“Every so often comes a Major Motion Picture that dares to deal with the taboo subject of… (whatever)” . Hollywood has never exactly been shy about patting itself on its corporate back when it feels it’s getting edgy, tackling taboos and generally pushing envelopes. For the American independents immortalised in Stephen Thrower’s Nightmare USA tome (and indeed exploitation film makers anywhere) doing that was just their bread and butter. One such director was Stanley H. Brasloff, who after a career wearing many showbiz hats, wrote and produced Charles Romine’s 1968 “roughy” Behind Locked Doors, wrote and directed the similarly rough Two Girls For a Madman the same year and wrote / directed / produced the title under consideration here, which after a long incubation / pre-production emerged to mixed indifference and indignation in 1972, prompting Stan to return to a life of treading the boards as a stand up comedian.
Standup’s gain was exploitation cinema’s loss on the evidence of Toys Are Not For Children, whose protagonist Jamie Godard (Marcia Forbes) is a superficially normal young woman but profoundly emotionally stunted as a result of paternal abandonment in childhood. Her only contact with Daddy, growing up, was the dolls and cuddly toys he sent her and as an adult she’s got a roomful of them, lovingly conserved. A bit too lovingly… when her mother Edna (Fran Warren) discovers Jamie, er, pleasuring herself with one such, it’s just about the final straw in their troubled relationship. Luckily Charlie (Harlan Cary Poe), her co-worker in a toy store (horses for courses, I guess) wants to marry her and soon they’re setting up home together. The marriage remains unconsummated though due to Jamie’s fixation on her toy collection and frustrated Charlie starts looking elsewhere for female affection. Superannuated tart with a heart Pearl (Evelyn Kingsley) shops at the store and strikes up a friendship with Jamie, who’s nursed the ambition to become a prostitute ever since hearing from her mother that the only women her father ever cared for were hookers. Pearl’s slimy pimp Eddie (Luis Arroyo) susses out that Jamie’s thing is to be taken by force and once he’s unlocked the key to her libido, sets her to work with clients who go for daddy / daughter role-plays. Jealous Pearl (who’d been harbouring her own designs on Jamie) drunkenly sets her up for a “date” with her unwitting father Phillip (Peter Lightstone) with predictably catastrophic results…
TANFC could have been a supremely sick and sleazy cinematic experience but Brassloff handles things (and strong performances from his largely unheralded cast don’t exactly hurt) with exemplary subtlety and sensitivity. So much so that the publicity blurb about “a haunting and devastating climax that lingers long after the credits roll” is, for once, more than mere hyperbole. One might well think that Mario Bava himself took note of this film’s closing shots before shooting his own Lisa And The Devil the following year. It’s a pay off of truly Sophoclean impact, in the build up to which Stanley H. brilliantly intercuts different time frames to convey the extent of Jamie’s projections and acting out… if he was similarly adept at delivering his stand up act, I imagine he rarely left a dry seat in the house.
Arrow’s good looking 2K restoration of this title is complimented by some predictably nifty extras including Thrower’s introduction to the film and its director and an audio commentary from Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain. There’s a video essay from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (directed by Marc Morris) which starts off on an interesting tack by comparing and contrasting TANFC with Todd Haynes’ Carol (2015) and the novel that inspired the latter, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price Of Salt, before touching on such kindred fare as Carroll Baker in Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll (1956), the Nabokov and Kubrick Lolitas, the 1963 Twilight Zone episode Living Doll, William A. Fraker’s A Reflection Of Fear from the same year as Brasloff’s film, the whole Barbie phenomenon and the truly creepy Baby Burlesque series of shorts showcasing the precocious talents of Shirley Temple, plus an isolated audio track of T.L. Davis belting out TANFC’s OTT theme song, Lonely Am I. You get a trailer, of course and bonus ones for Behind Locked Doors and Two Girls For A Madman.
This is a real find and very welcome addition to Arrow’s ever expanding catalogue.