Tuesday, February 21, 2017

potions, elixirs, and double entendres

The Babysitter (1969; d: Don Henderson)

There is something just beneath the veneer of cheap thrills and unabashed amorality—something too real to dismiss—that sets THE BABYSITTER apart from the myriad other so-called "sex pictures" of the era.  It’s a combination of things, really, from the chemistry between its leads, to that catchy, kitschy theme song, to the black and white photography that somehow belies the mission of this R-rated, ill-mannered invasion of wholesome sixties suburbia.  But there is something there that wants so desperately to succeed, to break out, in spite of its shoestring budget and meandering, insufferable subplots (concerning nefarious bikers, blackmail, and a contentious court case).

The BABYSITTER begins much as one might expect, as a sprightly, nominally attired high school girl leisurely waltzes her way through a carefully manicured bedroom community towards her destination, a babysitting job.  There is also a bit of business with some nasty bikers out in the desert, juxtaposed in for future reference, a crime for which we will later be dragged to court; but as I said before, that's neither here nor there.  

Alas, another biker subplot, all but unavoidable in the wake of the smashing success of  EASY RIDER.
When carefree teenage babysitter, Candy Wilson (Patricia Wymer), arrives at the home of the Maxwells, she's met by seemingly pleasant wife, Edith (Anne Bellamy), who raises a brow to Candy's playful response when the older woman confesses she's a bit long in the tooth to have had a baby recently.

"No one was more surprised than we were when she came along."

"Well, those things do happen.  Don't they?"

As Edith finishes up primping for their evening's bridge game, her husband (and successful assistant district attorney), George, slinks up behind her, smelling her hair and kissing her neckand draws a remarkably harsh rebuke.

"Well, you used to like me to mess your hair." 

"Well, I don't like it now, George, so just calm down!"

Actor George E. Carey, who is made to order in the part of George, also co-wrote and produced THE BABYSITTER.

"Well, you liked it pretty well when you came home drunk from the country club; I messed your hair up pretty good that night, didn't I?"

"Yes, and the result of that little hair-messing is lying asleep in the nursery!  Well, I don't need any more of that.  So just get the hell away from me!  And get your coat." 

After that blood-curdling display from his bitter, hostile wife, one can hardly blame George for paying his regards to the pretty, new babysitter for perhaps a second or two too long.

"How do you do?"

"How do you do, Candy?"

"Let's go, George!"

"...and they got a playroom in the basement.  So, you know, man..."
Mere seconds after the miserably married Maxwells make their exit, Candy is on the phone inviting friends over in droves, including a fully-equipped rock band(!).  Now, while she's certainly a lousy babysitter, I wouldn't judge her too harshly here.  As you'll soon learn, even some of the best of us are born simply too groovy and free for our own good.

As any red-blooded American boy could tell you, rock music caused young ladies in the 60s to discard their clothing without missing a beat.
On the other side of town, the Maxwells arrive as scheduled, despite Edith's constant droning that they'd be late.

"Oh, Edith and George.  How wonderful to see you.  You want a little drink-y?  We're all having drink-ies."

"Your house looks wonderful, and we'd love a little drink-y.  Wouldn't we, George?"

"You suppose I might have a big drink-y?"

In the basement shindig/hippie war zone across town, joints are passed around as the young ladies begin shedding their clothes, all but inevitable when you hire strippers to play high school girls.

By contrast, the stuffy night of dinner and cards with the Harringtons seems like a wake.  When Edith harps on thoughtlessly about George's lack of discipline with their college-aged daughter, Joan, the good-natured, long-suffering husband and father finally lashes out.  

"Edith, can't you talk about something else?!"

"George, I think it's time we went home."

And as car doors slam outside, Candy remembers she's babysitting...

"My god, it must be them—they're back.  Quick, everybody, get this stuff out of here!"

 "George, where are you going?"

"Going to bed."

"No you're not.  Not until you take Candy home."

"But it's one o'clock in the morning!"

And so George is enlisted, reluctantly, to drive Candy home, but not before discovering the truth about her evening.  

"Well, after you and Mrs. Maxwell left, I called some friends of mine, you know...I mean, I didn't call a bunch of bums or anything. I called some real groovy guys."

Not so much angry as surprised, George is even more surprised by Candy's innuendo during the drive.

"There's a green light, Mr. Maxwell.  That means you can go."

When they decide to grab a bite at a late night taco stand, Candy bestows George with some of her personal philosophy concerning the importance of laughter.

"...it's good to laugh, people have to laugh."

"Words of wisdom."

"You mean the dignified public prosecutor takes words of wisdom from his babysitter?"

"What are you, anyway...hippie?"

"I don't know.  I only know that I want to laugh.  I  want to have fun, I want to feel things.  I want to be free."

"If that's what it takes to be a hippie, we all ought to have a little hippie in us."

And then, out of the blue...

"You're not making it with your wife, are you?"

Before going further, I need to make clear that in no way do I condone or recommend dating a high school student.  This is, of course, totally abhorrent behavior and would deservedly land your Buster Browns in the slammer with the rest of the filthy degenerates.  Now, let's get back to the sleazy movie.

As subplots often go, this is a bit off subject, but I would be remiss if I neglected to mention George's daughter, Joan (Sheri Jackson), who also happens to be a lesbian, and as such provides THE BABYSITTER with some rather startling, tender, sympathetic flourishes of the then-taboo subject.

Sheri Jackson, left, with a friend.

But what really matters in THE BABYSITTER is the magnetic pull between dangerously alluring, free-spirited Candy Wilson and amiable yet unhappy family man, George Maxwell.  Everything elsethat’s every character, every subplot, every thingconspires to keep them apart throughout.  Their fling, brief and ill-advised as it may be, provides THE BABYSITTER its lifeblood and makes an otherwise forgettable foray into the grainy, grimy epicenter of softcore smut seem significant some fifty years later.

As her acting goes, the inexperienced Patricia Wymer (a nude magazine model before this) sometimes overplays her hand, but her appeal isn’t easily overstated, and a big part of what works here is directly due to her casting.  The young woman definitely had something, and when THE BABYSITTER thrives, her powers of seduction are cast well beyond their intended target.

Affable hippie-for-a-day, George Maxwell, dining with his wife and wishing himself elsewhere.
Heading down the stretch, it's easy to wish Candy and George off to some private island someplace, free to pursue the impossible with impunity.  Alas, this May-December tryst was doomed before it began, and perhaps rightfully so, but isn't that the crux of so many classic love stories pasta passion born of defiance?  

And so, mercifully, they come to their senses before the dogs are set loose and lives are upended, no worse for wear.  Candy will soon find love elsewhere, George will go back to his card games and dinner parties and sullen wife, and we can all just shake our heads and laugh it off, as we so often do.  What fools to love!