As the host/curator of a long running movie club, not to mention a guest on Cocktails & Classics, I’ve learned that there are scads of delicious old films to glean entertainment and insight from. I love being able to share the gems with you, so you can track them down and have a hell of a yay-gay party of your own. And so, here are 20 extra special treats du cinema, suitable for any occasion. You can thank me for them later.
The always entertaining Susan Hayward dives into a juicy role as a hooker who marries a politician and kicks all kinds of ass for him. Dean Martin understandably fades into the woodwork as her politico husband.
Ash Wednesday (1973)
In the midst of a marital crisis with Henry Fonda, Liz Taylor flees to Switzerland to get head-to-toe plastic surgery, only stopping short at monkey gland injections. The movie is alternately gruesome and glamorous, with lots of terminally chic scenes at a ski resort. It’s all so wonderfully bizarre, and Dominick Dunne (who knew from crimes) produced.
Circus impresario Joan Crawford’s business is beset by murders. Is she doing it? Or is this another late-period Joan movie where it’s her daughter who’s the crazy one? (How’s that for a reversal?) In either case, the result is kitschy fun, especially when the circus freaks do a nutty musical number.
Patty Duke is delightful as a teen tomboy having an identity crisis and singing about being a “Lonely Little In-Between.” This being 1965, they end up smoothing out her edges. Today, Billie could just come out as a lesbian.
Way back in the 1960s, Cher already proved she’s a terrific actress in this offbeat road movie. The future Oscar winner played a sad, damaged woman going cross country in a vain attempt to erase her past. Ending up in Mexico, she works at a whorehouse and has to fend off the lesbian owner, whom she only wanted as a maternal figure. Nothing is sugarcoated, and through it all, Cher is blithe and haunting. The film is written and produced by Sonny Bono who, with Cher, then named their child Chastity. Wonder why Cher never had a kid named Moonstruck!
Crimes of Passion (1984)
One of floridly over-the-top director Ken Russell’s most outlandishly enjoyable works, this has part-time prostie Kathleen Turner battling it out with Tony Perkins as a psychotic wannabe priest. She’s a designer by day and “China Blue” by night, as he stalks her, preaching the bible while wielding a steel dildo with a razor tip. It’s the Bible truth that these Crimes are lots of fun.
A dreadfully earnest yet amusing disaster film, this one has Ava Gardner as Lorne Greene’s daughter, and Charlton Heston as the love interest of slender Genevieve Bujold, whom he looks like he could crush with one sex act too many. And then comes the earthquake.
Female on the Beach (1955)
Joan Crawford moves near the surf and falls for dubious dude Jeff Chandler while dealing with mentally unhinged real estate broker Jan Sterling (at least it’s not her daughter this time) and sleazy Lovey Howell from Gilligan’s Island. The best line has Joan telling Jeff, “I wouldn’t have you if you were hung with diamonds upside-down.” Another great moment has Jeff asking Joan how she likes her coffee. “Alone!” comes the reply.
The Grasshopper (1970)
A young lady goes from Canada to L.A. and embarks on a series of relationships and careers (including Las Vegas showgirl). The picaresque film of exploration and awakening is enjoyably handled, and Jacqueline Bisset gives it heft with her performance, abetted by the unlikely pair of Jim Brown and Joseph Cotten.
I Want What I Want (1972)
Way before trans was starting to be accepted by the mainstream came this very cool little movie, with striking British actress Anne Heywood as Roy/Wendy. She’s super as both.
The Last of the Mobile Hot-Shots (1970)
Here’s the official imdb description: “After winning a game show contest, a newlywed couple travels to New Orleans, where the husband seeks to collect back his ancestral plantation mansion from his biracial step-brother.” Can you imagine? This rather engaging misstep was directed by Sidney Lumet based on a Tennessee Williams play as adapted by Gore Vidal. I once asked star Lynn Redgrave about it and she said, “Well, it looked good on paper.”
Let Me Die A Woman (1977)
Doris Wishman’s documentary about transsexuals veers between shocking footage of operations and droning commentary by some low-level doctor, but for its time, it was trans-positive, so I love this totally outrageous film.
Prelude to Happiness (1975)
Real life amputee Rose Petra is very sweet as a woman who falls for a doctor, but doesn’t feel he’s right for her—until he becomes disabled as well. The poolside scene is priceless, and so is Petra’s plaintive song, “Love.”
The Naked Kiss (1964)
Constance Towers is a bald whore on the lam, working as a children’s nurse in a small town and guiding them through pirate-themed musical numbers as she learns her betrothed is a pedophile. This film has campy moments, but it’s actually socially relevant and ahead of his time. Director Sam Fuller is a semi-twisted genius.
The Big Cube (1969)
Screen legend Lana Turner plays an aging actress driven crazy by the LSD her sedatives are laced with in this nutso potboiler involving her socialite daughter going on a rampage for mama’s moolah. Oscar winner George Chakiris appears as the daughter’s pet scuzzbag, and Lana walks through it all with head held high, as if this were one of her prestige films.
The Cool Ones (1967)
This swinging ‘60s musical fantasia featured Roddy McDowall as a fruity producer in mod outfits and off-key singing sensation Mrs. Miller as herself. A real find, kiddo.
What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)
In the 1930s, Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters’ sons commit murder, so the ladies change their names, move to Hollywood, and start teaching young girls how to dance. If I haven’t grabbed you yet, then you’re definitely not gay.
Where Love Has Gone (1964)
Trashmeister Harold Robbins concocted this leaden souffle based on the real life scandal where Lana Turner’s daughter supposedly killed Lana’s mobster beau because he was getting violent with mama. Even with two Oscar winners on hand (Bette Davis and Susan Hayward), plus ‘60s sexpot Joey Heatherton, this is turgid stuff, but you can have fun mocking it.
Wicked Woman (1953)
B-movie actress Beverly Michaels is great as a floozy waitress with a sleazy plan to steal money and flee the premises. She’s pure wickedness, and the nastier she gets, the more delightful this movie is. I love when she smells steak cooking down the hall and gets excited!
Rather than get mad at stereotypical, old LGBT portrayals, we now have the luxury of sitting back and laughing at them. So feel free to have a good guffaw over this truly whack movie with Liz Ashley as a psycho dyke pining for timid neighbor Talia Shire. It has to be seen to be disbelieved.