting that married men might be "that way"!  There were several gay actors playing witch hunters, including Will Geer and Charles Laughton.

At least we get a nice beefcake shot of the hirsute Don Murray, standing in front of a mirror, confronting his demons.

Don Murray appeared in many other movies and tv series, and often found himself required to take baths or change clothes on camera.  He seems rather skinny by today's standards, but in the 1960s his lithe, firm physique was all the rage.

Sep 23, 2012

Paul Petersen's Family Values

I've never seen a single episode of The Donna Reed Show (1958-1966).  It was before my time,  and it hasn't been rerun often.  Apparently not a lot of people were watching in the early 1960s.  Like other nuclear family sitcoms, such as Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaverit barely hit the top 30, regularly being trounced by Westerns (Gunsmoke), medical dramas (Dr. Kildare), and reality tv (Candid Camera).   

But the squeaky-clean suburban sitcom left a lasting legacy: Paul Peterson, aged 13 to 21, played Donna's dreamy teenage son, Jeff.  I don't know if his character was portrayed as girl-crazy or not during the later seasons, but the teen magazines  seemed oddly obsessed with pushing him into girls' arms.

In the shirtless shots, he is almost always shown with a girl -- even if that girl is his little sister, and he's reading to her in pajamas.  What were they trying to prove?

Paul had the clean-cut handsomeness beloved in 1950s teen idols, and a dreamy voice, so he began recording songs in 1962: "Keep Your Love Locked," "Lollipops and Roses"; "She Can't Find Her Keys."   Before long he released five albums and contributed to a sixth.   His biggest hit, "My Dad," was, of course, a paeon to his real-life father, with no girls mentioned.

After Donna Reed, Paul continued to perform, acted occasionally, and published a series of novels about a macho adventurer named The Smuggler.  His most enduring legacy came in 1990, when he founded A Minor Consideration, dedicated to improving the working conditions for child actors and helping them transition to adulthood.

While no one would deny that this is a praiseworthy goal, and there are no specifically homophobic statements on his website, there is also not a word about gay child actors in a heterosexist workplace -- not one word -- and the editorials veer uncomfortably toward exclusionary family values" rhetoric.

See also: Beefcake Dads of 1950s Sitcoms

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