Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Doll Squad (1973)

What the fuck happened to the Space Race?  It was only forty-five years ago that we made it to the Moon (let’s take for granted that the Moon landing wasn’t faked, shall we?).  There were some satellites launched (actually, A LOT of satellites launched), and we even put that Moon-Patrol-looking thing on Mars, but we as a collective nation (speaking only for America) have seemingly lost the desire to move ourselves into space.  Why?  Well, if I had to venture a guess, I would say it’s because space travel became sexy enough for entrepreneurs to want to monetize it (and naturally discounting the collapse of the Soviet Union, our big competitor).  Unfortunately, it also became unsexy enough for our tax dollars to fund it (and that’s about as political as this review will get; relax).  So, the odds on you or I jetpacking around the universe with a woman proportioned like a Wally Wood or Frank Frazetta bombshell have pretty much evaporated.  But maybe whatever billionaire who weekends on Uranus (which I now and forever will pronounce “Your Anus”) will want to take you along sometime.  And maybe Michael Ansara will fly out my ass.  Outside of my wild Science Fiction fantasies, though, I honestly can’t say I’m all that disappointed.  Number one, humans have always had a habit of turning whatever pristine environment they come upon into a junkyard.  Number two, I don’t like flying.

Senator Stockwell (John Carter) and Victor Connelly (Anthony Eisley) sit down to watch the latest space rocket launch, but a mysterious phonecaller upbraids the Senator for not heeding his previous (unforeshadowed) warnings and the rocket explodes.  The two men make their way to the room-sized computer “Bertha” to find out who they can send to bring this villain down.  “Bertha” spits out The Doll Squad, and before you can say “Jack Robinson,” team leader Sabrina (Francine York) is collecting her team members.  Will this be the squad’s toughest assignment yet?  Sure.  Why not?

Ted V. Mikels’ film is a melding of the Superspy and Assemble The Team subgenres, with the twist being that the team consists solely of women.  The first thing most folks would think of then (okay, maybe just me) is whether this is a feminist film or not (and I’m not the world’s foremost scholar on feminism, so let’s allow for some wiggle room here, hmmm?).  I think I can honestly say, to absolutely no one’s astonishment, that it really isn’t.  It has feminist elements in it.  The women are all strong and treat their jobs with the same sort of calculated precision an audience would demand of something like The Dirty Dozen or Le Cercle Rouge.  None of the women are man-crazy or defined by their desire for a man to want them.  The women all make free choices to decide their own fates.  Sabrina can even shoot skeet as well as or better than her male superiors.  Nevertheless, she is in charge of her team, but men are in charge of her.  Also, there is an abundance of scenes featuring all of the girls in bikinis or skintight jump suits.  Of course, this is for the benefit of the more lusty audience members and has no purpose other than to appeal to the prurient interest, and it does so quite well.  Had the group dressed in fatigues and been loaded down with equipment, the film would have had a different flavor entirely, but it also likely wouldn’t have made a penny at the box office.  I don’t mean to imply that the only way for women in films to represent equality is by dressing them sexlessly, but it makes an interesting point:  Would an audience take these characters more seriously had they dressed in a more masculine fashion?  At the end of the day, I suppose the point is moot.  Mikels knows his audience well enough to not let it bog him down.

Now that I’ve successfully misinterpreted an entire civil rights/societal movement for the purposes of a film review, let’s move on to how this stacks up in two of its respective subgenres.  In the realm of Assemble The Team movies, it hits all the numbers, and it even starts off the process with a nice twist which I won’t ruin here.  You have the initial recruitment scenes, where we are introduced to the various agents.  Intriguingly, all but one does something completely unrelated to their Doll Squad work in their civilian lives, and that one is, arguably, the most intellectual of them (maybe not most intelligent, though).  Aside from seeing Lavelle (Tura Satana) doing a little burlesque dance and revealing some rather fetching tassels, these scenes aren’t very engaging dramatically.  None of the women puts up much resistance to joining the mission, except for one, and it’s token resistance at best.  Also, the women don’t really have specialties the way we would expect of them.  Consequently, they’re only slightly distinguishable from one another, though the differences between their non-government identities and what they contribute to the team is much more noticeable.

 So, how does The Doll Squad…um…stack up as a Superspy film?  Well, you have a sort of Bond-ian villain with Ansara’s Eamon.  He, in turn, has a sort of Bond-ian villainous plan.  One of the baddies (okay, his squeeze) infiltrates the squad with a lifelike disguise.  There is a large compound manned by faceless lackeys in uniform (you would never confuse any of them with any of the protagonists regardless, I assure you).  There is a briefcase loaded with improbable gadgets and weaponry.  The antagonists, ostensibly, threaten the safety of the American Space Program, so it’s not a localized menace.  If nothing else, it’s an ambitious premise.  It’s also on a miniscule budget, but that doesn’t keep Mikels down, and in fact, aside from the pulchritude, this is the biggest appeal of the film.  Every explosion is done in superimpositions.  There is a flamethrower effect done in (you guessed it) superimposition.  The men get gunned down but appear to fall even before guns are fired.  The action scenes are executed with a nimiety of ease and a paucity of suspense or tension in that telltale style reserved for friends of the filmmakers who are being paid in ham sandwiches.  And ham is the name of the game.  Now, I love ham, and this is pretty forgettable ham, but it’s still tasty. 

MVT:  There wouldn’t be The Doll Squad without the dolls, and they are the main attraction at this sideshow.  Mission accomplished, ladies.

Make Or Break:  The Make is the assault on Eamon’s compound.  It’s fun and keeps the pace up, despite its various shortcomings.  There’s just enough violence and red-paint-loaded squibs to keep butts in seats.  And did I mention that it’s all carried off by pretty women in tight jump suits.  Well, it is.

Score:  6/10

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