Sunday, July 1, 2012

Prelude to Happiness (Gidney Talley Jr., 1975)

There's an ancient proverb that states: The more prudent the deviant, the less willing they are to accompany shapely monopodes to not-so swanky pool parties. It's a good thing I know a thing or two about proverbs, because the one I just inexplicably shared with you just happens to apply to Prelude to Happiness, a film experience that unabashedly celebrates the power of love and carefully examines the purity of the human heart. Legs are a very important. Not only when it comes to walking, but also as a representation of one's physical self. So, I don't how I would react if my primary sex partner lost both of them in a terrible car accident. However, if they were to lose only, say, one leg, there's no question that the perverted portion of my angelic aura would remain true to them. In fact, if they did, happen to lose both legs in a terrible car accident, I would cherish their cherry-coloured stumps with the intensity of four supernovas and three small class m planets. The reason I decided to be more direct when it came to stating my views regarding how I would react if my beloved lost both their legs in a terrible car accident was because I don't want to be associated with the amputee-dumping guy in this film. His inability to adapt to the limb-based tragedy that befalls the woman he supposedly loved with all of his heart was downright appalling. Healthy leg fixations be damned, her soul, her spirit, and her tube-shaped reproductive tract were all still in tact. Modify your priorities, man, and don't be so superficial. There are plenty of ways to satisfy your inner degenerate, while, at the same time, still managing to retain a jocular air of decadent decency. Just because there's less of her for you to love, does not necessarily mean your love for her should decrease. If anything, you should love them even more, as the love that you felt for the severed limb has magically transferred over to the parts of her body that were not severed. Meaning, her head, her arms, her right leg, her eyebrows, her torso, and even her cunt, all contain more of your love than they did before the terrible car accident.
After hearing all this talk about inflated love, one might be tempted to cut off more pieces–you know, to increase the efficiency of your love distribution even more by, oh, let's say, removing an ear or copping off a couple of fingers. But I don't recommend this course of action, as it's just plain sick. Boosting your love output via freak accidents that are beyond your control is one thing, amputating body parts on purpose, on the other hand, is something I cannot get behind.
Slowly panning up two bronze legs jutting out from a pair of bright yellow bikini bottoms, Prelude to Happiness wastes little time introducing us to Susan Imes (Rose Petra), the film's soon to be damaged protagonist. Smiling like her teeth depended on it, Susan waves to her fiancé Joe (Dan Kamin), and asks him if he likes her outfit as she emerges from one of the beach's many change tents. Tossing aside her nurses cap with a playful panache, Susan runs down the beach with Joe in hot pursuit. The music on the soundtrack swells dramatically in order to match their bliss, as the happy couple eventually find themselves walking hand-in-hand while the waves of the gulf crash splash haphazardly around their not-severed legs and feet.
Now there's a couple with a bright future ahead of them. Oh, what's this? It would seem that Joe and Susan are having a bit of car trouble. Don't worry, Joe will fix the problem. And judging by the amount of hair on his chest, he should have them back on the road in no time. Unfortunately, no amount of chest hair can prevent Susan from being struck by a drunk driver as she stood next the car holding a flashlight. Rushed to the hospital, Susan apparently sustained serious injuries to her left leg. Lying in bed with her sister Marilyn (Susan Mulhollan) by her side, Susan tells the nurses that her leg needs readjusting. When she chides the nurses, "not that one, the other one," after they attempt to readjust the wrong leg, they all look at each other with awkward brand of unease.
Realizing that her sister has lost her leg, Marilyn goes out into the hall to cry. Don't worry, though, her bearded husband Larry (Allen Ross) is there to comfort her. Yeah, that's great and all, but who's there to comfort Susan? In other words, where the fuck is Joe?
Since she has to find out sooner or later, Dr. Dettweiler (Bob Jutson) lays it all out for Susan in one fell swoop, and tells her that her left leg has been "removed." Even though she can still feel her left leg (a sensation the doctor calls, "the phantom effect"), a quick peek under the covers reveals the truth. With the denial period quickly out of the way, it's time for depression and self-pity to kick in (the road to recovery is littered with psychological torment).
Convinced that something awful has happened to him, Susan is relieved when Joe finally shows up at the hospital while she's practicing using her crutches in a teal nightie. Getting our first clear shot of Rose Petra (a body double was used during the opening scene at the beach) it's obvious that she only has one leg. Of course, nowadays, an actor or actress can have their body altered using computerized wizardry. But back in the mid-1970s, if you wanted to make a touching film about a feisty amputee, you had to hire a feisty amputee. And that's exactly what writer Robert Pinkerton and director Gidney Talley Jr. have done.
Giving the film an added sense of authenticity, Rose Petra is film's strongest asset. And not just because she has a missing the exact same limb that her character is missing. There was something extraordinary about Rose's performance. Something that caused it sail well beyond the kind of acting you typically find in the realm of spurned amputee melodrama.
We get a firsthand glimpse of this extraordinariness when Joe basically tells Susan that he doesn't want to marry a cripple. While he doesn't exactly say it in those words, it would have been better if he had, as the manner in which he chose to dump Susan was cringe-inducing. Laying the "it's not you, it's me" routine combined with the frightfully lame, "this is about what's best for both of us" schtick on her simultaneously, Joe calls off the wedding and breaks up with her. Whether he was unable to cope with her sudden bout with limblessness or just plain didn't want to be married to a chick with one leg, Joe comes across as a cold and indifferent to Susan's plight; so much so, that he can't even bother to look at as he breaks her heart.
As you might expect, Susan falls even deeper into depression (she refuses to leave her room and curtails all her rehabilitation activities). Enter the hunky Dr. Steve Hartman (Gary Lee Davis), Susan's new doctor. After bemoaning the fact that she is "half a woman," Steve tells her she's attractive woman with her whole life ahead of her. This pep talk seems to invigorate Susan, as she emerges from her room with a smile on her face. Even though I'm trying to remain objective (yeah, right), the moment where Susan smiles while walking down the hall caused me to engage in the first of many fist-based celebratory hand gestures that I employed throughout this inspirational film. However, the celebration is short-lived as Tiffany (Carol Sowa), Steve's "sexually attractive" fiancé, enters the maudlin fray.

Why did you juts put the phrase "sexually attractive" in quotes? I don't know. Who can explain why I do anything. Oh, I know why I did that. It's because Steve, while sexually attracted to Tiffany, he doesn't really like her all that much. You know what I'm talking about; back me up, fellas. Ladies? Anyone?
You really get a sense of Dr. Steve's dilemma when he has a chat with Dr. Dettweiler in one of the hospital corridors. Telling him that he wants to do what society expects of him: marry a rich woman whose father can help advance his fledgling medical career. But it's clear that his heart is telling him to do something else. That's right, it's telling him to bask in the effervescent glow emanating from a one-legged gal named Susan. It's true, Tiffany's a major hottie (you should see her in polka dots), but she's also quite the demanding little hose-beast. How do you think someone this beastly in the hose department is going to react when the man they intend on marrying is busy getting some wide-eyed blonde woman with one leg a job at his hospital? Not too well, I'm sure, especially when she finds out he's also been giving her rides home and that the rent to the new apartment he helped her procure is a hundred and sixty dollars a month.
Despite freezing up during a bloody operation in the E.R. (the sight of a patient's banged up legs causes her to lose her composure), Susan is settling in quite nicely as a registered nurse.
Looking at who she's up against, you wouldn't think that Susan would have much of a chance of wooing Dr. Steve away from the shrewish yet shapely Tiffany (a campy villainess who wouldn't feel out of place in a John Waters or George Kuchar film). Well, proving that it doesn't matter how many legs you have, but the manner in which you flaunt the one you've got, Susan goes on the offensive. Asking Dr. Steve to accompany her to a pool party, this, as Tiffany describes her, "one-legged bitch," is about to school her two-legged rival in the delicate art of seduction. Sure, as Susan's physician, Dr. Steve has seen her naked plenty of times. But there's something about the way Susan Imes fills that yellow bikini of hers that causes sane men to do insane things.
The dramatic centrepiece of the Prelude to Happiness experience, the pool party sequence not only gave us some great insight into what the 1970s were really like, it informed us that Dr. Steve doesn't like power boats and that Susan enjoys something called a "soft drink." It's when Susan is coaxed into displaying her talent as a Joni Mitchell-esque folk singer that Dr. Steve probably thought to himself: Tiffany who?
Waiting for him to come home, the wavy brunette strands of her Veronica Lake-style hairdo simmering with follicle rage, Tiffany is one pissed off femme fatal. Now, normally I would gravitate towards Carol Sowa's performance as the crazed Tiffany (what can I say? I loves me a gal who gives good bat-shit). But I was surprised by how enamored I had become with Rose Petra as Susan Imes, a character who oozes the kind of wholesomeness I usually reject when it comes to fictional characters. Maybe that's why. I mean, I would hardly call Susan Imes a "fictional character." Yeah, I know, Rose Petra is simply playing a part, but there was something about the way she played her part that had an extra hint of sincerity about it. Take the scene where Susan Imes gently sobs in her underwear in front of a full-length mirror, there's an added layer of authenticity to her tears. Same goes for the scene where she's making her lunch. And, as everyone knows, human sadness is best represented by the spreading of mayonnaise.
If you thought it was weird of me to call Prelude to Happiness an "experience," you obviously haven't experienced Prelude to Happiness, the only spurned amputee melodrama to feature more visible boom microphones than a poorly run public access channel. If that sounds like dig at the film's technical competency, it is not meant as such. In fact, I wasn't even gonna mention the boom mic free-for-all that is Prelude to Happiness. But not doing so is a little like not calling attention to Soledad Miranda's legs in Eugénie de Sade or Alison Lohman's ponytail in Drag Me to Hell. Truth be told, the visible boom mics actually served as a kind of dramatic dampener. You see, the film is performed so earnestly, that you almost forget that it's a movie at times. Well, the visible boom mic was a not-so subtle reminder that it was just that, a movie. And, if you ask me, a great movie. One that would easily make the top ten of the most romantic movies of all-time, as the love between Susan Imes, R.N. and Dr. Steve Hartman is as timeless as a fucking fairytale.


  1. My favorite film on this theme is Chang Cheh's "Can Que" ("Mortal Combat," better known as "Crippled Avengers.") Susan should have gotten the blacksmith to make her iron feet, like Sun Chien in that film. Back-breaking training sequences focused on kicking apart tree trunks and bamboo groves would follow. Then she could impale Joe's kidney with her metal toes. Just like a deep-fried quail's egg on a metal skewer.

  2. I think it's safe to say that this amputee melodrama has a leg up on the competition.

    I haven't seen this but I heard about it years ago. It wasn't even on IMDB for the longest.

    The boom mics might be because the movie was supposed to be cropped for widescreen. Caged Heat on VHS was like tat, but when they released it on DVD in widescreen, all the boom mics were cut out.

    The title would seem to be an homage to Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows).

  3. Hee hee, Thomas Duke. "Leg up"

    Yummers, I hope you had a great Canada Day. And when I'm in DC, if I see a couple in matching Skinny Puppy shirts, should I assume it's your parents?

  4. ido: Crippled Avengers, eh? That sounds kinda awesome.

    Come to think of it, Rose McGowan's character in Planet Terror would be welcome in the weaponized artificial limb genre as well.

    Thomas Duke: *rim shot*

    I thought about that, but I don't think boom mics supposed to block the actor's faces. ;)

    Written...on the Wind. Happiness. Yeah, totally.

    Karim Amir: Happy 4th of July. Have fun in DC. :)

    According to my calendar, Canada Day was on Sunday. Damn it. I completely forgot to do anything Canadian. ;)

    Matching Skinny Puppy t-shirts? Now that's a disturbing mental image. That being said, I wonder if they sell his and hers Skinny Puppy t-shirts. I wonder.

  5. Dude, page 56 of the EW. SPOT THE EGREGIOUS ERROR! I actually sent a note to the Entertainment Weekly FB page.

  6. Page 56? Okay, let me check...You mean the "What the heck, let's heckle!" piece? If so, I can't spot the error. :(

    On the other hand, their description of 24 Hour Party People on page 44 sounds a little off.

  7. The brand-new EW. It must not have been delivered to Canadaland yet. Not the Louis CK cover, but one with The Hobbit. (Oh, no, not more of those damn movies. Sigh.)

    The error involves Klaus Nomi.

  8. What the hell? The Louis CK issue just came today (Walking and Talking was mentioned).

    Klaus Nomi error, eh? I hope you set them straight.

  9. @Yum-yum: Chang Cheh was one of Hong Kong's most prolific and important martial filmmakers. "Can Que" is a good place to start. Other good benchmarks are "The One-Armed Swordsman" with Wang Yu and "Five Venoms." Just make sure to get the unedited, subtitled original-language versions. Waaaay too many hacked-up poorly dubbed cuts out there.

  10. Reading this it occurred to me that I actually can't think of any other movie starring an actual amputee that also happens to be a story about the experience of being an amputee.

    Apparently amputees get work as extras in war and zombie movies. 'Crippled Masters' counts, though it's meant to have a kinda of 'freakish spectacle' quality. More likely you get something like the Terry Fox biopic, where CGI does the work (not knocking it -- it's a great movie), or Planet Terror.

  11. @ido: I'm not a big kung-fu flick watcher, but I'm always open to new things. So, I'll add "Can Que" and "The One-Armed Swordsman" to my list.

    @rootandanchor: Prelude to Happiness is definitely a one of a kind experience. I can't think of anything that comes close to matching its sincerity.

    I'm not surprised; amputees probably save producers lots of money.

  12. The editors of EW obviously don't Nomi.

  13. Did your 'rents tell you how hot DC was? Jeebus, I thought I was going to melt, and I'm from SC. By the way, some nice family took a picture of me in front of the Canadian Embassy. :) I told dissent that I wanted to go back--obviously when it's not 108 freaking degrees--in full Roots regalia.

    Poor Klaus is probably rolling in his grave.

  14. I didn't hear any weather complaints. But they did say something about just missing a nasty storm.

    Damn, you weren't kidding about visiting the Canadian full Roots regalia. :D

    Klaus Nomi is too busy visiting alien worlds to worry about not being mentioned in some square Earth magazine. ;)