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A PLACE CALLED TODAY (1972).

In the early-1970s, Don Schain tried to break away from his trashy-but-lucrative, action-sexploitation 'Ginger' franchise (starring future wife, Cheri Caffaro) with this ambitious yet hilariously self-important schlock-melodrama. Incapable of shaking his sleazy roots, writer-director Schain loads the film with supposedly-hard-hitting, high-falutin' messages about racial unrest and government corruption, but also allows it to overflow the story also overflows with softcore sex, crude violence, overripe rhetoric, and a straight-faced (albeit clueless) cast, with this whole ungainly mess slapped with an X-rating in some cities... Set in an unnamed East Coast urban metropolis with a large minority population (and shot in Newark, New Jersey), J. Herbert Kerr, Jr. (yeah, I know... who?) stars as pissed-off black attorney Randy Johnson, who decides to run for Mayor as an independent, populist candidate -- a no-bullshit 'man of the people.' But the dude also has a sleazy scheme to win over voters. Although candidate Randy publicly rails against the recent rise in terrorist activities around town, he's secretly in league with the black revolutionaries who're perpetrating this 'random' violence. Still, even though Randy is partly responsible for this rampant murder and arson, he doesn't look so bad in comparison to the city's current batch of white, fatcat politicians. Meanwhile, Lana Wood (Natalie's pneumatic younger sister) provides some visual allure as gorgeous, hotheaded leftie activist Carolyn Schneider, who's prone to spewing radical rhetoric, even when laying topless, post-coitus, in front of a blazing fireplace alongside TV-reporter/boyfriend Ron Carton (Wood's future hubbie, Richard Smedley). Then there's Cheri Caffaro as wealthy, frequently nekkid Cindy Cartwright, a slutty sexpot who campaigns for the current Mayor in a hot pink micro-dress and is also screwing Carton. The script gets bogged down in cheesy soap opera subplots, because even as the city is about to explode, macho newsman Carton finds himself torn between the two leading ladies -- since he prefers a doting, submissive partner (Cindy) and not some strident crusader (Carolyn). Its climax takes an abrupt turn into contrived, full-blown exploitation, with Randy's thugs abducting Cartwright on election eve, a prolonged rape scene, and many of the leads knocked off before the end credits... There's a potent concept at the film's core -- a politician cynically manipulating the gullible public by playing upon their irrational fears -- but the completed film is clumsy, heavyhanded and often severely overbaked, plus its screenplay is peppered with tedious speeches and unintentional laughs. And though Randy Johnson could've been a ballsy anti-hero if someone like Melvin Van Peebles had been behind the camera, here he's just another boring, once-idealistic, now-corrupt sell-out. Schain (a 1959 Asbury Park High School grad and former assistant to the theater-division VP of Water Reade Theaters) made his feature debut with 1970's THE LOVE OBJECT, squeezed A PLACE CALLED TODAY in between his second 'Ginger' outing (THE ABDUCTORS) and the third (GIRLS ARE FOR LOVING), and eventually shifted into family-friendly fare by producing Disney Channel fluff like the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL trilogy. Schain and cinematographer R. Kent Evans (who, oddly enough, also penned the film's title tune) make good use of their Newark backdrops, particularly in a scene when Randy takes a reporter on a walking tour of the city's shittiest neighborhoods, but most of it is clumsily directed and numbingly paced, with particularly lousy performances. Wood (who'd recently gotten the attention of male moviegoers as "Plenty O'Toole" in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, as well as a April 1971 Playboy pictorial) lacks her sibling's acting talent, plus her character's ceaseless, self-righteous indignation quickly becomes insufferable. (At one point, she angrily proclaims, "I'll steal for it, fuck for it, kill for it, and die for it." Hey, at least she didn't claim she'd act for it.) Smedley is equally wooden; Caffaro (who later co-wrote the Cinemax staple H.O.T.S.) provides plenty of gratuitous nudity, but not much else; while Kerr, Jr. makes a sincere but pathetically bland lead. Timothy Brown ("Spearchucker" Jones on the first season of M*A*S*H) leaves little impression as Randy's campaign advisor, plus look for an uncredited, non-mustached Harry Reems in a crowd of wolf-whistling hardhats.

© 2018 by Steven Puchalski.